An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Scoil Náisiúnta Mhuire

Oldtown, County Dublin

Uimhir rolla: 17263D

 

Date of inspection: 1 October 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Conclusion

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Scoil Náisiúnta Mhuire, Oldtown was undertaken in October 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and History. The board of management 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.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

Scoil Náisiúnta Mhuire is situated in the village of Oldtown in north County Dublin. The present school building dates from 1946. During the evaluation the board of management reported that the Department of Education and Science has sanctioned capital grant aid to add two new classrooms to the existing building. This will greatly enhance the educational facilities for pupils and teachers in the school.

 

The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

35

Mainstream classes in the school

2

Teachers on the school staff

3

Mainstream class teachers

2

Teachers working in support roles

1

Special needs assistant

1

 

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

Scoil Náisiúnta Mhuire is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. The school’s mission statement espouses respect for the religious beliefs and culture of others. During the evaluation, it was evident that this respect is exemplified in the general atmosphere of the school.

 

1.2 Board of management

The board of management is properly constituted and its members actively support the work of the school. The board meets regularly and minutes of the meetings are maintained. The main business of board meetings during the period prior to the evaluation included the principal’s report, progress of the building application and issues relating to fundraising and finance. An annual financial report is compiled, audited and presented to the patron’s office. Board members consider that the positive co-operative relationship that exists between parents, teachers, pupils and the wider community is a particular strength of the school and one that is recognised and highly valued by all. The school building and grounds are generally well maintained and the interior and exterior have been painted in recent times.

 

The board ensures compliance with Department of Education and Science regulations in relation to the length of the school day and the school year and it ensures that a wide range of resources is provided to support teaching and learning. The board has been involved in some policy formation, most notably in the review of the school’s code of behaviour, and its social, personal and health education (SPHE) and relationships and sexuality education (RSE) policies. In line with best practice, it is recommended that all organisational and curricular policies be submitted to the board for ratification and for signature by the chairperson. All should have a date set for their review. It is also recommended that, in order to support the work of the board of management more effectively, all new board members should consider availing of the training opportunities that the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) make available.

 

1.3 In-school management

The in-school management team consists of a teaching principal and an acting deputy principal and the day-to-day management of the school runs smoothly and efficiently. The principal demonstrates good interpersonal skills and communication between the teachers takes place freely and openly. Since her appointment four years ago, the principal has been instrumental in leading the development of a considerable range of organisational policies, a number of curricular plans and in creating a positive school climate where communication is open and collegiality is valued. She has been proactive in leading the board in its application for the proposed extension. Monthly staff meetings are convened and each is based on an agreed agenda. In these areas, the principal has demonstrated strong leadership and initiative. At the time of the evaluation, most of the duties of the acting post-holder were organisational in nature relating to the maintenance of school records.

 

Building on the successful practices that have contributed to the development of existing organisational policies, there is scope for the principal to further develop her role as instructional leader with the support of the deputy principal. To facilitate this, the duties of the deputy principal should be reviewed to place particular focus on duties that contribute to the development of teaching and learning.

 

Good attention is paid to maintaining school records. However, it was noted during the course of the evaluation that the Leabhar Tinrimh had not been kept up-to-date in accordance with Rule 123 of the Rules for National Schools. Daily attendance to maintaining these school records is recommended. The part-time secretary and caretaker provide valuable assistance in the day-to-day functioning of the school.

 

1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

There is good quality communication between home and school. Representatives of the parents’ association reported that the parent body supports the work of the school on an ongoing basis. They reported that parents are satisfied with the opportunities available to discuss their children’s progress during annual parent-teacher meetings and that issues raised by parents are dealt with promptly and efficiently by the staff. Written reports are sent to parents at the end of each school year. The parents’ representatives interviewed reported that they would welcome greater parental involvement in the work of the association. The principal has been proactive in encouraging the present level of parental involvement. The support of the parents’ association has contributed significantly to the provision of a variety of extra-curricular activities through, for example, basketball coaching and the purchase of computer software and other resources. This is most praiseworthy.

 

1.5 Management of pupils

The principal and staff are to be commended for creating and sustaining a happy learning environment for all pupils. This finding is supported by the very good attendance record for the majority of the pupils. It was evident during the inspection that the school’s code of behaviour and its anti-bullying policy are being implemented effectively.

 

Fifth and sixth class pupils have for a number of years participated in a computer project at Clonmethan Lodge, a residence for adults with learning disabilities, which is approximately one kilometre away. Involvement in the Le Chéile Project means that selected pupils leave the school on a rotational basis once a week during the school day to receive training in information and communications technology (ICT) skills. It is of very particular concern that pupils are not supervised by a teacher from Scoil Náisiúnta Mhuire during the time they are absent from the school. This arrangement is in breach of Rule 121(4) of the Rules for National Schools which states that pupils should not, in any circumstances, be allowed out of the school ground beyond the limit over which official care of them can be efficiently exercised. It is strongly recommended that the practice whereby pupils leave the school without teacher supervision during the school day be discontinued with immediate effect and that alternative ways of engaging in the Le Chéile Project be explored.

 

An appropriate supervision roster ensures that pupils are supervised during play time. The school’s policy around supervision during times when games coaching is delivered by tutors needs clarification. This clarification should confirm that a staff teacher is present during any coaching that takes place in school time.

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The school has availed of the support of School Development Planning Service (SDPS) facilitators and this support has contributed well to the planning process in some organisational areas. Members of the teaching staff have developed whole-school plans for some curricular areas. However, planning for a number of other curricular areas has yet to be initiated. A two-year action plan is recommended as a means of effectively managing the planning process for curriculum development. Contextualising whole-school curriculum planning to the needs of the school would ensure that clear guidance is provided for teachers’ classroom planning.

 

During the inspection, it was noted that the quality of classroom planning varied considerably. Where practice is appropriate, there is a clear outline of stated curriculum objectives, a focus on the learning outcomes for pupils of differing ability levels and appropriate strategies for assessment. A whole-school approach is recommended to develop appropriate long-term and short-term planning by each teacher. There is also scope for development in the maintenance of monthly progress reports. A whole-school approach should be agreed at school level and all monthly reports should be stored centrally by the principal in accordance with Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Language

Gaeilge

Déantar iarrachtaí sásúla atmaisféar fabhrach i leith na Gaeilge a fhorbairt ins na seomraí ranga. Baintear úsáid as raon acmhainní agus leabhar chun tuiscint agus suim na ndaltaí a spreagadh agus a mhúscailt. Bunaítear an t-ábhar teagaisc ar théamaí a mbíonn suim ag na daltaí iontu agus atá bainteach lena saoil. Forbraítear cumas tuisceana na ndaltaí le linn na ngníomhaíochtaí éisteachta. Leagtar béim chuí ar chruinneas foghraíochta sa chaint. Baintear úsáid as ábhair léirithe agus úsáideann na hoidí fearas corpartha chun tuiscint na ndaltaí ar fhoclóir nua a bhunú. Ar an iomlán baintear úsáid as an nGaeilge mar mheán teagaisc i rith na gceachtanna Gaeilge. Léiríonn formhór na ndaltaí tuiscint oiriúnach ar Ghaeilge bhunúsach ach tá líon suntasach na ndaltaí ar fhíorbheagán Ghaeilge. Le linn na meastóireachta bhí an iomad béime ar chaint an oide ins na ceachtanna Gaeilge. Moltar anois, tuilleadh deiseanna cumarsáide a sholáthar do na daltaí agus díriú ar thromlach na cainte a cur ar na daltaí le linn na gceachtanna. Moltar freisin, ionchur nua teanga a theagasc go rialta agus a chinntiú go bhfuil forbairt á déanamh ar chumas labhartha na ndaltaí go céimniúil.

 

Forbraítear scileanna na léitheoireachta agus na scríbhneoireachta ins na meán agus na hard ranganna. Baintear úsáid as luaschártaí agus lipéidí chun stór focal a aithint. Tugann na daltaí faoi na tascanna simplí léitheoireachta seo go hábalta. Le forbairt breise a dhéanamh ar chumas léitheoireachta na ndaltaí, b’fhiú breis prionta a chur ar taispeáint agus leabhair bheaga breise a úsáid chun taithí léitheoireachta níos leithne a chur ar fáil. Ba chóir freisin níos mó béime a chur ar fhorbairt na tuisceana agus ar ábhar na léitheoireachta a phlé. Bunaítear na cleachtaí scríbhneoireachta ar théamaí na gceachtanna ins na meán agus na hard ranganna. Scríbhneoireacht fheidhmiúil is mó atá i gceist. Moltar cur leis na deiseanna a bhíonn ag daltaí tascanna scríofa a dhéanamh, agus na tascanna a dhifreálú chun freastal a dhéanamh ar chumais éagsúla na ndaltaí. B’fhiú do na hoidí na pointí seo a phlé d’fhonn córas níos oiriúnaí agus níos leithne a chur i bhfeidhm.

 

Irish

Satisfactory approaches are undertaken in the creation of a favourable atmosphere in relation to Irish in the classrooms. A range of resources and books is used to foster and stimulate pupils’ interest. Learning content is based on topics that are of interest and relate to the pupils’ lives. Pupils’ understanding of the language is developed during discrete listening activities. Emphasis is placed on correct pronunciation during conversation lessons. Use is made of visual resources and concrete materials to underpin pupils’ understanding of new vocabulary. For the most part, Irish is used as the medium of instruction during lessons in Irish. The majority of pupils in the senior classes display an appropriate understanding of basic Irish, but a significant number of pupils have a very basic level of fluency. Whole-class teacher talk tends to dominate lessons and for the most part, a teacher-directed approach was the main methodology in use during lessons in Irish. It is recommended that appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ communicative skills and that greater attention should also be given to affording pupils’ the greater part of discussion time during lessons. The systematic teaching of new language inputs is recommended to ensure that there is progression in the development of pupils’ communicative skills.

 

Reading and writing skills are being developed in the middle and senior classes. Flash cards and labels are used as word recognition activities. Pupils competently undertake these activities. To further develop appropriate reading skills, the provision of additional print in the environment and the use of additional easy readers to develop and extend the reading experience are advised. Additional emphasis should be placed on developing pupils’ understanding and on discussing content. Writing activities are based on the themes explored in the middle and senior classes. It is primarily functional writing that is practised in the school. Consideration should be afforded to extending the writing opportunities provided for pupils and writing tasks should be differentiated in response to differing learning abilities and needs. It is recommended that the teachers discuss these matters in order to put a more appropriate and more extensive programme in place.

 

English

A user friendly and clearly laid out school plan for English has been developed to guide the teaching of oral, reading and writing skills. Oral language skills are developed during lessons across the curriculum and are appropriately integrated with reading and writing activities. Pupils do discuss and describe characters and events from reading material and they deal with a variety of topics. Standardised tests indicate that some pupils are making satisfactory progress in the areas of reading and comprehension. Activities to enhance the pupils’ phonological and phonemic awareness skills are practised and a variety of approaches is in evidence during the development of word-attacks and comprehension skills. However, opportunities for further differentiation in the teaching of reading should be prioritised to meet the needs of those pupils who continue to experience ongoing difficulties. It is recommended that the teacher of the junior classes and the learning-support teacher should plan and work collaboratively in-class in the infant and junior classes. A wider range of emergent literacy activities and more focused planning for collaborative reading of large-format books would further enable pupils to develop an appropriate concept of print.

 

Pupils’ interest in reading is fostered through regular visits of the mobile library, through a shared reading programme which is organised each term and through the use of class novels. Well-stocked classroom libraries also provide a wide scope of good quality reading material for pupils to read. However, space restrictions notwithstanding, books and other reading materials could be presented in a more attractive and accessible manner. A more consistent approach to the creation of a print-rich environment in classrooms and the school corridor should be developed.

 

Samples of pupils’ work observed during the evaluation indicate their enthusiasm for personal writing and this is good. However, clearer strategies are needed to enable pupils to write confidently, competently and independently. The writing process should be scaffolded further and pupils enabled to develop an age-appropriate command of the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling. A considerable variation was noted in the standards of presentation and penmanship among a number of pupils throughout the school. It is recommended that a consistent whole-school approach be adopted in the area of writing and that further assistance is given to pupils when engaging in the writing process and when editing their own work.

 

3.2 Mathematics

Mathematics is timetabled appropriately and the school has assembled a commendable array of concrete mathematical resources. Mathematical skills are taught at all class levels and pupils in general display a positive attitude towards Mathematics. In all lessons observed, an appropriate focus was placed on teaching the use of discrete mathematical language. Appropriate use was made of concrete materials to develop conceptual understanding. Individualised support and group support involving the learning-support teacher are provided to pupils who require further support in the acquisition of mathematical concepts. However, a more collaborative in-class approach, involving the class teachers and the learning support teacher should be explored to provide an appropriately-differentiated programme of teaching and learning. Attainment levels are satisfactory for a good number pupils but a number of other pupils are experiencing difficulties in Mathematics. The methods used to monitor pupils’ progress include teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and standardised tests. To build on existing school practice, the results of these tests should be monitored further to identify patterns and trends in individual pupil achievement and further inform classroom planning. There is a varied approach to the monitoring of pupils’ work. Where practice is good, copies are monitored regularly with constructive comments provided. This commendable practice should be adopted throughout the school as a number of pupils require additional guidance when organising and presenting their written work.

 

3.3 History

Teachers prepare individual plans for the teaching and learning of History and these plans are based on the strands and strand units of the curriculum. In the small sample of lessons observed during the evaluation, these lessons provided pupils with opportunities to engage with artefacts and manipulate primary and secondary evidence. The provision of such resources is commended as an appropriate methodology in the teaching and learning of History. To appropriately develop skills and further enable pupils to work as historians, it is recommended that pupils are given opportunities to work collaboratively with such artefacts and evidence. Timelines should also be developed for each classroom as a means of scaffolding pupils’ understanding of the concept of time and how it relates to their own lives. Historical features of the local area are explored incidentally. Lessons observed during the evaluation indicated that pupils were enthusiastic in discussing aspects of change in their own school and changes in methods of communication. To build appropriately on this enthusiasm, it is recommended that the development of a whole-school plan should be undertaken and that it includes a focus on particular aspects of the local area to be explored at each class level. Opportunities for linkage and integration across the curriculum should also be a feature of this planning process.

 

3.4 Assessment

A comprehensive range of standardised and diagnostic assessment tests is used to evaluate pupils’ progress. Their use, to support teacher observation and teacher-designed tests, is commendable. The Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) and the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) are administered at junior and senior infant level. The Micra-T and Sigma-T standardised tests are administered to pupils in other classes to inform the teachers about attainments in English reading and Mathematics. The Non Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) is also used to assess how well pupils are achieving their potential. Individual and class scores in standardised tests in English reading and Mathematics are tracked from year to year. Test results are stored centrally and are available to parents. Further diagnostic testing is carried out to assess pupil strengths and identify areas where targeted intervention is necessary.

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

A very comprehensive whole-school policy has been developed for provision for pupils with special educational needs. A policy of early intervention is followed and to support this teachers use the Forward Together programme based on the results of MIST screening. Support is provided to pupils in English and Mathematics on a withdrawal basis and through in-class provision. Where pupils are withdrawn in small groups, it was observed during the inspection that intensive sustained support was targeted at pupil’s individual needs. Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs) have been developed through a collaborative approach involving teachers and parents. These plans include specific targets which are based on individual pupils’ identified learning strengths and priority needs. Progress records are maintained and pupils’ progress is reviewed at the end of each instructional term. A wide range of commercially-designed and teacher-designed resources are used effectively to support learning activities.

 

A warm and supportive learning environment has been created and pupils engage with confidence and enthusiasm in their purposeful learning activities. Lessons observed were carefully-planned and well-structured and supported with suitable reinforcement activities. Appropriate strategies have been devised to identify and support pupils requiring supplementary teaching on a withdrawal basis, but considerable scope exists for the school to develop a more collaborative approach to in-class support. While it is acknowledged that the classrooms are small by modern standards, a collaborative approach between the support teacher and each class teacher could be put in place within the pupils’ own classrooms. This collaborative approach would facilitate focused planning for individuals and groups of pupils in their own classroom setting and ensure that class instruction meets the differentiated needs of all pupils. As outlined in the Learning Support Guidelines (DES, 2000) and Department Circular Letter SPED 02/05 primary responsibility rests with the class teacher and all additional support teaching should build on and complement the support planned for and delivered by the class teacher. It is recommended that these principles underpin all provision for in-class support in the future. The part-time special-needs assistant is appropriately deployed and works under the guidance of the classroom teacher.

 

4.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

The provision of support for disadvantaged pupils reflects the school’s mission statement which focuses on respect and inclusivity. All teachers have established a good knowledge of the school community and this informs their awareness of instances of disadvantage. Department grant aid is deployed appropriately in this regard. A small number of pupils are learning English as an additional language. Their learning is supported practically in class and also with the assistance of the support teacher.

 

 

5.     Conclusion

 

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:

 

 

 

 

·         There is a need for a whole-school approach to handwriting and the presentation of written work across the curriculum, with a view to ensuring standardisation of expectations.

 

 

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published May 2009

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management welcomes the recognition of the excellent work being undertaken in the school.  It is delighted that the report on the inspection acknowledges the happy supportive environment that the staff of the school, in conjunction with the parents and the Board of Management, have worked hard to achieve.  The Board of Management is delighted that the Inspector recognises and acknowledges the happy learning environment where each child is supported in their learning and holistic development.

 

The Board of Management are also delighted to announce that new classrooms are currently under construction which will provide ample room for all the children and will enhance the delivery of the Revised Curriculum.

 

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 and the staff of the school have plans in hand to respond to all the recommendations of the report.

The Board of Management and the staff wish to build on the good practices that currently exist in the school.