An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Saint Joseph’s National School

Fermoy, County Cork

Uimhir rolla:18377A  

 

Date of inspection: 6 May 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

Conclusion

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

  

A whole-school evaluation of St. Joseph’s National School was undertaken in May 2009. 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, Irish, Mathematics and Geography. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

This is a Catholic primary school situated in the north of Fermoy town. It caters for pupils from junior infants to sixth class from the surrounding area. Since the last report was conducted in 2001 the trend of falling enrolments has been reversed. Pupil numbers have grown significantly and many additional staff members, including a new principal, have been appointed. It is a DEIS Band 2 school and receives extra supports from the Department of Education and Science in terms of funding, staffing and training. This is a vibrant school which has a central role in the community it serves. It is evident that the change of status from boys only to a mixed boys’ and girls’ enrolment in September 2006 has enabled the school to become more fully part of the community it serves. The cluster teacher scheme which covers administration days for principals is based in this school.

 

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

64

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

6

Mainstream class teachers

3

Teachers working in support roles

3

Special needs assistants

5

 

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Cloyne and promotes Christian values. Its ethos is Catholic and inclusive. The welcoming atmosphere of the school reflects a clear commitment to the holistic development of pupils and ongoing professional development of staff.

 

1.2 Board of management

The board of management is commended for the conscientious manner in which they discharge their duties. The board is properly constituted and meets on a regular basis. Minutes are maintained systematically. Specific tasks are allocated to individual members. The chairperson and board members visit the school on a regular basis. The school accounts are certified independently on an annual basis. The board is to be lauded for its provision of a Special Needs Unit for pupils presenting with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Additional temporary accommodation has been provided and considerable work has been undertaken to upgrade the building which presents as a bright, stimulating learning environment. Facilities were adapted as an interim arrangement when the school received sanction for a change of status. Appropriately, the board has applied to the Department of Education and Science for funding to provide necessary additional amenities. The board has ratified organisational plans. It is recommended that hard copies of all policies be signed and dated at ratification stage.  In order to further develop the important role of the board in promoting school self-evaluation, it is also recommended that curricular policies be reviewed on a more systematic basis. The board is further advised of its responsibility to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made for the teaching of the Irish curriculum in line with the requirements of circular 25/00.

 

1.3 In-school management

The in-school management team comprises a teaching principal, a deputy principal and one special duties teacher. The principal deserves much credit for the impressive growth and development of the school. She has successfully created a climate that is characterised by open communication and mutual respect. She has introduced a wide range of iniatives to enhance the quality of provision and is lauded for her conscientious work on behalf of pupils, staff, parents and the community. She is ably supported by a dedicated staff with considerable levels of expertise and experience. The important contribution which the middle management team make to the school is acknowledged and commended. A key leadership challenge now is to co-ordinate further the range of curricular initiatives in place designed to augment pupil learning. In this context and in order to further develop instructional leadership, it is recommended that the special duties allocated be reviewed formally on a regular basis. It is advised that the provision of action plans by post-holders would greatly clarify priorities for curriculum development and facilitate review of progress. The board employs both a secretary and caretaker on a part-time basis and they make a valuable contribution to the work of the school.

 

1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

This is a welcoming school where teachers maintain regular contact with parents both informally and through formal meetings. Parents’ representatives report that the teachers are very approachable and that they are most grateful to them for their work. To date it has been school policy to provide parents with oral feedback regarding their children’s progress. In line with Department policy, it is the intention of staff to issue written reports henceforth. The school is advised to use the NCCA report card templates and guidelines for this purpose. The parents’ committee deserves much credit for its dedicated work and for the considerable contribution it makes to the school. As a result of successful fundraising, the school has acquired many additional resources. The further structured involvement of parents in pupil learning is recommended.

 

1.5 Management of pupils

The staff is committed to providing pupils with a safe positive learning environment. Appropriate code of discipline and anti-bullying policies are in place. Some good routines and well-structured approaches to support pupils in developing positive patterns of behaviour were observed and their further development on a whole-school basis is recommended. The Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) work in a dedicated manner to assist teachers in the care of pupils with special education needs and the quality of supervision during playtime is high. While some pupils participate actively in games in the school yard the provision of a better variety of activities would greatly support pupils with special care needs to develop personal independence skills. Many pupils are keen to display their learning and respond enthusiastically to opportunities to be actively involved in their work.

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The quality of whole-school planning documentation is good. A wide range of both administrative and curricular policies has been formulated carefully. They are presented clearly in a most accessible and professional manner. In line with the school’s three year DEIS plan, literacy and numeracy have been identified as key areas for further development. Productive use is made of the support services. Staff meetings are convened on a regular basis, submissions are invited, and minutes are recorded and circulated. While there is evidence that some aspects of curricular plans are implemented, there is a need for more ongoing, systematic review to facilitate more consistent implementation. It is recommended that greater use be made of assessment data to inform this process and evaluate the impact of whole-school planning on pupil learning. The provision of clearer guidelines in whole-school plans regarding individual planning approaches and new methodologies is also recommended. It is further advised that greater emphasis be placed on the development of specific action plans to be achieved within agreed timeframes. A review of the school timetables confirms that there is an issue of concern with regard to the provision of balanced and integrated learning experiences for pupils as external coaches are employed to teach rugby, soccer and GAA skills on a weekly basis. Each of these programmes is taught to a number of classes for one hour a week. Staff members are advised to review the time allocation to each curricular subject in the context of Department circulars and curricular guidelines.  The commitment of staff to ensuring pupils are provided with broad and varied learning experiences is acknowledged and the many high quality displays of pupils’ work in a range of curriculum areas merit much favourable comment.

 

Teachers prepare both short-term and long-term plans and record the monthly progress of work. Much credit is due for the conscientious work in evidence in the area of classroom planning. However, a variety of approaches is noted and in some contexts there is a need for more clarity in both long-term and short-term planning, regarding the expected learning outcomes for pupils, methodologies and resources. In order to promote further continuity in pupil learning, it is recommended that teachers discuss the range of approaches in the school in the context of curricular guidelines. It is also recommended that more use be made of teachers’ monthly progress records to monitor curricular implementation on an ongoing basis and to ensure continuity of provision when teaching staff are employed on a temporary or substitute capacity. Teachers make impressive use of Information and Communication Technology for their preparation work.

 

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; and that management has ensured that all staff members 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

 

Gaeilge

Díríonn an plean scoile aird le moladh ar an tábhacht a bhaineann le cur chuige cumarsáideach i dteagasc na Gaeilge. Le linn na cigireachta chloígh na hoidí leis an nGaeilge mar mheán teagaisc agus bhain siad úsáid chumasach as áiseanna deasa chun ionchur teanga oiriúnach a chur faoi bhráid na ndaltaí ar bhonn fíorthaitneamhach. Ag rangleibhéil éagsúla tugtar deiseanna fónta do na daltaí rainn agus filíocht a aithris. Chomh maith leis sin, moltar go mór an úsáid sciliúil a bhaintear as an drámaíocht agus as cluichí teanga i ranganna áirithe. Is léir áfach, nach dtógtar go leanúnach ar scileanna teanga na ndaltaí ó rang go rang agus go bhfuil deacrachtaí suntasacha ag a lán daltaí le labhairt na Gaeilge. Tá gá le difreálú sa teagasc agus cur chuige cumarsáideach a fhorbairt ar bhonn uile scoile chun rannpháirtíocht na ndaltaí agus a gcuid scileanna teanga a fheabhsú. B’fhiú breis deiseanna labhartha structúrtha a thabhairt do na daltaí chun cur ar a gcumas an teanga a fhoghlaimíonn siad a úsáid agus a gcuid scileanna cumarsáide a fhorbairt a thuilleadh. Luaitear, ach go háirithe, an tábhacht a bhaineann le haird sa bhreis a dhíriú ar thrí thréimhse an cheachta faoi mar atá leagtha amach sa phlean scoile. Sa chomhthéacs seo, moltar don fhoireann na samplaí de dhea-chleachtais atá aitheanta sa scoil a phlé agus treoracha breise a chur ar fáil sa phlean chun tacú lena gcur i bhfeidhm ar bhonn leanúnach. Cé go léann roinnt daltaí le líofacht chreidiúnach is léir go bhfuil gá le breis béime a chur ar bhonn uile scoile ar scileanna léitheoireachta ar leith a theagasc go díreach, mar chuid lárnach den cheacht. Is léir, chomh maith, go bhfuil scóip suntasach i gcomhair feabhais i bhforbairt na scríbhneoireachta. B’fhiú breis deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí sna meánranganna agus sna ranganna sinsearacha scríobh go rialta agus a gcuid scileanna a chothú ar bhonn níos céimniúla. B’fhiú breis prionta sa Ghaeilge a chur ar taispeáint chun tacú le forbairt scileanna léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta na ndaltaí agus réimse níos leithne de théacsanna léitheoireachta a chur ar fáil chun freastal a thuilleadh ar na leibhéil chumais éagsúla.

 

Irish

The school plan focuses attention in a praiseworthy manner on the importance of a communicative approach in the teaching of Irish. During the evaluation teachers adhered to Irish as the language of instruction and made competent use of attractive teaching aids to expose the pupils to a suitable language input in a most enjoyable manner. At particular class levels pupils are given worthwhile opportunities to recite rhymes and poems. Also commendable is the skilful use of drama and language games in some classes. It is apparent however, that pupils’ language skills are not extended in a continuous manner from one class level to the next and that many experience significant difficulty with spoken Irish. There is a need to place a greater emphasis on differentiation and on implementing a communicative approach in order to improve pupils’ participation levels and their language skills. It is advised that pupils be given more structured opportunities to use the language they learn in order to further develop their communicative competence. Particular reference is made to the importance of the three phases of the language lesson, as outlined in the school plan. In this context, it is recommended that staff discuss the samples of good practice in evidence and provide further guidelines in the plan to support their consistent implementation. While some pupils read the class texts with a reasonable degree of fluency, it is evident that there is a need to place a greater emphasis on a whole school basis on the provision of direct instruction in specific reading skills, as a key component of a reading lesson. It is also apparent that there is significant scope for the development of pupils’ writing. It is recommended that pupils in the middle and senior classes be given further opportunities to write on a regular basis and develop their skills in a more incremental manner. It is recommended that the visual representation of written Irish be increased as a support to the development of pupils’ reading and writing skills and that a greater range of reading material be provided to pupils to cater further for the various ability levels.

 

English

A whole-school plan for English has been outlined carefully and aspects such as the emphases on genres of writing and the use of a variety of reading material are praiseworthy. Greater delineation of learning outcomes across all strands for each class level is necessary in order to provide more direction to inform classroom planning and practice. It is also recommended that the junior infant reading programme be reviewed to include greater provision for the language experience approach. Good practice in the teaching of oral language was observed in a variety of contexts during the evaluation. Pupils are exposed to a wide range of stories, rhymes and poetry. Skilful use of poetry for focused language enrichment work and purposeful group activity was observed. Many pupils participate enthusiastically in structured language activities and display an ability to express their views on a range of topics in an age appropriate manner. Further emphasis on the explicit teaching of specific oral language skills is recommended.

 

The considerable number of pupils experiencing difficulty in the area of literacy is a major concern for staff. Teachers deserve credit for the time and effort they have invested in researching and implementing new teaching approaches, including peer tutoring, station teaching, First Steps oral, reading and writing. During the evaluation many effective methodologies were observed. These include structured re-reading of familiar material, skilful use of flash cards, the promotion of varied writing genres, purposeful discussion of text, systematic approaches to development of phonological and phonemic awareness. The provision of high-quality classroom libraries merits much praise. Pupils are clearly enjoying and benefiting from the recent introduction of a wide range of good quality differentiated reading material. Some pupils read with a good degree of fluency and with accuracy and there is clear evidence of the positive impact on pupil progress of carefully structured teaching approaches. Pupils are provided with worthwhile opportunities to write in different genres and some creditable samples of their work were noted at a variety of class levels. However, significant challenges are in evidence in many classes in terms of promoting continuity in pupil learning and in co-ordinating the range of supports available for pupils. Further attention to the ongoing monitoring and consolidation of pupil learning will greatly support the significant number of pupils experiencing difficulty with reading and writing. Also, it is recommended that a more consistent approach to the systematic development of specific reading and writing skills, based on pupils’ identified learning needs, is necessary. It is further advised that the display of print, especially sentences, be greatly extended and that pupils be given more opportunities to write on a regular basis and in so doing extend their language skills. Greater emphasis on the language experience approach to reading and writing will further enhance pupils’ reading ability. Teachers are commended for the emphasis they place on encouraging pupils to present their written work neatly.

 

3.2 Mathematics

The whole-school policy on Mathematics draws attention to many of the key messages in the curriculum and provides some sound guidelines for the development of good practice. During the evaluation effective whole-class teaching of Mathematics was observed. Creditable strategies for the teaching of number facts are in place. At a variety of class levels good quality talk and discussion are promoted. Group work is undertaken skilfully and worthwhile opportunities are provided for pupils to work collaboratively at particular class levels. Some pupils demonstrate a good understanding of key concepts and are making creditable progress. However, it is apparent that a more systematic approach to differentiation and to monitoring individual pupil progress is required as many pupils experience significant difficulty. It is recommended that mathematical equipment be organized in a more accessible manner at all class levels to facilitate its further use and that the deployment of active learning approaches be greatly extended. It is also recommended that more strategies be put in place to promote regular consolidation and revision.  It is further recommended that the current arrangement where support teachers take responsibility for teaching Mathematics to particular class levels be reviewed and that greater emphasis be placed on providing pupils with targeted support to meet their identified learning needs.

 

3.3 Geography

A useful whole-school policy for the teaching and learning of Geography is included in the school plan. Teachers make impressive use of ICT to present lesson content at whole-class level in a most stimulating manner. In some classes ICT is also used to considerable effect in the production of high-quality photographs and materials for pupils. At a variety of class levels talk and discussion are promoted fruitfully to establish pupils’ ideas. There is evidence of some worthwhile use of the local environment. Many pupils demonstrate positive attitudes to this subject area and are keen to talk about their work. The provision of further opportunities for pupils to investigate, explore, analyse and talk about their observations, particularly in relation to the local environment, will greatly enhance pupils’ understanding of topics covered and overall skill development. Further emphasis on maps and map work would also greatly help pupils to develop a sense of place and space. In order to promote more consolidation of pupil learning, it is also advised that the manner in which pupils record their work from class to class be reviewed.

 

3.4 Assessment

Work is currently in progress on a whole-school policy on assessment. Staff is encouraged to develop this work in the context of the recent guidelines from the NCCA. Teachers make use of a variety of assessment modes to monitor pupils’ progress including teacher observation, standardised tests, diagnostic tests and teacher-designed tests. Teachers are to be commended for the provision of positive comments to pupils as a regular feature of the monitoring of their written work. Constructive feedback to pupils was also noted in some instances. Staff discusses the results of assessment tests and uses them to inform provision for special education support. However, there is a need to make further use of information regarding pupil progress on a more ongoing basis to inform classroom planning, teaching and learning directed towards pupils’ needs. In this context, it is recommended that individual pupil progress be tracked in a more systematic manner. It is also advised that greater emphasis be placed on a whole-school basis on assessment for learning approaches. More use of teacher designed-tests and tasks as a basis for continuous assessment would greatly support regular revision and consolidation of pupil learning.

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The Special Education Needs policy provides many sound guidelines for the development of effective practice, including provision for pupils with ASD. The school is to be commended for the success in securing a wide range of resources to support pupils with special educational needs. A large support team works in a conscientious manner to provide supplementary teaching in both literacy and numeracy. Much credit is due to the principal and teachers for their commitment to professional development in the area of special education. Training has been provided in a range of areas including ASD specific methodologies and in Reading Recovery. Some good inclusion practices have been put in place for pupils presenting with ASD. In addition to providing pupils with supplementary teaching through the withdrawal method, praiseworthy work is ongoing in the development of in-class support. Some carefully planned, well-structured work with high pupil participation levels was noted. The use of a range of effective teaching approaches based on pupils’ identified needs and skilful use of visual, print and concrete materials, was a commendable features of best practice observed. However, a variety of approaches to Individual Education Planning (IEP) and implementation are in evidence. It is apparent that in some instances the learning programmes for pupils in receipt of supplementary teaching need to be further co-ordinated between mainstream and support contexts and that the structures in place for ongoing assessment and recording of pupil progress merit more attention. Furthermore the models of in-class support require further elucidation in the context of the classroom teacher’s first line responsibility. It is now timely to review the IEPs in use in order to ensure that in all support contexts, dates of formulation and review, pupils’ current level of achievement and specific time linked related targets, are outlined systematically. It is advised that copies of these working documents be given to all relevant staff members and parents. It is further recommended that teachers review the role of special needs assistants (SNAs) in station teaching in the context of Departmental guidelines and school policy.

 

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

This school is committed to promoting an inclusive school environment. Pupils benefit from the provision of after school homework clubs through the School Completion Programme and a shared Home School Community Liaison Programme. Healthy lunches are provided on a daily basis. Commendably, both a junior infant induction programme and a transfer programme to ease transition from primary to secondary school are in place. Praiseworthy work is also in progress in relation to setting up Action Maths programmes for parents and pupils. The further structured involvement of parents in their children’s learning would greatly enhance current provision.

 

 

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, November 2009