An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Saint Joseph’s National School

Ballyheigue County Kerry

Uimhir rolla: 18856M

 

Date of inspection: 12 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 N.S. 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 Visual Arts. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity of commenting on the findings and recommendations of the report; the Department opted not to publish the response for reasons which have been stated to the school.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

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

100

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

5

Mainstream class teachers

4

Teachers working in support roles

1

Special needs assistants

1

 

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

St. Joseph’s is a Catholic mainstream school under the patronage of the Bishop of Kerry. It is situated in the townland of Boulinsheer some 2 km east of the village of Ballyheigue and is one of two schools serving the children of the parish and its environs. The school has articulated a mission statement which is embodied in the school motto “Excellence through Learning”

 

1.2 Board of management

The board of management is effective in the manner in which it manages the school and its affairs. Individual board members have been assigned specific roles and responsibilities and some have availed of training opportunities organised by the diocese. Regular meetings of the board are convened and minutes are recorded. The school’s finances are prudently managed and certified on an annual basis. These good practices are to be commended. The board oversees the maintenance and development of the school building and its environs and has successfully provided a safe, suitable and supportive learning environment for the pupils and the staff.

 

At the pre-evaluation meeting held with the board as part of the whole school evaluation, the view was expressed that it is difficult to ascertain satisfaction with the achievement of the pupils in the school as many members do not possess the required expertise to make such a judgement.  Schools, under the Education Act (1998), have the responsibility to establish and maintain systems whereby the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations can be assessed. It is therefore recommended that the board engage, with the partners as appropriate, in a process of school self-evaluation. This should enable the school to identify its strengths and to outline areas in which improvements could be made.  Records of pupil progress and assessment data should be utilised to provide an objective assessment of the school’s work in the various areas of provision.

 

1.3 In-school management

The in-school management team comprises a teaching principal, a deputy principal and a special duties teacher. The principal successfully promotes a positive school climate and she has established very good working relationships with the staff. Roll books and official records are attended to carefully and school activities are well organised. Termly staff meetings are held in accordance with Department guidelines and, in addition to these, the staff meets regularly, outside of school hours, to discuss upcoming events and to address emerging issues. Minutes of these meetings are retained. This good practice is commended. To ensure the optimal development of the school in the future, the principal needs to place increased emphasis on her leadership of teaching and learning in the school. This should involve the monitoring of learning outcomes in curricular areas and reviewing and improving structures for self-evaluation and within the school.

 

The duties of the deputy principal and special duties post holder are discharged capably. The personal talents and expertise of the post holders in each of their assigned curriculum areas are commendably shared with other teachers. It is now recommended that duties of the post holders would be extended to include responsibility for overseeing the implementation, assessment and review of the areas for which they have responsibility. The monthly reports (cuntais mhíosiúla) would be of much assistance in this regard as would the co-ordination of assessment measures undertaken by class teachers. This would enable members to draw up a brief annual report which would advise the board of management on attainment levels and on the resources and professional development required for successful ongoing delivery of teaching and learning in the school.

 

1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The parents’ association was established two years ago with the support and encouragement of the board. The association meets on a regular basis. Issues discussed at meetings include the organisation of fund raising events, deciding on how best to spend the money raised and organising fun and supportive events for the pupils of the school. The board is high in its praise for the work of the parents’ association. Periodic newsletters, informing parents of upcoming events, are issued by the school. Parent teacher meetings are held each year. It is intended to issue annual end of year school reports to all parents from this June. Representatives of the Parents’ Association expressed a general satisfaction with the education provided in the school at the pre-evaluation meeting held with them. They cited some areas in which they would like to see improvements. At present, parents do not play an active role in the planning process. It is therefore recommended that the board consider strategies through which parents’ involvement in the life of the school might be further developed as appropriate. 

 

1.5 Management of pupils

During the evaluation period, successful examples of good classroom management were observed. Teachers are commended for promoting a pleasant atmosphere in the school. The pupils presented as well-mannered and respectful and were seen to co-operate willingly with their teachers and peers. The provision of a wide range of co-curricular activities, namely in the Arts, has contributed to the development of pupils’ self-esteem and the school is praised in this regard. Regular high quality school assemblies play a significant role in enhancing the pupils’ presentation skills and in developing their sense of place and belonging within the school. It is recommended however, that supervisory procedures be reviewed to ensure that the pupils remain within clear visibility at all times when on school premises.  

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The whole-school plan is presented in two folders. The plans are drafted by the staff and presented to the board for discussion prior to their ratification. Eleven organisational policies have been drafted. The majority of these policies are of a high standard and the good practice of regularly reviewing them is commended. Curriculum plans have been devised which relate to each of the eleven subject areas. While it is recognised that these plans reflect the principles of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) greater emphasis should be placed on outlining how the school intends to facilitate the co-ordinated implementation of the curriculum within the specific context of this school and its pupils. It is therefore recommended that curriculum plans be prioritised for review over a given timeframe and that circular 18/99 and the Department publication “Developing a School Plan: Guidelines for Primary Schools” (1999) be consulted to assist in this process.

 

All teachers prepare long and short term planning in preparation for their work and monthly progress records are maintained. This good practice is commended. In this planning, the content to be addressed at each class level is outlined. Some teachers organise the selected content under the strand and strand units of the curriculum and ensure that due cognisance is given to the development of skills and to the employment of a range of approaches, methodologies, resources, differentiation strategies and assessment modes. This good practice should be developed in the case of all teachers.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Language

 

Gaeilge

Tá ardchaighdeán ag an chuid is mó de na h-oidí sa scoil seo i labhairt na Gaeilge agus  d’úsáid cuid acu í mar theanga  teagaisc i rith na gceachtanna a chonacthas le linn an fhiosruithe.  Meabhraítear anois béim ar bhonn scoile a chur ar úsáid na Gaeilge i rith an cheachta agus taobh amuigh de na ceachtanna foirmiúla agus í a chomhtháthú le hábhair eile mar is cuí. Gníomhaíonn na hoidí go dúthrachtach chun suim na ndaltaí a spreagadh sa teanga agus baintear úsáid as geáitsíocht, luaschártaí agus pictiúir chun tuiscint a ghnóthú ar réimse áirithe teanga.

 

Cothaítear suim agus tuiscint na ndaltaí i labhairt na Gaeilge i gcoitinne sa scoil. Múintear comhrá Gaeilge go sásúil ag leibhéil ar leith. Is léir go bhfuil foclóir réasúnta leathan ag na daltaí agus déantar iarracht an foclóir seo agus cruinneas cainte na ndaltaí a fhorbairt. Is féidir leo ceisteanna bunúsacha a fhreagairt go tuisceanach agus an Ghaeilge a labhairt go réasúnta cruinn. Baintear dea-úsáid as modh na drámaíochta sna hardranganna chun foghlaim na ndaltaí a fhorbairt.

 

Sroichtear caighdeán réasúnta i gcoitinne sa léitheoireacht ach ní mhiste plé ar ábhar na gceachtanna a fheabhsú go mór agus aire a dhíriú ar an fhóneolaíocht agus ar fhocalaithint. Ní leagtar go leor béime ar an bhfilíocht i gcuid de na ranganna. Bunaítear cleachtaí scríbhneoireachta sa Ghaeilge ar ábhar na cainte agus na léitheoireachta. Sonraítear forás san obair ó rang go rang agus leagtar béim chóir ar chruinneas gramadaí de réir mar a théann na daltaí in aois sa scoil. B’fhiú anois a thuilleadh béime a leagan ar an saorscríbhneoireacht sa Ghaeilge chun réimse scileanna cumarsáide na ndaltaí a leathnú a thuilleadh fós.

 

Irish

The majority of teachers have a very high standard of spoken Irish and some of them use Irish as the language of instruction throughout the lessons observed during the evaluation. They are encouraged now to adopt a whole-school approach to the use of Irish in lessons and outside of formal lessons and to integrate it with other subjects. The teachers work diligently to stimulate the pupils’ interest in the language and they utilise gestures, flashcards and pictures to further understanding of various aspects of the language.

Pupils’interest and understanding in speaking Irish is developed, in general, in the school. Spoken Irish is taught with varying results. It is evident that they pupils have a reasonably wide vocabulary and attempts are made to develop this vocabulary and the pupils’ spoken accuracy. They are able to answer basic questions with understanding and to speak Irish reasonably accurately. Very good use is made of drama in the senior classes to  pupil learning.

 

In general, a satisfactory standard of reading is attained but there is a great need to significantly improve discussion of lesson content and to place greater focus on phonological awareness and word recognition. Insufficient emphasis is placed on poetry in many of the classes. Writing activities are based on conversational topics and on reading, Progress is seen from class to class and suitable emphasis is placed on grammatical accuracy as the pupils progress through the school. It is important now to place increased emphasis on independent writing in Irish so as to further broaden the pupils’ range of communicative skills

 

English

Some good practice was observed in the teaching of English. Poetry is very well explored throughout the school. School assemblies and drama productions provide the pupils with opportunities to develop their oral presentation skills. Pupils are encouraged to read for pleasure in many classes and each classroom has a library which contains a range of appropriate reading materials. All teachers place an appropriate emphasis on the extension of pupils’ vocabulary and on word usage. Very good work in the reading of novels is undertaken in the senior classes. There is however a need for significant improvements to be made to the quality of teaching and learning in English in general.  Although there is a consciousness among the staff of the importance of oral language development, there is a general absence of a focused approach to teaching this aspect of the English curriculum. Every effort should be made to purposefully extend the pupils’ oral language skills. It is therefore recommended that clearer learning outcomes for the teaching of oral English, which parallel those of the primary curriculum, should be stated in teachers’ planning. To achieve outcomes in keeping with the learning objectives of the curriculum in oral language, more use should be made of a variety of approaches in oral work which involve whole-class, group work and individual teaching and a more integrated approach to the teaching of literacy should be adopted throughout the school.

 

The standards attained by a significant number of the pupils in English reading are a cause for concern. In order to improve pupil achievement levels, it is recommended that available assessment data be utilised to plan for the delivery of a developmentally appropriate programme for reading throughout the school. Aspects of the emergent reading programme, including the provision of a print-rich environment, engaging in specific oral language activity, the use of language experience materials and collaborative reading of large-format books should be emphasised at infant level.  A whole-school phonological awareness programme should also be implemented. It is further recommended that pupils, at all levels, be provided with a broad range of challenging and diverse reading materials and activities and that provision be made to ensure that all strand units of the English reading curriculum are systematically addressed.

 

The teaching of writing is, in general, of a good standard and the overall quality of learning achieved by the pupils is good. Formal writing is well taught and pupils display a good knowledge of the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling. In some classes pupils are provided with regular opportunities to write personal stories and accounts. In the middle and senior levels the pupils are encouraged to write personal poems and to enter writing competitions.  However, in keeping with the focus of the curriculum, it is now recommended that a greater emphasis be placed on encouraging the pupils to clarify and refine their thoughts through the process of drafting and redrafting their writing. It is further recommended that increased emphasis be placed on the development of pupils’ emergent writing skills.

 

It is recommended that the whole-school English plan be reviewed as a matter of priority. Such a review should take account of the learning needs of the pupils and the principles of the English curriculum. It should result in the delivery of an integrated literacy programme which addresses each strand and strand unit of the curriculum. The implementation of the programme should be closely monitored and evaluated against stated success criteria and should result in a raising of the attainment levels of the pupils.

 

3.2 Mathematics

The quality of the teaching of the strand number and of data is of a good standard in the school and pupil achievement in these areas of the mathematics curriculum is good. Pupil attainment in the strands of measures, algebra and shape and space however is in need of significant improvement. Care should be taken to strike a more appropriate balance between the strand units of the Mathematics curriculum. A very good lesson was observed during the evaluation period in which concrete materials and practical hands-on activities were utilised to develop pupil understanding of capacity. However, in general, an increased emphasis should be placed on the exploration of mathematical concepts and on the use of a wide variety of concrete materials, before proceeding to computation exercises. Teachers are careful to explore the language of mathematics and this assists the pupils to develop the skill of communicating and expressing using appropriate mathematical language. This good practice is commended. However, the systematic development of mathematical skills should be attended to on a regular basis so that the pupils come to see mathematics as practical and relevant to their everyday lives. To this end, opportunities should be provided for pupils to construct and apply their mathematical understanding in contexts drawn from their own experiences and environments rather than the present practice of relying unduly on textbooks to determine the content of, and approaches to, lessons. In order to raise the standard of pupil achievement in Mathematics it is recommended that current practices be reviewed and that a plan be devised for the teaching of Mathematics in which due emphasis is placed on the individual differences in the ability and attainment levels of the pupils, on the development of mathematical concepts through the increased use of concrete materials and on the provision of increased problem solving opportunities for the pupils.

 

3.3 Visual Arts

Lessons observed in the teaching of the Visual Arts during the evaluation period were of a very good standard. Activities were organised which engaged the pupils in drawing and painting, clay and collage and these lessons were very supportive of pupil learning in other areas of the curriculum. Some teachers maintain portfolios of work samples completed by the pupils. These good practices are commended. Some very good samples of pupils’ work are attractively displayed in the classrooms. Of particular note are the papier maché masks, replicating those worn by the Aztec people, produced by the senior pupils and the fabric paintings created by the pupils in the middle standards which depict the natural and human environments of people living in other continents. In general however, there is an over emphasis on the strands of paint and colour and drawing in the school and on the production of two-dimensional art work. Monthly progress reports, teacher planning and the inspector’s interactions with the pupils indicate that increased focus should be placed on the strand looking and responding and on continuity and development of pupils’ artistic skills between class levels. It is therefore recommended that these elements of the Visual Arts curriculum are addressed in future planned programmes of work.

 

3.4 Assessment

A wide variety of assessment modes is outlined in the whole-school curriculum plans and an assessment policy has recently been drafted. Spelling and table tests are administered regularly. Written tasks are completed by all pupils though care should be taken to ensure that this work is regularly monitored and evaluated. In some classes pupils maintain a folder which contains samples of work completed by them in different areas of the curriculum. A few teachers administer commercial and teacher designed tests to ascertain pupil progress in Mathematics and in some aspects of the Social, Environmental and Scientific programme. However, few teachers maintain records of these assessments and there is little evidence to indicate that the results of assessments inform the teaching programmes planned by the teachers. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is utilised to identify pupils with literacy needs in the senior infant classes.  Standardised tests in literacy and numeracy are administered to pupils from second class to sixth class. It is reported that the results of these tests are currently not effectively communicated to parents. It is now recommended that, in compliance with circular 0138/2006, the results of testing should be reported to parents in respect of their own children at the end of each school year. Consideration should also be given to the level of test administered to the pupils, to the testing of pupils in first class and to the manner in which the results of these tests are utilised to track the progress of individual pupils.  It is further recommended that the staff now explore ways in which assessment data generated in the school can be used to inform the planning of a variety of learning activities to match individual pupils’ needs within the classroom context.   

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

A full time learning support teacher and two part time resource teachers provide support for pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs. The quality of support provided to these pupils is of a very good standard. Using available assessment data, the results of diagnostic tests and the recommendations contained in reports, the teachers, in consultation with the parents, plan very good Individual Education Programmes (IEPs). In these IEPs the priority learning needs of the pupils are clearly stated, specific learning targets are outlined and activities are planned which address the identified learning needs of the pupils. Lessons observed were of a very high standard. The pupils actively engaged in a wide variety of learning activities which addressed targeted areas. It is evident that they are making very good progress in their learning commensurate with their abilities. It is however recommended that increased focus be placed on the organisation of preventative programmes and early intervention initiatives in the infant and junior classes and that in-class support and team teaching be considered as a means of providing this support to pupils as appropriate.

 

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

The board is supportive of the inclusion of pupils from all backgrounds and the school ethos and promotes the integration of all pupils and facilitates their full participation in the daily life of the school.

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, December 2009