An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 Department of Education and Science

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

  

St. Anne’s N.S.

Rathkeale, Co. Limerick

Roll Number: 18177P

  

Date of inspection:  7 February 2007

  Date of issue of report:  8 November 2007

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

1.     Introduction – school context and background

2.     Quality of school management

3.     Quality of school planning

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

5.     Quality of support for pupils

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

School Response to the Report

 

 


Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Anne’s N.S., Rathkeale, County Limerick. 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 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 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.

 

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

St. Anne’s N.S. is situated in the town of Rathkeale and is in close proximity to the Catholic Church. The school was established in 1958 by the Sisters of Mercy. The Catholic Bishop of Limerick is its patron. It serves pupils from the town and parish of Rathkeale. It is a co-educational school with boys attending until they have completed first class. They then transfer, for the most part, to St. Joseph’s B.N.S. which is situated across the road from St. Anne’s. The boards of management of both schools agreed in principle to amalgamate in 2001 but little progress has been made since then in relation to this issue.

 

A total of 246 pupils were enrolled in St. Anne’s on the 30th of September 2006. This number fluctuates, peaking in the months of December to January and falling in the months of May and June. In the last twelve months, the highest number of pupils enrolled was recorded at 267 in February 2006. During this twelve-month period, attendance has varied from a high of 204 to a low of 134 pupils. This variation in pupil numbers is due to the fact that many of the pupils are from the nomadic Traveller community. These families return to Rathkeale in the winter months and leave in early summer. The fact that many of the Traveller children have a highly irregular experience of school and that, for many, their intermittent attendance has serious negative consequences for their educational achievement, poses a significant challenge to the school.

 

The school is designated as serving in an area of disadvantage and is part of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS-Band 1) initiative. It receives additional funding and resources under this initiative in addition to the Giving Children an Even Break, School Completion Programme and School Meals Programme. There are 19 teachers in St. Anne’s. This staffing includes an administrative principal, a home school community liaison teacher (HSCL) who is shared with the boys’ school, 6 mainstream class teachers, 8 resource teachers for Travellers (RTTs) of which 7 are deployed as mainstream class teachers, a special educational needs (SEN) teacher and 2 learning support teachers (LST). One learning support teacher is based in St. Anne’s for 37.5 hours a week and provides 7.5 hours support in Rathkeale No. 2 N.S. The other learning support teacher is based in St. Anne’s for 27 hours a week and provides 3 hours resource teaching in Croagh N.S. The school also employs 8 special needs assistants (SNAs). Two visiting teachers for Travellers (VTTs) work in close co-operation with the school in serving the educational needs of the Traveller community.

 

 

 

The school’s mission statement emphasises the holistic development of the child, particularly that of those children who are disadvantaged. It endeavours “To provide learning and teaching environment conducive to the holistic development and to the achievement of the full potential of each student, particularly those who are disadvantaged or marginalised, and the formation of right attitudes and values”. The school motto is “Mol an Óige

 

Attendance is monitored in accordance with the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) guidelines and a report is issued to the NEWB each month. Attendance is very poor and is cited as a concern by board, teachers and parents. The levels of absenteeism suggest the need for urgent action by the board, the Visiting Teachers Service for Travellers (VTST) and the NEWB.

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

The board of management is properly constituted and meets on eight to ten occasions during the year. Agenda are circulated prior to meetings and minutes are duly recorded and signed. Detailed financial accounts are maintained by the treasurer and these are audited on an annual basis. This good practice is commended. Some board members have attended training specific to their roles while others have attended more general training organised by the Catholic Primary Schools Managerial Association (CPMSA). It is apparent that all board members are committed to the school and to its development and that they give freely of their time and expertise.

 

The board identifies the positive school atmosphere, the improvement in the number of Traveller pupils enrolling in the school and the increase in the number of parents from the Travelling community who attend the annual parent teacher meeting as strengths of the school. The board also expressed satisfaction with the manner in which the curriculum is taught and with the achievement levels of the pupils. The main priority of the board is the provision of a safe and suitable working environment for staff and pupils and the maintenance of good relationships with parents, staff and community. The board has expressed concerns in relation to poor attendance, especially among pupils from the nomadic Traveller community, and in relation to the subsequent failure of pupils from the Traveller Community to transfer to post primary school. The board has also expressed concern in regard to the low achievement levels attained by many Traveller pupils and the restrictions and constraints presented by the school building. The board recognises the challenge posed by the need to continuously focus learning and teaching on improving standards of attainment so that all children will be enabled to reach their full potential.

 

The board is commended for the active role it plays in relation to policy formation. All policies are ratified and dated following consultation with teaching staff and the parents’ association. These policies are reviewed on a regular basis. The board ensures that the school’s organisation and administration complies with Department of Education and Science (DES) regulations and circulars. Requirements in such areas as the length of the school year and school day are adhered to and good policies in relation to enrolment, code of behaviour and health and safety are in place. The current attendance policy does not outline a strategy for addressing poor pupil attendance. It is recommended therefore that the board, as a matter of priority, should now attend to the development of focused attendance strategies, as required under section 22 of The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 in an effort to address the high rates of absenteeism.

 

A five year development plan for both St. Anne’s N.S. and St. Joseph’s N.S. came to an end in June 2006 and to date, there is no evidence of a new plan being formulated, as is required of schools which are engaged in the DEIS initiative. It is recommended that the board would now devise a whole school development plan based on a comprehensive whole school review to which all parents, staff, visiting teachers for Travellers, the education welfare officer and the regional school completion co-ordinator, should contribute as appropriate. This plan should outline time-related actions and responsibilities in regard to the identified whole school priorities, including the stated concerns of the board and the recommendations contained in the whole school evaluation report.

 

2.2 In-school management

The in-school management team comprises an administrative principal, a deputy principal, an assistant principal and six special duties post holders. The principal was appointed to the position in September 2001. She is effective in organising the day to day running of the school and in the promotion of positive behaviour among the pupils. She maintains very good relationships with the parents, the board and the staff. She works diligently to project a favourable image of the school in the community. She trains the school choir and promotes a wide range of extra-curricular activities in an effort to ensure that all children have an opportunity to achieve success in a variety of ways. She effectively pursues a model of inclusive education and in the last six years, progress has been achieved in this area.  However, in the immediate future, the principal’s administrative capacity and leadership skills should continue to remain focused on the ongoing challenge presented by the aspiration to achieve full access and participation of the whole school community in all aspects of this school’s life.

 

The principal is supported in the management and organisation of the school by the eight members of the in-school management team. Duties assigned to the post holders are curricular, organisational and pastoral in nature and are reviewed on an annual basis.  Staff meetings are held once a term. Agenda are agreed by all staff members and minutes of decisions made are recorded. Following these staff meetings, the in-school management team meets formally and the team also meets informally during the school day. The principal and the in-school management team work together in leading the planning process and towards school improvement generally. It is recommended, however, that in-school management duties would be reviewed in line with the identified school priorities arising from a whole school review. The revised duties should place an emphasis on monitoring, implementing and evaluating the impact of the school plan in relation to expected pupil learning outcomes.

 

2.3 Management of resources

A determined effort is made by the board to ensure that all resources are deployed effectively and in the best interests of the pupils. A very good staff rotation policy allows for all teachers to experience a variety of classes and contexts and for a sharing of expertise at different class levels. The board supports and encourages teachers to avail of professional development opportunities. The teaching staff is to be commended for availing of these opportunities on a regular and on-going basis.

 

Eight special needs assistants (SNAs) are employed by the board. They are furnished with contracts and role definitions which are clear and unambiguous.  They effectively support the school by meeting the care needs of the pupils. A coach instructs the girls in Gaelic games for one term each school year and this contributes to the building of a team spirit among the pupils. A school secretary is employed on a part-time basis and provides valuable support to school management and to the teaching staff. A part-time caretaker is effective in his role and displays a sense of pride in his work. The school is cleaned on a daily basis.  However, given the size of the building and the lack of suitable storage space, the board should put more extended arrangements in place to ensure that the school environment is safe and clean at all times. 

 

The school is well resourced and it is evident that the board spends curricular grants wisely. There is a comprehensive supply of teaching and learning resources available in each classroom and these are used to good effect across the curriculum. Attractive learning environments have been created in the classrooms. Corridors are tastefully decorated with displays of the pupils’ work. All resources are audited and comprehensive lists of resources, under each of the curricular areas, are outlined in the school plan. There is a computer and printer in each class room. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) is further facilitated by eight laptop computers with broadband access and ten desktop computers. A timetable for the use of the computer room enables all pupils to access this facility. It is unfortunate, however, that in many classrooms, a combination of the dimensions of the classrooms and the necessity to store the volume of resources currently mitigates against easy access to these resources and the flexibility and adaptability of these classroom environments. As storage of resources appears to present a particular difficulty in the school, it would be useful at this point if the board of management and staff were to consider how the currently available physical space in classrooms might be adjusted and simplified to provide safe movement during both group and individual activities. An investigation of the total amount of existing resources should be conducted with a view to clarifying whether some resources currently in place continue to be relevant.

  

School accommodation consists of ten permanent classrooms, four temporary classrooms, four learning support rooms, two computer rooms, a staff room and office, a principal’s and secretary’s office and a general purposes room. Cloakrooms and corridors have been converted to accommodate the special educational needs team. Some of the classrooms are small and impede the effective implementation of the curriculum, especially in the infant classes. The lack of internal storage space has resulted in corridors and the general purposes room being used to store photocopiers and other school related resources. Given the present restrictions posed by the building, it is recommended that the board would now seek to progress the amalgamation of both schools, St. Anne’s and St. Joseph’s, with the Patron and the Department of Education and Science. It is anticipated that achievement of an agreement on the proposed amalgamation would be a positive step towards the acquisition of a new school site and a suitable purpose built building.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Very effective communication structures exist between the school and the parents of pupils from the settled community. The principal keeps parents regularly informed of school events and a record of all communication is kept on file. A newsletter is issued at the end of each school year informing parents of the main achievements of the pupils and of the school during the academic school year. The home school community liaison teacher and the visiting teachers for Travellers effectively assist the principal in maintaining communication with parents from the Travelling community. However, given the low engagement of parents from the Traveller community in the life of the school, it is recommended that the board would now put in place specific and targeted supports to encourage the active involvement of parents from the Traveller community.

 

The elected parents’ association is very active. A committee of approximately twenty-five members is reported to meet two to three times a term. Members of the committee work with the school in collaboratively drafting and reviewing school policies and played a key role in devising the last development plan. It is regrettable that, despite attempts at involving Traveller parents in the association, there is currently no representation from the Traveller community in the association. Officers of the association are in regular communication with the school’s board of management. The school facilitates communication between the parents’ association and the broader parent body by disseminating newsletters from the association through the pupils.

 

The parents’ association supports the work of the school through fund raising, through assisting in the school concert and in supporting the extra-curricular activities arranged by the school. Parents’ representatives report that they feel welcome at all times to approach the principal and the class teacher in relation to their children’s progress. They expressed a wish that an additional parent teacher meeting would be organised annually so that parents could ascertain the progress of their children and the results of standardised tests administered in June. They have articulated concerns in relation to current Department policy regarding age appropriate education and in relation to poor attendance and achievement levels among pupils from the Traveller community.

 

Parent/teacher meetings are held annually during the second term. The principal reports an improvement in the number of parents of children from the Traveller community who attend this meeting and progress in this respect is commendable. No written report of pupil achievement is issued to parents. It is recommended, therefore, that the board would now decide upon an appropriate means of providing parents with increased written information in relation to the progress of their children during the academic year.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

Pupils’ behaviour at all times during the evaluation period was of a very high standard. The pupils were observed as being respectful towards staff, towards each other and towards visitors. The children work co-operatively with each other and with their teachers. They demonstrate care and respect for the school environment and are proud of their achievements in relation to the fact that the school is designated as a Green School, having successfully been awarded its third Green Flag. The school’s code of behaviour is effectively implemented. However, it is noted that there is no anti-bullying policy in place. This omission should be addressed by the board in the short term.

 

The school is to be commended for availing of the services of a play officer funded by West Limerick Resource Centre. During the first school term of the academic year 2006-2007, this officer worked with the pupils for an eight week period to promote integration through play and games. Staff report that this initiative has had a positive effect on pupil relationships. Also commendable is the introduction by the board of the School Meals Programme. A healthy snack and lunch is provided to every pupil each day free of charge. An after-school homework club is organised for two daily sessions three times a week. This contributes, not only to the academic progress of the children, but also to the development of pupils’ social skills. The board has introduced a book rental scheme which is availed of by pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. This good practice might now be developed and extended to all pupils in the school.

 

The work of the school in promoting the participation of pupils in extra-curricular activities such as quizzes, basketball, cross-country running, athletics, and community games is praiseworthy. It is evident that the effective management of pupils contributes greatly to assisting in the integration of pupils and to enabling them to experience success in a variety of ways.

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

A comprehensive school plan, addressing curriculum and organisational areas, is neatly presented in two lever arch folders. The school is to be commended for the process invoked in the drafting of these policies and plans. It is reported that there is wide consultation and collaboration with staff, parents and board in the drafting of the plans. All documents are ratified, signed and dated. The good practice of availing of the support services, the School Development Planning Support (SDPS), the Primary Curriculum Support Service (PCSP) and the DEIS cuiditheoir is noted.  The plans and policies are regularly reviewed and copies are sent to the parents’ association. Relevant policies are communicated to parents on the enrolment of their children in the school.

 

Thirty-two policy statements relating to aspects of school organisation have been drawn up. The majority of these policies are clear and unambiguous. They are well researched and provide clear guidelines to staff members in relation to the day to day management of the school and its pupils. Of particular note is the fact that almost all of the policies take cognisance of the school context and were clearly devised in response to identified school needs. Policies in relation to enrolment, staff rotation, arrival and dismissal of pupils and the code of behaviour are of a very high standard. At present, there are five separate policy documents that relate specifically to pupils from the Traveller community and to pupils with special educational needs. It is recommended that these individual policies would now be amalgamated into one overall policy which would provide for equality of access, equality of participation and equality of outcomes in a fully inclusive education system that respects the identity and culture of all pupils.

 

A school plan has been devised for ten of the eleven curriculum subjects. A policy for the teaching of Drama is in preparation. The majority of these plans reflect the considerable time and effort invested by the teachers in drawing them together. Plans in relation to the Visual Arts, Physical Education, Science, Mathematics and ICT are of a high standard. It is particularly commendable that the school’s ethos is reflected in each statement in relation to the management of individual subject areas. However, specific guidelines in relation to teacher-planning for differentiation of the curriculum for pupils experiencing difficulties and in relation to assessment procedures and record keeping lack clarity. It is therefore recommended that future reviews of curriculum plans would focus on the provision of clear guidelines to class teachers in relation to differentiation, assessment and record keeping.

 

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, 1999, updated issue May  2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April  2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. The school has also a good policy on substance use in place.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

All teachers present long and short term planning in each curriculum area. Monthly progress reports are completed on a standardised template. Teachers’ practice in relation to the format of long and short-term classroom planning is varied. The greater majority of teachers plan carefully for the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum in line with guidelines outlined in the Primary School Curriculum (1999). Where best practice in planning occurs in the school, the teachers have clarified specific learning objectives to be achieved. Reference is made in this good planning to the provision of a range of learning experiences for the pupils and to the methodologies and material resources which will be employed to achieve the planned learning outcomes. More than half of the teachers plan for assessment of the progress of the pupils in their care, using a variety of assessment procedures and recording methods.  However, there is little evidence to indicate that teacher planning provides for incremental differentiated programmes for pupils who are experiencing difficulties in literacy and numeracy, or that planning is informed by the school’s whole school curriculum plans and by the IEPs of individual pupils.

 

It is recommended, therefore, that staff would devise a common approach to individual classroom planning which would incorporate key elements of best practice. This agreed approach should ensure that individual classroom planning is clearly informed by the whole-school curriculum plans and by the needs of the pupils.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The quality of teaching observed during the evaluation period varied from fair to very good. Where good teaching was observed, clear learning objectives were identified and the lessons were well structured and paced. In these incidences, resources were effectively utilised by teachers and pupils. Teacher communication skills, their questioning and explanations and the quality of pupil teacher interaction were of a high standard in these classrooms.  

 

All teachers in the school were observed to employ a variety of teaching methodologies to a lesser or greater extent, including class discussion, drama, group and paired work. Some very effective use of ICT was observed. In the infant classes, in instances where good teaching was observed, there was a dominance of group work over whole-class teaching, an orientation towards play-based activities and an effort to engage individual children in responsive discussion. It is recommended however, that age appropriate methodologies such as the frequent use of structured play, would now be adopted in all of the infant classes. Activity-based learning, group teaching approaches and frequent references to the local environment and to the life experiences of the pupils should be further extended and adopted throughout the school.  

 

The quality of learning varied across the curriculum areas and among the pupils. It was observed as being very good generally in Music, in the Visual Arts, in Physical Education and in Science. In the areas of History and Geography good efforts are made by some teachers to provide an integrated curriculum and in these situations, there was evidence of good skills’ development. Pupils’ knowledge of facts in these areas was satisfactory. Pupils’ learning in the area of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), particularly in relation to personal safety strategies and health education was good. However, the scale of low achievement in literacy and numeracy among some pupils gives cause for serious concern. The fact that the school has not ascertained achievement levels for a significant number of its Traveller pupils is particularly worrying. There is little evidence of a planned, incremental learning programme being implemented for pupils experiencing difficulties within the classrooms. The extent to which the children were on task and working purposefully and the quality of their learning outcomes is influenced by the failure to adequately plan and adapt the curriculum to meet their learning needs, particularly in the area of literacy and numeracy. While it is acknowledged that very poor attendance contributes greatly to the failure of pupils to make adequate academic progress, there is, nonetheless, a responsibility placed on the school to provide for high quality educational experiences for these pupils when they are attending. It is recommended, therefore, that the curriculum should be differentiated to provide more effectively for the range of learning needs and abilities in the classrooms.

 

4.2 Languages

 

Gaeilge

Ta plean leagtha amach le haghaidh forbairt na teanga agus is léir go bhfuil an príomhoide agus a foireann aontaithe faoi na modhanna is éifeachtúla chun spéis na ndaltaí sa Ghaeilge a spreagadh. Oibríonn na hoidí go dícheallach i múineadh na Gaeilge agus baintear feidhm ar bhonn scoile as éagsúlacht straitéisí agus modhanna múinte chun cumas cumarsáide na bpáistí a fhorbairt. Úsáidtear agallaimh bheirte, cluichí cainte agus an drámaíocht go sciliúil le linn teagaisc. Cruthaítear timpeallacht do na daltaí freisin a spreagann suim sa teanga trí ábhar priontáilte sa Ghaeilge a chur ar fáil sna rangsheomraí. Moltar, ach go háirithe, mar a chleachtaítear “nath na seachtaine” go rialta sa scoil.  Leagtar béim ar leathnú foclóra agus ar struchtúr na teanga.  Glacann formhór na ndaltaí páirt ghníomhach san ábhar agus tá dul chun cinn le feiceáil ina gcumas cumarsáide.   Tá stór dánta agus amhrán foghlamtha acu agus aithrisíonn siad iad go taitneamhach.  Moltar béim a chur ar chruinneas sa léitheoireacht i rith an tréimhse réamh-chumarsáid. Sna hardranganna léann roinnt mhaith de na daltaí le líofacht agus tá cuid acu in ann ábhar na léitheoireachta a phlé ar bhealach sásúil.  Tugann na daltaí faoi na tascanna scríbhneoireachta go toilteanach cé go bhféadfaí éagsúlacht a chothú sna téamaí scríbhneoireachta.

 

Irish

A plan for the development of the language has been drawn up and it is evident that the principal and her staff are united in an agreed approach to the use of the most effective methodologies to stimulate pupil interest in the language. The teachers work hard in teaching Irish and a variety of strategies and teaching methodologies is used on a whole-school basis to develop the communicative skills of the pupils. Skilful use is made of paired conversation, language games and drama during lessons. A print-rich environment has been created for the pupils in the classrooms which also encourages pupil interest. Particular praise is due to the fact that general emphasis is placed on teaching a specific phrase on a weekly basis. Emphasis is placed on vocabulary development and on the acquisition of language structures.  The majority of pupils participate actively in lessons and progress is in evidence in their capacity to communicate.  They have learned a wide range of poems and songs, which they recite pleasantly. It is recommended that greater emphasis should be placed on understanding prior to the introduction of formal reading. In the senior classes, many pupils read with fluency, with some being able to engage in discussion on the content of their reading in a satisfactory manner. Pupils willingly engage in a range of writing activities although greater variety might be developed in the writing themes.

 

English

Within classes and between classes, the quality of teaching and learning in English varies considerably across a wide continuum from poor to very good. In the development of oral language, to achieve the planned outcomes, use is made of a variety of approaches which involve whole-class, group work and individual teaching. These outcomes often involve the development of speaker and listener relationships. Some examples of effective use of resources to support teaching and learning in the development of oral language were observed. Throughout the school, various strategies are used to develop pupils’ fluency and accuracy in reading.  Occasionally very good practice was observed in the development of higher order comprehension strategies such as in the development of inferential and prediction skills.  In these classrooms, the pupils were encouraged to read for pleasure and for information and to communicate their emotional and imaginative responses to literature in varying ways and through the use of a variety of media. A number of teachers have been involved in professional development in respect of implementing the “First Steps” programme. The beneficial effects of this worthwhile undertaking were evident in many classes. In these classes, children had undertaken writing in a variety of genres and the children’s writing was widely displayed and celebrated. Handwriting skills are generally well developed in the school.

 

There is a need at this point to ensure that the good practice observed is implemented in every class in the school. It is recommended that all of the teachers would now explicitly extend the children’s thinking skills through talk and discussion. A general focus on the development of the children’s emotional and imaginative lives through oral language is required. It is essential that in the early years, the teachers would undertake developmentally appropriate practice, which should be characterised by full awareness across the school community of the need to develop the child’s general language ability as a basis for success in reading. In the infant classes, the children should  principally develop concepts of print and engage with books through language experience materials, collaborative reading of large-format books, shared ‘reading’ of books, browsing and ‘reading’ in the library corner.  From first class upwards, reading should be based on a wide range of varied reading material including novels and reading material which includes narrative, expository and representational text. In every class, the strategies used in the development of writing should be focused on fostering the pupils’ impulse to write and on enabling them to write competently, confidently and independently. The development of cognitive abilities through language would be assisted by encouraging the pupils to clarify and refine their thoughts through the process of drafting and redrafting their writing.  The writing process should be scaffolded by the teachers and the the children should be helped to develop a command of the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling, as they arise in the context of the oral, reading and writing work. It is strongly recommended that the curriculum in English be differentiated to provide more effectively for the range of pupils with varying attendance patterns, learning needs and attainment levels.

 

4.3 Mathematics

The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics was good in all classes and very good in some infant and junior classes where teachers were observed to group children according to their attainment levels. Lesson objectives were clear and all teachers planned for the effective use of concrete materials. Very good use of the environment was observed in the teaching of Measures where pupils visited a local shop and solved problems using real money and in the area of length where pupils measured objects in the classroom following an exercise involving estimation. In the teaching of the strand Shape, pupils were observed to work collaboratively to solve problems. The good practice observed should be further developed through an increased use of the local environment, through organising mathematical workshops and trails and through the linking of mathematical concepts to real life situations.

 

Some teachers have created mathematics’ rich environments in the classrooms and many pupils have access to individual number strips and hundred squares. Teachers were observed to deploy a variety of suitable teaching materials and pupils were actively engaged in almost all of the classes. The monitoring and evaluating of pupils’ work is of a particularly high standard generally as is the assessment of pupil progress. The majority of teachers regularly record the results of teacher and commercially designed tests relating to specific strand units. Teachers should, however, ensure that oral mathematical activities feature in each lesson. 

 

There is concern in relation to the achievement of some pupils in Mathematics. It is regrettable that the decision to discontinue learning support in this area was taken without initially ensuring that in-class support would be provided to those pupils who are experiencing difficulties. As a consequence, these pupils have no access to learning support in Mathematics and unfortunately there is little evidence of individual teachers addressing the need to provide a differentiated mathematics programme for these pupils. Planning for individual pupils and groups of pupils should outline how class instruction will meet their individual needs. Learning objectives, activities and tasks should be clearly matched to pupils’ attainment levels. It is therefore recommended that immediate arrangements be made to ensure that pupils who are experiencing difficulties will receive support and that a differentiated in-class mathematics programme would be devised based on pupils’ existing knowledge base. Specific targets should be set for class groups and individuals, as a focus for raising overall numeracy performance.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

Whole class teaching predominates in the teaching of History and for the most part, the content of the programme is determined by the textbook in use. Some good class discussion was observed but teachers should be aware of the need to ensure that all pupils participate in these discussions. Teacher planning and aspects of the classroom and school environment point to the fact that some very good use is being made of artefacts and interviews and focus is placed on the development of the skill of working as a historian. This good practice is to be commended. The structure and pace of lessons observed was good and pupils’ contributions were welcomed. Timelines are evident in almost all of the classrooms and most pupils display an ability to recall historical facts and to empathise with the victims of prejudice and persecution. There is little evidence however to suggest that local history is explored on a whole school basis despite the emphasis placed on this aspect in the whole school plan for History. It is recommended, therefore, that the implementation of the whole-school history plan be reviewed to ensure that local history is fully explored at each class level.

 

Geography

Classroom planning in Geography is varied in the extent to which long-term learning outcomes in keeping with the principles and structure of the geography curriculum are identified. Some weak practice was observed where teaching was based on the content of a textbook. Predominantly however the teachers make good efforts to adapt the geography curriculum to the needs of the pupils in their classes. Resources such as the data projector, maps and globes, pictures and stories were well utilised in these instances. Global environments and natural environments were well explored. There was scant reference however to the immediate local environment. It is to the credit of their teachers that the children have developed an excellent awareness of the need to care for the environment as exemplified in the fact that school has been selected as a Green School on three occasions.

It is now recommended that the existing school and classroom planning in Geography should be revisited with a view to ensuring that both on a whole school and on an in-class basis, geographical activities will be based on the local environment and that the pupils will have the opportunity to explore and investigate this environment systematically and thoroughly. From the earliest years, map-making should focus on familiar locations. The potential of Limerick county and of the Shannon estuary for teaching and learning should be fully exploited. In particular reference to the context of this school, integration with the social, personal and health education (SPHE) curriculum should be facilitated and a thematic approach should be planned, so that the children’s understanding of citizenship, community, human interdependence and relationships will be further developed. In development of the human geography strand the children should be enabled to value the contribution of people from a diversity of cultural, ethnic, social and religious backgrounds. The achievement of this outcome need not be aimed at solely through the geography curriculum. Systematically planned integrated topics can provide contexts in which knowledge and skills may be developed in a range of areas. Many elements from the history, science and geography curricula may be explored concurrently, and much of the work involved will contribute to the development of oral language, literacy, numeracy, aesthetic awareness, creative expression and communication skills.

 

Science

A good whole school plan successfully informs individual teacher planning in the area of science with a commendable emphasis on “hands on experience”. Skilled use of group work, paired work, active discovery methods and the effective use of information and communication technologies was observed in this area of the curriculum during the evaluation period. Teachers are to be commended for ensuring that all pupils participate in and benefit equally from the science activities provided, regardless of their learning difficulties. The skills of working scientifically are also very well developed. Pupils display a commendable ability to predict, observe, record and question scientific concepts. The strand environmental awareness and care is particularly well developed primarily through the active engagement of all pupils in the Green School project. A scientific approach to investigations features prominently in each lesson and pupils derive great enjoyment and learning from engaging in these experiments. It is evident that all pupils are making very good progress in this area of the curriculum. It is recommended, that to further develop this good practice, teachers should develop an investigation table in each of the classrooms and that they should increase their use of the immediate locality for scientific exploration.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The quality of teaching and pupil achievement in the area of the Visual Arts is very good. Teachers employ a wide range of appropriate teaching methodologies and pupils are provided with the opportunity to work collaboratively and participate equally in the designing and making of art. Use of the immediate environment, the work of a representative sample of famous artists, and other areas of the curriculum are effectively used as entry points to the art lessons. Commendable emphasis is placed on the pupils’ ability to express themselves creatively and imaginatively, through art. Samples of their work are attractively displayed in the classrooms and corridors and it is evident from these displays that all strands and strand units are suitably developed. Pupils are proud of what they have created. They respond well to their own work and to the work of other artists.

 

Music

Music was well taught in all lessons observed and achievement levels were very good. All pupils were observed to participate in the classes and they sang a wide repertoire of songs sweetly. The school choir enters local and national competitions and performs for the school concert and for church related events. Tin whistle is taught from first to sixth class. Children display a commendable ability to use graphic and standard notation and a very good understanding of the elements of music, particularly pitch and pulse. Good lessons were observed where pupils explored and composed music and it is evident that skills developed from class to class contribute greatly to the ability of the pupils to engage and achieve in the area of music. The recently established school band provides all pupils from second to sixth class with an opportunity to perform music and to experience and play a wide variety of musical instruments.

 

Drama

It is noteworthy that discrete time is allocated to drama lessons across the school in addition to drama conventions being used as a learning tool in other subject areas. The standards achieved in this new curriculum subject vary across the school. In the infant classes, role play and thought-tracking are used to quite good effect to deepen the pupils’ appreciation of story characters. In the middle classes, some excellent improvisation lessons were observed. During these lessons, the children were encouraged by their teachers’ example to enter appropriately into the drama context after which they were guided into a reflection on the drama. Pupils in the senior classes have produced drama contracts and participate enthusiastically in both drama games and improvisations. To facilitate continuity and progression in the delivery of the drama curriculum, it is now timely that the school would devise a drama plan which would form the basis of other long-term and short-term plans. To ensure that all drama lessons become learning experiences, the good practice of reflecting on the dramatic action and on the insights gained therein, should be extended to all classes.   

 

4.6 Physical Education

Planning and lessons observed indicate that the quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education is very good. The school is well resourced with a variety of equipment. All strands of the curriculum are well developed and teachers effectively integrate Physical Education with other areas of the curriculum, particularly with Music. Swimming lessons are arranged for the pupils during the final school term. Teachers place very good emphasis on participation, skills development and activity. Due regard is placed on the safety of the children at all times with the effective use of and movement of equipment. Children display a positive attitude to the programme and are facilitated to experience a sense of achievement in each of the classes observed. Extra-curricular activities arranged by the school support the physical education programme. Pupils participate in camogie, cross county running, athletics, community games and basketball. Teachers and parents are to be commended for the support they give to these activities, some of which occur after school.  A “Sport for all Day” is arranged each June with a commendable emphasis on fun and participation.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

In the social, personal and health education (SPHE) lessons observed, the teaching and learning was of a good standard. The “Walk Tall”, “Stay Safe” and “Bí Folláin” programmes are utilised to good effect.  The school staff, in collaboration with the parents, has developed a comprehensive relationship and sexuality education (RSE) policy. Most teachers employ participative teaching and learning approaches which allow pupils to explore topics including healthy eating, safety, classroom rules and growing and changing. Parental involvement is encouraged by the sending home of worksheets that relate directly to the topics being addressed in the classroom and this good practice is commended.

 

The whole school plan in relation to SPHE is generic in nature and takes little cognisance of the context of the school. Traveller culture should be an integral part of the intercultural curriculum in this school and should be represented positively so as to ensure that this culture is acknowledged and celebrated in all areas of school life. It is recommended, therefore, that the SPHE plan be reviewed to incorporate an intercultural and anti-racist framework and to incorporate the inclusion of the reality, needs and culture and life experiences of Travellers

 

4.8 Assessment

Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered each June. Less than half of the pupils enrolled in the school sit these tests as the majority of the nomadic Travellers are absent at this time of year. The school should ensure that standardised tests are administered to all pupils who were absent on the day that the assessments were administered. The results of the standardised tests in English are utilised to identify pupils experiencing difficulties in the area of literacy. However, there is little evidence to indicate that such data are utilised to inform planning, to impact on teaching and learning or to provide information on pupil learning outcomes. Assessment data should be used to inform the development of suitable teaching programmes at whole school and at individual classroom level. Systematic analysis of pupils’ progress in literacy and numeracy at whole-school and classroom level should identify clearly how pupils are progressing from year to year. This information should then be utilised to ensure that teaching programmes are developed that enable each child to achieve to her/his potential.

 

There is no whole-school assessment policy. In its absence, a variety of practices is employed by the teachers. All teachers were observed to monitor the pupils while they worked and to assist those experiencing difficulties. Written work is regularly corrected by all teachers and in many instances, helpful evaluative comments are made to assist and encourage the children. A few teachers maintain running records on pupils which record the academic progress and the social, emotional and behavioural development of the pupil. Other teachers maintain pupil profiles in English relating to the strands of oral language and reading. Some teachers have also developed pupil portfolios containing samples of work completed by the children in a number of subject areas. A few teachers record the results of teacher designed and commercially produced tests. Where good practice exists, it is highly commended. There is an immediate need, however, to extend these incidents of good practice to every class.

 

End of year school records on individual pupils are completed by all teachers for all pupils. The format of this report confines teachers to making a general comment in relation to the pupil’s progress. The present report format offers no guidance in relation to the recording of pupil progress in any of the curriculum areas or in relation to the social, emotional and behavioural development of the child. It is recommended, therefore, that a whole school policy in relation to assessment be drafted as a matter of priority. This policy should outline the purpose of assessment, the format of assessment, the recording and communication of the results of the assessments and how assessment data might best be utilised in the school to impact on increased pupil achievement, especially in the areas of  literacy and numeracy.

 

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

One full-time learning support teacher provides an educational programme for seventeen pupils. Two resource teachers for Travellers cater for the educational needs of thirty-two pupils and one full-time resource teacher provides support to six pupils with low-incidence learning disabilities. The school is included in the DEIS initiative and is availing of specialist co-ordinated support towards implementing the ‘Reading Recovery Programme’.  Four pupils are currently benefiting from this programme.

 

The support team sub-divides the cohort of pupils requiring learning support into two different groups. A “Blue Group” is offered learning support during September and October and also from April to June. A “Green Group” is selected for support from November to March. Very high numbers of nomadic Travellers re-enrol in the school between November and April of each school year. The support teaching team, in facing this particular challenge, believes that this method of grouping the pupils requiring intervention is the most appropriate.

 

All of the support teachers devise Individual Pupil Learning Programmes (IPLPs) for pupils identified as experiencing learning difficulties. Teachers were observed to employ a variety of teaching methodologies in these classes and to effectively utilise material resources to assist in the achievement of identified learning targets. Those children who attend school regularly are benefiting from these lessons and are making some progress.

 

The support team acknowledges that there are very difficult challenges presented by the arrival of nomadic Traveller pupils in the middle of an academic year. It is recognised that planning to meet the very specific literacy and numeracy needs of nomadic Travellers pupils can be a complex task. However, the impact of the IPLPs currently in place on the attainment of pupils from the Traveller community is very limited and their progress in the areas of literacy and numeracy is inadequate.

 

Teachers presently follow the guidelines contained in the Learning Support Guidelines (1999) when devising IPLP’s for these children. However, the lack of information relating to the education availed of by the nomadic pupils during their travels elsewhere in Ireland and abroad, coupled with the failure of the school to ascertain the achievement levels of the pupils in the areas of literacy and numeracy, make it difficult to plan a suitable learning programme for these pupils. It is recommended that the effectiveness of the current IPLP’s devised for those pupils whose attendance is sporadic, and the involvement of parents in the drafting of these, should be reviewed as part of a whole-school review of the special education needs policy.

 

The development of strategies to address Traveller pupil attainment and attendance are now among one of the biggest challenges facing this school community. The expertise and advice of the support services should be sought in addressing both issues. Under the DEIS (Band 1),  initiative, the main aims of which are to improve attainment, attendance, retention and progression, the school is given a certain flexibility in its deployment of human and physical resources. There is also an expectation in the DEIS initiative, that the school will place a renewed emphasis on the involvement of parents, family members and the community in the pupil’s education. It is anticipated that schools which are the subject of the DEIS initiative will develop precision in their planning and in setting and measuring targets and actual outcomes. Under DEIS, the school will benefit from access to a co-ordinator who will support the development of home, school and community linkages, the implementation of literacy and numeracy programmes and other planning supports. The school now needs to prioritise the educational needs of all its pupils and outline through an action plan the strategies through which it intends to address those needs. Improved levels of attendance and attainment among the Traveller community should be given a very high degree of priority in these plans.

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The school has an active and supportive board of management which has established excellent working relationships with the staff and the parents’ association. Members of the board expend considerable time and effort in the management of the affairs of the school. They are to be commended for the organisation of homework clubs, school lunches and book rental schemes, all of which benefit children who are enrolled in the school.

·         The school plan reflects a collaborative and consultative approach involving parents, staff, the board and the educational support services. Plans and policies are well researched and are cognisant of the ethos and particular needs of the pupils.

·         The school is to be commended for the organisation of a variety of extra and co-curricular activities for the pupils. Involvement in the Green Flag project, school choir, school band, athletics and games, community events and quizzes all contribute to the building of a sense of pride and belonging in the pupils.

·         The quality of teaching and learning in the Physical Education, Arts Education and in Science are of a high standard and reflect a commitment to active learning methodologies that result in high pupil engagement and achievement.

·         There exists among the teaching staff a variety of expertise and professional commitment to teaching and learning. Teachers, individually and as a team, have engaged in a wide variety of professional development activities that are pertinent to the needs of the pupils in the school. Individual incidences of excellent teaching were also observed during the evaluation period.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         It is recommended that the board now draft a whole school development plan. This plan should engage the school’s educational partners as appropriate. It should identify whole school priorities and it should include planned actions aimed at achieving solutions to issues identified both by the board itself and within the whole school evaluation report.

 

·         The school, in collaboration with the educational welfare officer, the visiting teachers for Travellers and the home school community liaison teacher should devise an Attendance Strategy to improve the serious levels of absenteeism in the school. This policy should address the development of a number of focused attendance strategies as required under section 22 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000.

 

·         The school should establish clear development priorities and undertake specific action planning activities that will enhance the educational provision for Traveller children. It should provide Traveller pupils with high-quality learning experiences, particularly in the areas of numeracy and literacy, appropriate to their needs, abilities and interests of these particular children.

 

·         The school should devise a coherent and systematic whole school approach to pupil assessment. It should outline how individual teachers might undertake a variety of assessment techniques across the curriculum areas. It should also provide for the effective monitoring and recording of children’s progress and it should ensure that this approach will become an integral part of the teaching and learning cycle. 

 

·         The in-school management team should review the relative impact and influence of whole school plans on actual teaching practices and classroom planning in the school.  This review should be undertaken as part of the school self-review process.

 

·         The significant level of low achievement in classrooms requires that teaching and learning approaches be focused on the specific needs of individual and groups of pupils. Provision must be characterised by high expectations for all children and an emphasis on improving standards. To this end, individual class teachers need to plan a differentiated programme which will ensure continuity and progression in pupil learning. particularly in the area of literacy and numeracy.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

  

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

·         The School makes every effort to ascertain the achievement levels of all pupils in the areas of literacy and numeracy, and they use this information to devise suitable learning programmes for the pupils.

 

·         As and from the September 1st. the school no longer has the services of the H.S.C.L. This will have serious consequences for the levels of absenteeism and the Board of Managements efforts in this regard.

 

·         The Board of Management has full confidence in the professionalism, expertise and dedication of the Principal and teaching staff of the school.

 

 

Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

Follow up actions undertaken:

·         Extra parent-teacher meeting per year

·         Written reports sent to all parents (copies kept in school)

·         A whole school assessment/progress record in literacy, numeracy is currently being devised throughout the school. This will further enhance the current good practice of differentiating for the various levels within each classroom.

·         Standardised testing will now be undertaken in November and May to accommodate all pupils.

·         Learning support in Mathematics has been re-introduced. This is further supplemented by the school engaging in the Maths Recovery Programme.

·         Local history project, integrating SESE subjects, has been planned for 1st term in all classes.  Each class will focus on an aspect of the immediate local environment.

 

Follow up actions planned:

·         First Steps Programme in literacy and writing will be implemented in all classes.

 

The Board of Management and staff look forward to implementing and developing all recommendations of the W.S.E.