An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil Náisiúnta Stratford
Rathgar, Dublin 6
Uimhir rolla: 16966J
Date of inspection: 9 March 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Stratford 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 manager 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 and examined pupils’ work. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the reporting inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the school manager. 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.
Stratford National School is a vibrant, welcoming school where high standards in education and participation are fostered and promoted. It is a five-teacher school under the patronage of the Dublin Talmud Torah. The school provides pupils with an education within a Jewish ethos. It is a unique denominational school in that faith education for both Jews and Catholics is provided prior to the secular classes each day. The enrolment consists of pupils from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and this diversity is cherished by the school. The goal of the school is to educate the students in an inclusive, exemplary academic environment that promotes the ethics and values of the Jewish people, while simultaneously teaching Irish heritage. It aims to produce young people who have a keen sense of compassion, of commitment to lifelong learning, of respect for diversity and of service to the community. The leadership, the parental involvement, the curriculum provided and the level of pupil participation all reflect this vision in a very real and meaningful way.
Stratford National School is central to the community which it serves. It has a very positive atmosphere with an excellent work ethic evident among staff and pupils. Management, parents, pupils and staff all work closely together to achieve the school’s stated goals. The pupils take great pride in their own school and in their accomplishments. They participate in many national and local events and exhibit a very high standard in both music and drama performances.
The school is currently managed by a single manager appointed by the school’s patron, the Dublin Talmud Torah. The manager’s primary responsibility as assigned by the patron is to provide a suitable environment in which the pupils and teachers carry out their daily activities. Very good relations exist between the manager and the principal. The manager visits the school regularly. He is kept informed of all the relevant issues and is very familiar with the school’s policy documents. The initial work necessary to establish a board of management has been completed. It is intended to have a board in operation before the end of 2009.
The principal is a highly competent teacher whose love for learning and for developing individual pupil ability influences the approach to teaching and learning in the whole school. He sets very high standards for himself, the teachers and the pupils. The vision and objectives for the school are shared among all members of staff. He is very committed to the community in which he works and fosters and promotes a sense of service in all the school activities. The principal has worked with the other teachers for many years and excellent communication exists between them. He fosters the individual talents and abilities of the staff members and encourages initiative. He listens to pupils, parents and teachers and values their individual contributions. He ensures that a broad curriculum is provided for the pupils and places significant emphasis on the arts and on fostering cultural education.
Individual post-holders have responsibility for a range of pastoral, curricular and organisational duties. These duties are carried out diligently and effectively. While defined duties have been established for the post holders all staff members respond readily to other needs as they arise. This co-operative and proactive spirit among the staff members reflects the effective team dynamic and collaborative approach that operates in the school. It is important in the light of the Department of Education circular on posts of responsibility that individual responsibilities are written down. The school operates very smoothly and parents, pupils and the community have great confidence in the school leadership.
The full-time teaching staff comprises four classroom teachers and a learning-support/resource teacher. A resource teacher and a language-support teacher also provide part-time hours to the school. These are all deployed appropriately and work effectively together. Two outside tutors for Physical Education and Music also contribute significantly to the school curriculum. All staff personnel are committed and work diligently and enthusiastically. They are valued, consulted and supported by the principal, the manger and the parent body. Teachers with a particular talent in a curriculum area, for example, in music, the visual arts or science, are given the opportunity to teach that curriculum area to a number of classes. This sharing of curriculum expertise is commended and provides for continuity and progression in a very effective way for the pupils. A range of extra-curricular activities is available to the pupils and the uptake of these is very good. The school secretary and caretaker who are shared with Stratford College Secondary School, also play an important role in sustaining the positive atmosphere in the school.
The building dates from circa 1980 and is well maintained. The classrooms are bright, attractive and very well equipped. There is an extensive range of teaching and learning resources in the school and these are used in a meaningful way to support learning and to meet individual needs.
This school is central to the life of the community that it serves. Excellent communication and positive relationships are fostered between home and school. The welcoming policy in the school and the availability of the teachers to talk to parents on an informal basis about their childrens’ progress works effectively. On a more formal level, the school hosts a curriculum information night at the beginning of each school year and parent-teacher meetings are held annually. The school handbook provides clear and helpful information for parents of prospective and current pupils.
The school has a very active Parents Association which works diligently and enthusiastically to support the school and its pupils in a number of ways. It has raised significant monies to enrich the ongoing implementation of the curriculum. It also facilitates and co-ordinates the extra-curricular activities in the school. These include swimming, chess, football, French, and Art. The Parents’ Association also organises after-school care for the junior and senior infants. The newsletter and text-a-parent are used meaningfully to ensure effective communication with all parents. As a group, the parent body shows initiative and creativity and demonstrates high levels of commitment and interest in all aspects of education.
The pupils are articulate, confident and very proud of their own school and of their Irish heritage. They are encouraged to give their opinions and to contribute to decision–making. Independent learning is promoted and individual talents and abilities are fostered. Mutual respect, self-esteem and self-confidence are evident in their interactions with one other and with the staff members. The pupils are very well behaved and abide by the school’s code of behaviour. They evidently enjoy learning and participating in class and a strong work ethic is fostered. Meeting the needs of individual pupils is a priority for all staff members and it is evident that pupils are treated with care and attention.
The school fosters a strong sense of justice and fairness in the pupils and an understanding and appreciation of those who are different. This is manifested, for example, in the significant sums of money raised each year by the pupils for Concern. The pupils provide music for special occasions and have taken part in a number of North-South initiatives.
The overall quality of whole-school planning is very good. The school plan is a comprehensive document written in accessible language. It provides clear guidance for all the school community regarding the various organisational policies and practices. An effective collaborative approach is taken to developing these policies, with staff members involved and relevant consultation carried out with parents. Some of the policies particularly relevant to parents such as the policy on bullying, on healthy eating, on the code of behaviour, on substance use, the administration of medicine, enrolment and child protection are published and distributed to all parents through the school handbook. The content of the curriculum plans reflects the principles and content of the primary curriculum adapted specifically for this school. These plans have been ratified by the school manager and the Parents Association and dates for review have been agreed. Further work on the science plan is due to be carried out in the current year. A comprehensive review of the Irish plan has also been scheduled. The quality of classroom planning is good. Teachers use a format for long-term and short-term planning and for recording monthly progress that is customised by each individual teacher.
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 and that management has ensured that all staff members 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.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The overall quality of learning and teaching in the school is excellent. Very creative teaching approaches are used and the pupils benefit from the range of skills and expertise among the teachers. Particular emphasis is placed on developing thinking skills and on fostering independent learning. Lessons are well structured and paced and the pupils are encouraged and enabled to participate actively and meaningfully in lessons. ICT is used very effectively as a tool for learning and plans are in place to extend the use of ICT in all classes. A broad and balanced curriculum is provided with opportunities given for the pupils to showcase their achievements in both the school setting and in national events such as the Córfhéile Festival of Music and the school musical. Effective and meaningful links are created between the different curriculum areas. Pupils display a great sense of pride in their work and very high standards in learning across the curriculum are being achieved.
Cothaíonn an fhoireann dearcadh dearfa i leith na Gaeilge agus tá atmaisféar na scoile fabhrach don Ghaeilge. Tá treorlínte soiléire leagtha amach sa phlean scoile maidir le úsáid na teanga go neamhfhoirmiúil i ngach rang. Tugtar aird faoi leith, sna hard ranganna, ar an nGaeilge mar theanga cumarsáide sna ceachtanna Ghaeilge. Moltar an cleachtadh sin a chur i ngníomh i ngach rang. San iomlán, tá caighdéan maith á bhaint amach sa Ghaeilge agus tá ard chaighdean á bhaint amach sna hard ranganna. Múintear dánta agus amhráin Ghaeilge go rialta i ngach rang agus baineann na daltaí taitneamh as iad sin a léiriú. Baintear feidhm as cluichí teanga, obair beirte agus obair ghrúpa chun scileanna teanga a dhaingniú. Cothaíonn an fhoireann suim agus bá do chultúr agus d’oidhreacht na Gaeilge. Is inmholta an tacaíocht a thugann an scoil ar imeachtaí Ghaeilge, mar shampla ar rince agus ar máirseáil. Seineann na daltaí uirlisí tradisiúnta agus glacann said páirt ghníomhach i gcomórtaisí Náisiúnta. De réir na scoile, beidh athbhreithniú ar siúl ar an bplean i mbliana. Moltar san athscrudú seo spriocanna foghlama a leagan amach do gach rang agus níos mó béime a chur ar chumarsáid a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge i gcomhthéasceanna éagsúla.
A very positive attitude towards the Irish language is fostered and the general atmosphere created in the school is also favourable to the language. Clear guidelines are laid out in the school plan for using the language on an informal basis in each class. The teachers in the senior classes use Irish as the medium of instruction when teaching Irish and this practice should be extended to all classes. Overall, good standards are being achieved in Irish with high standards being achieved in the senior classrooms. Irish songs and poems are taught in every class and pupils evidently enjoy performing these. The teaching approaches include pair work and group work, language games and drama. The school is praised for its emphasis on cultural activities including Irish dancing and marching. The pupils play Irish instruments and take part in national events. According to the school, the plan for Irish is scheduled for review this year. It is recommended that as part of this review specific learning targets in Irish for each class be planned and that more emphasis be placed on the pupils communicating through Irish in a range of different contexts.
The overall quality of teaching in English is excellent and the achievement levels of the pupils are generally very high. A love of reading and an interest in literature are fostered in all classes. Class libraries are well stocked and pupils are encouraged to borrow and exchange books on a regular basis. A standardised textbook is used in each class to develop the skills of reading. Very good efforts are being made to provide a differentiated approach to the development of reading skills and the learning-support/resource teacher provides support in this regard in the middle classes. Independent reading is fostered at every stage as pupils are provided with a range of books that they can read at their own individual pace. Pupils engage with novels from third class upwards and the work carried out in this aspect of the reading programme is excellent. Reading from a variety of genres is encouraged and pupils can talk confidently and knowledgeably about books they have read. The standard of handwriting is excellent and the foundation laid in the infant classes is followed through consistently in all classes. Opportunities for personal writing are given regularly. Some excellent examples were seen during the evaluation. In light of the very good work being carried out in creative writing and the imminent expansion of ICT usage in the school, further thought and consideration should be given to the process of writing with more emphasis placed on the drafting and editing stages of the process.
Poetry and rhymes are taught effectively and pupils have a wide and varied repertoire of poems which they can recite. The teachers model rich language and the standard of the pupils’ oral language is very high. Pupils are given regular opportunities to develop their oral skills and abilities and it is evident that language is used effectively across the curriculum. The teaching of drama as a discrete curriculum area is commended. Drama is also used very effectively asa tool for teaching language and for fostering a love of literature.
The quality of teaching in mathematics is very good. Overall achievement levels are very high with some pupils showing outstanding ability in mathematics. All the strands of the curriculum are taught effectively and pupils are generally able to answer questions related to topics covered in a competent and knowledgeable manner. The enjoyment of mathematics is fostered and some very skilful teaching of concepts was evident during the evaluation. Concrete materials are used meaningfully in all classes to explore concepts and the pupils are encouraged to work together and to share ideas. Appropriate emphasis is placed on the language of mathematics and on developing mental mathematical skills. Mathematics lessons are well structured and activities are effectively organised. Prior to leaving the school, the pupils are given opportunities to engage in challenging problem-solving and to become aware of the links between mathematics and real life. The school is commended on the emphasis placed on developing higher-order thinking skills and on facilitating mathematical thinking in the middle and senior classes. This work follows on the solid foundation laid in the infant and junior classes.
In the context of the wide range of ability levels of the pupils through the school, it is recommended that consideration be given to further differentiation of mathematics activities. To support this approach in some of the classes, consideration should be given to facilitating some further in-class support by the learning-support/resource teacher. In the infant and junior classes a more differentiated programme would challenge the very able pupils and allow for further consolidation of concepts when necessary. The written work in mathematics is generally very good through the school and copy work is neatly presented and corrected diligently.
The quality of teaching and learning in the Visual Arts is excellent. All strands are taught effectively and the pupils’ work is attractively displayed in the school hall, in the corridor and in the classrooms. The pupils are given a range of opportunities to respond to the work of well-known artists and they exhibit a very good understanding of the techniques used by the artists explored. They are equally knowledgeable about their famous paintings and artworks. The programme is consistent and developmental and one teacher who has a particular talent in this curriculum area is primarily responsible for the programme through the school. Individual creativity is actively fostered and excellent stimuli are utilised to encourage effective engagement with various materials and ideas. The Visual Arts are effectively linked with teaching and learning in other curriculum areas. Opportunities are provided for pupils to visit galleries as part of their visual arts education. The enrichment arising from such opportunities is evident in their own art work and in their enjoyment of the curriculum area.
The school is cognisant of the importance of assessment. A range of assessment modes is used with appropriate regularity to determine the progress levels of the pupils in both English and Mathematics. They include a number of standardised tests, commercially produced Maths check- ups and informal assessments such as spellings and tables tests. The outcomes of assessment are communicated clearly to the parents. It is recommended that the school now document its assessment practices in the form of a written policy. It should clearly state the role of assessment in the school, how it is to be used to inform teaching and learning and the appropriate approaches and forms of assessments to be used at each class level. It should also include guidelines on pupil self-assessment, peer assessment and ipsative assessment which would link directly to the school’s emphasis on independent learning.
The Special Education Needs (SEN) team comprises a full-time learning-support/resource teacher and a part-time resource teacher. They both work in a collaborative and committed manner and their work is informed by the school policy on SEN. Support is provided on both a withdrawal and on an in-class basis. The individual pupils who are withdrawn from mainstream classes for resource or learning-support benefit from very well-planned individual programmes of work. These plans are devised using the results of a number of diagnostic tests. A wide range of teaching methods and resources are used very effectively to the meet the various needs and strengths of the individual pupils. The fostering of self-esteem and self-confidence are key elements of the SEN programme in the school. Excellent communication is maintained with the parents of the pupils receiving support. The quality of learning and teaching in the support settings is very high. It is recommended that the school policy on SEN needs be reviewed to incorporate the guidelines in circular 02/05 issued by the Department of Education and Science.
5.2 Other support for pupils (disadvantaged, minority and other groups)
The pupils at Stratford National School come from a wide range of religious and cultural backgrounds. This is an inclusive school where all pupils are treated justly and fairly and where mutual respect is promoted and fostered. All pupils are encouraged to appreciate and value the diversity within their own school community and in the wider world. A part-time language-support teacher provides excellent support for pupils who are learning English as an additional language. Individual plans are developed and progress is carefully monitored.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board are glad that the Department of Education acknowledges that Stratford National School is “a vibrant, welcoming school where high standards in education and participation are fostered and promoted”, “where management, parents, pupils and staff all work closely together to achieve the school’s stated goals”.
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 in the report are being implemented.