An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

    Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

St. Louise de Marillac Junior School

Ballyfermot, Dublin 10

Uimhir rolla: 18342E

 

     Date of inspection:  11 February 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

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. Louise de Marillac Junior School, Ballyfermot. 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 acting principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management 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 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. Louise de Marillac Junior School was established by the Daughters of Charity and celebrated its golden jubilee in 2008. The school caters for boys and girls from junior infants to first class and for girls in second class. Due to demographic patterns, enrolments are in decline in recent years. In the current academic year, there are 224 pupils attending the school, thirty of whom are in an Early Start half-unit. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and the trusteeship of the Daughters of Charity. The school has participated in a range of Department of Education and Science programmes to address educational disadvantage and currently is included in Band One of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity to Schools (DEIS) initiative. One of the key priorities of the school is to improve levels of pupil attendance. The significant minority of pupils absent for considerable periods of time is being addressed through the DEIS Action Plan and other school-based initiatives. Through these, pupil attendance is acknowledged on an ongoing basis and is celebrated through the awarding of certificates and the display of photographs of regular attendees. The Catholic ethos and the philosophy of the Daughters of Charity are very much in evidence and the school is committed to promoting the confidence, self-belief and potential of each pupil within a safe and happy environment. These values and the practice towards their achievement are captured well in the school’s motto, ‘Working Together for a Brighter Future’.

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

The board of management is properly constituted and indicated that it is compliant with Department regulations and relevant legislation. The chairperson and members of the board are to be praised for their long-standing commitment to and support of the school by serving on the board. Regular meetings of the board are held and detailed minutes are maintained. Among the commonly discussed issues are school finances, policy review, school ethos and provision for school maintenance. Serving as secretary and treasurer on the board, the acting principal prepares a financial statement and a report on the operation of the school for each meeting. In line with the rules of procedure for boards of management, all transactions are authorised by two nominated signatories of the board. It is recommended that roles and duties be shared more equally among board members to ensure improved teamwork and better use of individual member expertise. Finances are managed carefully and school accounts have been recently audited. The board is to be commended for the good condition in which the school building and grounds are maintained and for its close co-operation with the adjoining senior school in this regard. The board invests generously in teachers’ continuing professional development and many teachers avail of the support to enrich their pedagogical skills and the collective expertise of the school. Organisational and curriculum policies are discussed and ratified by the board on an ongoing basis and the participation of parents in the planning process is welcomed. Some members of the board have availed of training for their role and the sourcing of further training should be investigated to enhance the contribution of all members to the ongoing operation of the board. The board expresses its pride in the growing partnership among the school community, particularly with parents, and the positive effect of initiatives to promote community involvement. The innovative school staff is praised for its willingness to embrace new ideas and for the creation of a welcoming and productive school environment for the entire school community.

 

2.2 In-school management

The school is being managed by a professional and conscientious acting principal since September 2008. It is evident that she is continuing the tradition of effective leadership within the school at a curricular, organisational, procedural and pastoral level. She has extensive experience of teaching within a variety of contexts in the school and is intimately familiar with its operation and organisation. Commendably, the main focus of the acting principal is on the quality of teaching and learning and a process of ongoing self-evaluation is apparent within the school. In line with the school’s ethos, attention to the pastoral needs of pupils and their families is also a positive feature of her work. Her interpersonal skills are well-developed and she facilitates effective communication and partnership within the school and with the wider school community. This leads to an open and welcoming school atmosphere, where all members of the school community feel valued, affirmed and included.

 

The acting principal is supported effectively by the acting deputy principal, the acting assistant principal and six special duties teachers. Individually and collectively, the members of the in-school management team contribute to the efficient management and leadership of the school. A judicious blend of curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities has been ascribed to each member. Meetings of the in-school management team are held during school hours and the duties are reviewed as needs arise or when there is a change of personnel. The school is encouraged to investigate ways of minimising the impact of these meetings on instructional time. It is recommended that a systematic review of the duties attaching to the posts of responsibility be introduced to ensure they continue to respond to the evolving needs and priorities of the school. Members of the in-school management team communicate with teachers through regular staff meetings and by disseminating the minutes of their meetings. Effective communication with the board is facilitated through the submission of an annual report on activities and achievements. The expertise and skills of all teachers in the school are successfully harnessed through participation in the school planning processes led by the in-school management team and by participation on voluntary school committees. This culture of collective responsibility and mutual support in the school is highly commendable.

 

2.3 Management of resources

The management of the human and material resources of the school is very good. The nineteen full-time and three part-time teachers are deployed effectively in mainstream and support settings in line with the school policy on class allocation. This ensures that teachers have an opportunity to develop their skills across a range of teaching contexts and enriches the collective expertise of the staff in the best interests of pupils. There is a praiseworthy focus on participation in a range of continuing professional development courses across a diversity of domains by many teachers on an ongoing basis, with a number currently engaged in postgraduate studies. Courses are also arranged for all teachers during planning days to assist the implementation of specific programmes within the school, most notably in relation to Music, literacy and numeracy. The support of newly qualified teachers is effectively co-ordinated by the acting principal and an assigned mentor, and the school participates in the National Pilot Project on Teacher Induction. Ancillary staff is integral to the smooth operation of the school. The part-time secretary undertakes a range of administrative and communicative duties and provides valuable support to the management and teaching staff. The part-time caretaker, grounds men and cleaners provide for a safe, secure and hygienic school environment for pupils and school staff.

 

The school building and grounds are maintained to a high standard and provide a safe and stimulating learning environment for pupils. Classrooms and corridors are bright and attractive and serve to display and celebrate the work of pupils across the curriculum. Of particular note is the high level of attractive print-rich material in circulation areas at pupils’ eye-level to reinforce literacy skills across the school. The school shares a spacious general purpose room with the adjoining senior school. Externally, the school has a number of hard surface areas, some with a range of painted activities on the surface, and a grass area. The walls of the outdoor shelters are adorned with a range of brightly-painted murals. Inventories of many of the school’s curriculum resources are held in the school plan and many of these resources are stored centrally to facilitate easy access. Each classroom is serviced by one broadband-enabled, networked computer. The school continues to increase its stock of interactive whiteboards, currently standing at four, as resources allow. Very good use of information and communication technology (ICT) across the curriculum was observed during the course of the evaluation, in line with the recently developed E-learning policy. Classrooms are well resourced with a plentiful supply of curricular resources and activities to support teaching and learning. These include mathematical materials, large-format books, table top activities, library books and a range of resources to support play activities. The staff room contains a well-organised staff resource library that supports teacher preparation and provides information for their particular roles.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The management of relationships and communication with the school community is commendable. Staff meetings facilitate good internal school communication and also allow for external presenters to provide insights to the staff on many issues, including DEIS initiatives. The parents’ association is not affiliated to the National Parents’ Council (Primary). It is active in supporting the school through fundraising and participation in school events, such as the annual book fair, the art exhibition, concerts and the sports day. The newly-refurbished parents’ room is used for a range of activities including courses, educational and therapeutic activities with pupils and as a space to relax socially. A parent library is operated at the entrance to the school to facilitate the sharing and borrowing of books. Parents also assist teachers in the delivery of aspects of the curriculum, including shared reading and play activities. Parent representatives expressed complete satisfaction with the quality of education provided for their children in all curriculum areas.

 

Opportunities for parents to meet with teachers and discuss progress of pupils are facilitated on an ongoing basis, both formally and informally. A number of meetings are held with parents prior to their child commencing school and the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) teacher visits all families to support the transition to school. The most pertinent school procedures and policies are disseminated to parents in an attractive and informative pack upon enrolment. Parents are encouraged to discuss any concerns with teachers on an ongoing basis and formal parent-teacher meetings are held annually. Regular newsletters and letters to parents ensure they are well versed on school activities. The school’s informative website is also a valuable tool to communicate information on all aspects of the operation of the school and to celebrate the achievements of pupils. A comprehensive written report on all aspects of development and learning is issued annually to parents.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

The management of pupils in this school is very good. In line with the school’s code of behaviour, the school is succeeding in providing a positive learning environment that promotes contentment, motivation and achievement. Pupils’ excellent behaviour, both inside and outside classrooms, is a credit to the teachers and to the pupils themselves. Pupils have learned to listen, to respect others, to cooperate and collaborate. Every opportunity is used to develop pupils’ confidence and self-esteem and the acting principal and teachers are highly affirming of pupil effort. School rules are implemented fairly and these are complemented by the simple classroom rules, stated in positive terms, displayed in many classrooms. Pupils engage actively in their learning and relate constructively to their peers and adults within the school, displaying a pride and interest in their work and achievements. Overall, there is a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere evident in the school and pupils display confidence, courtesy and respect appropriate to their age.

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

The quality of whole-school planning in St. Louise de Marillac Junior School is of a high standard. Policies have been developed collaboratively over a long period of time and reflect the mission statement of the school. At an organisational level, policies are clearly presented and these address most legislative requirements. As identified by the school, an equality statement (including gender equality) should be developed in line with the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004 and recent employment legislation. In order to reflect existing good practice in the school and current departmental procedures, the phrase allowing for the deferral of enrolment of pupils pending resource provision should be deleted from the school’s enrolment policy. The school’s DEIS Action Plan (2007-2010) was formulated on the basis of school self-evaluation and includes considered targets in the areas of attendance, literacy, numeracy and parental involvement. The school has also developed a wide range of procedures that provide a structured approach to the operation of the school and their implementation was evident during the course of the evaluation. The involvement of parents in the development of some school policies, facilitated primarily through the HSCL teacher, is praiseworthy. It is recommended that the school develop a mechanism for the systematic review of all policies and procedures over a specified timeframe to ensure they continue to reflect evolving legislation and school needs.

 

School planning at a curriculum level is generally good. Overall, the plans follow a set format and provide guidance for teachers in the implementation of the curriculum. Commendably, the school has engaged all teachers in a review of the effectiveness of curriculum plans across a range of criteria and the candid self-evaluation will be a valuable tool in future policy revision. In some instances, additional information on the content to be taught at each class level and more specific guidance on methodologies would contextualise the curricular plans further to the needs of the school. It would also ensure the implementation of a broad, balanced, spiral and developmental curriculum throughout the school. The excellent school plan for English could be used as an exemplar in this review exercise.

 

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.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

The quality of individual teacher planning is good. There is an agreed approach to short-term and long-term planning within the school that reflects the structure of the curriculum and provides valuable information on its implementation at each class level. Short-term plans are objective-based and are sufficiently detailed to effectively inform curriculum implementation. The quality of long-term planning is particularly high, with excellent detail provided on curriculum content and the mediation of the curriculum at individual class levels. Mainstream class teachers meet on a regular basis to plan collaboratively. Support teachers and mainstream teachers ensure that pupils follow a co-ordinated programme. Support teachers prepare good short-term plans to inform teaching in support settings. Monthly progress records are maintained by all teachers in a range of formats and copies of these are stored centrally by the acting principal. It is recommended that a consistent approach to the development of monthly progress records be agreed at a whole-school level to reflect the quality of other elements of teacher planning and the high standard of teaching and learning observed during the course of the evaluation.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The overall quality of teaching and learning in this school is of a high standard, with some very good lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. Pupils’ education is supported by a bright and productive learning environment that reflects and celebrates their efforts and achievements. Play activities are a feature of many daily classroom routines and pupils are provided with regular opportunities to explore and be creative through engagement with resources, their peers and teachers. Teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil relationships are constructive and respectful in nature and these contribute to the positive learning atmosphere in existence. A wide range of teaching methodologies is employed to effectively deliver the curriculum at each class level and these ensure the active participation and engagement of pupils in their learning. The skilful use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool and for the sourcing and preparation of resources is particularly praiseworthy. Overall, resources are used effectively to stimulate pupil interest and to clarify concepts across the curriculum. Lessons are generally well-paced and well-structured to motivate pupils and to consolidate learning. The curriculum is generally well differentiated for pupils through the use of group work and the efficient use of support teachers, both in-class and in withdrawal contexts. There is good evidence that pupils’ written work is regularly monitored and corrected and oral contributions are valued and affirmed. The effective use of small whiteboards to record and convey answers by pupils is a positive feature of practice in the school. Pupil routines and procedures within the school are well established and transitions between lessons are managed successfully by teachers. Skilful questioning techniques are used by many teachers to stimulate pupil’s imagination, encourage higher-order thinking and to check for understanding. Overall, pupils are motivated and exhibit an enjoyment in their learning as a result of the high quality teaching.

 

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Múintear an Ghaeilge go dúthrachtach, tuisceanach sa scoil seo. Is léir go n-oibríonn na hoidí go díograiseach chun dearcadh dearfach a chothú i leith na Gaeilge agus chun cumas na ndaltaí sa teanga a fhorbairt. Déantar iarracht choinsiasach timpeallacht Ghaelach a chruthú sa scoil trí phóstaeir, trí fhearais, trí fhrása na coicíse agus trí lipéidí cuí a thaispeáint sna seomraí ranga. Baintear úsáid as an nGaeilge mar mheán teagaisc i rith na ceachtanna Gaeilge agus mar theanga bhainisteoireachta tríd an lae i bhformhór na ranganna. Cothaítear suim na ndaltaí sa teanga trí cheachtanna a chur i láthair go bríomhar, spreagúil. Eagraítear gníomhaíochtaí éagsúla chun scileanna labhartha na ndaltaí a fhorbairt agus chun a dtuiscint ar an teanga a éascú. Forbraítear cumas tuisceana na ndaltaí go hoiriúnach le linn na ngníomhaíochtaí éisteachta. I bhformhór na ranganna, tugtar ionchur teanga an-mhaith do na daltaí trí úsáid a bhaint as gníomhaíochtaí mar obair le puipéid, obair ghrúpa, obair bheirte, cluichí teanga agus drámaíocht. Múintear foclóir agus nathanna cainte go cúramach agus tugtar deiseanna do na daltaí a bheith gníomhach san obair trí mhodheolaíochtaí ilchineálacha a úsáid. I gcásanna áirithe, moltar aird a dhíriú ar líofacht, ar chruinneas agus ar shaibhreas teanga na n-oidí chun dea-mhúnlú a sholáthar do na daltaí. Cuirtear tús maith le múineadh na léitheoireachta agus na scríbhneoireachta foirmiúla sna ranganna sóisearacha agus déantar comhtháthú éifeachtach idir obair ó bhéal, léitheoireacht agus scríbhneoireacht. Canann siad rainn agus amhráin le brí agus le tuiscint. San iomlán, glacann na daltaí páirt sna ceachtanna Gaeilge go díograiseach, toilteanach agus is léir go mbaineann siad taitneamh as a bhfoghlaim.

 

Irish

Irish is taught enthusiastically and with understanding in this school. It is evident that the teachers work diligently to cultivate a positive attitude towards Irish and to develop the pupils’ competence in the language. A conscientious effort is made to create an Irish environment in the school through the display of posters, resources, the phrase of the fortnight and appropriate labels in classrooms. Irish is used as a medium of instruction during Irish lessons and for classroom management throughout the day in the majority of classes. Pupils’ interest in the language is promoted through the presentation of lively, stimulating lessons. A variety of activities is organised in order to develop pupils’ speaking skills and to improve their understanding of the language. Pupils’ understanding of the language is developed during discrete listening activities. In the majority of classes, communication activities, work with puppets, group work, pair work, language games and drama are practised effectively to reinforce the new language input. Vocabulary and speech patterns are taught with care and the pupils are given opportunities to be active through the use of a variety of methodologies. It is recommended that some teachers pay attention to their levels of fluency, accuracy and language-richness to ensure they are acting as good language models for the pupils. A good start to the teaching of formal reading and writing is made in the junior classes and the effective linkage of reading, writing and oral work is achieved. They perform rhymes and songs with enthusiasm and understanding. On the whole, the pupils participate eagerly and willingly in Irish lessons and it is evident that they enjoy their learning.

  

English

The successful targeting of literacy is a significant strength of the school and the work in English is underpinned by a comprehensive and progressive whole-school plan. Considerable emphasis is placed on oral language development throughout the school. A range of discrete oral language activities has been developed for each class level and this ensures that the pupils’ oral language competence is developed incrementally as they move from class to class. The development of confidence in communication is further promoted through the use of suitable themes, large-format books, stories and poems. In most classes, good questioning techniques are employed to develop thinking skills and discussions are well managed to ensure the participation of all pupils.

 

There is a very clear commitment to the development of pupils’ reading skills. A highly structured approach to the teaching of phonological awareness is implemented in all classes. This programme focuses on the development of phonic skills, on hearing, identifying, segmenting and blending sounds, as well as on phonemic awareness. Pupils appear to make impressive progress with this programme and display competence and confidence in their ability to manipulate the sound segments in words. Pupils are encouraged to view books and reading materials as exciting and pleasurable. There are well-stocked, attractive libraries in all classes and these are managed in an organised and effective manner so as to encourage pupils to access a wide variety of reading material. Visits to the local public library are organised.

 

The school-wide language-rich environment provides an excellent basis for encouraging writing. Pupils engage in a range of early writing activities in the infant classes and have regular opportunities to experience the conventions of writing being modelled by teachers. The implementation of the First Steps Writing Programme ensures that writing is introduced in meaningful contexts and that it is taught in a structured and systematic manner as the pupils progress through the school. Careful preparation and co-ordination ensures that the pupils experience writing in several genres. Writing is monitored regularly and teachers give clear instructions to pupils on how to improve their work. Written work is assessed using the Writing Developmental Continuum, whereby teachers use explicit indicators to help them to identify how the pupils are constructing and communicating meaning through language. Individual writing is displayed attractively in corridors and classrooms throughout the school and some fine examples of procedural and recount writing were noted. Pupils are exposed to a variety of poems, rhymes and jingles appropriate to their age and work done in this area is integrated effectively with other subject areas such as Visual Arts and Music.

 

4.3 Mathematics

Teaching and learning in Mathematics is of a high standard, with some very effective practice observed during the course of the evaluation. The school has successfully planned a number of strategies to improve the teaching of Mathematics in recent years within its DEIS Action Plan. These include a focus on oral Mathematics, the use of concrete mathematical materials, a focus on problem-solving strategies, the use of mathematical games and the employment of in-class support for pupils. Teachers prepare a mathematics-rich environment to reinforce learning through the display of posters and the celebration of pupils’ mathematical work. Moreover, many classrooms feature a mathematics corner where pupils can observe and investigate materials throughout the day. A positive attitude towards Mathematics is fostered throughout the school. The structured nature of the in-class support and the positive relationships between support and mainstream class teachers to differentiate the content to the needs of individual pupils is particularly noteworthy.

 

Excellent emphasis is placed on mental warm-up activities in Mathematics and a vast array of strategies was observed throughout the school to promote pupils’ grasp of number concepts, including the use of the Number Worlds programme. The manipulation of concrete mathematical materials was a positive feature of all lessons observed and this praiseworthy practice serves to reinforce the understanding of concepts being taught. Pupils in all classes display an ability to recall number facts commensurate with their age and to perform mental and written calculations accurately. The pupils experience the mathematics programme in an active, hands-on way and are afforded many opportunities to learn new concepts in pairs and groups through guided discovery activities. In the infant classes, early mathematical activities such as matching, classifying, ordering and comparing are well introduced and developed. Pupils have many opportunities to explore and sort shapes, and these concepts are reinforced through mathematical games and work in the Visual Arts. Number concepts are introduced and reinforced throughout the school, with a focus placed on combining, partitioning and numeration. Pupils engage actively with activities relating to money in the junior classes and display a commendable grasp of recognising and exchanging coins. Appropriate emphasis is also placed on the introduction and use of correct mathematical vocabulary at each class level and on linking mathematical activities to the pupils’ immediate experiences and local environment. Pupils’ written work is well monitored and previous work is also documented through the use of photographs. This high quality of teaching in Mathematics has led to a considerable improvement in pupil outcomes in recent years as evidenced in standardised tests in the junior classes.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

The quality of teaching and learning in History is good. Pupils are enabled to recognise sequences of events and to begin to develop an awareness of chronology through well-structured activities. Stories are used to promote recall skills and to stimulate discussion and questioning about the past. In the infant classes, the pupils’ historical work begins with their own past and that of their families. Much of the learning takes place through the use of well-chosen themes which are integrated across several subject areas. Good use is made of timelines to contextualise topics and to develop pupils’ chronological vocabulary and understanding. Pupils enjoy history lessons and the majority of them have a good grasp of material covered to date. Additional opportunities for the pupils to develop the skills of working as historians will further enhance provision in this area.

 

Geography

There is a good level of engagement with the geography curriculum and lessons observed draw on the pupils’ sense of place and space. Simple maps are used effectively to record places in stories and to develop the pupils’ spatial awareness. The school grounds and the immediate locality are used well to provide meaningful contexts for learning. Weather patterns are recorded and explored. In the junior classes, the pupils are enabled to acquire an accurate understanding of the lives and environments of people in other countries through the use of story, photographs, discussion and some well-chosen resources. The school is also involved in a European project which will provide opportunities for the pupils of St. Louise’s to learn about the lives of children in Iceland, Wales, Sweden and France.

 

Science

There is effective implementation of the science curriculum in this school. Well-planned programmes of work ensure that a broad and balanced science programme is implemented across the school. Investigation tables and displays of work undertaken in the subject area are found in most classrooms. Throughout the school, nature tables with seasonal displays are in evidence. Spring bulbs have been planted. A high level of awareness is evident in relation to energy conservation and recycling, and the school is actively working towards the attainment of its first green flag within the Green School’s Programme. Correct emphasis is placed on eliciting and discussing the pupils’ ideas as new concepts are introduced. In most classes, pupils participate actively in lessons; scientific skills are nurtured and suitable tasks are administered to support learning. Some work has been done in the area of designing and making. When the whole-school plan for Science is reviewed, this area of the curriculum might be further explored. The potential of the school grounds should also be examined and included to further support the work being undertaken in the living things strand.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The quality of teaching and learning in all strands of the visual arts curriculum is good. Pupils are afforded regular opportunities to develop their creative and artistic skills, as well as looking at and responding to art. Classrooms and corridors are brightened and enhanced through the display of pupils’ artistic endeavours and the school hosts an annual art exhibition of pupils’ work. In some instances, a more regular rotation of artwork displayed in classrooms is advised. Opportunities for the integration of the Visual Arts with other aspects of the curriculum are judiciously availed of at all class levels, most notably in Mathematics, Geography and History. In some of the lessons observed, well-structured discussion was used as a stimulus for creative activity and this excellent practice should be extended to all classrooms. The use of ICT as a tool to elicit pupils’ response to the work of artists and to draw attention to the elements of the Visual Arts was a positive feature of the teaching observed. Art portfolios are maintained in some classrooms and consideration should now be given to extending this practice throughout the school.

 

Music

There is effective delivery of a broad music programme in this school. Each classroom contains displays of musical charts and evidence of extensive listening and responding activities. Music lessons are characterised by active engagement, appropriate response to music and impressive competence on the pupils’ part. Work in the listening and responding strand provides pupils with opportunities to experience a wide range of musical styles, traditions and cultures. A number of techniques for teaching music literacy are creatively employed. Opportunities for singing and performing are availed of at outdoor and indoor assemblies, before school each morning and throughout the school day. The school choir performs in school concerts, carol services and school sacramental celebrations. The school is involved in the Ceol programme which is funded by the School Completion Programme (SCP). The teachers are trained in the use of the programme and the facilitator visits the school regularly to model lessons. While this programme has supported teachers and has increased their confidence in teaching Music, the programme does not adequately address the composing strand of the music curriculum. It is recommended that when the Music policy is reviewed, the composing strand is given appropriate treatment. It is also recommended that a wider repertoire of Irish songs be added and taught in some classes.

 

Drama

Teaching and learning in Drama is of a high standard in this school. All aspects of the drama curriculum are embraced in an age-appropriate manner and are sequentially developed across the classes. Drama is taught discretely as a subject and is used as an effective methodology across other curricular areas, most notably in Irish and History. Teachers employ a range of methodologies and strategies such as improvisation, circle time, story, group work, teacher in role and pupils in role to stimulate interest and to engage pupils fully in Drama. In the teaching observed, good emphasis was placed on warming-up activities and setting the dramatic scene. Pupils successfully use non-verbal expressions and sustain a role while engaging in the dramatic process. Group work is used effectively to shape drama scenes and to re-enact them for peers. Pupils from senior infants to second class have an opportunity to participate in one of the three concerts hosted annually, when each class level prepares and performs a range of dramatic and musical activities. High levels of engagement and enthusiasm for drama was a characteristic of lessons observed at all levels throughout the school.

 

4.6 Physical Education

There is good implementation of the physical education curriculum in this school. The lessons observed are characterised by a very good focus on imaginative and enjoyable warm-up and cool-down exercises. Physical education skills are correctly modelled by teachers and pupils are given ample opportunity to practise and reinforce these skills through well-structured and well-organised activities. In the infant classes, pupils are given an opportunity to create, perform and appreciate dance as a form of communication and expression. Commendably, an emphasis is placed on individual expression and pupil response to stimuli such as story. Ball handling skills are developed systematically in the junior classes and pupils are given opportunities to practise new skills individually and in groups. Pupils are enabled to participate in pair relays, where an appropriate emphasis is placed on developing correct passing techniques. An external coach is engaged to enhance the teaching of basketball and to develop teachers’ expertise in this aspect of the curriculum. The school hosts an annual sports day where the emphasis is on participation and enjoyment.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

The positive and respectful school climate creates a very suitable context for the effective implementation of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum. School policies, including the code of behaviour, the anti-bullying policy and the child protection policy, also support implementation. A number of programmes are in use within the school to deliver particular aspects of the curriculum, including Stay Safe, Folláin, Walk Tall, Be Safe and Action for Life. The school operates a healthy eating policy and pupil lunches are provided by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. An Intercultural Week is held every second year and this supports pupils’ appreciation of and respect for the cultural diversity within the school and in wider society. Many classrooms exhibit attractive displays relating to SPHE, reinforcing the importance of self-identity, family and friends. Methodologies such as circle time, drama, story, ICT, co-operative games, pair work and group work are employed to promote discussion during SPHE lessons. These strategies ensure that all pupils’ contributions are listened to and valued appropriately. These active methods also serve to reinforce other important skills such as relating to others and working collaboratively. Lessons observed addressed the important topic of friendship and pupils were enabled to discuss the importance of friends in their lives. In recent times, pupils have developed their citizenship skills by contributing to a consultative process relating to the proposed development of a green area in the vicinity of the school.

 

4.8 Assessment

The approach to assessment throughout the school is guided by a well-crafted and detailed policy that provides for a continuum of assessments within the school, ranging from informal to formal modes. The variety and quality of assessment instruments in use is very good and includes recorded teacher observations, photographic records, teacher-designed tests and checklists, assessments accompanying programmes in English and Mathematics and standardised tests. Pupil portfolios are maintained consistently from junior infants to second class, with an emphasis on retaining work samples in literacy and numeracy. High quality oral language checklists, based on the Drumcondra English Profiles, have been designed by the staff and are used from junior infants to second class. In addition, checklists of early literacy and numeracy are used in infant classes. Teachers in support settings also maintain comprehensive assessment records. Standardised tests in literacy and numeracy are administered in the junior classes. Each teacher has a clearly defined role and responsibility in relation to the administration of tests and the retention of results. Analysis of assessment data informs teachers’ planning and it facilitates the provision of differentiated learning programmes and activities for pupils. When the assessment policy is reviewed later in 2009, staff should consider incorporating assessment procedures for each curricular area into the policy.

 

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

The effective practice observed in the provision of support to pupils with special educational needs is informed by a comprehensive school policy. The special needs team comprises a special class teacher, three learning-support teachers, one full-time resource teacher and two part-time resource teachers. Additional support is also provided by five experienced special needs’ assistants (SNAs), who successfully promote the development of independence among pupils and support their inclusion in mainstream classrooms. The quality and frequency of communication among support teachers and between support teachers and mainstream class teachers is a key strength of the provision, as it facilitates early identification of and appropriate intervention for pupils with special educational needs. The well-coordinated collaboration between mainstream class teachers, support teachers and SNAs is a notable and commendable feature of the in-class support provided.

 

A range of successful strategies for the prevention of learning difficulties is in use in the school. When a learning need is identified, it is addressed by the preparation of a written plan at stage one of the additional learning support continuum. This is commendable practice. If required, pupils are selected for further intensive support through withdrawal in small groups from mainstream classes. While the initial identification of pupils for additional support is achieved through teacher observation, formal screening tests are administered in senior infants. The results of the standardised tests in English and Mathematics that are administered in the junior classes are monitored and analysed. A range of diagnostic tests are used to identify pupils’ learning strengths and needs. Exceptionally able pupils are challenged through differentiated learning activities and participation in a range of events through the High Fliers Club.

 

The principal, special needs co-ordinator and other support teachers liaise with mainstream teachers in the planning of programmes for pupils. They prepare an Individual Profile and Learning Programme (IPLP) for each pupil at stage two and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are drawn up for pupils at stage three. When these IEPs are being formulated, advice is sought from specialists including psychologists, speech and language therapists, art psychotherapists and occupational therapists. Parents are also consulted when the plan is being prepared. The template used for individual plans is comprehensive and incorporates specific learning targets and learning activities to be undertaken in mainstream and support settings. The school promotes parental involvement in the programme and provides guidance for parents on strategies to support the child at home. Plans are reviewed collaboratively twice-yearly and are shared with all school personnel supporting the pupil. Achievable and realistic goals are identified, and there is plentiful evidence, in the form of standardised test results and teachers’ observations, of improved learning outcomes for pupils.

 

Support for pupils with special educational needs is provided in a number of contexts, including in-class support, withdrawal and in a special class for pupils with mild general learning disabilities. Learning support and resource teachers provide both in-class support and teaching on a withdrawal basis in literacy and numeracy. A notable feature of provision for pupils with special educational needs is the quality and range of resources provided, and the effective manner in which they are used. The standard of the teaching observed in support settings was of a high quality overall. Support rooms are print-rich and mathematics-rich, and celebrate pupils’ efforts and achievements through display. Lessons are well-structured and teachers adopt a variety of active learning approaches and methodologies to maximise pupil learning. Effective team teaching approaches were in evidence during the provision of in-class support. Two teachers are currently receiving training in Reading Recovery and Maths Recovery and are providing intensive individual support teaching for selected pupils. The special class for pupils with mild general learning disabilities provides tailored support in oral language and number concept development and pupils are integrated in mainstream class settings for a period of time each day.

 

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

An impressive range of additional supports is provided for pupils to ensure their pastoral and educational needs are met. School grants and links with community organisations are used appropriately to provide support to pupils in a confidential and discreet manner, thus ensuring that all pupils are enabled to participate fully in curricular and extracurricular activities. The Early Start programme is well structured and organises a range of effective activities to foster pupils’ aesthetic, emotional, social, linguistic and cognitive development. The classroom is particularly bright and attractive with a range of colourful and relevant displays. Learning activities feature high levels of engagement by the pupils, very good emphasis on language development and admirable teamwork between the teacher and childcare assistant. Pupil learning is recorded using a wide range of very specific indicators, including pupil profiles, and these are passed to the junior infants teacher each June.

 

The School Completion Programme (SCP) provides an array of additional supports for pupils. The programme is led by a co-ordinator who also works with the senior school and the local post-primary school. A very comprehensive plan of activities is prepared annually. Extensive contacts have been established with other local youth services and agencies in order to identify and support pupils most in need. Since its inception, all pupils transfer from primary to post-primary school and retention rates have risen. There is a strong holistic dimension to the support provided, with pupils attending the breakfast club before school, receiving a range of supports in school, and participating in a variety of after-school and holiday programmes. A reading tutor is funded by the SCP to provide intensive individual tuition for pupils and to support the work of teachers. After-school activities provided include a homework club, basketball, football, art and crafts and dance. A STAR club, funded by the Drugs Task Force, provides after-school activities for a selected group of pupils in infant classes. A summer programme is held for two weeks annually. A local charitable organisation, Familiscope, which is part-funded by SCP, provides a speech and language therapist on one day a week for the school and also provides an art psychotherapist on two days to work with pupils who are referred by teachers or by parents. For pupils who have experienced trauma, therapy is provided in a specially-designed and equipped room. A play therapist, funded by the Child and Family Centre, works with pupils at the request of the Health Service Executive. Teachers report that the availability of these services in the school ensures that pupils who might not otherwise receive the help they need are well catered for.

 

The home-school-community liaison (HSCL) teacher promotes active co-operation between the home, the school and the community through the raising of awareness of the importance of parental involvement in education. She is based in the school and is shared with the senior school. The HSCL policy is in draft form, and was formulated following consultations with teachers and parents’ representatives. There is close liaison between the HSCL teacher and the SCP management committee, which includes parents’ representatives. The main priorities for the HSCL teacher are targeted home visits and linking with community services. Grants provided through the HSCL scheme are used to make courses available for parents and to purchase resources for the parents’ room. A homework support programme has been established to involve parents to a greater extent in assisting with homework. The HSCL liaises with her counterparts in the Ballyfermot area each week and with a wider cluster of HSCL teachers regularly.

 

A part-time teacher provides support for eight pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL). The teacher was unavoidably absent during the evaluation. Planning for EAL lessons is based on Integrate Ireland Language Teaching (IILT) materials. Pupils are assessed using the Primary School Assessment Kit and results are categorised to facilitate appropriate grouping and placement.

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • The school has developed a very effective and collaborative approach to whole-school planning at an organisational and curricular level. The overall quality of teachers’ long-term and short-term planning is of a high standard.
  • The conscientious and professional acting principal is continuing the strong tradition of leadership across curricular, organisational and pastoral domains.
  • There is very good evidence of high quality teaching and learning in this school across all aspects of the curriculum. Teachers are to be commended in particular for their achievements in relation to improvements in learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy.
  • Efficient use is made of a comprehensive range of curricular resources to support the teaching and learning process. The skilful use of ICT as a pedagogical tool is particularly praiseworthy.
  • The school is characterised by an open and welcoming atmosphere, where all pupils are valued and affirmed. The school works in partnership with parents and community agencies to enhance the educational experiences of pupils.
  • The quality of planning, teaching and assessment for pupils with special educational needs is of a high standard throughout the school.
  • Significant emphasis is placed on pastoral care throughout the school and this is reflected in the courteous, responsive and respectful disposition of the pupils who engage willingly in learning tasks.  

 

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

 

  • It is recommended that the school’s organisational and curriculum policies be reviewed in a systematic cycle to ensure they remain cognisant of relevant legislation and evolving best practice.

 

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, June 2009

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 


Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

  • The Board of Management would like to thank the Department of Education and Science team of Inspectors for the careful, courteous, constructive and professional manner in which they carried out the Whole School Evaluation.
  • We are delighted to put on record that the process has been a very positive and affirming experience for the whole school community.
  • The Board of Management is satisfied that the report reflects the happy, stimulating and caring environment of the school and the high quality of teaching and learning taking place.

 

 

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection

               activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

·         In response to the key recommendation we now have agreed an improved system whereby our policies will be reviewed on a three year cyclical basis.

·         We will pay particular attention to changes in legislation and evolving best practice.

·         We have reflected on the many positive comments, and work has already begun on other recommendations in the report.