An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Catherine’s N.S.,
Conna, County Cork
Uimhir rolla: 17528N
Date of inspection: 7 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Catherine’s N.S., Conna. 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 district inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
This is a co-educational, Catholic primary school under the patronage of the Bishop of Cloyne. It is situated in a rural area, catering for pupils from junior infants to sixth class and is a vital component in the community it serves. The downward trend in pupil numbers, in evidence when the last school report was furnished in 2001, has been significantly reversed. Two additional teachers have been appointed and there are currently 118 pupils enrolled, including a small number of newcomers. Attendance levels are very good. This is a caring, inclusive school with a strong sense of community. The dedication of the principal and staff, who work in close collaboration with one another, the board of management, parents and wider community, is to be commended. Their voluntary contributions to the school and community are impressive.
The board of management are to be commended for the effective manner in which they discharge their duties. With the help of grant aid from the Department of Education and Science they have successfully carried out a major refurbishment of the school building in an efficient manner. Building was in progress during the evaluation. Board of management meetings are convened regularly, minutes are recorded carefully and were made available for inspection. Detailed financial reports are maintained and the importance of certifying the accounts was discussed as an area for development. The board is involved in policy development and a range of policies have been ratified. It is now recommended that the role of the board in this area, particularly in relation to the curriculum, be further developed.
The school is led competently by a hard-working principal. His inclusive and democratic leadership style is a key strength of the in-school management structure. He has put effective procedures in place to facilitate collaborative decision-making and deserves much credit for the positive school climate in evidence. It is particularly commendable that he has involved the school in the Pilot Project on Teacher Induction. He is ably supported by a motivated and dedicated staff, including a deputy principal and one special duties post-holder. In keeping with good practice, the duties allocated to the in-school management team are outlined clearly. It is recommended that these duties be reviewed regularly. Such a review should ensure that action plans which clarify priorities for development and facilitate review of progress are systematically agreed.
The teachers demonstrate impressive levels of expertise and experience and are deployed in an effective manner. The staff comprises the principal, four mainstream teachers and one full-time support teacher. There is also one part-time support teacher who is based in another school. The board has facilitated a job-sharing arrangement for the full-time support position and this is working successfully largely because of the effective lines of communication between the teachers involved. Commendably, opportunities were provided during the current school year for teachers to teach different class levels from those taught previously. In the interest of enabling all teachers gain a variety of teaching experience, the importance of formulating a policy on staff rotation was highlighted and discussed.
Two full-time and one part-time special needs assistants are employed and provide effective levels of support. The board also employs a part-time secretary who contributes significantly to the school.
This is a well-resourced school and on completion of the refurbishment project will be a modern, spacious, comfortable facility. The principal and staff deserve much praise for their success in providing a stimulating learning environment for the pupils. Discrete library areas are provided in all classrooms and commendable strategies for promoting reading for pleasure were noted. Skilful use of Information and Communication Technology was observed during the evaluation and it is the intention of staff to develop its use further. A wide range of teaching resources is used to support pupil learning. Effective strategies which maximise the use of these resources in promoting hands-on, interactive teaching approaches were noted and commended during the evaluation. It is now recommended that these be further developed on a whole-school basis. It is also recommended that teachers place a greater emphasis on displaying sentences in a manner which supports the targeted development of pupils’ reading and writing skills in both languages.
Relationships with the local community and the parents are exemplary. The school is involved in parish activities and projects and a commendable newsletter is issued at regular intervals. Parents are encouraged to be actively involved in their children’s education and it is evident that their generous support contributes significantly to the overall success of the school. They are informed regularly of their children’s progress and the parents’ representatives report that they are very happy with the education provided in the school. The parents’ association is well established and its members are to be commended for the wide variety of work they undertake. Strategies which would further involve parents in their children’s education were explored in discussions with the board and staff. In this context it is recommended that consideration be given to establishing a formal Paired Reading Programme.
The pupils are managed with care and skill. A school code of discipline is in place and a calm, positive, learning atmosphere permeates the school environment. The pupils’ exemplary behaviour patterns are a striking feature of the school and it is evident that much credit is due to the teachers for the positive dispositions to learning that they demonstrate.
The school has a comprehensive range of curricular and organisational policies which have been developed collaboratively. They are presented clearly and are accessible to all partners. The considerable work in evidence is acknowledged. However, it is recommended that clearer guidelines for classroom planning, teaching and learning approaches be provided in curricular plans. This approach would enhance their effectiveness in promoting linkage between classroom planning, curriculum and systematic improvement. The importance of more regular whole-school review to strengthen linkage with class work, and the need to provide individual copies for all staff, was also highlighted and discussed.
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; 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.
All teachers undertake both long-term and short-term planning and work in a dedicated manner to provide their pupils with a broad and balanced curriculum. In collaboration with the support services, they have introduced a common template for short-term planning and recording of monthly progress of work. However, there is a need to review the use of this worthwhile template in order to ensure more linkage with the specific objectives of the curriculum and to further enhance progression in the development of specific pupil skills, particularly in the languages. Also, it is also recommended that the principal and staff make more regular use of the monthly progress record to monitor the implementation of the curriculum and whole-school plans.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The teachers employ a range of effective methodologies and are to be commended for the many samples of best practice in teaching and learning in evidence during the evaluation. It is evident that many pupils make significant progress in many areas of the curriculum. The high standards in evidence in pupils’ written work in a variety of classrooms is to be commended. The need to further promote the use of hands-on, interactive methodologies and a variety of teaching approaches in both mainstream and support contexts was highlighted and beneficially discussed during the evaluation. It is also recommended that the high number of textbooks in use in some curricular areas ought to be reduced, especially in the junior classes.
Chonacthas samplaí breátha de theagasc agus d’fhoghlaim na Gaeilge le linn na cigireachta. Léiríonn a lán daltaí dearcadh dearfach i leith na teanga agus tá cumas labhartha maith á fhorbairt ag roinnt daltaí. Ar aon dul le dea-chleachtas, cloítear leis an nGaeilge le linn an teagaisc agus is mór is fiú an aird a dhírítear ar rannta agus ar an bhfilíocht. I ranganna ar leith, moltar go mór an bhéim a leagtar ar mhodhanna ceistithe agus ar ionchur teanga cinnte a theagasc mar chuid dhílis de cheacht cumarsáideach. Is inmholta chomh maith na seifteanna atá in úsáid go sciliúil ag leibhéil ar leith chun taithí a thabhairt do na daltaí ar an teanga atá á foghlaim acu a úsáid ar bhonn cumarsáideach. Meastar gur gá anois na dea-chleachtais seo a chur i bhfeidhm ar bhonn na scoile ina hiomláine agus breis treoracha maidir lena gcur i bhfeidhm a chur sa phlean scoile. Luaitear ach go háirithe an tábhacht a bhaineann le trí thréimhse a bheith sa cheacht. I gcuid de na ranganna b’fhiú chomh maith fócas níos cinnte a bheith ar chuspóirí foghlama ar leith agus athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar úsáid na dtéacsleabhar. Meastar go rachadh sé go mór chun tairbhe freisin d’fhoghlaim na ndaltaí dá múinfí gné eile den churaclam, ar nós na Drámaíochta, trí Ghaeilge.
Leagtar síos bunchloch na léitheoireachta agus na scríbhneoireachta go héifeachtach. Cruthaíonn na daltaí abairtí fónta bunaithe ar a gcuid oibre ó bhéal agus léann siad go líofa iad le tuiscint. Bhí fáil ar roinnt samplaí fónta de shaorscríbhneoireacht na ndaltaí le linn an mheasúnaithe. Meastar, áfach, gur gá cur leis an dea-chleachtas seo agus breis taithí a thabhart do na meánranganna agus do na hardranganna ar réimse níos leithne de chineálacha difriúla téacsanna a léamh agus a scríobh.
Samples of best practice in the teaching and learning of Irish were observed during the evaluation. Many pupils demonstrate positive attitudes to the language and some are developing a good level of oral competence. In keeping with good practice Irish is adhered to as the language of instruction and worthwhile attention is paid to rhymes and poetry. A commendable emphasis is placed in some classes on teaching questioning techniques and a specific language input as an integral part of a communicative language lesson. Effective strategies, which enable pupils use the language they learn in a communicative manner, are used skilfully at various class levels and are to be commended. It is recommended that existing good practice should now be further promoted on a whole-school basis and that further guidelines to support their implementation be included in the school plan. In particular, there is a need to focus on the importance of the three phases of the lesson. It is also recommended that in some classes more attention be focused on specific learning objectives and that the use of textbooks be reviewed. It is advised that pupils’ language learning would be greatly enriched if an aspect of the curriculum, such as Drama, was taught through Irish.
The basic reading and writing skills are taught effectively. Pupils construct good sentences based on their oral work and read them fluently and with understanding. Commendable samples of pupils’ independent writing were noted during the evaluation. However, it is recommended that this good work be extended and that greater opportunities be provided for pupils in the middle and senior classes to read and write a variety of texts.
Many pupils display a very good ability to express their views in English on a range of topics. Pupils are exposed to a variety of poetry and storytelling. Much good quality talk and discussion was observed during the evaluation. In order to further ensure the systematic development of specific language skills, it is recommended that the oral language work be linked more closely to the content objectives of the curriculum. A further emphasis on co-operative learning approaches would also enrich this work.
Due attention is devoted to the teaching of reading and writing throughout the school. Samples of best practice noted during the evaluation include a focus on the development of phonological awareness, sight vocabulary, comprehension skills, higher order thinking skills. In many classrooms, praiseworthy opportunities are provided for pupils to write on a regular basis in a wide variety of genres. Many high quality samples of their work were noted. The success of a number of pupils in achieving prominence at national level for their creative writing is highly commended. It is also evident that many pupils attain high standards in reading. However, it is recommended that in the interest of further differentiating the programmes to meet the varying needs of pupils, a greater emphasis be placed on group teaching approaches and on ensuring that the chosen reading texts are within the capabilities of all pupils. It is also recommended that at the emergent reading and writing stage the fundamental skills be taught in a more integrated manner. Advice and support in relation to the development of this work was given during the evaluation.
Good practice in the teaching and learning of Mathematics was observed during the evaluation. A variety of effective methodologies was used including purposeful whole-class teaching and active learning approaches. Commendably, designated mathematics areas are organised in the classrooms. Emphasis is placed on developing pupils’ computation and estimation skills and on linking the work to the pupils’ environment. The pupils display a creditable understanding of key mathematical concepts and a good knowledge of number facts. Their written work is recorded neatly and in an orderly manner, and their progress is monitored carefully. In the interest of further development, it is recommended that agreed approaches for teaching key aspects of the programme such as number operations, mathematical language, problem-solving be outlined in the school plan. It is also recommended that the school develops a strategy to encourage higher order thinking through regular problem-solving exercises.
There is evidence of much effective practice in the teaching of History. The pupils display great confidence and enthusiasm in discussing their work. The local environment is central to the approach. Fan early age the children are encouraged to develop their skills as historians through the use of timelines, collection of artefacts and exploration of the local environment. Very good project work is undertaken. This might gainfully be developed on a whole-school basis.
In Geography the scope of the curriculum is reflected in the commendable work observed within the classrooms. During the evaluation skilful use was made of ICT and a range of effective methodologies. Pupils speak knowledgeably and with understanding about their projects and other aspects of their work. It is commendable that the staff have compiled a list of important resources such as maps, globes, reference books. It would be worthwhile to include these in the whole-school policy in order to maximise their use in developing pupils’ geography skills.
The school is to be commended on securing a Science excellence award. The work observed was structured carefully and developed with a commendable emphasis on prediction and discussion. Proposals to explore the potential of the school environment further in the context of the current redevelopment project will greatly enrich the good work in evidence. The school plan for Science provides a sound basis for the development of effective practice. It emphasises clearly many of the key messages in the curriculum and provides some useful guidelines for classroom practice.
Visual arts was highlighted in the last school report as a particular strength of this school. During this evaluation impressive work was observed. Valuable opportunities were provided for pupils to experiment actively with a range of materials and techniques. Talk and discussion featured prominently. Direct teaching methods were used effectively to enable pupils develop specific skills. Many samples of pupils’ work in a variety of strands are attractively displayed in the classrooms and circulation areas. It is particularly commendable that pupils are also enabled to display their work at local events such as Conna show.
There is a vibrant music culture in the school. The pupils perform in public frequently and during the evaluation many of them were busy at break times preparing for Scór na bPáistí competitions. Impressive work in the teaching and learning of music was observed. Pupils sing a range of songs both in English and Irish. Tin whistle is taught at a variety of class levels. It is evident that pupils are given many valuable opportunities to develop their musical talents both in the school and in the local community. Much credit is due to the teachers for this good work. As a sense of continuity and satisfaction can be achieved through the singing of songs and playing of tunes learned in previous years, it would be worthwhile to create opportunities for pupils to build up repertoires of songs and tunes. This approach would provide a valuable whole-school focus for music education for all in the school.
Following recent in-service training in Drama the staff formulated a whole-school policy in this area of the curriculum. There is evidence of commendable sharing of expertise. Good work was observed during the evaluation. On the completion of the building project it is the intention of the staff to make use of the additional space to exploit this area further.
A varied programme in Physical Education is provided and the teachers are committed to helping pupils “lead full, active and healthy lives”, as cited in the school plan. The programme includes elements of all strands: athletics, games, dance, gymnastics, aquatics and, outdoor and adventure activities. Indoor facilities are limited and it is recommended that in the interest of pupil safety this should be addressed further in the school plan. The pupils have received many awards for their achievements in sport and much credit is due to the teachers for the considerable time invested in providing after-school sporting opportunities for them.
The positive school climate and significant parental support greatly contribute to effective teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education. Discrete time for this area is allocated in all classes. The school is currently involved in the DES “Food Dudes” programme and has a healthy lunch policy which is being implemented diligently.
The staff have adapted both formal and informal assessment approaches to monitor pupils’ progress. Standardised tests are administered in English and Mathematics, and effective use is also made of diagnostic tests. It is commendable that the test results are analysed carefully and that a system has been introduced to track pupil progress from one class level to the next. In keeping with best practice, teacher-designed tests and check-lists are administered regularly and pupils’ written work is marked carefully. Commendably, parents are encouraged to view their children’s work and sign it. There is also much evidence that positive feedback for improvement, is given to pupils. It is recommended that the good practice in evidence be further promoted on a whole-school basis in order to further develop assessment for learning for the provision of differentiated teaching and learning programmes.
The board employs a tutor who works collaboratively with the mainstream teachers to provide supplementary English language support for a small number of newcomers, and during the evaluation advice was given regarding the further development of this work. The support team provides pupils with additional support in both literacy and numeracy, and liaise frequently with all relevant personnel. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are prepared carefully to meet pupils’ identified needs and copies are included in class teachers’ planning folders. Commendably, they are reviewed collaboratively during the school year. A particular strength in the area of special education within the school is the efficient recording and management of pupil assessment data and other relevant information. Most pupils in receipt of support are withdrawn from class. Effective planning and teaching approaches were observed during the evaluation and there was evidence of pupil progress. However, in the interest of further co-ordinating the approach to special needs between mainstream and support teachers it is recommended that models for the provision of in-class support be developed. It is also recommended that when provision for special education is being reviewed the approaches to short-term planning and progress records based on learning targets in the IEPs should be revised.
This school does not have disadvantage status.
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.