An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

St. Mary’s Church of Ireland N.S.,

Waterpark, Carrigaline, County Cork.

Uimhir rolla: 18279A

 

Date of inspection: 24 November 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Conclusion

 

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of St. Mary’s Church of Ireland N.S. was undertaken in November 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English and Mathematics. 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.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

St. Mary’s Church of Ireland National School is co-educational and caters for pupils from junior infants to sixth class from the greater Carrigaline area. It is situated on an attractive site in Waterpark estate, adjacent to Carrigaline Community School. Since the last report was furnished in 2001, pupil numbers and staffing have increased considerably. In response to this growth the current building, which opened in 1987, was recently extended and refurbished to a high standard. The school has strong links with the community and organises a range of praiseworthy initiatives such as quizzes and the local craft fair.

 

The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

230

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

12

Mainstream class teachers

8

Teachers in Special Needs Unit

2

Teachers working in support roles

2

Special needs assistants

7

 

 

1           Quality of school management

 

1.1         Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

The school is under the patronage of the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross and upholds the ethos of the Church of Ireland. Both the Rector and the Bishop visit the school on a regular basis. The school motto, “Mol an Óige agus tiocfaidh sí,” admirably underpins its sound philosophy and vision focused on promoting the holistic development of each child. In keeping with its vision, this school, as outlined in its plan, successfully provides its pupils with a “warm, caring and just environment.”

 

1.2         Board of management

The board of management discharges its duties in an effective and most diligent manner. It is properly constituted and meetings are convened on a regular basis. Minutes and financial statements are maintained carefully. The board works in close collaboration with all partners and the chairperson visits the school on a regular basis. It is evident that much credit is due to board members for their dedicated work and for their success in ensuring that the recent extension was completed to a high standard. Also, they are to be lauded for their commitment to diversifying their provision to provide a Special Needs Unit for pupils presenting with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and for their admirable work in providing high-quality facilities for these classes, albeit in temporary accommodation at present. A key priority for the board is to further extend the upgraded building to incorporate this unit. Work is ongoing on this project. The board is also involved in the development of the school plan and is currently reviewing the admissions policy. In order to further support school self-evaluation, it is recommended that policies be reviewed in a more systematic manner and that hard copies of all policies be signed and dated.

 

1.3         In-school management

The principal has served the school in a dedicated manner for thirty four years. She provides the school with caring and informed leadership and has a deep commitment to the welfare of pupils and staff. She works in close collaboration with all partners and has competently led the school through a period of considerable growth and development. The in-school management team, supporting the principal, includes a deputy principal and three special duties post-holders. Appropriately, the duties attached to these posts are outlined clearly, and are reviewed periodically in response to changes in staffing. The valuable contribution which post-holders make to the management of the school is acknowledged and commended. In order to further develop their instructional leadership role in monitoring on-going review of curriculum implementation, it is recommended that the duties attached to the posts be reviewed formally on a more regular basis. In particular, it is advised that a post of responsibility for special education needs be established. Also, it is suggested that the provision of action plans by post-holders would greatly clarify priorities for development and facilitate review of progress. It is further recommended that consideration be given to the establishment of agreed procedures to facilitate more regular meetings of the in-school management team. The board employs a secretary and a cleaner who make a considerable contribution to the work of the school.

 

1.4         Management of relationships and communication with the school community

This is an open, welcoming school where parents are encouraged to take an active role in their children’s learning. A prospectus for new parents was updated recently and newsletters are issued on a regular basis. Appropriately, parents are informed about pupil progress through annual parent-teacher meetings and written school reports. Parents report that they are happy with the quality of education provided and are grateful to the teachers for their dedicated work. In order to build on existing good practice in involving parents in their children’s learning, it is recommended that formal paired reading programmes be further developed. The school has an active parents’ association which contributes significantly to the overall success of the school. The association has provided substantial funding for a wide range of resources. Commendably, a committee is currently being set up in order to build on the school’s success to date in promoting environmental awareness and secure a Green Flag.

 

1.5         Management of pupils

Teachers demonstrate impressive levels of experience and expertise and manage pupils in an effective manner. They are also to be commended on the high-quality, stimulating learning environment in evidence throughout the school. The pupils are well-behaved and highly motivated. Many good classroom routines which promote positive behaviour and learning patterns were noted and favourably commented on during the evaluation.

 

 

2           Quality of school planning

 

2.1         Whole-school and classroom planning

The school plan is devised through the collaborative activities of the staff, the board of management and the parents. This approach to policy development is welcome as it facilitates the inclusion of a broad range of perspectives and it encourages commitment to policy implementation. The development of curriculum plans is undertaken primarily by the principal and the teaching staff. The school plan serves as a useful guide in informing practice. In a number of curricular policies clear guidelines for classroom practice are outlined. However, there is now a need to extend this good work and to promote greater linkage between curricular policies and classroom practice. Staff could gainfully consider making greater use of the data emanating from monthly progress records and assessment to inform more regular review of policies. It is also advised that the development of an action plan with an agreed time frame would further support the planning process.

 

Much credit is due to many teachers for the time and effort they spend in devising both long-term and short-term schemes of work. Many schemes include clear objectives and are referenced to the curriculum. Teaching methodologies, assessment, differentiation and integration are clearly identified in the attainment of these objectives.  However, in some plans there is a lack of clarity with regard to pupil learning outcomes and an overemphasis on textbook content. In order to build on existing good practice, it is recommended that the staff reconsider the range of approaches to classroom planning and review the number of workbooks in use in some areas of learning. It is also suggested that greater consistency in recording monthly progress records be developed. This process would facilitate the tracking of programme progression to a greater degree and would contribute to regular review of curriculum implementation.

 

2.2         Child protection policy and procedures

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; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3           Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1         Language

 

English

The whole-school plan provides many useful guidelines in each strand of the English curriculum and contains a wide range of high-quality resources. It is recommended that the plan be reviewed in order to provide further guidelines for classroom practice particularly with regard to the provision of differentiated programmes and the development of emergent reading skills. In the teaching of English, effective practice in the development of pupils’ oral language skills through the provision of discrete oral language classes was noted. In many classrooms a praiseworthy emphasis is placed on rhyme, poetry and storytelling. Commendably, pupils are encouraged to respond to poetry in many different ways and in most classrooms they can recite a range of poems with expression and clarity. Talk and discussion are promoted competently at whole-class level. Pupils throughout the school display an ability to express themselves confidently. In some classrooms carefully structured language programmes, which incorporate group work, were noted. It would be worthwhile for staff to discuss and share this good practice further.

 

In keeping with good practice in the teaching of reading, the school provides pupils with a large variety of suitable reading material. Commendably, this material is organised in many classrooms in a manner which accommodates pupils’ range of reading abilities and interest levels. High-frequency and common words from pupils’ sight vocabulary are displayed in some classrooms. The further development of this good practice would greatly support those pupils experiencing difficulties with reading. A range of teaching methodologies is in use and many pupils read with fluency and demonstrate an enthusiasm for reading. In order to build on existing good practice, it is recommended that the use of differentiated reading groups be greatly extended. Also, it is advised that a more systematic approach to the provision of direct instruction in key skills would greatly enrich pupil learning. It is further recommended that additional opportunities be provided to develop pupils’ emergent reading skills, through the use of both language experience material and other structured activities, prior to the introduction of a commercially produced reading scheme.

 

In the teaching of writing, letter formation and handwriting skills are taught conscientiously. Praiseworthy work is in evidence in relation to the implementation of a cursive style. The high standard of presentation of written work in many classrooms merits much praise. Pupils engage in both functional and creative writing. At particular class levels pupils are given many opportunities to write for a variety of purposes in a range of genres and some high-quality samples of their writing were noted. The extension of this good practice on a whole-school basis is recommended. Also, it is advised that greater emphasis be placed on developing the writing process in conjunction with pupils’ emergent reading skills. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on displaying pupils’ work in both classrooms and in circulation areas.   

 

 

3.2         Mathematics

Staff is commended for the quality of its plan for Mathematics. The detail therein is instructive, it allows for the acquisition of mathematical language development on a whole-school basis and it serves as a most useful guide in informing classroom practice. Overall, the quality of teaching and learning is good. At all levels, pupils display age-appropriate ability to perform computation and problem-solving exercises. Many pupils demonstrate creditable levels of achievement. Teachers give clear explanation to pupils and address content through detailed questioning. In the junior classes a sound mathematical basis is established through the recitation of number rhymes. Exercises in the memorisation of number facts and engagement in mental mathematical activities are a noteworthy feature in most classes. Regular discussion of concepts was a feature of lessons observed and a suitable emphasis is placed on linking the work in progress to the pupils’ own experiences and to real life practical situations. The use of concrete material is common and is recognised by staff as a productive means of developing understanding. Staff has identified the necessity for additional mathematical equipment to further support pupil learning. An increased use of mathematical games is encouraged to facilitate the reinforcement of key skills in an integrated manner. In this context the provision of a mathematics-rich environment could also be extended to all classes. The pupils’ written work is well presented and is regularly monitored and marked by teachers. Copybook activity is limited in some classes, and a greater engagement in the recording of work in copybooks is advised. In plotting the further development of good practice, regular revision and consolidation is advised to reinforce pupils’ knowledge and skills.

 

3.3         Assessment

The teachers make use of a range of assessment approaches that includes standardised testing, diagnostic testing, teacher observation and teacher-devised tests. Portfolios of pupils’ work are maintained and in some classes detailed records of pupil progress are maintained. Positive teacher comments are a commendable feature in the regular monitoring of pupils’ written work. In the further development of assessment procedures, staff is advised to devise a policy on assessment that will guide practice on a whole-school basis. Within this policy staff is encouraged to embrace the clear messages outlined in the recent guidelines issued by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. In this context the regular use of revision tests is advised in the further consolidation of pupil learning.  Good work in relation to tracking results from one class level to the next for pupils in receipt of supplementary teaching was observed during the evaluation. Staff is advised to extend this good practice so that assessment data is systematically used to inform teaching and learning and to provide for increased levels of differentiation in mainstream classrooms.

 

 

4           Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1         Pupils with special educational needs

A sound policy on learning-support which incorporates the staged approach and provides clear guidance for the development of effective practice has been formulated. Appropriately, the policy highlights that the role of support learning is a collaborative responsibility shared by all. The support teachers work conscientiously to provide supplementary teaching in both literacy and numeracy. In keeping with best practice, they liaise regularly with class teachers, with the principal and with external agencies. Also, they are to be commended for the wide range of reading material and resources which they provide and organise in a most effective manner. Appropriately, they have put good planning and assessment systems in place which are regularly reviewed. Pupils’ priority learning needs are outlined carefully in Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and specific targets are set. During the evaluation well-structured lessons with high-quality pupil-teacher interactions were observed in all contexts. Commendably, the teachers make productive use of a range of resources and effective methodologies. While the creditable work in evidence in relation to the provision of in-class support for pupils is acknowledged, it is apparent that there is a need to develop further models of in-class support, particularly in order to extend the use of active learning. Proposals to review the caseload are timely. It is evident that many pupils are withdrawn on an individual basis and that there is scope to greatly increase the emphasis on targeted support for groups in both mainstream and withdrawal contexts. In particular, it is advised that the further development of group teaching, as outlined in the school plan, would greatly enrich the current provision for pupils with special needs.

 

Much credit is due to the teachers who cater for pupils in the two ASD classes, for the careful consideration which they give to the formation and implementation of IEPs for each pupil. Appropriately, pupils with ASD are skilfully encouraged to be active and independent in their own learning. Teachers make effective use of a clear and unambiguous language of instruction, visual cues, work schedules and a purposefully structured learning environment to promote on-task engagement. Commendably, the school has taken many steps to ensure pupils’ welfare, health and safety given their varying abilities to comprehend instructions. There is a generous level of care staff and the quality of supervision during structured playtime is high. Teachers and special needs assistants successfully minimise disruption and help pupils to know what behaviour is expected of them during lessons. In order to further meet pupils’ education needs and promote opportunities for group socialisation skills during the school day, it is recommended that a careful balance between group and individual work needs to be maintained. It may be necessary for staff to consider some differentiated groups to provide additional opportunities for group tuition among mainstream pupils of the same age. The school has established some good inclusion practices with pupils from the ASD classes. Currently pupils are integrated into mainstream classes for appropriate subject areas. It is evident that the staff and board are committed to further developing this important area. In this context, it is advised that consideration be given to reverse integration. Also, in order to further facilitate inclusion opportunities, it is recommended that teachers’ long-term planning in the ASD classes could profitably be coordinated with planning in the same strata in the mainstream school so that all pupils at the same level would be addressing the same curricular strands. Appropriately, assessment in the ASD classes is viewed as an ongoing process and staff record pupils’ progress carefully on an individual basis. Frequently these concurrent records note the activity completed by pupils rather than yielding specific information on the manner in which pupils have engaged with the task, or particular difficulties that arose for them within the task. A change in the recording format might yield more valuable information for the future design of learning objectives. In keeping with best practice, the school has engaged in whole staff professional development with the provision of an in-school information day on the triad of impairment associated with ASD.

 

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

The school currently has five newcomer pupils in receipt of language support. Commendably, fruitful use is made of a wide range of resources, including those provided by Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT).  Pupils are withdrawn either individually or in small groups. During the evaluation praiseworthy work was observed. In general pupils are making good progress. In the ongoing development of language support, staff is advised to develop a policy on English as an additional language that will serve as a useful guide for all staff. Within this policy staff is urged to seek a greater balance between withdrawal and in-class support.

 

 

5           Conclusion

 

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

 

The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:

 

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, June 2009