An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil San Filimíne
An Tulach Mhór, Co. Uibh Fhailí
Roll number: 16928B
Date of inspection: 04 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil San Filimíne. 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 inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the teachers and the school’s board of management. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. He interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. He reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector 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.
Scoil San Filimíne is a senior school catering for girls from third to sixth class. Most of the girls enrol here having completed four years in St Joseph’s Junior school in the town. The school operates under the patronage of the Catholic bishop of Meath who appoints the chairperson of the Board of Management. A small number of pupils not of the Catholic religion are enrolled in the school and these are fully welcomed and included under the school’s enrolment policy. Enrolment trends have been stable over recent years though a slight increase is predicted for the coming year. There were 119 pupils on roll at 30 September 2005 and, though the average attendance in the last term was relatively high, significant absences were recorded. The Board of Management and staff are exploring ways of improving that level of attendance with support from the School Completion programme and the Home School Community Liaison scheme. It is anticipated that the school will be included in these latter schemes according to recent communications received by the board of management.
There are five mainstream teachers, a shared learning-support teacher and a part-time resource teacher on the staff. In the current school year the staffing schedule was somewhat disturbed through absences associated with sick leave, maternity leave and a job-sharing arrangement. All of this together with the regular concerns of an urban school places a great burden on the principal who has full teaching responsibilities. The school was built in 1965 and, though comprising three floor levels, is maintained to a very high standard. Play areas are limited to an outdoor hard-court facility, classrooms and the music room. There is no grass area available and occasional use is made of the local Youth Centre and the GAA facilities for enhancement of the Physical Education programme.
The board of management is properly constituted and holds meetings at least once per term. Often additional meetings are called in response to particular developments. The Board oversees the running of the school in a responsible manner and it is keen to discharge its responsibilities with regard to legislation and to circular letters issuing from the Department of Education and Science. School policies are generally framed at staff level and are further refined and approved by the Board. While the parent representatives on the board promote good communication at local level, it is recommended that the board should promote the re-establishment of a parents’ association.
The Board is most diligent in the maintenance of the premises and in matters of cleanliness and safety. One of its current priorities, in collaboration with staff, is the safety of children and others at the school entrance where the traffic is very busy, where car parking is inadequate and where crossing the road is hazardous. A plentiful supply of materials and equipment has been provided to enhance the teaching and learning and the complement of computers is currently being extended. Other purchases being considered include additional small equipment for Physical Education. It was suggested that some new classroom furniture should be provided in consultation with the teaching staff.
The Board is diligent in its recruitment of staff members and in accessing additional supports wherever possible and it promotes high standards of teaching and learning in the school. It is most supportive of staff members in the discharge of their professional duties and is appreciative of their collaboration and involvement in after school activities.
The principal, who has full time teaching responsibilities, manages the daily routines of school in an efficient manner. She has spent many years of loyal service in Scoil San Filimíne and is very familiar with the families in the neighbourhood. She keeps in close contact with her colleagues and is determined to lead by example. Under her stewardship, a team approach to in-school management is fostered. Regular staff meetings are arranged at which work is reviewed, whole school planning is advanced, priorities of curricular and professional development identified and difficulties addressed. She ensures that codes of discipline are implemented with firmness throughout the school and is eager to access whatever supports are available for pupils who experience difficulty. The principal arranges one-to-one meetings with parents annually and other meetings take place informally or by appointment. The handbook for parents is a valuable document which is circulated annually.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, the deputy principal and a special duties position. All staff members collaborate effectively as a team in which the individual strengths and talents of each member are valued and utilised. A good mix of curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities is attached to each special duties post and the advantages of keeping these under review in the context of the developing needs of the school were explored at the post evaluation meeting. The in-school-management team leads the school self-evaluation process and guides the planning and record-keeping policies.
The teaching staff includes the principal, four mainstream teachers, a shared learning support teacher and a part time resource teacher. While this WSE was in process, one teacher was serving in a temporary capacity and another was serving as a substitute because of maternity and job-sharing arrangements. Four class levels are taught in this senior school and each year through open discussion a consensus is reached regarding the deployment of teachers for the following school year. In this way the preferences and special gifts of each one are acknowledged and the opportunity to gain experience in a variety of settings is created. New teachers are welcomed and supported within the limits of timetabling. A visiting tutor supports the teaching and learning in Physical Education and he complements and enriches the programme already being implemented by the teachers. The school secretary is a most valued member of staff who contributes greatly to the smooth running of the school and to the effectiveness of communication. She is well known to all pupils and her dealings with them are sensitive and efficient. School cleaning is meticulously carried out each day after school closing time. No special needs assistants are employed in the school.
There are five mainstream classrooms in regular use as well as a special needs room, a music room, staffroom and secretary’s office. The music room is regularly used for choir work though some creative drama and dance activities are accommodated there also. Because of the school’s music tradition and its involvement in performances such as the National Children’s Choir, elaborate choir stands were provided. These take up much space in the music room and compromise its suitability for other curricular activities such as physical education. No regular caretaker is appointed but the school has ready access to a number of reliable tradespersons whenever the need arises. The tarmac area behind the school is the main location for physical education, though some activities are arranged in classrooms, in the local Youth Centre and in the GAA grounds. There is no grass pitch or general purposes room on the school premises. One spare classroom is rented to a local preschool group.
Classrooms are well equipped with resources to support learning across the various areas of the curriculum and these, together with the fruits of pupil initiative, serve to enhance the learning environment. Of particular note was the involvement of pupils in the preparation of support materials in an integrated fashion and their focus on the recycling of waste materials. The print- and number-rich environment is conducive to learning and helps pupils to relate their learning more closely with everyday experiences. Good use is made of CD players, computers and overhead projector in support of teaching and additional computers are being purchased to enhance this provision. Books and reference materials are in plentiful supply as are computer software packages and videos. Particular resources in language and mathematics are provided in the special needs classroom. A communal store of resource materials is catalogued and easily accessible in the staffroom.
Pupils gain out-of-school and community experience through their involvement in choirs, camogie, drama, juggling, church-based activities and charity work. Parents help with the transport and supervision of children. Contact between home and school is strengthened through formal and informal meetings and through reports and messages. Parents are generally supportive of their children’s learning though teachers reported that social circumstances sometimes militate against their fuller involvement at school level. Recent official communication regarding the involvement of the school in the Home School Community Liaison Scheme and the School Completion Programme should further strengthen the linkage between home and school. A parents’ association was in place some years ago and the advantages of its re-establishment were explored at both post evaluation meetings.
Teachers have established good relationships with pupils and, in general, a high level of co- operation is evident. Authority is firm but fair and good conduct is acknowledged by the teachers. Many good examples of pupils taking on responsibilities were witnessed throughout the school and the tasks allocated were commensurate with the ability and disposition of pupils.
The school plan is a comprehensive document that comprises both organisational and curricular policies. It has been drafted over a number of years in tandem with the launch of the Primary School Curriculum and in response to perceived priorities. It is regarded as a work in progress that necessitates review and modification as circumstances dictate. Teachers collaborate successfully under the guidance of the principal in drafting the various policies and they have availed of support from the School Development Planning Support (SDPS) and of the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) in their work. The Board of Management engages in the refinement of organisational policies and ratifies all policies before implementation. The curricular plans are in keeping with the relevant handbooks and they are referenced to the strands and strand units contained therein. Plans are developed with a definite focus on children’s learning and they provide for differentiated learning and for special needs education. Timetables are worked out so as to provide a good balance between academic and aesthetic subjects and to derive optimum benefit for those pupils who withdraw for special needs tuition. The Music plan was recently updated and priorities for further development include History, Physical Education, Geography and Drama. It was recommended that the policy for individual teacher planning including substitute and temporary teachers be updated. While teachers have a common understanding of procedures to be implemented in the case of unexpected teacher absence, the advantages of documenting an agreed strategy were clarified at the post evaluation meetings. Greater involvement of parents in the planning process is anticipated in the days ahead.
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, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). 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.
Teachers have placed great emphasis on planning for their work to include support and reference materials as well as written schemes. Classrooms are attractively presented with the fruits of pupils’ endeavour and with displays that encourage pupil engagement with curriculum. Word lists and charts are assembled in areas designated for different aspects of curriculum and agreed class rules and procedures are displayed. Written documentation is in keeping with the parameters set out in the school plan and provides valuable references to the various strands of each subject. Good teaching methodologies were observed during the WSE process, reflecting adherence to the prepared schemes of work. Teachers have considered assessment of pupils at whole school and at individual teacher level and they employ a variety of effective strategies. Progress is recorded at regular intervals and the detail is filed by the principal. These files are used for revision purposes and to inform further planning. Selection of pupils for special needs tuition is influenced by assessment results and by the information gleaned from parents and other teachers. In one instance suggestions were made regarding the need for more detailed short term and long term planning.
Oibríonn na hoidí go dian i bhforbairt na Gaeilge tríd an scoil agus, ar an iomlán, sroicheann na daltaí caighdeán ard i snáitheanna agus i snáithaonaid an churaclaim. Úsáideann said an Ghaeilge cuid mhaith mar theanga chumarsáide i rith an lae. Cothaíonn na hoidí atmaisféar deas foghlama sna rangsheomraí agus bíonn dearcadh fábharach i leith na teanga le sonrú sna daltaí. Cuirtear flúirse fearais ar fáil mar spreagthach don chomhrá agus baineann na daltaí tairbhe nach beag as na drámaí, na sceitsí agus as na diospóireachtaí. Uaireannta tugtar deis do na daltaí ceisteanna a chur ar a chéile agus pléadh slite ina bhféadfaí tuilleadh béime fós a leagan ar an gcur chuige seo Is léir go mbíonn pleanáil an oide aonair ag réiteach leis na snáitheanna agus na snaithaonaid atá cláraithe sa phlean scoile. Bíonn na comhthéacsanna agus na téamaí a roghnaítear do na seisiúin cainte réalaíoch don dalta agus is deas mar a thugann na daltaí féin faoi na himeachtaí éagsúla le fonn.
Forbraíonn na hoidí an léitheoireacht go héifeachtúil tríd an scoil agus léirítear tuiscint mhaith ar ábhar an cheachta, Déantar iarracht mhacánta chun foclóir agus frásaí nua a úsáid i suímh eile. Tá foclóirín pearsanta curtha le chéile ag na daltaí i ranganna v agus vi agus bíonn said ag cur leis diaidh ar ndiaidh ar mhaithe le saibhriú foclóra. Gnóthaíonn na daltaí caighdeán ard sa litriú agus san fhilíocht. Bíonn éagsúlacht sna gnóthaí scríbhneoireachta agus is léir go mbaineann na hoidí úsáid inmholta as na treoracha i lámhleabhair an churaclaim. Cláraíonn na daltaí na gnóthaí sna cóipleabhair go cúramach. Úsáideann na hoidí ceistiú, trialacha scríofa agus trialacha litrithe chun an dul chun cinn a mheas.
Teachers work very diligently in promoting the Irish language throughout the school and, in general, pupils achieve high standards in the various strands and strand units of the curriculum. Irish is used to a great extent in the daily interactions with pupils. A pleasant learning environment is created in the classrooms and pupils demonstrate a favourable attitude to the language. Plenty of support materials are provided to stimulate conversation and pupils derive particular advantage from dramas, sketches and discussions. Pupils are occasionally afforded the opportunity of questioning each other through the medium of Irish and ways of developing this approach were explored with the teachers. Individual teacher planning is in line with the strands and strand units as set out in the school plan. Chosen themes and contexts for oral development are realistic and it is a pleasure to witness the enthusiastic manner in which pupils undertake the various activities.
Irish reading is effectively developed throughout the school and a sound understanding of lesson content is evident. A creditable effort is made to incorporate newly learned vocabulary and phrases in other contexts. Pupils in fifth and sixth classes are continuously assembling appropriate dictionaries as an aid to vocabulary enrichment. High standards are achieved in spelling and poetry. A suitable variety is evident in writing activities and the work reflects faithful implementation of curriculum guidelines. Recording of work in copybooks is neat. Pupil progress is monitored through written tests, questioning and spelling tests
The school plan in English charts the broad parameters of the subject and sets out the various strands and strand units which inform classroom planning. Teachers have responded imaginatively to the guidelines contained in the curriculum handbooks and they have created a classroom atmosphere that is conducive to learning. Pupils have access to a wide range of educational materials for role play activities and flash cards, books, videos and CDs and other resource packages are used to support a comprehensive oral language programme. Story telling and poetry are important activities and pupils have opportunities to develop their listening and expressive skills and to participate in comprehension reading and writing tasks. Pupils’ vocabulary is enriched systematically and the focus on phonics and reading competence proves very beneficial. Reading is promoted for pleasure and as a source of information and pupils show great excitement in both the composition and the recitation of poetry. This work is furthered as the pupils progress through the school with the careful promotion of class novels and literature.
Good advantage is taken of various reading materials as a basis for developing writing and the response to text material both orally and in written form is creditable. Teachers have prepared suitable activity sheets and templates that stimulate the pupils’ imagination and assist them in clarifying their opinions. Pupils derive great satisfaction from the mix of composition, recitation, reading and responding. This work is often very successfully integrated with the Visual Arts programme adding beauty to the classroom and helping to consolidate many elements of the English curriculum.
Individual difference is catered for in the various classes, and the treatment of study themes facilitates a wide range of activities and discussion. All pupils are fully integrated in the mainstream setting and the withdrawal model for those whose progress is hampered for whatever reason yields a successful outcome. In the case of special needs pupils, teachers have developed specific individual programmes for them in collaboration with the relevant parties.
Planning for mathematics at whole school level is comprehensive and sets out the topics, equipment and methodologies appropriate for each strand of the subject. Teachers have assembled a rich supply of mathematical equipment and illustrative materials to complement their own personal schemes of work. Practical and activity methods are commonplace and are most helpful in clarifying the various concepts. Efforts to relate mathematics to realistic everyday experiences are proving successful and pupils are confident in their treatment of problem solving tasks. The majority of pupils achieve high standards in computation and tables and their mathematical language is rich. Provision for differentiation is evident in the classrooms and focused support is discretely offered where difficulties are experienced. Whole-class teaching and demonstration is a common approach, though good samples of small group activities and one-to one teaching were observed. Copybook activities in Mathematics are reflective of a broad curriculum and the presentation is neat.
The social, environmental and scientific education (SESE) programme is developed in an integrated fashion and the work often straddles Visual Arts, Language, Drama, Music and Physical Education. Evaluation of progress is mainly conducted through oral questioning, examination of work in progress and monitoring of work completed.
Great strides have been made in the exploration of myth and legend and in the study of History as a continuum at local, national and world wide levels. Teachers use storybooks, videos, photographs museum samples and computer technology in supporting history learning and the samples of research projects displayed in classrooms reach a high standard. Pupils have very successfully engaged in local studies and their understanding of conservation and recycling is creditable. Very good samples of group activity and team working under the discrete guidance of the teacher were in evidence. Throughout these initiatives pupils derived much benefit from role play, taking on leadership responsibilities and engaging in self learning. Pupils demonstrated confidence and understanding of context as they offered feedback in a whole class setting.
Even though whole school planning for geography is identified by the teachers as a priority area for further development, individual classroom schemes are appropriate to the needs of pupils and to the strands of the subject as set out in the curriculum handbooks. Lessons are well prepared and are focused on the local and natural environment as well as on more distant and abstract themes. Lessons such as those based on the Tullamore area provided ample opportunity for successful integration and differentiation of curriculum. It is recommended that the balance of teacher talk time and pupil talk time should be reviewed with a view towards maximising the latter.
Teachers adopt a variety of strategies in their promotion of science throughout the school and pupils respond with enthusiasm. Experimentation and the study of environmental samples help to clarify various concepts and teachers are commended on their exploration of children’s own knowledge as an introduction to new topics. Many of the activities are attractively recorded in pictorial, diagrammatic and textual forms. Ways of reducing the reliance on text books as a teaching method were explored.
Visual Arts, though regularly taught as a discrete subject, is often used to support the work in other curricular areas. Pupils explore many and varied techniques and they are encouraged to incorporate them into their own creative efforts. The six main strands of the subject are fairly represented throughout the school and the finished samples add brightness and stimulation to the school atmosphere. Teachers have responded enthusiastically to the differing emphases laid down in the curriculum guidelines and the messages are reflected in planning, in classroom activities and in visits to centres of art and drama. The project approach is used with great success in this subject and very engaging studies have been conducted on famous artists and their work.
Scoil San Filimíne invests a great deal of effort in preparing a comprehensive music programme for the school and has secured very favourable results in terms of staff collaboration, implementation of a broad curriculum and pupil achievement. Throughout the school pupils sing a wide repertoire of songs in both Irish and English, often with accompaniment, and they have acquired a high standard of rhythm and performance. The music curriculum is excellently resourced and each classroom is provided with a piano or keyboard and access to a comprehensive supply of tuned and untuned musical instruments. Other percussion instruments have been created by pupils in conjunction with the Visual Arts programme. The dedicated music room is fitted out with choir stands, a good quality piano, music stands and display facilities. Pupils derive great pleasure from performance, music literacy, composition and instrumentation. The lessons associated with listening and responding have been fine tuned in recent times and they provide for sampling of the broadest range of music genres and for very fruitful integration of curriculum. Pupils perform their music before a wider audience on occasions such as charity events, hospital visits and at certain church ceremonies. The highlight of their music activities is their ongoing participation in the National Children’s Choir.
Drama is widely used in a cross-curricular fashion to support and enhance the teaching and learning, and to a lesser extent, as a discrete subject. Whole school planning for this subject is at an early stage and is identified by staff as a priority in the context of dedicated seminars and support from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP). Pupils engage enthusiastically in well-organised sessions and through them their leadership, creative and social skills are very successfully developed. Excellent samples of drama making by pupils were sampled in subjects such as Language, History, Music, Physical Education and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). Teachers arrange outings to drama performances and workshops in various art centres from time to time.
Physical education is successfully promoted throughout the school using all available resources. Outdoor amenities for the subject are restricted to the hard court area and the adjacent shelter while regular classrooms and the music room provide the indoor accommodation. On occasion the facilities of the youth centre and the GAA are used to enhance provision. Some equipment such as balls, ropes and skittles have been provided. The purchase of additional items for games would broaden the learning opportunities. Camogie, basketball, juggling, creative movement and dance are common features of the programme and pupils are eager to participate. Activities are designed with the ability and age level of pupils in focus and they very successfully promote the physical, creative and social talents of each participant. Some of the lessons are supported through the involvement of visiting tutors and the work is often furthered as an after-school initiative.
Teachers have responded enthusiastically to the SPHE element of the curriculum and they appreciate its value in securing the goodwill of pupils and their participation in the various routines of school. The whole school approach to curriculum delivery provides for the inclusion of all pupils and for the promotion of courtesy, equality, safety, tolerance and good eating habits. Pupils are encouraged to take on responsibilities and to be respectful of public and private property. Lessons are sensibly planned and presented and many opportunities for developing social skills and talents are presented. Methodologies employing role-play, circle time, turn taking, class discussion and small group performances are selected to ensure that the learning takes place in a favourable environment.
Teachers adopt a carefully planned approach to assessment of pupils’ learning and their methodologies include standardised tests, diagnostic tests, teacher-designed tests, observation, checklists and examination of accumulated samples in portfolios. They also review the performance of pupils in spellings, tables and in their involvement in the myriad different activities that comprise the school day. Copybooks are regularly and diligently monitored and appropriate feedback is offered to the pupils. Sometimes feedback is delivered in a whole class setting where common mistakes are examined and upon which very successful teaching is focused. Teachers keep careful records of test results and they assemble individual pupil profiles, across curricular areas and personal development, incrementally. These records are methodically preserved for meetings with parents/guardians and they are also used judiciously in the preparation of end of year reports. Test results also prove valuable in the planning process, in selection of pupils for special teaching intervention, and to prioritise revision lessons.
All teachers assume collective responsibility for the support of pupils with special needs and for their successful inclusion in the mainstream setting. The special needs team comprises a shared learning support teacher and a part time resource teacher for a pupil with a low incidence need. These teachers collaborate effectively with each other and with their mainstream colleagues in the selection of pupils and in designing suitable programmes of work. They liaise with other professionals and with parents to secure common understandings and to establish realistic and achievable learning targets. Individual programmes and methodologies to achieve them have been prepared. It is recommended that these programmes should be signed by the relevant parent as well as by the teacher to confirm partnership and agreement. Small group and individual tuition is commonplace and the pupil is encouraged to achieve success in an atmosphere that is pleasant and intimate. Pupils respond confidently to this intervention and their ability to engage with the whole curriculum is greatly enhanced. There are no special needs assistants on the staff. The school is complemented on its provision for pupils with special needs and on its response to departmental guidelines.
5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups
Recent allocations under the DEIS initiative provide for Scoil San Filimíne to be included in the School Completion Programme and the Home/school/community liaison scheme. This development is welcomed by the board of management and by teachers. The school’s enrolment policy is in line with legislation and provides for the inclusion of children from all backgrounds.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
The board of management maintains close and supportive contact with the teaching staff in the overall interest of pupil progress
The board of management maintains the building and surrounds in an excellent condition and its priority is the wellbeing and safety of pupils and staff members. Teachers are supported in their efforts to promote healthy eating habits amongst pupils.
The board of management maintains its finances responsibly and is generous in its provision of resources to the school.
The board of management ensures that a worthwhile school plan is prepared and implemented.
Teachers employ lively and stimulating teaching methods and they create an environment that is conducive to learning.
Teachers implement a broad curriculum with a fair balance between the academic and the aesthetic elements.
Teachers are keen to try out new initiatives and they encourage pupils to undertake leadership roles.
Teachers collaborate very successfully in implementing the music, physical education and visual arts programmes
Classrooms are well provided with books, equipment and display materials.
In general, teachers prepare very valuable schemes of work to enhance learning.
Pupils are motivated to research well-chosen topics and they record their findings orally and in text with confidence. The occasional over-reliance on textbooks as a teaching approach was noted.
Pupils with special needs are offered focused support and they are afforded full inclusion in the mainstream setting.
Excellent displays of pupils work are in evidence throughout the school
Pupils are taught to be respectful of the environment and to promote recycling of waste materials.
Ancillary personnel collaborate very successfully in the efficient and smooth running of the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The re-establishment of a parents’ association should be facilitated.
It is recommended that, as resources permit, the provision of new furniture to replace dual desks in some of the classrooms and some small equipment for physical education should be considered.
Policies for individual teacher planning and for absences of teachers should be developed.
It is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on pupil talk time during lessons.
Parents/guardians should be encouraged to confirm their approval of the individual learning plans developed for pupils with special needs.
The use of modern technology (ICT) as a learning tool should be further developed.
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. Philomena’s NS was very pleased to have the opportunity of a Whole School Evaluation this spring past. This report clearly outlines the excellent work policies and high standards which the staff and management have undertaken. The Board and staff were also very pleased with the manner and style of inspection in which the inspector led.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
All recommendations will form the basis of planning in September when school resumes. The Board and staff consider these findings to be of great benefit.