An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Declan’s National School
Water Street, Waterford
Roll number: 16976M
Date of inspection: 24 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 29 June 2006
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Saint Declan’s National School, Water Street, Waterford (Saint Declan’s NS). 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. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Saint Declan’s NS is a Catholic boys’ primary school under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. The school aims to teach its pupils in accordance with Roman Catholic doctrine while also respecting other faiths and beliefs within the school community. The school seeks to develop the pupils in a holistic fashion, having regard for their spiritual, moral, cognitive, emotional, imaginative, aesthetic, social and physical development. The Primary School Curriculum (1999) is the vehicle by which the school strives to achieve its aims and the school endeavours to implement the Curriculum in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance as well as in a safe and secure environment.
The school was originally built as a model school in 1853, mainly serving the Church of Ireland community in Waterford city and surrounding areas. In 1932, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Waterford offered three vacant rooms in the school to the De La Salle Order. The Order established a boys’ school in the three rooms and by 1945 its enrolment had grown to 200. Simultaneously the enrolment in the Church of Ireland wing of the building further contracted and after consultation between both Church authorities and the Department of Education it was agreed that a new school would be built for the Church of Ireland community on the grounds of the model school and the existing school would be handed over to Roman Catholic authorities. The school continued to grow from 1945 onwards and in 1965 major reconstruction work was undertaken. In 1982 five extra classrooms were built. The De La Salle Order continued to conduct the school until 1994 when the last De La Salle principal retired and the present principal was appointed as the school’s first lay principal.
Saint Declan’s NS is viewed positively by the community that it serves and the demand for places has, over many years, exceeded accommodation in the school. The increasing diversity in the school-going population of contemporary Ireland is reflected in the enrolment at Saint Declan’s where pupils from international backgrounds, pupils with special needs and pupils of different faiths mingle harmoniously with the main school cohort.
The board of management meets once per term and other meetings are called when necessary. The board fulfils its duties conscientiously and ensures that the buildings and its surrounds are well maintained. The fact that the school is a listed building of historical importance places an added burden on the board in terms of ongoing maintenance as well as planning for future development.
The board fulfils its statutory obligations and has in place an admission policy. It is through parent-teacher meetings that parents are kept informed of pupil performance and achievement and parents are informed of relevant items in the school plan through regular contact with the parents association. School documents are maintained with care and school accounts are maintained diligently and conscientiously. The accounts are not audited externally and it is now recommended that the board establish a regular external audit system for its financial records. Rates of attendance at school are very high due to strong parental support of pupils and the board complies with Department of Education and Science regulations as regards the length of both the school year and the school day. The board ensures that teachers are deployed appropriately in the school and that regulations regarding class size are upheld as far as possible.
The principal and staff co-operate closely in the organisation of the work of the school and provide a dedicated service to the students. The principal is highly regarded by his colleagues and he displays a very high degree of commitment and professionalism in the performance of his role. He provides effective leadership to a knowledgeable and hard working staff and he has facilitated the effective running of the school by putting in place a range of effective management procedures. Together with senior staff he provides a very clear educational direction for the school and ensures that efficient internal communication mechanisms are in place to ensure coordination and harmony in the staff’s working environment. The principal convenes staff meetings once per term to discuss curricular and school organisation matters and because of his leadership, staff morale is noticeably high and teachers feel involved in the management of the school.
The in-school management structure provides for one post at deputy principal level, two assistant principals and seven special duties posts of responsibility. All the post-holders have clear roles, which they understand and fulfil with confidence. Expectations are clearly defined, and post-holders are then given scope to develop their particular areas. Due attention is given to the carrying out of the various responsibilities attached to each post. There is a balance between administrative, curricular and pastoral duties attached to posts and areas of responsibility include: coordination of planning of programmes, the management of teaching resources for various aspects of the curriculum, the development of information and communication technology, provision for pupils with special educational needs and a variety of care functions including first aid, safety and supervision of students. Other responsibilities include: the maintenance of school registers, school library, Physical Education, facilitating the continuous development of staff, fostering good external relations and assessment. The efficient organisation and functioning of the school provide evidence that post holders take a professional approach to carrying out duties in their assigned areas of responsibility. As the needs of the school change, the posts of responsibility are kept under review and areas of responsibility are adjusted where appropriate.
The teaching commitment and teamwork of the staff provide Saint Declan’s with its prime resource. A climate of mutual support and a spirit of collegiality are noticeable features of the culture of the school and this ensures that a pleasant teaching and learning atmosphere is prevalent throughout the school.
The board of management is aided by the staff in its efforts to maintain an attractive physical environment for the pupils and staff. At present there are 15 permanent classrooms in the school and there are two temporary classrooms. The school has applied for six more permanent classrooms to replace two temporary classrooms and four small rooms in the main building. The development of a school garden in the quadrangle at the rear of the building has been a notable recent development. This work has been undertaken by senior classes and is referred to in more detail under Social Environmental and Science Education in this report.
Post-holders dedicate much time and effort to ensuring that stock control mechanisms for material resources for Physical Education, Science, Mathematics, Music and Visual Arts operate efficiently. The materials are easily accessible and classroom visits provided strong evidence of very beneficial use of these materials.
There is an annual formal parent-teacher meeting held in the school. At the end of the year parents also receive written reports on their children’s progress. Homework copies and journals also provide opportunities for communication between teachers and parents and in the infant department of the school, parents and teachers meet regularly at the end of the school day. On a whole school level, there is an active parents’ association supporting the staff and the board of management. The school website is also a useful communication vehicle between the school and parents and this innovation has the potential to develop communication processes further in the years ahead.
The school planning process is organised efficiently in the school. With regard to curricular policies, the process is initiated, in general, when the in-school management team holds a meeting to plan the implementation of a curriculum area. Consultation with the staff ensues and a draft policy is drawn up. Teachers discuss the draft at a subsequent staff meeting and the final policy is then adopted for use in classrooms. The teachers have produced very useful documents on Special Education, Homework, Gaeilge and Social Personal and Health Education. A revised policy for Mathematics was completed in January 2006 and the school is currently working on a revised policy for English. These documents are very professionally laid out and are very helpful for the implementation of the curriculum. Parents are kept informed of major changes in curriculum policy.
The school has developed a very helpful web-site. The staff involved and the school are to be commended for this innovation and into the future consideration should be given to using the website as a means of disseminating policies or relevant aspects of policies to parents.
The statutory administrative policies are in place and the school has a commendable ongoing policy review process in operation. For the current school year work on English and Mathematics in the curricular domain was planned and it was felt a policy around work experience students needed development in the administrative domain. Policies in the school ensure that all children are welcome. At a whole school level it is evident that a climate of warmth and support is promoted and there is sensitivity to individual needs. The school plans to review its written enrolment policy in order to ensure its obvious welcoming spirit is reflected in its documentation.
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 and Procedures (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 Principal monitors the implementation of the school plan and initiates reviews, as appropriate. Teachers ensure that the school plan is implemented through their own planning, their work in the classroom and their contribution to the overall organisation of the school. All the teachers in this school fully comply with Rule 126 governing preparation for schoolwork and progress records. In the majority of cases, teachers set down very comprehensive, well thought out long-term and short-term schemes of work. Many teachers also devote considerable time and energy to preparing and organising resources for their classrooms thus ensuring attractive and engaging learning environments for their pupils. Copies of the school plan are accessible to assist teachers in their planning and all teachers keep monthly records of work done on a class basis and the principal maintains copies of these monthly records. Some whole-staff discussion of planning and monthly record keeping would be useful at this stage in order to provide a forum for teachers to share templates and good practice in this area.
Is léir go bhfuil foireann na scoile tugtha don Ghaeilge agus múintear ceachtanna dea-chéimnithe i gcomhrá Gaeilge tríd an scoil. I bhformhór na ranganna tá meascán inmholta de mhodheolaíocht in úsáid chun ceachtanna sa chomhrá a mhúineadh. Úsáidtear cluichí, drámaíocht agus obair bheirte chun cur leis an gcumarsáid agus múintear raon leathan de rainn agus d’amhráin. Éiríonn leis na hoidí cumas léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta a chothú ag leibhéal a oireann do na daltaí. Tá samplaí creidiúnacha scríbhneoireachta le sonrú sna rangsheomraí. Moltar anois an Ghaeilge a úsáid taobh amuigh den cheacht Gaeilge féin i snáitheanna áirithe d’ábhair eile cosúil leis an bhfreagairt sa Cheol agus sna hAmharcealaíona.
The teaching and learning in English throughout the school is commendable and, overall, high levels of attainment are achieved. In addition, pupils with difficulties in English are given valuable help by a dedicated support team. The results are a tribute to both the work of the staff and the support of the parents. The positive influence of the school commences in the infants and junior classes where from an early age children encounter attractive reading corners, language experience charts, books written by pupils, a print rich environment, nursery rhymes and the development of skills in language awareness. Children are encouraged to read with their parents from an early age and shared reading plays a very important role in reinforcing pupils’ early progress. In the middle and senior classes the development of both skills and positive attitudes are knitted together through very interesting activities. In many classes pupils’ writing is celebrated through attractive displays that demonstrate sound narrative skills. These skills are developed through summaries of findings from research undertaken for projects in SESE and they are also developed through regular practice of different writing genres. The libraries in all the classrooms are well stocked and in some classrooms the book reviews on display and imaginative work in Art point to a creative approach to children’s literature. This is an area that could be developed even further throughout the school and literature, including class novels, could play a more prominent role in the reading programme from an earlier stage in the pupils’ school life. In some classes excellent use is made of ICT to develop reading and writing skills especially where pupils were involved in activities such as emailing a class in Australia. Teachers in the middle and senior classes are also aware of the importance of continuing to build on skills in oral language development and such work is undertaken regularly through conventions such as the discussion boxes or newspaper stories.
The teaching and learning in Mathematics throughout the school is also to be commended. The majority of classes demonstrate that overall high levels of attainment are achieved and as in English, pupils with difficulties in Mathematics are given dedicated support. Again both the work of the staff and the support of the parents contribute jointly to the school’s success. Pupils in the infant classes receive a very sound foundation in the number area, which is built upon in succeeding classes. The infants and junior classes are very well supplied with concrete materials to aid learning. Intense active paired and group work using the materials provide the children with firm learning foundations. In the middle and senior classes the children display a sound understanding of number and place value. Pupils can discuss, analyse and solve a range of mathematical problems and practical work with equipment remains an important element in the development of lessons. Working in pairs is also a key feature in some middle and senior classrooms. Regular oral revision of concepts and facts is undertaken and the work is consolidated through the judicious use of workbooks. Written work is carefully monitored at all levels. Teachers’ marking and the use of both motivational and helpful comments increase pupils’ confidence and promote success. With regard to further development in the teaching of mathematics it is recommended that opportunities be provided to share good practice at whole staff level and that differentiated mathematical activities are undertaken on a regular basis at middle and senior level.
The pupils showed a keen interest in history and senior pupils demonstrated a secure knowledge of important events and personalities within the periods studied. Pupils undertake a good deal of project work, much of which is of good quality and is carefully presented. Teachers employ a range of appropriate resources including text, audio-visual material, artefacts and visits to historical sites. At the time of the whole school evaluation the school was availing of in-service training in History as part of the Primary Curriculum Support Programme.
Pupils demonstrate an interest in Geography and they are curious about places, patterns and processes in physical and human Geography. The teachers capitalise on the children’s natural curiosity and encourage them to look closely at the world, to investigate and to record their findings. Teachers challenge pupils with interesting content, activities and a variety of resources. The teachers utilise their own classrooms, buildings, grounds and the local area including the built and natural environments to good effect and they have organised a structured programme of local and distant visits to develop geographical awareness. The children’s knowledge of where places are and what they are like is appropriate for their age and ability levels. The school has made considerable investment in atlases, maps and reference books, and teachers use them well. Information technology is having a stimulating impact on Geography teaching through the use of appropriate software.
In the infants and early junior classes a practical approach to Science generates interest through growing plants and taking care of animals. Nature tables also provide strong foci of interest and good starting-off points for lessons. This work is developed in the later junior and middle classes through practical activities such as mini-beasts trails. The experiments undertaken in these classes were very well prepared. Stimulating work was in evidence in the senior classes where an interest in Science is cultivated through the following activities: visits to Waterford Institute of Technology, projects where pupils become inventors for a week, practical experiments like the creation of outer space gardens and bottle gardens, use of ICT and the overhead projector. In classes where these activities are ongoing the pupils talk confidently about Science and the work of scientists.
A notable recent development in SESE education in the school has been the development of a school garden by one of the classes. Much work has gone into the creation of this garden and it provides the pupils with regular and beneficial opportunities to interact with their environment. This garden is of benefit to the whole school community and the effort that went into its creation is to be commended highly.
Much creativity was in evidence throughout the school and the integration with English and other aspects of the curriculum was impressive. Teachers have access to a wide variety of resources and very good use is made of the materials provided. The samples of pupils’ work in both the classrooms and the hallways provide many examples of high levels of creativity. The work displayed in some classrooms was of a very high standard.
In the area of Music pupils are encouraged to participate in a range of activities across the school. In the infants and junior classes, students are taught a wide range of songs and as pupils progress through the school the emphasis is placed on listening, performing and composing activities. The students enjoy the creative opportunities being offered and gain particular benefit from their participation in school concerts and liturgical celebrations. The children practice voice sounds and apply them as percussion to songs they have learned. They compose and perform simple pieces using tuned and percussion instruments. Some pupils have a good technical vocabulary and can talk lucidly about their likes and dislikes. The work is interesting and challenging and lessons in tin-whistle and other musical instruments further enhance the provision for pupils. In some classes pupils’ responses to Music are displayed in different formats including paintings, drawings and dance. Members of the staff contribute to these whole-school activities according to their strengths including those staff with particular instrumental skills. Those involved in the development of Music across the school are to be commended for the important work undertaken in this area. The very valuable musical activities could sometimes be kept as audio recordings.
Drama is integrated very successfully with work in English and Gaeilge. Drama work is enhanced by the school’s cooperation with the locally based Red Kettle Theatre Company.
Physical education is well organised and effectively managed. The school has taken significant steps to ensure a full and balanced implementation of the Physical Education curriculum and the children experience a wide range of activities. Extra-curricular sport plays a substantial role in the extension of the curriculum and teachers are to be commended for the support provided in arranging games activities. A particularly commendable feature of the provision is the inter-class competitions where the emphasis is on participation by all. Teachers give substantial amounts of after school time to clubs and teams. The school also participates in inter-school competitions including Gaelic games and soccer and with its long sporting tradition, the school maintains strong and supportive links with the local sports clubs. The staff makes regular use of the school hall and large playground. The De La Salle College which is within walking distance, makes playing fields available to Saint Declan’s. Swimming lessons are organised in the Waterford Crystal swimming pool.
In Saint Declan’s a sense of belonging is promoted and the teachers try to provide opportunities for each child to succeed and to develop individual talents. Individual, class and school achievements in diverse areas are celebrated from time to time at the ‘Back to the Wall’ events, when the whole school gathers at the school wall to celebrate the achievements of a pupil or a group of pupils. A range of experiences is offered in SPHE. In some classes there is a particular emphasis on small-group activities and this includes structured play activities and collaborative work in twos and threes. Teachers also avail of opportunities to integrate SPHE across the curriculum in particular by developing personal communication skills through language. The day-to-day work of the school, in terms of supervision and the promotion of healthy living, supports pupils’ concepts of health and safety. Pupils have participated in a number of fund-raising events that are organised to support charitable organisations.
A range of standardised norm-referenced assessments and diagnostic tests are used periodically by the teachers. Materials include the Middle Infants Screening Test, Quest Assessment and Quest Diagnostic, the Drumcondra Test in English Reading, Jackson’s ‘Get Reading Right’, the Sigma T for Mathematics and the Drumcondra Mathematics Tests.
The school has been particularly successful in the area of support for pupils with learning difficulties in reading or Mathematics. There is a school plan for special education and class teachers accept first-line responsibility for teaching all pupils in class. The teachers with particular responsibility for children with special educational and learning needs display a high degree of interest and skill and their success in motivating pupils to pursue their individual programmes is admirable.
The learning support teachers approach the work conscientiously and all the planning and administrative duties associated with the provision are carried out in a professional manner. The enhancement of pupils’ self esteem is actively promoted and teacher/pupil interactions are very caring and supportive. The learning support classrooms are well stocked with appropriate curriculum materials. The learning support teachers regularly work in collaboration with the class teacher and this practice is to be commended and encouraged. Procedures are laid down for identifying pupils with learning difficulties. Intensive prevention and early intervention programmes are given priority. Supplementary teaching is provided to the lowest achieving pupils in the school, to a caseload of approximately twenty-three pupils in Mathematics and twenty-five pupils in English. Tuition takes place both in the classroom and in the learning support room. There is a commendable emphasis at infant level on early intervention and prevention, and notable success is achieved in the area of developing phonological awareness. A highly beneficial peer-tutoring programme is organised in Mathematics and involves pupils in senior and junior classes. This programme could be extended to English also.
Special educational needs are addressed through an inclusive approach that enriches the learning of all pupils. There are two full-time resource teachers in the school and they work co-operatively together. Generally the pupils are withdrawn from class and taught individually or in groups of two. On Fridays the pupils are organised into social groups and engage in a number of group games, which are designed to support social skills and self-esteem. Every second Friday the two resource teachers merge their groups to form a bigger group and this is working very effectively. Both the resource teachers and the learning support teachers meet with class teachers at least once a term on a formal basis. Records are kept of these meetings and there are also regular meetings with parents. Parents are met at the start of the year, before Christmas and between Easter and Summer. Where there is a need for more meetings with parents, these are facilitated. A high degree of professionalism is evident in the planning and implementation of Individual Education Programmes (IEP) for pupils. The IEP documents outline the different or additional activities from those provided for all pupils through the differentiated curriculum. The IEPs have short-term targets and strategies and individual profiles and learning programmes are developed to meet those targets. The teachers display a high degree of interest and skill and have attended courses and read widely on the area of support. The classrooms are attractively presented and there is a wide range of resources. Both teachers spoke of the high level of support, which they get, from the school in regard to funding and the acquisition of materials and resources to support their work.
Due to the increase in recent years of international pupils coming to the school, the Department of Education and Science has sanctioned, during the current school year, a full-time English Language Support teaching post for Saint Declan’s. This is a new service in the school and over time will be developed by means of policies, resources and in-service. The English language support is carried out conscientiously in the school by an experienced member of staff and it provides pupils with valuable integration support as well as language instruction. The European Languages Portfolio provides the base programme for implementing individual pupil support schemes and this programme is supplemented by individual plans for pupils based on needs. Liaison with class teachers is an important feature of work in this area and mechanisms for facilitating such liaison should now be put in place at a whole school level.
The advent of a full-time support post for international students provides the opportunity for the school to develop policies around intercultural education as part of the SPHE programme. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s recent publication ‘Intercultural Education in the Primary School Guidelines’ (NCCA: 2005) should be of help in the formulation of such a policy and this document could also help in developing language programmes.
At present there are no Irish minority groups within the school. The Department of Education and Science’s free book scheme is the only support availed of by pupils in the school.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 the board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.