An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Maria Assumpta Senior GNS
Uimhir rolla: 18237H
Date of inspection: 30 April 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Maria Assumpta Senior GNS. 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, teachers, board of management, the trustees’ representative and parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Maria Assumpta Senior Girls NS, Ballyphehane, Cork is under the trusteeship of the Presentation Order and the patron is the Roman Catholic bishop of Cork and Ross. The school is part of a two-school linked complex comprising Maria Assumpta Junior Girls’ NS and Maria Assumpta Senior Girls’ NS. Both schools were built to cater for what was then an expanding suburb of Cork city and were officially opened in 1957 by then Minister for Education, the late Mr.Jack Lynch TD. In its fifty years of existence, the school has built up a great sense of loyalty from among the population of Ballyphehane. Parents and grandparents who were former pupils continue to enrol their children and grandchildren. The Presentation Order no longer has members teaching in the school and because of movement in the population in the area, enrolments have been declining over the past decade. Current enrolment in the school stands at 184 pupils and while recent enrolment peaked in 2006 at 209 pupils, further decline is predicted for the next two school years. The school has full disadvantaged or DEIS status.
The board of management is properly constituted and fulfils all its duties to a very high standard and in a highly committed fashion. Minutes of meetings are maintained conscientiously by the secretary of the board and a broad range of matters concerning the life of the school as well as the maintenance of the building are discussed. The lay chairperson of the board is very committed to the school and calls once a week to meet the principal and teachers. The treasurer undertakes dedicated voluntary service to the school by maintaining accounts of school income and expenditure and provides a comprehensive report to the board at each meeting. It is now recommended that the school accounts are certified externally as is required under section 18 (1) of the Education Act. The board is very active in supporting sound educational initiatives within the school and works with all the stakeholders to ensure that the best possible provision in terms of accommodation, educational resources and standards is available to the school community.
The principal of the school has given 40 years dedicated service to the school in the roles of class teacher, Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) teacher and as principal for the last eleven years. She administers the school with admirable skill and provides the staff with visionary curriculum leadership. Under her tenure as principal the school has become involved in a number of significant educational initiatives that have played a major part in the school’s noteworthy success in terms of educational standards and in the overall service provided to pupils and their parents. These initiatives to name but a few, include the initiation of special literacy programmes, such as Literacy Lift-off, the development of a full school orchestra, parental involvement in Maths for Fun and the development of a very successful school garden. It is noted that the principal has helped to create a very happy atmosphere in the school for teachers, pupils and parents. During the WSE, every group of stakeholders within the entire school community proffered a similar view as to the positive role the principal has played in the life of this school.
The principal is very ably supported by the other members of the middle management team. The team displays openness to new thinking and new ideas and seeks to ensure that the work of the school continues to be successful. The duties of this team generally comprise an appropriate mix of curricular, organisational and pastoral care duties. Members of the team meet on a monthly basis to discuss a range of issues and this is supplemented by numerous informal meetings. There is a palpable sense of collegiality among the staff, including the middle management team, and this in turn leads to a positive spirit among pupils and parents.Consideration should now be given to the designation of a specific coordination role for a member of the team in the area of special needs. This would be particularly useful in light of the number of staff involved in the area of special needs. The coordinator role could involve providing advice for new members to the team.
The two most notable resources in this school are the dedication of the staff and the pristine condition of the school building. The board of management and the caretaker are to complimented on the very high standard of maintenance in the building. While the building is fifty years old, it bears witness to what were obviously high construction standards and today, pupils are educated in a bright and cheerful environment eminently suitable to the needs of a 21st century curriculum. The commitment of the staff to the pupils is very evident in many ways but in particular in their loyalty to the school. The school is very well resourced in terms of material resources and the board has used Department of Education and Science grants, additional DEIS grants and local funding very wisely to build up an extensive array of resources for use in the school. The teachers use these resources very effectively for both in-class teaching and for the numerous after-school activities that are organised here.
Communication within the school is characterised by openness. The parents who were met as part of the WSE process emphasised their support for the school through fundraising, supporting school concerts and their overall involvement in school life. The parents were particularly complimentary of the influence of the HSCL initiative in helping them have such a positive relationship with the school. They valued the courses provided for them and they also valued the after-school clubs provided for their children. They also valued the channels that are provided for them to support their children’s learning in the school through HSCL initiatives in literacy and numeracy development. They valued the consultation processes that are in place for policy review and for providing them with information on the curriculum that is taught in the school. The parents also expressed their high level of satisfaction with educational standards and results in the school.
All pupils were friendly and courteous during the course of the evaluation and exhibited high levels of confidence in their interactions with the inspectors. Pupils are particularly comfortable in the use of the Irish language during the school day and were free in their use of the language for greetings, doing messages for teachers and in interacting with the school secretary who encourages them to communicate with her through Irish.
The quality of curricular planning in the school is commendable and it is evident that the curricular plans reflect current practices in the school and offer guidance to teachers in their implementation of the curriculum. The plans describe the many initiatives that the school has undertaken to improve provision in certain subjects including those for literacy and numeracy, as well as the numerous ways that parents become involved in supporting the teachers in curricular areas. It is praiseworthy that all teachers are willing to become involved in the development and review of plans in support of the post-holder with particular responsibility for coordinating the subject. The administrative plans cover the important areas for guiding practice in the school.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
All teachers prepare well for their teaching and all teachers provide long and short term planning to support their teaching. Discussion amongst all teachers regarding the content of individual teacher planning may be worthwhile as some teachers have devised very useful methods of recording their plans and include in those plans useful sections such as the methodologies employed as well as approaches to differentiation and assessment. This good practice should be shared.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Baintear caighdeáin arda amach i múineadh agus i bhfoghlaim na Gaeilge sa scoil seo de bharr dhíogras na múinteoirí sa seomra agus de bharr thacaíocht an phríomhoide don teanga taobh amuigh den seomra ranga. Bhí sé soiléir le linn na meastóireachta go mbaintear úsáid neamhfhoirmiúil as an nGaeilge sa chumarsáid maidir le gnáth chúrsaí scoile idir daltaí agus oidí. I ngach ócáid inar bhuailtear le dalta ar shiúltán, beannaíonn an dalta an t-oide nó an cuairteoir trí mheán na Gaeilge. Ó thaobh na hoibre sa rang de, tugadh faoi deara go raibh dea-nósanna múinteoireachta agus foghlama go forleathan sa scoil. Foghlaimítear filíocht go rialta sna ranganna uilig agus aithrisíonn na daltaí na dánta le fuinneamh, le tuiscint agus le cruinneas. Múintear comhrá foirmiúil agus comhrá neamhfhoirmiúil le meascán inmholta de mhúinteoireacht dhíreach agus de chleachtadh beirte. Bhí an teanga agus an muinín ag na daltaí labhairt go saoráideach nuair a cheistíodh iad le linn na meastóireachta.
Múintear an léitheoireacht go cruinn sa scoil agus de bharr dhíogras na n-oidí léann na daltaí go muiníneach. Tugann daltaí freagraí cruinne ar ábhar na léitheoireachta agus spreagtar iad chun ceisteanna a chumadh ar an léitheoireacht. Tugtar faoi raon leathan d’ábhair scríbhneoireachta sna ranganna go léir. Nótaíodh go raibh leabhair bheaga curtha le chéile ag ranganna áirithe agus go raibh scéalta agus agallaimh cumtha ag na daltaí, dánta cóipeáilte amach agus obair leathnú foclóra le feiceáil go rialta sna cóipleabhair. Bíonn an obair scríbhneoireachta bunaithe i gcotinne ar cheachtanna comhrá, ar cheachtanna filíochta nó ar cheachtanna léitheoireachta. Is dea-chleachtas é seo agus chomh maith baintear caighdeáin arda peannaireachta amach i gcoitinne. Chun an dea-obair atá ar siúl a leathnú amach níos mó fós, b’fhiú don fhoireann anois smaoineamh a dhéanamh ar úrscéalta Gaeilge a úsáid i gcur chuige na scoile i leith léitheoireacht na Gaeilge.
High standards are achieved in the teaching and learning of Irish in this school due to the dedication of teachers in the classroom and the support of the principal in assemblies and outside the classroom. It was evident during the evaluation that informal use of Irish is the norm in communication on school matters between pupils and teachers. On each occasion that a pupil is met on a corridor the pupil salutes the teacher or visitor through Irish. With regard to the work in the class, it was observed that effective teaching and learning strategies were employed widely throughout the school. Irish poetry is learned regularly in all classes and pupils recite poems with energy, meaning and accuracy. Formal and informal conversation is taught with a commendable blend of direct teaching and pair work practice. The pupils had both the language and the confidence to speak freely in Irish when they were questioned on their work during the evaluation.
Reading is taught accurately in the school and due to the dedicated input of the teachers, pupils read confidently. Pupils give accurate answers to questions on the subject of their reading and pupils are encouraged to devise questions on their reading material. A wide range of writing topics is addressed in all the classes. It was observed during the evaluation that class books in Irish had been compiled in some classes and that pupils had written stories and dialogues, had copied out Irish poems and had engaged in vocabulary extension activities. Written work was always based either on oral language lessons, poetry lessons or on reading lessons. This is good practice and in addition high standards in handwriting are achieved in general. To extend this overall good practice further, it would now be advised that staff consider placing real books in Irish at the centre of reading programmes in the school.
English is taught successfully in this school and pupils advance confidently in the subject due to the whole school approaches to key aspects of teaching and learning. As is the case with the teaching of Irish, the emphasis on learning and reciting poetry is a strong feature of English oral language teaching throughout the school. The pupils learn, recite and discuss poetry with confidence and with a strong sense of joy. The pupils derive great benefit from this whole school emphasis and they also derive benefit from the other activities that teachers devise to develop competence and confidence in verbal communication. These activities involve discussion around items of local, national and international news gleaned from newspapers.
The school has initiated a commendable approach to reading development by its adoption of the First Steps and Literacy Lift-off programmes. Teachers have undergone training in the methodologies of these programmes and the programmes are being implemented very effectively in the school through admirable team teaching approaches. These programmes are supplemented by committed class work using class novels, the local library, the class library and pair reading strategies. It is noted that commercial class readers are used in classes up to Easter and then novels are employed for reading practice in the last term. As the special literacy programmes continue to upgrade reading skills, the introduction of novels earlier in the school year should be considered.
The different writing genres are practised regularly throughout the school. The most common genres practised include stories, letters, poetry, diaries, recount narratives and argument or debate essays. Praiseworthy instances of scaffolding for specific genre writing were witnessed during the WSE and pupils were encouraged to write in groups as well as individually. The use of the thesaurus and the dictionary is encouraged and the writing displayed in classrooms is of a very high standard. The handwriting in general in the school is of a high standard.
Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative
An external tutor from France teaches French in the school. Good use is made of the data projector for these lessons and games feature prominently in the overall teaching approach. Good participation was observed and pupils enjoyed the work.
There is very good provision in the area of Mathematics and it is evident that teachers endeavour to cater for the breadth of abilities of all pupils in their classes. There is an emphasis in all classes on the development of mental skills and the school has a commendable policy of 10 minutes mental practice in all classes each day. All teachers adopt active methodologies where possible during Mathematics classes. Pupils are provided with an array of suitable concrete materials to aid in concept understanding. Teachers also link topics to the interests of the pupils, encouraging them to source materials for lessons at home where possible. The development of estimation skills is a feature of many lessons. Very sensible decisions have been taken regarding the delivery of the Mathematics programme to some classes. Pupils have been divided into ability based groups and support teachers assist the class teacher in delivering the programme to up to three different groups.
Extra tuition is provided to pupils between the 10th and 20th percentile in standardised test results during the after-school club. During these sessions pupils have an extra opportunity to work with suitable materials to help increase understanding. This is proving very positive for the pupils involved. The very successful Maths for Fun activity was set up in 2002 by the HSCL teacher. This is a scheme which involves parents coming in to the classroom to play maths games with groups of children. The parents are trained in how to operate the games and work with groups of 4-6 children from 2nd to 5th class. It works on a rotation system in which each group of children gets to experience a variety of activities and games over a 4-6 week period. This is extremely beneficial for both pupils and parents. Pupils in 6th class participate in specially organised Maths Days.
Interesting programmes of work are implemented in History throughout the school and pupils seem to enjoy the subject. Discussions with pupils as well as observation of copies and displays showed that pupils are exposed to a wealth of myths, legends and stories about people and events in History to heighten their curiosity about the past. Teachers seize commendably on opportunities for integration with other subjects and some notable examples observed included lessons linked with the Visual Arts and English. Some commendable project work has been undertaken in some classes and pupils demonstrated their skills as historians. Some teachers have developed timelines with their classes to help pupils understand the chronology of events. This practice should now be extended to all classes. There is a particular emphasis on local History and a substantial collection of materials has been built up to assist teachers and pupils. The school has enjoyed much success in History competitions over the years.
There is good practice in the area of Geography and a broad curriculum is delivered to pupils. Local Geography is emphasised in many lessons and interesting use is made of maps of the locality. Talk, discussion and story are used effectively to stimulate interest and to develop knowledge. Interesting topics are covered and aspects of the human, social and natural Geography of Ireland, Europe and other parts of the world are covered in the programme. Most classes demonstrated good knowledge of the programme being covered but regular revision of some topics would help in improving learning levels for some pupils. Some commendable project work is undertaken in most classes and pupils are proud to discuss their work in these areas. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is used to enhance presentation skills. Lessons are appropriately linked with other areas of the SESE programme.
There is very good practice in the school in the area of Science and teachers have embraced the principles of the Primary Curriculum. An active and hands-on approach was a feature of all lessons observed during the evaluation and it was evident that pupils enjoy this work. Pupils are encouraged to work scientifically and are taught to record their work logically. A range of equipment is available to teachers and this is put to good use in all classrooms. Some classes have investigation tables and interesting displays of the experiment work that they have undertaken. The school garden provides an excellent learning environment for pupils and two/three classes are assigned to the garden each year to work with an expert who visits the school on a regular basis. Vegetable and flower seeds are planted and pupils are very proud of the results. Pupils also set up habitats for insects and birds and have opportunities to observe these throughout the year.
A broad and balanced programme is provided in the area of Visual Arts and all strands of the curriculum are covered competently. Suitable activities are selected at each class level to ensure that pupils are provided with chances to explore various materials and be creative through a variety of media. There are good quality displays in the classrooms and in corridor areas displaying both 2-D and 3-D work and pupils were keen to discuss their work during the evaluation. There are also many opportunities for pupils to develop an appreciation of Art and the work of various artists has been examined and discussed in all classrooms. An artist was employed to undertake a project with the pupils and this was linked commendably with the crochet classes run in the school for parents through the HSCL initiative. Parent participants in these classes taught basic crochet to the pupils and they used these pieces in their project.
There is excellent provision in Music in the school and it is evident that pupils are given numerous opportunities to develop and excel in this area. The Music curriculum is delivered by both the class teachers and external tutors. Class teachers are responsible for the delivery of the literacy, composition and song singing elements of the curriculum. All pupils are taught to play the recorder. Along with this, the after school club, already mentioned, also provides a number of pupils with the opportunity to receive instruction in other instruments including violin, flute and cello. The school is a recognised centre by the Irish Academy of Music for examinations in these instruments. These pupils then have the opportunity to play in the school orchestra which was formed eight years ago. This involves huge commitment and dedication from members and up to 60 pupils, almost 33% of the pupil enrolment in the school, practise each Wednesday with an external tutor. The orchestra has represented the school at numerous events including school concerts and masses along with presentations and exhibition openings. Pupils in the orchestra recently took part in a workshop run by a member of the National Concert Orchestra. This has led to the school receiving an invitation to play in the National Concert Hall in the near future. The school is also involved in producing full school musicals on a very regular basis. The whole school including parents become involved in various aspects of these productions. The most recent production was Annie in December 2008.
The staff selects a composer for particular focus each month and this involves a display associated with the work of this composer along with daily playing of their music in the corridor area as pupils are assembling in the school. This is an excellent way for pupils to become increasingly familiar with and develop an appreciation of Music in a variety of genres.
It is very clear that pupils enjoy Drama in this school and work very well in groups to devise dramatic presentations for SPHE themes. As the pupils mature, there is evidence of a greater ability to discern the essential elements of dramatic representation for various themes and topics. For younger pupils, prior discussions around the difference between serious and comic approaches would help focus pupils on the requirements of different themes.
The school provides a broad and balanced programme in Physical Education (PE) to the pupils. The school hall is put to good use and decisions have been taken by the staff regarding the allocation of specific strands from the curriculum to particular terms during the school year. A plentiful supply of resources has been provided and these are utilised competently by teachers. The lessons observed during the evaluation were well structured with appropriate warm-up and cool down activities during lessons. Pupils participated in dance activities, in skills development for games and in activities to develop skills in athletics. There is generous provision in the area of PE outside of school hours, including activities during the after-school club with the majority of the activities organised by teachers, parents or external tutors. The school also participates in a number of competitions and in a range of sports outside of the school and pupils have enjoyed numerous successes.
The school ethos is emphasised at the weekly assembly. For example, school attendance is encouraged by means of prizes for the class with the best attendance. This is also an opportunity to highlight the school’s support for Third World charities. Within classes, lessons combine direct teaching with group work. The teaching points of these lessons are clear and lessons observed during the evaluation on decision making, advertising and media education ensured pupils understood the concepts at the heart of such lessons. The combination of direct teaching, group work and Drama was successful.
Testing and assessment is a central feature of the work of the school and the overall approach is both useful and beneficial. The standardised Drumcondra tests in English and Mathematics are used to select pupils for both learning support and for resource teaching. In addition, teachers test pupils in Irish and SESE subjects at the end of the school year. Pupils are tested regularly in Mathematics and spelling during the year to ensure ongoing learning. Standardised test results are maintained in office files and electronically in the office computer. Teachers also maintain personal records of results. There is a parent-teacher meeting during the first term and end of year reports with standardised test results are sent home. The transition programme for entrance to the local secondary school is organised through the HSCL initiative.
The policy in the school is geared to early intervention and a staged approach as recommended in Department guidelines. Literacy and numeracy are supported and as much as possible the school operates wisely a one teacher – one pupil policy to prevent unwieldy overlap. In addition, resource teachers are confined to particular classes again to prevent unnecessary duplication. The service is provided in an overall atmosphere of team effort and there is good collaboration between the class teachers and the support teachers. There are formal meetings between class teachers and support teachers every Monday and every Friday and there is ongoing informal communication. There is also very good cooperation between the support teachers and external support agencies. The teachers utilise a variety of approaches in their programmes with pupils and the most successful approaches involved close liaison between the support teacher and the class teacher. In order to develop the service further the school should now consider the allocation of a coordination role in the area of special needs to a member of the middle management team. This role could involve supporting new members to the team, review of practices and coordinating policies.
The particular strengths of the service are that all pupils who need support are given help, there is a team effort in place and cooperation between class teachers, support teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) is strong. In addition, all the support teachers are involved in particular programmes, such as First Steps or Literacy Lift-off. The Literacy Lift-off programme has been modified to suit the senior school setting and involves the support teachers and the SNAs providing intense daily reading support for a specific period of six to eight weeks. All classes are involved and this programme is to be highly commended. Pre and post-testing of classes demonstrate significant gains for pupils. The special needs assistants play a valuable role in supporting the integration of pupils. They work very well with the teachers and the principal to ensure that the service provided is aimed at increasing pupils’ independence. The SNAs are flexible in terms of meeting pupils’ needs and are also aware of their role in the overall collegiate atmosphere of the school.
The HSCL initiative is a major support for the school and is utilised very effectively to ensure parental involvement in the life of the school. In meetings with parents during the evaluation, parents’ representatives spoke highly of the quality of service provided. They placed high value on the opportunities provided by HSCL for upskilling themselves and for giving them the confidence to make positive changes in their lives. A number of FETAC courses are provided that span a range of vocational courses, such as child care to leisure courses, crochet being an example of the latter. The service provides parents with a valuable link to the school and enables them to offer their own services to the school for concerts and church services. The home visits play a vital role in connecting with those parents who for various reasons and difficulties are unable to avail of the in-school supports. The local committee provides a valuable link between the schools in the area.
The HSCL service has direct input into class work through the very innovative approach to Maths for Fun where parents are involved with classes for one session per week. Story sacks are now being prepared for the next school year. There is also a very worthwhile project in place whereby parents of sixth class pupils work with the pupils on their class novel. The very successful after-school clubs provide further evidence of the key role this service plays in the lives of the pupils.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2009