An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Powerstown NS

Clonmel, County Tipperary

Uimhir rolla: 17779P

 

Date of inspection: 12 November 2009

 

 

 

 

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 Powerstown NS was undertaken in November 2009. 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, 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 to this report.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

Powerstown NS is situated on the outskirts of Clonmel in the parish of Powerstown and Lisronagh. The school has seen considerable growth in the number of pupils seeking enrolment in the last number of years resulting in a doubling of the number of mainstream teachers from five to ten since 1998.

 

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

288

Mainstream classes in the school

10

Teachers on the school staff

13

Mainstream class teachers

10

Teachers working in support roles

2 full-time

2 part-time

Special-needs assistants

2

 

1.     Quality of school management

  

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

 As outlined in the mission statement the school aims to create a caring school environment, conducive to learning and to the development of the whole person, where children can achieve their full potential; spiritually, physically, academically and socially.

 

1.2 Board of management

The board of management works collaboratively with parents and staff in attending to a variety of organisational and administrative needs in the school. Particular roles have been specified for most members of the board. An annual financial report is prepared and externally certified. The board meets according to a schedule at least once a term and more frequently when important and urgent matters arise. The chairperson of the board is particularly supportive of the work of the school and maintains close contact with the principal between board meetings. Minutes of meetings are appropriately recorded. Consideration should now be given to the production of an annual report by the board in order to inform parents of on-going progress about aspects of school-life. Board members have availed of training to assist them in their role. The board participates in the development of the school plan, including both organisational and curricular elements. It emphasises consultation with all stakeholders during the policy-ratification process.

 

Administrative policies are stored in the principal’s office and are available to be viewed by the school community. Summaries of some policies are distributed annually to the parents of newly enrolled pupils. It is advised that all policies be signed by the chairperson of the board upon ratification.

 

It is evident that the board is very committed to the future development of school accommodation. Significant improvements have been made in recent times to the external building and its environs. Commendably, the school’s exterior has been painted and new floor coverings have been laid down in some classrooms. Staff-room facilities have been greatly improved. The board has recently secured improved recreation space for pupils and further parking provision for staff. The school community, supported by the board is praised for its good work in achieving considerable improvements in road safety in the immediate school environs. To further this work, the school has indicated as its immediate priority the provision of a safe area for pupils to cross the road at the school. There has been delay and uncertainty with regard to a building project over the last number of years. This has deterred the board from investing in the existing building. In the short-term, focus should be directed towards improvements in the learning environment for current pupils and teachers. It is recommended that attention be directed initially to: the computer room, classroom window frames, toilet facilities for staff, and to the significant condensation problem on the ceiling of the main corridor. In the context of a school that is increasing in size, it is recommended as a matter of priority that a strategic plan for the development of the school’s structure be developed.

 

1.3 In-school management

The in-school management (ISM) team comprises of the principal, deputy principal and four special duties teachers. The principal was appointed to the post in 2004 and he is thoroughly familiar with the community of the school. He is successful in cultivating good relationships among the staff and has been proactive in the frequent production and dissemination of an informative and valuable newsletter on school activities to parents. He plays an active leadership role in the compilation of the whole-school plan. A broad range of organisational and administrative duties is effectively attended to. He is ably supported in his role by the ISM team.

 

The duties attaching to the ISM posts are clearly outlined and include a range of responsibilities that relate to a number of identified needs in the school. The ISM team convenes monthly and records of these meetings are consistently maintained. Commendably, opportunities for the team to address staff meetings with regard to developments in their areas of responsibility have been embedded in practice. In particular, members of the team are praised for the effective manner in which organisational and pastoral duties are attended to and the extent to which this contributes to the effective operation of the school. Management now plans to review the duties attached to the ISM team. In the context of this review, it is recommended that each member of the team assume responsibility for particular curriculum areas with a view to monitoring existing practices and leading developments in that area. It is further recommended that the monitoring of curricular provision be prioritised at all staff meetings.  

 

1.4 Management of resources

The school operates a policy of staff rotation allowing teachers the opportunity to teach in a variety of classes and to experience various teaching contexts, thereby facilitating a sharing of expertise at different class levels. Commendably, both mainstream and special education needs teachers engage in continued professional development. Two special needs assistants (SNAs) are employed and work effectively under the guidance of classroom teachers. They contribute to the full inclusion of pupils in the mainstream classroom. A full-time secretary provides valuable administrative support. A caretaker/cleaner is employed by the school for twenty-three hours a week. Pupils from second class to sixth class benefit from tuition in computer skills provided by the school secretary and by some parents. This is a welcome initiative and gainfully supports increased parental involvement in the work of the school.

 

The main school building is a single-storey structure with six classrooms, staff and pupil toilet facilities, a staff room, two offices, a computer room and three small storage rooms. Five temporary pre-fabricated buildings have been placed on site in the last six years. These prefabricated buildings accommodate four mainstream and two special-education class settings.

 

1.5 Resources for English, Mathematics and History.

A variety of resources is available in classrooms to support teaching and learning in English. Throughout the school class libraries are well stocked with a range of fiction and non-fiction reading material, while large-format books feature in infants’ classes. Classrooms are print-rich and visually stimulating. Teacher-devised materials complement commercial charts. A list of resources available for teaching Mathematics is recorded in the school plan. In general, classrooms are adequately stocked with resources for Mathematics, some of which are centrally stored. It is recommended that additional resources be provided for Mathematics to facilitate the use of active learning methodologies across all strands, at all class levels. Some classrooms are very well stocked with written resource material to support implementation of the History curriculum. All classes have a laptop which can be used to research historical material. However, resources for teaching local history are somewhat limited. It is advised that resources to support teaching and learning in local history be sourced and that greater guidance be provided on the use of the immediate school environment in this curricular area.

 

1.6 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The parents’ association, which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council, meets monthly and makes a very significant contribution to school life. The association is very supportive of the work of the school, the principal and the board of management. It maintains close communication with the principal, who attends most monthly meetings. The parents’ association participates fully in the whole-school planning process and contributes to the development of many policies including Music, Visual Arts and anti-bullying. It facilitates social activities for pupils, particularly at Halloween and at Christmas. Parents are involved in many school activities and provide valuable assistance in facilitating swimming and other sporting events for pupils. They accompany classes on school tours and provide feedback through a questionnaire on the quality of tours. The representatives of the association reported they were satisfied with the educational provision in the school. In particular, parents reported that they were pleased with recent developments for improving Information Communication Technology (ICT) facilities in some classrooms. They expressed disappointment with regard to the lack of an indoor hall for Physical Education and the absence of meeting-room facilities. Parent-teacher meetings are organised annually and parents receive a detailed report on their children’s progress.

 

1.7 Management of pupils

 The management of pupils is very good and the teachers are praised for the positive learning atmosphere in the school as a whole.  Both a code of behaviour and anti-bullying policies have been collaboratively devised by the school community. The pupils are well behaved and display pride and interest in their work. In many classrooms, pupils were observed participating to a high level particularly during lessons that incorporated interactive teaching approaches.

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1   Whole-school and classroom planning

A comprehensive whole-school plan for English has been recently revised, providing very clear direction on many aspects of curriculum provision. It includes detailed and helpful guidelines on specific approaches to teaching phonics, the development of capacity in writing genre at each class level and recommends approaches to spelling and the development of handwriting skills. To further enhance implementation and aid dissemination of key elements it is advised that concise action plans be devised under the main headings of the plan. Responsibility for monitoring implementation should then be assigned to a member of the in-school management team.

 

A detailed revised plan for Mathematics guides implementation of the curriculum. It highlights the central importance of language, provides guidance on approaches to basic operations and recommends strategies to address problem-solving activities. Appropriately, the use of manipulatives to support consolidation of mathematical concepts is promoted.

 

A collaborative process is evident in the formulation of the whole-school plan for History and a schedule for the review of its implementation is documented. History is appropriately timetabled and opportunities for integration with other curricular areas and differentiated provision for pupils with special educational needs are catered for. The plan outlines the skills and concepts to be developed at each class level and provides some guidance on methodologies wherein these skills can be developed. Direction for classroom implementation is provided. However, more specific guidance on the strand ‘Myself and My Family’ at junior level is advised in order to avoid repetition and to facilitate continuity and progression. Explicit direction on the selection of in-depth topics to be studied from the menu curriculum for middle and senior classes is also recommended. While the plan lists areas for study in the local environment, possibilities for thorough exploration are limited due to a lack of readily assessible resources to support teachers in addressing local history topics. It is recommended that history trails in the immediate environment be devised and that specific responsibility be assigned to a member of the ISM team to monitor implementation of the local history programme.

 

Teachers prepare both long-term and short-term plans and in many instances this planning provides for diverse learning experiences to meet the different learning styles of pupils. Different approaches to planning are used by teachers and the quality of written preparation varies to some degree. Provision is made for the use of a range of resources to support pupils’ engagement in learning. Most planning identifies clear learning objectives and methodologies, indicating an appropriate awareness of the principles of the curriculum and an understanding of the abilities and interests of pupils. Planning currently provides for the volume of work in some learning tasks to be modified to meet the needs of less able pupils. In order to meet the specific needs of pupils at all levels of ability, it is recommended that the type of work that pupils engage in be further modified according to their needs and abilities. All teachers consistently compile monthly progress reports, many of which are very comprehensive. These are kept on file in the principal’s office. It is now recommended that this work should connect more closely with the overall assessment priorities of the school. The collection of data in relation to a specific curricular area over a defined period of time will provide the school with additional information which can be used to further refine curriculum provision.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Skills Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Skills, 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 English

The quality of teaching in English is generally very good. Pupils experience a broad and balanced curriculum across the strands. Despite the restricted classroom size in some settings, every available space is used to develop print-rich environments in order to stimulate pupils’ interest. The listener/speaker relationship is being well developed in junior classes and good emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ ability in oral expression during discrete oral language lessons. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ vocabulary and language on a cross-curricular basis. Pupils display competence and confidence in the themes explored and they enjoy participating in the language games. A notable feature of practice is the recording of oral activities on tape and on camcorder in some classes. This practice is most praiseworthy as it allows pupils to evaluate their own learning outcomes with a view to building on existing strengths. Pupils can recite an impressive selection of poetry in infant and junior classes. Poetry is further explored for enjoyment purposes in middle and senior classes and pupils confidently recite a number of selected favourite poems. A language-experience approach is promoted in a competent manner in infant and junior classes and ICTs are used effectively as a stimulus for language in middle and senior classes.

An interest in reading is consistently promoted and pupils are encouraged to research topics and to read for pleasure as they progress through the school. Reading records are maintained in many classrooms. Pupils’ phonological skills are appropriately developed in junior classes and an emergent reading plan, supported by a whole-school approach to teaching phonics, is implemented throughout the school  Good use is made of the large-format books in junior classes as a springboard for developing pupils’ vocabulary, comprehension and prediction skills. Pupils read fluently and most pupils display very good comprehension levels as they progress through the school. Pupils respond well to a range of class novels, which are used effectively to complement the use of formal reading schemes. A developmental approach to writing is successfully implemented throughout the school. Pupils engage in a range of pre-writing activities in infant classes and commendable free-writing experiences are being promoted at junior level. Pupils from first class to sixth class are given suitable opportunities to engage in a variety of writing genres, with appropriate emphasis directed to three writing genre at each class level which are to be specifically explored in accordance with the school plan. A good balance is achieved between functional and creative writing, while ICTs and word processing skills are used to support the pupils’ presentation of written work. Brainstorming strategies are used effectively to stimulate pupils’ thinking and to build on pupils’ existing vocabulary. An impressive range of class booklets in a variety of genres is complied at many class levels. Pupils have achieved a good understanding of writing conventions. The school newsletter provides a forum for pupils to demonstrate their writing skills and details of sporting ventures and samples of pupils’ creative writing feature consistently. Such practice is most praiseworthy as it facilitates practice in purposeful writing for a wider audience. Cross-curricular project work is a prominent feature in many classrooms and the school is commended for the high quality outcomes of this approach. Pupils’ handwriting is very neat, well organised and is monitored regularly. A cursive handwriting style is introduced from third class and most pupils have developed a fluent, impressive style of handwriting by senior classes.

 

3.2 Mathematics

The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is good. Most classrooms feature stimulating visual displays, providing a maths rich environment which contributes to the pupils’ awareness of their mathematical surroundings. In many instances teachers purposefully avail of opportunities to link activities to an exploration of the pupils’ own environment. Mathematical lessons are generally very well structured with clear instructions provided to pupils on active learning assignments. Pupils’ capacity in mental mathematics is advanced through drill and practice on computation while manipulation of number is supported through the use of a variety of mathematical games. At infant level the pupils acquire an appropriate emerging mathematical vocabulary and opportunities are created to purposefully utilise the language taught through an imaginative use of concrete materials in most classrooms. Pupils experience a broad variety of work in concept formation through practical activities such as counting, matching, ordering, sequencing and partitioning. This work is continued in the junior classes where pupils’ understanding of number and awareness of shape, place value, and data are incrementally developed. Good use is made of available resources and materials with commendable expansion of mathematical vocabulary in evidence among pupils.

 

While whole-class teaching is the predominant methodology, in many cases pupils collaborate in pairs and in small groups when completing assignments. This approach fosters co-operative learning skills and facilitates teachers in supporting individual pupils as needed. As pupils progress through the school they continue to develop their understanding of mathematical concepts and refine their skills in classification and measurement through active engagement and manipulation of resources. A significant number of pupils display a good understanding of data representation and problem solving skills. Many senior pupils confidently and accurately apply their learning on lines and angles to a broader curricular context and demonstrate their understanding of the use of mathematics in society.

 

3.3 History

For the most part, the teaching of History focuses on balancing the development of topics and the expansion of content knowledge. The teaching of story in infant and junior classes is linked purposefully to real events and to pupils’ experiences, and these pupils demonstrate an emerging awareness of chronology. Pupils’ participation through active-learning approaches is promoted. In middle and senior classes project work is used in a most effective manner to develop research and communication competencies. Many fine examples of project work are displayed in classrooms and presented to a high standard in both handwritten and typed format. These projects demonstrate pupils’ competencies in the use of interviews and photographic evidence to support research. In many instances teachers employ an integrated approach to deepen pupils’ understanding of topics. Pupils are provided with useful information about their progress in History through feedback about their oral and written work. The potential to develop the skills of working as a historian would be further enhanced by the provision of more resources and by the placing of greater emphasis on skills development in some classes.

Junior pupils demonstrate an ability to explore and record significant personal events and dates using appropriate methods. They ably communicate an awareness of aspects of the lives of their parents and grandparents and demonstrate knowledge of games and songs from the past. Through the appropriate use of some photographic evidence pupils have explored changes in household objects over time and pupils are appropriately enabled to become aware of continuity and change over time. Many pupils throughout the school demonstrate a suitable awareness and understanding of significant events in national and international history. Most classrooms have a dedicated area for History. Some age-appropriate artefacts are used to develop pupils’ skills as historians and textbooks are judiciously used as a resource to support teaching and learning. Timelines are displayed in many classrooms and in some contexts the quality of pupil interaction with timelines contributes significantly to the development of their understanding of time and chronology. In some instances the class library extensively influences the delivery of the History programme. ICT resources and visual aids provide appropriate evidence to support learning in many aspects of the curriculum for History.

 

3.4 Assessment

Assessment is undertaken in a thorough and praiseworthy manner. Careful consideration is given to monitoring and recording pupils’ progress. Formal procedures are long established for recording progress in literacy and numeracy as the pupils move through their respective classes. This information is shared consistently among teachers. Teacher observation, teacher-devised tests and the regular monitoring of pupils’ written work are some of the assessment modes reliably used throughout the school. These are complemented by the judicious use of formal and standardised tests, including the Drumcondra Reading Test and the Drumcondra Mathematics Test. The school is commended for tracking assessment results to create a whole-school profile on attainment in standardised testing. It is now advised that this practice be employed to influence whole-school intervention strategies with a view to positively impacting upon and further improving pupils’ attainment. The Middle Infants Screening Tests (MIST) is administered to all senior infant pupils annually. Diagnostic testing is also administered by the learning support/resource teachers in assessing the learning needs of pupils who require supplementary support. The quality of record-keeping is very high. Teachers are highly commended for having given careful consideration to devising constructive report cards tailored to the needs of pupils and parents. These reports address both the academic and social progress of the pupils and reflect the recommendations of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). Parents are provided with accurate information on their children’s attainment in standardised tests and continuous classroom assessment, and comprehensive written reports are issued annually to parents. A detailed developmental profile is also maintained on each pupil. These profiles are centrally and securely stored.

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The provision for pupils with special educational needs is guided by a comprehensive whole school policy. The policy promotes the staged approach outlined in Circular 02/05 in regard to early identification and early intervention strategies. Commendably, it emphasises inclusion of pupils and early identification of particular pupils’ needs. The school is praised for its provision of some support for more able pupils. The roles of various members of staff are clearly identified in the whole-school policy. Channels for communication with staff, parents and relevant outside agencies are carefully outlined. It is advised that clearer guidance be provided within the plan regarding the role of the class teacher in implementing the first stage of intervention.

 

The special educational needs team consists of two full-time teachers and two part-time teachers. They provide support in literacy and numeracy for pupils with low and high incidence learning needs. There is notable co-operation between team members and class teachers in the formulation and review of individual education and learning plans. These documents set learning targets for pupils with special educational needs. The development of targets in individual pupil learning programmes (IPLPs) is informed by school-based assessment and reflects some elements of external assessment. It is recommended that these assessment outcomes be used consistently in devising specific and individualised learning targets for individual interventions. It is further advised that learning targets and strategies for improved attainment be shared with all parents of pupils in receipt of support.

 

Support teachers plan well for their lessons and their record keeping is useful and appropriate. During the evaluation, effective teaching methods were observed involving suitable interaction with pupils and the apt use of resources. Pupils generally respond well and their work and assessment data indicate that they are making good progress on learning targets. Currently, supplementary teaching operates predominately on a withdrawal basis with some in-class support in English and Mathematics for pupils in multi-grade classes. In the past, the team provided intensive in-class support in some classes in response to a recognised need. It is recommended that the school again places greater emphasis on delivering in-class support, including more engagement in team teaching and in prevention programmes in infant and junior classes. Renewed emphasis on this approach will greatly enrich pupils’ learning throughout the school. Some pupils who are withdrawn perform above the recommended percentile rating for such intensive withdrawal intervention and review of this practice is advised. Further provision for accelerated learners also warrants consideration. The commitment of the two SNAs in fulfilling their assigned responsibilities is praised.

 

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

A caring and homely atmosphere is created in this school. All pupils are treated equally and each pupil is valued. The Resource Teacher for Travellers gives helpful, ongoing support in response to the needs of pupils.

 

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:

 

 

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 June 2010

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board wishes to thank the inspectors for their courtesy and professionalism and have noted their recommendations.