An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Scoil Bharra

Gillabbey Street

Cork

Uimhir rolla:  18356P

 

Date of inspection: 23 October 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

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Scoil Bharra was undertaken in October 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 was given the 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 to this report.

 

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

Scoil Bharra, a five teacher co-educational Church of Ireland school, is situated close to St. Finbarr’s Cathedral in Cork city. It is an integral part of the local church community and attracts pupils from a wide catchment area. The school was built in 1960 on approximately one acre of the Bishop’s land with further extensions in the following years. The school caters for pupils from junior infants to sixth class. Enrolment figures have remained stable over the past number of years with a current enrolment of 84 pupils. Records indicate that pupils’ attendance is good.

 

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

84

Mainstream classes in the school

4

Teachers on the school staff

5

Mainstream class teachers

4

Teachers working in support roles

2

Special needs assistants

1

 

 

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. It is a community where all pupils are equally valued and respected and where they experience “a sense of caring and belonging”. Pupils attend services in St. Finbarr’s Cathedral and the Dean regularly visits the school to conduct assemblies. The staff work in a most conscientious and assiduous manner and endeavour to provide a high standard of education. Impressive teamwork and positive relations between the various partners was in evidence during the evaluation.

 

1.2         Board of management

The commitment of the board of management to the school is acknowledged and commended. Meetings are convened on a regular basis and minutes are recorded carefully. An agreed report arising from board meetings is disseminated to parents and staff. Board members are assigned specific duties which are executed competently. A school budget is agreed at the beginning of the year and written financial reports are presented at meetings. The board endeavours to ensure that the school environment is safe and well maintained. A review of board minutes confirms that a wide range of relevant issues is addressed including ongoing improvements to the physical fabric of the school. The board of management complies conscientiously with statutory requirements and departmental guidelines. The board is also involved in policy formulation and has considered and ratified a range of policies. The board is commended for the effective leadership and support it provides to the school.

 

1.3         In-school management

The in-school management team comprises the principal, deputy principal and special duties teacher. These teachers are highly commended for the partnership approach to school management. The principal’s caring and assiduous leadership qualities ensure that there is a collaborative working relationship among all staff. The principal cultivates a positive school climate where individual staff members are affirmed and encouraged. Innovative management systems have been created and organisational duties are carried out effectively. A collaborative school planning process is facilitated productively by the principal. As a member of the in-school management team the deputy principal and special duties post holder fulfil their duties diligently and work conscientiously to contribute to the overall management of the school. The team meet frequently and areas for development are prioritised and targets set for improvement. The duties attached to each post are clearly specified and reviewed annually. It is noteworthy that teachers without posts of responsibility also contribute capably to the organisation of the school. Staff meetings are conducted regularly and more informal meetings are held weekly after school hours. These meetings are purposefully used to devise strategic plans in order to progress the implementation and review of priorities areas. Overall, considerable emphasis is placed on the inclusion of all members of the community in the planned development of the school.

 

1.4         Management of relationships and communication with the school community

A strong sense of community is evident in the school and the board of management and teachers strive to foster effective communication between all partners. The interconnected nature of the school population allows for many parents to have informal contact with teachers on a regular basis. The school has established valuable modes of communication including annual class meetings, regular newsletters and the issuing of an information booklet to all new parents. The board also meets with parents at the beginning of the school year to further promote and enhance effective communication. The school has initiated the commendable practice of weekly parent-teacher dialogue through the homework journal. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually to facilitate discussion regarding individual pupils’ progress. Additional meetings are convened between teachers and parents when deemed necessary. All parents receive an annual written report on their children’s progress.

 

Parental support contributes significantly to the overall success of the school. The parents’ association meet regularly and organise a range of school events. Parents are pro-active in arranging extra-curricular activities for pupils including soccer, swimming, hockey and athletics. Fund-raising activities are undertaken and monies raised are used to procure educational resources and provide amenities for the school. Parents keenly support the delivery of certain aspects of the curriculum namely art and craft, games and music. Parents have been involved in some policy development in the past. More recently, structures have been put in place to support greater active participation of parents in policy formulation. The school plan is available in hardcopy for parents to view and officers of the parents’ association have been provided with a CD rom of updated policies. The staff readily acknowledge and appreciate the considerable input of parents in their children’s learning. While regular news bulletins are issued by the parents’ association, current procedures are under reviewed to further enhance communication between committee members and the general parent body. 

 

 

 

 

1.5         Management of pupils

The positive approach to behaviour management is commendable. Pupils are well-behaved, highly motivated and demonstrate positive dispositions to their learning. They respond in a very respectful caring manner to one another, to staff and to visitors. Pupils demonstrate high levels of confidence and self-esteem which contribute positively to the quality of school life.

 

2           Quality of school planning

 

2.1         Whole-school and classroom planning

A range of appropriate policies has been devised in response to relevant educational legislation and the evolving needs of the school. A development plan, identifying areas for priority and devising action plans for their implementation and review, has been drawn up. A collaborative approach to whole-school planning has been developed. Parents are consulted in relation to some  policies which are presented to the board of management for their consideration and ratification. This good practise should be further emulated to ensure that all partners have an active part in the whole-school planning process. Staff make regular use of the support services to facilitate policy development and to support them in implementing curricular change.

 

Planning and recording templates have been devised in an effort to bring consistency to classroom planning. Each teacher prepares long-term and short-term programmes of work which reflect the school plan and a balanced curriculum. Teachers’ short term plans are documented on a monthly basis. It is recommended that, in accordance with rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools, the defined period for short-term planning should be weekly or fortnightly. A greater focus on the identification of teaching objectives and the expected learning outcomes in terms of the development of pupils’ skills and conceptual understanding would further enhance classroom planning. Programmes of work are differentiated appropriately for multi-grade contexts. Teachers provide a range of visual aids, materials and worksheets to support teaching and learning. Monthly reports are recorded through a ticking system on short-term plans. It is suggested that this approach be reviewed in order to better inform curriculum implementation, self-evaluation, continuity and progression of pupils’ learning.

 

2.2         Child protection policy and procedures

Oral 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). The school has also devised a policy on Child Protection. Confirmation was 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. It is advised that the board of management review their current child protection policy to ensure that it is in line with all aspects of the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools issued by the Department of Education and Science in 2001.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3           Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1         Language

 

English

A whole-school plan for English has been documented and many aspects of this plan are praiseworthy. Further delineation of content objectives across all strands for each class grouping is necessary in order to provide guidance and direction that will inform teacher planning. Whole –school approaches on a range of other aspects of the English programme, such as poetry, spelling,  reading and writing programmes should also be considered.

 

Oral language is suitably integrated with the reading and writing process and developed appropriately across other subjects of the curriculum. Pupils are provided with opportunities to engage in debate, interviews and dramatic activity to enhance language skills. Pupils in the senior classes display a growing competence in presenting and supporting arguments and most pupils speak articulately. However, it is recommended that a discrete whole-school oral language programme be devised and implemented. This programme should be explicitly linked to the oral language objectives in the English curriculum and target the development of particular oral language skills.

 

Emergent reading skills are developed gainfully in the junior classes. Suitable emphasis is placed on reading readiness activities including knowledge of the conventions of print, basic sight vocabulary, work identification strategies and the development of phonological and phonemic awareness. Good visual and aural examples are used in supporting the development of pupils’ phonological awareness. Appropriately, story telling, poetry and rhyme feature prominently in the junior classes. In the middle and senior classes pupils are encouraged to respond in different ways to poetry through dramatising, writing and comparing poems. It is now recommended that greater emphasis be placed on learning poetry. A compilation of suitable poems for all class levels would further promote poetry recitation throughout the school. 

 

In general pupils demonstrate a keen interest in reading and positive reading standards, appropriate to pupils’ abilities are in evidence. Print-rich environments, word wall displays and the use of flashcards contribute to the development of pupils’ sight vocabulary. Opportunities are provided for pupils to engage in collaborative reading activities using visually appealing large-format books and shared-reading experiences with parents. Pupils also visit the local library regularly. At the emergent reading stage, it is suggested that more structured informal reading activities precede the introduction of the formal reading programme. In the middle and senior classes a variety of reading material, including class readers, novels, library books and newspaper articles is used to encourage reading for pleasure and information. Most pupils show an appropriate ability to read fluently and accurately and to assimilate and understand the content. The extension of the practice of teaching specific skills directly as part of a structured reading lesson will greatly support those experiencing difficulty.

 

Pupils engage in both functional and creative writing activities and write in an age-appropriate register of language. Worthwhile writing activities such as daily news, book reviews, poetry and stories are evidenced in pupils’ copybooks and in samples of work displayed. In the infant classes letter formation skills are appropriately developed and expanded to initiate sentence formation and basic writing skills. Less emphasis on workbook activity would greatly advance pupils’ skill development. The use of the language experience approach would also provide greater opportunities for pupils to engage in independent writing activities.  Process writing is cultivated in the middle and senior classes and writing in different genre is undertaken. However, greater opportunity should be provided to all pupils to engage in a wider range of writing activities on a more regular basis. In general handwriting skills are keenly developed and most pupils observe the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling in their writing. While good penmanship is a positive feature of most classrooms, it merits attention in the senior classes.  Displaying pupils’ work and the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) would greatly enrich the writing experience.

 

 

3.2 Mathematics

A detailed whole-school plan has been devised for the implementation of the Mathematics programme in the school. In its further review and development, emphasis should be placed on a common approach to mathematical language, the development of pupils’ problem solving skills, the use of the immediate school environment and greater differentiation in teachers’ programmes of work for pupils with special educational needs and exceptionally able pupils.

 

A variety of appropriate resources are skilfully employed in teaching and learning activities. Lessons are well structured and purposeful questioning directs pupils’ activities. A wide range of strategies including rhyme and song, mathematical games and hands-on activities are effectively employed throughout the school. The use of ICT in the teaching of Mathematics is highly commendable. In all classes effective use is made of concrete materials to facilitate concept development. Some emphasis is placed on oral work to extend pupils’ mathematical thinking. Greater emphasis should now be placed on language and discussion during the teaching and learning process. Mathematical concepts are well developed and pupils, in general, display good computational ability. The practice of engaging pupils in oral work as a key component of each lesson is recommended with greater emphasis being placed on the development of pupils’ problem-solving skills. Additional opportunities to link activities to the exploration of the immediate environment should also be explored. Pupils’ written assignments reflect a balance of the curriculum strands covered to date. Textbooks and worksheets are employed as main resources. Pupils’ work is regularly monitored by teachers and quality in presentation is promoted. Greater emphasis on independent activities in pupils’ copybooks from infants to second class would further consolidate pupils’ recording skills. Additional differentiated tasks are required in mainstream class teaching to adapt the programme to meet the needs of pupils with special educational needs and pupils on the high achieving spectrum. Regular grouping of pupils during mathematical activity should now be considered particularly in the context of addressing pupils’ diverse learning needs.

 

3.3         Assessment

A range of assessment tools is in evidence at individual class level. These include teacher observation, monitoring of pupils’ written activity, graded tests from published schemes, teacher-designed tasks and tests and the maintenance of samples of pupils’ work. Constructive feedback given to pupils regularly both in copybooks and in homework journals is indeed a most commendable practice and used to positive effect. Standardised tests in both literacy and numeracy are administered. Results are maintained appropriately and a whole-school perspective on pupil achievement in literacy and numeracy is provided. Diagnostic tests are also administered when required. Assessment results are usefully shared between class teachers and learning support and resource teachers. Parents are also advised of test results at annual parent/teacher meetings. However, a more detailed analysis of individual pupils’ test results would assist in the identification of their specific learning needs. The quality of record keeping is well managed on a whole-school basis. Teachers might now consider extending assessment modes to include other curriculum areas and the involvement of pupils in self-assessment.

 

 

 

 

4           Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1         Pupils with special educational needs

The school is currently revising its policy on the provision of support for pupils identified with special educational needs. A learning support teacher and a shared resource teacher provide support in this area. Teachers are conscientious and are committed to addressing the learning needs of pupils in a diligent manner. A special needs assistant contributes capably to enabling a pupil with special educational needs to access the curriculum in the mainstream setting. Support for pupils is provided in the areas of literacy and numeracy offering focused tuition primarily on a withdrawal basis. Detailed individual educational programmes have been devised. Commendable practice is noted in the ongoing consultation between support and mainstream class teachers. In general, the learning targets identified in the individual education plans are based on the pupils’ priority learning needs and some progress reports are maintained. A more detailed systematic approach to recording pupil progress is recommended. Lessons are well structured. However, the use of a wider range of teaching strategies would help to reinforce  learning. It is recommended that consideration be given to the introduction of an early intervention programme and the further development of in-class support through the use of team and co-operative teaching approaches. Consideration should also be given to reviewing caseloads in order to further serve the needs of all pupils who may be experiencing some difficulties.

 

 

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, March 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 and staff wish to acknowledge the professional and courteous approach of the Inspectorate during the WSE. We found it a very valuable and enthusing experience. We are particularly pleased that the report highlights the positive and progressive work being undertaking in the school. We are constantly striving to improve our school and are engaged in on-going review and planning. The constructive recommendations of the report are welcome and will be used as a basis for continuous school improvement.

 

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

·         We are currently looking at discrete oral language materials to expand the oral language experience of pupils.

·         The in-school management team have studied the standardised test results and drawn up programmes for Exceptionally Able pupils.

·         A whole-school approach to classroom planning, focusing on teaching objectives is currently being developed.

·         The format of the monthly reports has been changed to make them more useful for future curriculum planning.

·         The SDP day was used to begin the whole-school approaches to poetry, spelling, reading and writing in English, and the development of problem solving skills and mathematical language in maths.

·         All pupils learn suitable poems on a regular basis.

·         Copybooks have been introduced, as advised, in the junior infant class.

·         The Child Protection Policy was revised and adopted by the BOM.

·         Both peer tutoring (reading) and station- teaching (maths) programmes are being developed with a view to using in-class support more effectively.

·         We hope to introduce an early intervention programme before the end of the school year.