An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil Mhuire National School
Dungarvan, County Waterford
Roll number: 18094L
Date of inspection: 13 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Mhuire, Abbeyside, Dungarvan, County Waterford (Scoil Mhuire). 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’ association. 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 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.
Scoil Mhuire is a co-educational primary school serving the Abbeyside area, parts of Dungarvan town and its hinterland. The school is managed by a very conscientious board of management under the patronage of the Roman Catholic bishop of Waterford and Lismore. At the time of the Whole School Evaluation (WSE), there were 433 pupils enrolled in the school with a full-time staff complement of 19, including the principal, and a part-time teacher as well.
Scoil Mhuire seeks to provide pupils with a holistic education based on the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and teachers further enhance provision for pupils through after-school activities that involve considerable time-input and dedication on their part. There is a laudable emphasis on sport, music, quiz competitions and chess in the school. In addition, the important role of the Arts as well as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in equipping pupils to live full lives in the 21st century is acknowledged within the curriculum of the school. Pupils are also encouraged to be mindful of others and the school supports cancer research charities throughout the year.
The overall quality of the service provided by Scoil Mhuire is recognised by parents and enrolment trends over the past ten years demonstrate a strong demand for places in the school. The current enrolment figure of 433 is expected to rise to 470 pupils by 2008 and already in the space of eight years enrolment has increased by over a 100 pupils. This trend has implications for school building and will be elaborated upon later in this report. Moreover, parents are very supportive of the school and contribute in the region of €15,000 every year to the school by way of voluntary contributions.
The board of management is constituted according to regulations and meets once per term. The board fulfils its duties conscientiously and ensures that the buildings and their surrounds are very well maintained. The internal and external condition of the school is very attractive and presents pupils with a pleasing learning environment. The board, teachers, pupils, both caretaking and cleaning staff, the secretary and the special needs assistants are to be complimented on the high standards of maintenance achieved.
The board fulfils its statutory obligations and has its admissions policy in place. Parent-teacher meetings are the main vehicle by which parents are kept informed of pupil performance and almost all parents attend these meetings. Parents are informed of relevant items in the school plan through regular contact with the parents association, through the organisation of special meetings, if necessary, and through letters written by the principal. School documents, including roll books and registers, are maintained with great care in the secretary’s office and this care demonstrates appreciation of their historical value. The board’s accounts are maintained with diligence and are audited externally. Rates of attendance at school are very high due to strong parental support of pupils and the board ensures that teachers are deployed appropriately in the school. The regulations regarding class size are upheld as far as possible.
The board complies with Department of Education and Science regulations as regards the length of school year. However, the board has difficulties in ensuring that the school complies with Department regulations regarding the length of the school day. Currently, the school starts at 09.25 and finishes at 15.30. There is a fifty minute lunch break from 13.05 to 13.55. There are, however, three separate finishing times for pupils. The junior infant classes finish at 13.00, senior infant classes finish at 15.00 and all other classes finish at 15.30.
According to the regulations of the Department of Education and Science, national schools are permitted to reduce the school day for children in infants and first class by one hour. In Scoil Mhuire, junior infants are in school for half an hour less than the national norm per day while senior infants are in school for half an hour more. In discussing the origins of the staggered finishing times with school authorities, it emerged that the problem has two historical roots – space and transport.
The original school for Abbeyside was built in 1891 in an area known as ‘The Pond’. In 1956, a new building was constructed in the current location to house a boys’ school and a girls’ school in six classrooms with appropriate space for a six-teacher school. In the late 1960’s, the two schools amalgamated to become one school in the context of continuing growth. There were extensions to the school in 1968, 1972, 1974 and 2000. When the original space was allocated to the school in 1956, no one envisaged that this school in 2006 would be catering for 433 pupils in 15 classrooms along with 4 special education teacher rooms, a general purposes room, a computer room, a principal’s office, a secretary’s office and a staffroom. All extensions to the school since 1968 have encroached further onto the playing areas and therefore space in the school is at a premium.
The second root to the problem outlined by school authorities relates to a transport issue. In the early 1970’s, a nearby school, Ballinacourty NS, was closed and amalgamated with Scoil Mhuire. The children of Ballinacourty were provided with transport to Scoil Mhuire on an existing Bus Éireann service. Currently, there are 35 children coming from the Ballinacourty area to Scoil Mhuire on this service every day. The board of management of Scoil Mhuire has records of correspondence with both the Department and transport authorities going back to 1995 in which the board has sought to have this transport arrangement changed to enable the school operate a different timetable and provide for school opening and closing times more in line with national norms. The school authorities are of the view that a revised timetable would enable all infants classes go home at the same time and would reduce the number of pupils in the playground at mid-day. Such a revised timetable should enable the board comply with regulations regarding the length of the school day for infants.
During the WSE process both the parents association and the board expressed a wish to change the timetable to allow for an earlier start and to ensure all infants go home at the same time. The board has sought to implement this change since 1995 but has been stymied in its efforts by the present transport arrangements. The transport authorities have pointed out to the board that if the bus were to be at Scoil Mhuire for 08.50, post-primary pupils who are normally picked up at 07.40 would now have to be picked up at 07.15, meaning that some pupils would leave home at 07.00 or earlier. This, naturally, would be unacceptable to the parents of the post-primary pupils. The transport authorities would also have difficulties picking up the pupils from Scoil Mhuire before 15.30 every day.
The school has a dilemma in seeking a solution. However, the school has an obligation to comply with Departmental regulations regarding the length of the school day. If school starts at 09.25, then to comply with regulations the infant day should finish at 14.05. In order to put such a change into effect, the school should consider staggering playtimes so that infants and other classes have different breaks. In progressing this matter in the longer term, it is recommended that the board take steps to increase playground space. The board could also explore the possibility of a dedicated transport service for Scoil Mhuire in view of its exceptional circumstances.
There is a high level of cooperation between the principal and the staff in the development and organisation of the work of the school. This cooperation ensures that the service provided to the pupils is of a high quality in both curricular and extra-curricular areas. Teachers are appreciative of the leadership role played by the principal and this positive role was demonstrated during the WSE process when the principal led a polished inter-class musical performance with the aid of class teachers. The principal’s commitment to Music in the school is a unifying force that bonds pupils and teachers in a very positive manner. He recognises the various talents of staff members and encourages all staff, but especially the in-school management team, to develop their areas of responsibility for the benefit of the school. The leadership displayed by the principal leads to noticeably high staff morale and teachers are motivated to give of their time for the benefit of the pupils and of the whole school community. The principal convenes between two to three staff meetings per year to discuss curricular and school organisation matters and it would now be appropriate to institute in-school management team meetings in order to provide a forum for developing the work of the team.
The in-school management structure provides for a deputy principal post, an assistant principal post and 6 special duties posts. All the post-holders have clear roles, which they fulfil with confidence and develop in line with the needs of the school. In carrying out the various responsibilities attached to each post, teachers give willingly of their time after school hours to ensure the success of their tasks. There is a balance between administrative, curricular and pastoral duties attached to posts and areas of responsibility include: promotion of sport and chess, organisation of quizzes and the coordination of ICT. The curricular areas covered include Science, Music, Art, Mathematics, Physical Education (PE), English and Social Personal Health Education (SPHE). Pastoral duties include supervision prior to morning assembly, monitoring pupils with special needs, organisation of traffic warden system, safety on buses and cycling.
The commitment of the staff is this school’s major resource. Teachers in Scoil Mhuire are very aware of the need for continuous professional development in order to ensure that they are fully cognisant of advances in teaching methodologies. Throughout the current school year almost the whole staff has been involved in professional development courses ranging from short one week courses to graduate diplomas, full degree courses to Masters studies. These courses cover developments in special education, developments in curricular areas such as Art, English, Science, Drama, PE, ICT, foreign language teaching, drug awareness. This level of commitment to professional development augurs well for the future development of the school.
There is a positive relationship between parents and the school. The parents make a considerable financial contribution to the school every year and the school keeps parents informed of developments in a number of ways. Parents’ views are sought prior to proposing major changes and general information is exchanged by means of letters, the parents’ association AGM, meetings between the principal and officers of the association and also there is a teacher on staff who acts as liaison officer between the school and the parents association. The parents also support the school by assisting with school tours, quiz nights, transporting pupils to games and organising social events in the school after major ceremonies. The school building is used for talks organised by the parents association and it is also used by local GAA and soccer clubs. In addition some parish meetings and meetings of the local History Society are held in the school. All of these point to a very positive relationship between school and community.
Material resources are readily available and Departmental grants have been supplemented by contributions from the parents to enable the school equip a computer room with a range of new computers. The school has a wide range of Science, learning support, Mathematics and PE equipment. During the current school year Euro 1000 was spent on music equipment. The purchase and the dissemination of knowledge regarding equipment is the responsibility of post-holders.
The board of management is aided by the staff, caretaker and cleaners in its efforts to maintain an attractive physical environment for the pupils and staff. As has been mentioned elsewhere in the report, the original school was built in 1956 as a six-classroom school. There were extensions to the school in 1968, 1972 and 1974. These extensions consisted of a timber structure and two prefabricated units. While the board has striven to ensure that all these temporary buildings are well maintained, the basic wooden structure is 38 years old and the two prefabricated structures range from 32 to 34 years. They are inadequate to meet the needs of a modern 21st century curriculum. In 2000, a major permanent extension was carried out on the main building. This work was carried out to a high standard and the 1956 structure was incorporated into a modern building. The permanent structure now houses 7 classrooms as well as ancillary rooms, the staffroom, general purposes room and computer room. However, there are 8 classrooms in the temporary units. The permanent building should now be extended further to eliminate the old temporary classrooms and to provide for projected increases in enrolment. The board should now set out its future building needs and correspond with the Department of Education and Science in this regard.
The school planning process is organised efficiently in the school. With regard to curricular policies, the process is initiated, in general under the overall direction of the principal by the post-holder with responsibility for the area. A draft policy is prepared by the post-holder and is then discussed by the staff at general meetings. Consultation with parents varies according to the policy being generated or reviewed. Administrative policies include enrolment, teachers’ manual, health and safety, anti-bullying, code of behaviour, substance abuse and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). Curriculum policies comprise Visual Arts (includes action plan and successes), Mathematics, Science, English (under review), Gaeilge, learning support, SPHE.
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.
Supporting the implementation of the curriculum through the school plan is a key role of an in-school management team. Having devoted time and energy to developing the current curriculum plans, the in-school management team in Scoil Mhuire could now consider developing support mechanisms to help in the implementation of curriculum plans. One way forward would be to provide an action plan at the beginning of the school-year with a review taking place at the end of the year. An in-school management team forum could prove helpful with the organisation of such an approach.
The principal maintains all policies in the school plan and 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 comply fully with Rule 126 governing preparation for schoolwork and progress records. 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.
In the main the school plan provides content of a suitably high standard. Going forward, a stronger focus on learning outcomes plus planning for use of resources would enhance the overall effectiveness of both the school plan and individual teacher planning.
Sna naíonáin agus sna bunranganna deintear deimhin de go bhforbraítear tuiscint na ndaltaí ar an teanga. Baintear an-úsáid i ranganna áirithe as ábhair léirithe chun an tuiscint a fhorbairt agus chun an teanga féin a chleachtadh ag an am céanna. Cabhraíonn ábhair cosúil le puipéid, leabhair mhóra, agus cairteacha go mór leis an gcur chuige seo. Cothaítear taitneamh sna ceachtanna Gaeilge le rainn, amhráin, agus gníomhaíocht na bpáistí i gcluichí teanga.
I gceachtanna áirithe, sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna, forbraítear an teanga le hábhair eile a mhúineadh trí mheán na Gaeilge. Is nós an-fhiúntach é seo agus b’fhiú go mór é a fhorbairt tríd an scoil ar fad. D’fhéadfaí, chun tosú, ceacht ealaíne nó ceacht ceoil (go háirithe éisteacht agus freagairt) a mhúineadh trí Ghaeilge uair sa mhí. I gceachtanna eile baintear an-úsaid as seanfhocail, cluichí le fearas, ríomhairí agus ábhair réalaíocha chun an teanga a fhorbairt.
Le linn an mheasúnaithe, léiríodh samplaí de cheachtanna ina raibh inchur creidiúnach ag na páistí in obair bheirte agus grúpobair. B’fhiú arís an cur chuige seo a leathnú amach tríd an scoil. Moltar go mór an prionta in an-chuid ranganna mar eiseamláirí don léitheoireacht agus scríbhneoireacht. Ní leor leabhair shaothair a úsáid chun scileanna scríbhneoireachta a fhorbairt agus moltar scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach a chleachtadh i ngach rang go rialta.
The work in English in the school demonstrates that high levels of attainment are achieved overall and the low number of pupils who require support in English receive a dedicated service from the special education team. In achieving positive learning outcomes the teachers are supported by the parents and the positive motivation of the pupils. These results present teachers with a challenge to maintain these standards into the future and to continue to ensure that pupils are motivated by the tasks presented in class.
In this context, it is opportune that the teachers are reviewing the school plan in English. This review should enable the school build on the laudable progress that has been achieved to date. Most planning in English is content based and while the content of current planning in English provides pupils with challenging tasks, variety in both the tasks and approaches would be helped by different focii in planning. It may be helpful in preparing the plan to suggest teaching strategies and to agree targets of achievement. Sharing and recording in a plan some of the good practice that was observed during the WSE process would be of benefit. For example, there is commendable emphasis on oral language in the teaching of English throughout the school but discussion forms the basis of much of this work. Oral language skills could also be enhanced by narrative retelling, pupil question sessions, experimenting with recitation of poetry. In one class a very structured approach to oral language was observed with the pupils working in groups on tasks related to real-life decision-making processes.
With regard to reading, very beneficial practice was observed in work on the novel in some senior classes. The children spoke with confidence about their reading and displayed deep insight into the books read. Such approaches could be replicated in a more widespread manner if further discussion took place at a whole school level on the relationship between class readers and class novels. In infant and junior classes, interesting approaches to the development of writing skills were observed which combined and integrated elements of phonological awareness and language experience approaches. In middle classes, very beneficial use was made of the school’s new ICT facility to promote writing skills. The pupils worked in groups on creating PowerPoint presentations and developing their drafting and editing skills.
The work of pupils in Mathematics demonstrates that overall high levels of attainment are achieved by a high proportion of pupils in the school. The teachers strive to ensure that all pupils make steady progress in Mathematics throughout their time in Scoil Mhuire and they build on the supportive cooperation of both parents and pupils. In order to build on current very positive levels of achievement, the staff has compiled recently a comprehensive school plan for Mathematics.
The school plan strives for consistency in the area of mathematical language throughout the school. This concept is further developed by the suggestion in the plan on pupil-generated mathematical dictionaries. Variety is encouraged in the strategies to be employed for teaching Mathematics and games as well as joint tasks between classes is a commendable development in the plan. The emphasis on regular mental mathematics sessions as a strategy for revision throughout the school will, by consistent implementation, ensure very positive results. During the WSE process many of the suggestions in the plan were observed being implemented successfully.
The following features were also observed in classes during the evaluation process: paired and group work using equipment, neat presentation of work, estimation and problem solving, relating tasks to real life, applying and making mathematical connections In some classes, very careful assessment procedures were being implemented consistently in order to inform teacher planning. This practice is worth developing on a whole school level.
In general in SESE, the more successful work observed was derived from teachers’ own planning and task setting. In view of some of the excellent practice undertaken by teachers themselves without the aid of a textbook, the time may now have come to review the role of the existing text for this aspect of the curriculum. The textbook tries to cover too many topics in a given year and more success would be assured by covering fewer topics in depth. In Geography, History and Science, many praiseworthy examples of in depth tasks devised by the teachers themselves were observed during the WSE process.
The pupils showed a keen interest in history and pupils in some classes demonstrated a secure knowledge of important events and personalities within the periods studied. Well told stories in other classes provided an excellent grounding in History and time lines helped place events in the stories in context. Interesting displays such as a museum corner devoted to schooling in former times provided opportunities for stimulating discussions.
Pupils make steady progress in Geography. One very interesting feature of geographical work observed in the school was a tour of Dungarvan town undertaken by a class where pupils took lots of photographs. They mounted their work in a very stimulating display. Another class undertook a geographical study of a country through Irish and discussed their findings with great confidence in the target language. These approaches involved in depth study over a period of time.
Work in science is both practical and equipment based. In one class an incubator was used to hatch chickens and this focus provided a class with weeks of interesting discussions. In other classes nature tables served the same function. In senior classes, the work in science was related to real life with experiments undertaken involving pupils working in groups to record findings.
The work in the Visual Arts is to be praised highly. Much creativity was in evidence throughout the school. The displays were excellent and the integration with English was impressive. A particularly innovative feature of the Visual Arts curriculum was the whole school approach to looking at and responding to art. This was done by means of replicas of famous art works which were brought from class to class on a weekly basis for observation and discussion.
The whole school approach to Music is commendable and, in general, pupils are encouraged to participate in a range of activities across the school. A common framework of learning outcomes in singing is achieved through the school song booklet. Classes work together to achieve excellent results in performance of singing and playing instruments. The tin whistle and recorder are taught in classes and standards attained are very high.
Drama is integrated very successfully with work in English and Gaeilge.
Scoil Mhuire places emphasis on involving as many pupils as possible in sports activities. To this end, a wide range of specialised coaching under the supervision of class teachers, is provided to the school through national sporting bodies. The GAA provides the school with coaches in football and hurling. The IRFU supports rugby coaching in the school and Waterford County Council provides help with a course in cycling proficiency and safety run by the school. In addition to these in-school activities, the school is involved in the provision of a very wide range of after school sports activities. Facilities at the local St. Augustine’s College are utilised for developing handball skills and for local inter-school handball competitions. Seven-a-side soccer teams are organised in the school to compete in local competitions and tennis coaching is also offered to senior pupils after school. In addition teachers are involved in organising and teaching skills for hockey, basketball, rounders and athletics. Every year the school is involved in the Waterford County Primary School Sports and in addition a Sports for All day is organised within the school on an annual basis.
This vast range of activity in Physical Education is very well organised and effectively managed. Teachers are to be commended for the support provided and the substantial amount of their free time donated to school teams and sport activities. The school is very conscious of the need to ensure an appropriate gender balance in the provision of optional sports activities and both boys and girls are involved in equal measure.
The Stay Safe, Walk Tall and RSE programmes are implemented in the school. In addition teachers use a standard textbook to aid the implementation of their own programmes in SPHE. In Scoil Mhuire, pupils are encouraged to think of others and every year pupils in Sixth Class select a charity for special help at Christmas time. The school also supports cancer research charities throughout the year as well as a ‘children helping children’ third world initiative. In general a range of experiences is offered in SPHE and teachers create opportunities to integrate SPHE across the curriculum. For example, the oral language aspect of English in some classes is very much integrated with SPHE and the use of the novel to develop skills of empathy in senior classes is very much aligned with the spirit of the SPHE curriculum. The use of History to promote understanding and Science to advance children’s understanding of the process of physical growth and development in the natural world are further examples of integration activities. In general, teachers use resources from within and outside the school very effectively to enrich the curriculum in SPHE.
A range of standardised norm referenced assessments and diagnostic tests are used regularly in the school. Materials include the Micra Tests, the Drumcondra Tests, MIST, Daniels and Diack, Schonell and Vernon spelling tests. In addition teachers devise their own tests to inform their planning and to pinpoint areas for development.
The school has engaged in comprehensive whole-school planning to provide for pupils with special educational needs. The whole-school learning-support plan suitably addresses the key principles underpinning the DES learning-support guidelines and provides useful guidance on a range of issues such as respective roles, identification of pupils for additional help, communication with parents, parental involvement and monitoring and review. A range of suitable resources is provided to support the teaching of these pupils. Appropriate attention is paid to screening and diagnostic procedures and careful assessment records are retained for individual pupils. The home-support programme is a worthwhile means of facilitating parental involvement in supporting pupils experiencing difficulties.
It is commendable that a common template for the development of individual education plans (IEPs) is provided for use by all members of the SEN team. The SEN teachers and the special needs assistants work diligently to establish positive learning environments for the pupils under their care. The special needs assistants cooperate with the SEN teachers and with mainstream class teachers thus aiding in a very positive way the pupils’ integration into mainstream contexts. Some effective use is made in particular SEN contexts of concrete and visual materials and of ICT to facilitate and consolidate pupils’ learning.
However, there is a variety of practice regarding the effective use of the common planning templates for focusing on individual pupils’ needs and reviewing their progress among the support team. Excellent practice observed during the inspection included systematic monitoring of pupils’ progress through use of informal and formal assessment approaches and use of the resulting data to inform planning, teaching and learning. In addition, there was a clear alignment between priority areas, long-term and short-term learning targets, and the activities undertaken by pupils during instruction periods. In the interest of systematically assuring progress for all SEN pupils, it is recommended that this excellent practice be extended to all SEN contexts. In this regard, regular SEN team meetings might now be considered as a suitable forum for sharing expertise and for further clarifying the implementation of school policy and approaches by all SEN teachers.
There is evidence of some consultation with relevant class teachers in the development of the IEPs and class teachers retain copies of the IEPs in their classrooms. Some class teachers engage actively with SEN pupils within their classroom and give additional attention to them while they participate in whole-class activity. However, in the interest of consolidating the work undertaken in the SEN context and given that the class teacher has primary responsibility for the progress of the pupils, there is now a need for more systematic provision for individual differences within mainstream classrooms. To facilitate this, mainstream class teachers might include specific provision for individual differences in their planning and monthly progress records. The current use of shared teaching strategies is a welcome means of enhancing collaboration between support teachers and mainstream class teachers and could now be usefully developed and extended to allow a greater focus on individual pupils’ needs within a greater number of mainstream classrooms throughout the school.
The school administers the Department’s free book scheme as required. There are a few pupils in the school whose first language is not English and these pupils are supported by a part-time teacher who works with the pupils for three hours per week. It is expected that more pupils in the same category will be coming to the school in future years and supports will increase accordingly. At present there are no Irish minority groups within 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board of management accepts the report as a fair and accurate account of the work being carried out in the school.