An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Holy Spirit Girls’ National School
Sillogue Road, Ballymun, Dublin 11
Roll number: 19209H
Date of inspection: 17 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Holy Spirit Girls’ National School, Sillogue Road, Ballymun, Dublin 11. 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 principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and a parent representative. 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
This vertical girls’ primary school is located in the northern suburban setting of Ballymun in Dublin. The school building was constructed in 1968 to cater for the newly built community of Ballymun. The three storey school building has been extended in 1973, 1994 and in 2005. The most recent work included a thorough refurbishment of the school building with the construction of additional classroom, and ancillary rooms to facilitate the variety of the educational provision available in the school. This recent work has added immeasurably to the creation of a positive learning environment for all who work in the school. The school grounds are planted with a variety of deciduous trees, which add to the aesthetic of the school environs. The school caters for the educational requirements of 345 girls and has twenty-four teachers on the staff. This level of staffing is supplemented by an additional half post. The school’s mission statement cites the aim of the school as being to create a learning atmosphere that is safe and stable, where everyone is valued and respected, and where everyone’s achievements are celebrated as encapsulated in the school’s motto ‘together we grow and learn’. In addition, the school aims to help pupils to achieve their potential through the acquisition of knowledge and skills, which will allow them to become ‘life long learners’.
The school’s code of behaviour is written in English and Polish, thus reflecting the multicultural aspect of the school community. The simply worded code of behaviour captures the standard required of the all members of the school community to support the school’s aims and vision. The school encourages the characteristic Christian values as laid down by the Catholic patron of the school. Recent enrolment numbers indicate a slight downward trend, though projected enrolment for the next two years indicates that enrolment figures are stabilising. This may be in part a consequence of the recent enrolment of pupils from European Union member states. One family grouping from the Traveller community attends the school. The school receives additional resources under the ’Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools’ (DEIS) initiative through schemes such as the Home School Community Liaison Scheme (HSCL), Giving Children an Even Break and the School Completion Project. The average school attendance for the school term preceding the evaluation is 92%, a much improved rate which reflects the school’s positive approach to improving attendance levels. A post holder has special responsibility for monitoring levels of absenteeism. The school adopts proactive strategies to sustain and improve school attendance levels. Its slogan, ‘every minute of every school day is important’ sets the tone for the school’s approach. Nevertheless, a significant section of the school’s pupils are absent for more than thirty days a year. The school continues to strive to improve attendance levels, in accordance with its mission statement to educate the girls to become ‘life long learners’.
The board of management is properly constituted and its members are very supportive of the school. The board meets five to six times a year. Minutes of all meetings are kept and accounts are externally audited. The chairperson is in regular contact with the school principal throughout the school year. The board is cognisant of recent legislation in education and has approved, among others, the school’s policy on enrolment, attendance strategies, code of behaviour, health and safety, anti-bullying, and homework,. All policies are circulated to the parents and staff for comment before being adopted in their final form. Policies are under continuous review, and are regularly updated. The board is compliant with legislation with regard to the length of the school day, the school year, the allocation of teachers and retention of pupils. However, the board needs to formulate its policy statement on equality as required by legislation. This is a recommendation of this report. The board cultivates relationships and open channels of communication within the school community, the parents and the wider community of Ballymun. Parents’ representatives on the board act as a conduit between the board and the parents and they play an important role in formulating school policy. This function is further supported by the school’s publication of clear and attractively presented information booklets, which clearly illustrate their message. The board of management actively supports the teaching staff in prioritising the raising of literacy and numeracy levels for the pupils in the school. The board has supported the training of staff members in programmes to support the welfare of pupils in the school. To date, the board has been preoccupied with the final snag lists associated with the completion of the refurbishment of the school building. Of current concern to the board is the proposal by Ballymun Regeneration Limited to reconfigure the roads surrounding the school, with resultant blocking of access to the school, raised costs of insurance and heating, and the risk to the provision of after school activities aimed at younger pupils. Five cleaners clean the school daily to a high standard and the caretaker completes routine maintenance work on a phased basis. This is an effective and efficient board and all members work diligently in unison for the good of the whole school community. The previous school report recommended that the parents’ group affiliate with the National Parents’ Council: they have not yet affiliated to the council.
The highly effective principal is confident in her role and works tirelessly and diligently to keep abreast of current educational practice and to cultivate a pride in the school among the teaching staff based on its achievements. Her role is that of an instructional leader. She keeps in touch with curriculum implementation through frequent visits to the classrooms and the arranging of regular assembly times. She prioritises the raising of numeracy and literacy levels within the school as central to her work as principal teacher. The fact that her work is firmly embedded in the core work of teaching and learning is highly commended. It is characterised by good people skills and the ability to lead and motivate the school staff to implement the vision which she has for the girls in the school. Her local knowledge and long standing commitment to the greater Ballymun community bears dividends in the strong home school community links engendered as a result. The school has an effective and well-structured policy to support newly qualified teachers, each of whom is assigned a mentor. The mentoring programme hosted by Saint Patrick’s College of Education, Drumcondra, complements this in-school mentoring programme. The work of the principal supports the creation of a positive learning environment, in which good behaviour and respect for all is expected and received. The fact that the core teaching and learning function of this school is kept in focus is to the credit of this forward thinking principal.
The eleven-member in-school management team consists of a deputy principal, two assistant principals, and eight teachers with special assigned duties. All posts include organisational duties and some include curricular and pastoral responsibilities. While all members of the in-school management team share pastoral duties, it is recommended that these be described and formally assigned to the different post holders. While the current practice of dividing responsibility for work to be undertaken in a particular curriculum area among the in-school management team indicates a high level of co-operation therein, it does not allow individual post holders to develop as curriculum leaders, as is envisaged in the relevant circular. This report recommends that each curriculum area be assigned to a post holder so that the middle management team can further develop their individual roles as curriculum leaders for the school. This recommendation is in accordance with circular 17/00, which advised that structures should ‘focus on the provision of opportunities for teachers to assume responsibility in the school for instructional leadership, curriculum development, the management of staff and the academic and pastoral work of the school’ (DES Circular 17/00). This report recommends that a post holder should be designated as responsible for English, with specific reference to developing literacy levels in the school, as a matter of priority. The eleven-member team is sufficiently large to cater for each of the eleven curriculum areas within the in-school management team. At present, the team works very well in supporting the principal teacher in her role: the principal meets with the in-school management team once a month to facilitate this process. This practice is much praised. The team is commended for its flexibility and openness in responding to the changing educational needs of the girls in the school. Given this high level of co-operation among the team, the recommendations made in this regard, once implemented, should add considerable value and clarity to the working of the in-school management team.
The teaching staff comprises the principal teacher, sixteen mainstream class teachers, two special class teachers, three full-time learning support teachers, 1.5 resource teachers for pupils with disability, one home school community liaison teacher (HSCL) and one part-time language support teacher. The work of the staff is assisted by three special education needs assistants (SNAs), who work under the guidance of teachers, one school caretaker and one school secretary, plus a part-time support worker employed through the School Completion Programme (SCP). The school is cleaned to a very high standard and the caretaker maintains the school and grounds to a high level by following a structured maintenance programme. Teachers are allocated to pupils in accordance with departmental guidelines. The school has a policy of allocating teachers to a particular class level for a maximum of two years and mobility between class levels is encouraged. Teachers in the special education needs area generally remain in that post for a maximum of five to six years. This report commends the practice of maintaining a balance between experienced and recently appointed teachers in mainstream and special educational needs areas and this practice should be formulated into a school policy. All staff members attend in-service courses. In addition the school employs a range of external coaches, in the area of sport, Music, Drama, tag rugby and cookery. (The work of external coaches will be detailed under the various curricular heading in the appropriate sections of this report.)
The school’s accommodation consists of eighteen permanent classrooms, three rooms to accommodate learning support, two rooms for resource teachers, a general purpose room, a school library, a computer room, principal’s office, secretary’s office, staff room, staff toilets and cloakrooms, an indoor storage area, a cookery room, HSCL office, a parents’ room and crèche. Outdoor facilities include a tarmacadam area, a grass area, an outdoor classroom and community hall. These extensive resources support the running of a breakfast club, after-school activities, a comprehensive physical education programme, as well as facilitating the school orchestra’s rehearsals. The school’s wide range of educational resources, which include big books, concrete mathematical materials, violins, cellos and visual art trolleys, add value to the educational experiences provided by the school for the pupils in its care. Pupils’ work is celebrated on the many prominent display boards positioned along the corridors, in accordance with the school’s stated aims and vision. The area of special educational needs is generously resourced with teacher-made and commercially produced resource materials, which greatly enhance the value of the teaching and learning for the pupils. Overall, the range, quality and availability of the resources bear testament to good management and organisation of resources. This reflects well on the in-school management team and parents which organises this area.
The parents are encouraged to play an active part in the overall life of the school. They participate in Maths for Fun and Science for Fun sessions, during which parents work alongside class teachers, to the mutual benefit of all. In addition, parents help in the vital work of covering library books and textbooks for the school’s book rental scheme. In addition, parents are encouraged to get involved in Language in the Classroom activities at infant level. The work of the parents is also evident in many open day activities and in the work associated with the Green School activities. A one hundred per cent attendance level is recorded for the welcoming ceremony held for parents of junior infant pupils. This is worthy of particular tribute. The parents form policy groups and pass on their views regarding school matters to the board of management which is open to taking their contributions on board. In turn, draft policies are sent home for comment prior to approval. The whole school community is commended for this proactive approach to involving the parents in its policy formation. Parents are encouraged to take part in cookery classes held in the school’s dedicated cookery room which often act as a stepping-stone for further involvement in school based activities. The Ballymun community makes use of the school’s hall for bingo, and The Aisling Club uses the hall as its base for its after-school events. The high quality work of the HSCL teacher is central to the good management of relationships and communication within the school community and will be further commented on in section five of this report. The school acts tirelessly in encouraging and welcoming parental involvement in all aspects of the life of the school and is commended for this very good work.
The behaviour of the pupils in the school as observed during this inspection period was exemplary. The sense of mutual respect shown by pupils, staff and all who work in the school is palpable. This reflects the active approach taken by the school in its management of the pupils’ behaviour as seen in its clearly defined user-friendly code of behaviour, which is in accordance with the Equal Status Acts. In addition, this whole school approach to the management of pupils is evident in the posters strategically positioned along the corridors, which promote the school as a caring community and encourage manners and politeness as a manifestation of the school’s active anti-bullying policy. As a result, the pupils are eager to engage with the adults in the school, both teaching staff and others, and appear confident when speaking. Pupils from the school have made presentations to the school’s board concerning the Green Flag award and were presenters for a recent Junior Achievement award ceremony held in the O’Mahony Hall, Dublin City University. The positive school climate engendered by the pupils’ overall good behaviour adds considerably to the quality of the life in the school and most importantly to the promotion of effective learning and teaching in the classroom. This approach helps considerably in the school’s management of small group of pupils with behavioural issues, often caused by underlying childhood depression. A positive characteristic of the school is its commitment to the pastoral care of all its pupils and its commitment to their overall welfare.
The overall approach implemented in the school community with regard to school planning is in accordance with best practice. Collaboration exists between staff, management, parents and board members. Both curricular and organisation school policies follow the process of consultation, the creation of a draft plan or policy, which is circulated for comment. Once adjusted or modified, policies are ratified by the board and made available to the staff and the parent body in the Home School Community Liaison room. Curricular plans make reference to the structure of the curriculum, following strand unit and curriculum objectives in most cases. This report recommends that, when curricular plans are to be reviewed, particular attention be given to the section relating to teaching methodologies to be used for the teaching of a specific subject area. In general, the wider the range of methodologies employed and detailed in the school plan, the better the chance of meaningful implementation in the classroom setting. The school demonstrates a good understanding of the process of school planning as post-holders play an active part in leading the school development process. The school has formulated its plan for all the curriculum areas except for Drama which is to be formulated following the completion of in-service in the area. At present the plans for History and Geography are in draft form. The area of Home School Community Liaison is currently under review as is the school’s policy on healthy lunches. These need to be completed and ratified. The school planning process follows the correct phases of draft, review and prioritising for the future. The re-aligning of the roles of the post holders will facilitate this process. One hour of most staff meetings is devoted to curriculum planning. This practice is most worthy and should be continued.
At present the staff work in class groupings to formulate the curriculum plans. The four sections are then compiled to make the curriculum plan for the school for that particular subject. A common approach to layout and design should be agreed in all cases to allow ease of reading and to facilitate the implementation of the spiral and developmental nature of the school’s curriculum plan. The school planning process as described results in a plan that has relevance to the needs of the children in this specific school, which is praiseworthy and makes the plan meaningful. The plan is influencing the process of teaching and learning in the classrooms. The school has prioritised pupils’ achievement in literacy and numeracy for future development planning. These areas in particular contribute to the on-going review of the school’s approach to supporting school improvement in these areas.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
All teachers complete individual planning for the short and the long term. In general, the standard of the long-term planning is of a high order and reflects the strand and strand unit structure of the curriculum.. Most teachers’ long-term plans incorporate a section on the methodologies and assessment to be used. The inclusion of these areas leads to a greater guarantee that the planned work will be implemented in the classroom. These sections should be included in all teachers’ long-term plans. There is a variety in approach to planning for the short term. In those instances where individual teachers have adapted the agreed commercially produced template in use, the short-term plans are more effective in ensuring the implementation of the principles of the curriculum set out in the school plan. Thus, the inclusion of the specific curriculum objectives in teachers’ short-term planning facilitates curriculum implementation. This report recommends a review of the use of the current commercially produced template, with the recommendation that the school explore the possibility of producing its own in-school version of the template, which would reflect the curriculum structure of strand, unit and curriculum object, methodology plus process for assessment and differentiation for each subject area. Monthly progress reports are completed diligently and maintained centrally by the principal. The current practice of using the commercially produced booklet as the monthly progress report, while based on sound intentions, should be reviewed. This report recommends that the school’s own short-term planning template as recommended above, should incorporate an agreed in-school designed template, which would correctly reflect the section of the curriculum dealt with in the current month, as required.
In general the quality of teaching and learning is of a high order. At infant level there is evidence of good use of an integrated approach to planning for teaching and learning. In most classes, a good range of teaching methodologies is employed. These cater for the most part for the needs of the pupils. In some instances, greater focused planning for the short term together with specified pupil-active learning methodologies need to be put into practice. This should facilitate greater pupil engagement in the learning process. Almost all the teachers make good use of the ample teaching resources available in the school. The range of mathematical equipment seen in use by the children is laudable as is the range of posters and visual resources on offer throughout the school. Pupils are learning most effectively in those classes where they are asked to be active learners and where they work in a variety of different groupings in accordance with the principles of the curriculum. Participation in the work of the orchestra is raising the level of listening skills for pupils. Most pupils can be seen working in groups, in pairs, and involved in research, which actively uses the environment both indoors and out as a learning resource. This best practice should be adopted and replicated by all classes. The implementation of the full range of teaching and learning methodologies is vital in engaging that group of children which finds it increasingly difficult to concentrate for a variety of different reasons. On the whole, the level of teaching and learning in the school takes account of the needs of the pupils and matches the curriculum to their needs.
Tá plean scoile úsáideach curtha ar fáil don Ghaeilge ag na hoidí i gcomhairle lena chéile in a dtugtar aird do na a mórthéamaí, fothéamaí agus frásaí na seachtaine atá in úsáid don teagasc. Freisin leagtar amach bailiúcháin d’ábhair teagaisc ó fhoinsí áirithe a bheadh feiliúnach do gach rang leibhéal i dteagasc na mórthéamaí sin. Agus athbhreithniú á dhéanamh ar an bplean don Ghaeilge amach anseo ba cheart cur leis an bplean agus leiriu a thabhairt ar fís agus aidhmeanna na scoile i leith na teanga agus na straitéisí teagaisc atá in úsaid len í a fhorbairt mar theanga chumarsáide tríd na snáitheanna agus snáithaonaid an churaclaim. Cuireann na h-oidí pleananna oibre fadthréimhseacha agus gearrthreimhseacha ar fáil do mhúineadh na Gaeilge i gcomhpháirt lena chéile. Den chuid is mó, úsáidtear an plean céanna do gach rang leibhéal agus, go hiondúil, leagtar amach na cuspóirí teagaisc go han-soiléir sa phleanáil seo. Léiríonn na pleannna seo go bhfuil tuiscint mhaith ag na hoidí ar bhunphrionsabail an churaclaim agus go bhfuil clár fóinteach ar na gnéithe mar chuspóirí éisteachta agus labhartha, frásaí na seachtaine, mórthéamaí na míosa, modhanna agus straitéisí múinte agus gníomhaíochtaí éisteachta agus labhartha curtha le chéile ag an bhfoireann. De bharr na pleanála seo tá, ar an iomlán, ag éirí go breá leis na múinteoirí dul chun cinn creidiúnach á dhéanamh i dteagasc an chomhrá agus an chumarsáid go ginearálta agus sa léitheoireacht agus sa scríbhneoireacht. Baintear feidhm éifeachtach ar bhonn scoile as éagsúlacht straitéisí agus modhanna múinte spreagúla chun cumas cumarsáide na ndaltaí a fhorbairt agus déanann na hoidí tagairt don phlean scoile le linn a gcuid pleanála féin.
Cothaíonn na hoidí atmaisféar deas foghlama sna rangsheomraí agus bíonn dearcadh fábharach i leith na teanga le sonrú sna daltaí. Bunaítear na ceachtanna comhrá ar thimpeallacht na ndaltaí agus roghnaítear foclóir, abairtí agus ceisteanna a bhaineann le morthéama na míosa atá in oiriúint d’aois agus do chumas na ndaltaí sna ranganna áirithe. Cuirtear flúirse fearais ar fáil mar spreagthach don chomhrá. Baintear úsáid thairbheach as postaeir agus ábhar léirithe le hionchur nua teanga a theagasc agus le caint a spreagadh ar ábhar na gceachtanna. Éiríonn le formhór na ndaltaí tríd an scoil ceisteanna bunaithe ar na postaeir a fhreagairt ar chaighdeán a oireann dá rangleibhéil. Músclaítear suim na ndaltaí agus cothaítear a scileanna cumarsáide trí agallaimh faoi threoir a chleachtadh. Spreagtar rannpháirtíocht agus baintear úsáid bhreá as cluichí teanga, as obair i bpéirí, sceitsí, rólimirt, agus drámaíocht i roinnt ranganna chun taithí a thabhairt do dhaltaí na heiseamláirí agus na h-abairtí atá foghlamtha acu a úsáid i suímh cruthaitheacha i múineadh na gceachtanna. I gcoitinne, tá foclóir réasunta saibhir ag na daltaí agus cruthaítear seansanna dóibh an teanga a chleachtadh ar bhealach taitneamhach i gcomhthéacsanna cumarsáideacha. Tá cnuasach rann, dánta agus amhrán Gaeilge ar eolas ag na daltaí i ngach rang agus aithrisítear iad siúd le fuinneamh le linn na gceachtanna Gaeilge agus ag amanna éagsúla i rith an lae. Baintear úsáid as Gaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil go héifeachtach i mionchaint an lae i ngach seomra agus moltar go mór an méid Gaeilge a úsáidtear i gceachtanna
Cruthaítear timpeallacht shaibhir i bprionta i roinnt seomraí mar thaca don léitheoireacht agus don scríbhneoireacht. Baintear feidhm inmholta as leabhair mhóra tharraingteacha sna ranganna sóisearacha chun réimse teanga na ndaltaí a leathnú agus chun suim sa léitheoireacht a chothú. Bunaítear an léitheoireacht tríd an scoil ar ábhar téacsleabhar go príomha agus tá dul chun cinn oiriúnach á dhéanamh ag na daltaí. Déantar cúram cóir de mhúineadh na scríbhneoireachta agus taispeántar an obair go néata sna cóipleabhair. Tá cuid den obair bunaithe ar na leabhair shaothair agus an téacsleabhar agus tá gá anois le breis deiseanna a thabhairt chun saorscríbhneoireacht a dhéanamh a bheadh bunaithe ar spéis phearsanta na ndaltaí.
The teachers in collaboration with one another have provided a useful school plan for Irish which refers to the major and related themes and weekly phrases to be used for teaching. As well, collections of teaching materials from various sources that would be appropriate for each class level in the teaching of these major themes are outlined. In the future review of the school plan for Irish the plan should be extended to outline the school’s vision and aims in regard to the language and the teaching strategies that are in use to develop it as a conversational language through the strands and strand units of the curriculum. The teachers provide long-term and short-term work plans for the teaching of Irish in collaboration with one another. For the most part the same plan is used for each class level and, in general, the teaching objectives of this planning are outlined very clearly. These plans demonstrate that the teachers have a good understanding of the basic principles of the curriculum and they have compiled a helpful programme on the aspects of listening and expressive objectives, weekly phrases, major monthly themes, teaching methods and strategies for listening and expressive activities. Because of this planning the teachers are succeeding in making creditable progress in the teaching of conversation and communication in general and in reading and writing. Effective use is made of a variety of stimulating teaching strategies and methods on a school-wide basis to develop the communicative capabilities and the teachers refer to the school plan when they are planning their teaching.
The teachers nurture a pleasant learning atmosphere in the classrooms and the pupils have a favourable attitude towards the language. The conversational lessons are based on the pupils’ environments and vocabulary, sentences and questions that relate to the major monthly themes and are appropriate to the age and abilities of pupils are chosen. Plentiful supplies of resources are provided to stimulate conversation. Effective use is made of posters and illustrative material to teach the new language input and to stimulate expression in the lesson content. The majority of pupils throughout the school succeed in answering questions based on the posters of a standard that is appropriate for their class level. The interest of the pupils is awakened and their communicative skills are nurtured through practising interviews under direction. Participation is stimulated and good use is made of language games, paired-work, sketches, role-play and drama in some classes to allow the pupils use the language exemplars and sentences which they have learned in creative situations in the teaching of the lessons. In general, the pupils have a reasonably rich vocabulary and opportunities are created for them to practise the language in a pleasant way in communicative circumstances. The pupils in each class know a collection of rhymes, poems and songs in Irish and these are recited with vigour during the Irish lessons and at various times during the day. Informal Irish is used effectively in the daily incidental conversation in every room and the amount of Irish used in lessons is praised.
A print-rich environment is created in some rooms as a support for reading and writing. Praiseworthy use is made of attractive big-books in the junior classrooms to extend the language range of the pupils and to nurture interest in reading. Reading throughout the school is principally based on textbook material and pupils are making appropriate progress. Proper care is taken with the teaching of writing and the work is displayed neatly in copybooks. Some of the work is based on workbooks and on textbooks and there is now need to provide more opportunities for creative writing which is based on the personal interests of pupils.
A whole-school framework for teaching the English curriculum has been developed collaboratively. The plan outlines strategies for cultivating the children’s oral, reading and writing skills. This plan now needs to be updated. When it is reviewed, the plan should show evidence that the staff has discussed aims, methodologies and assessment modes. At classroom level, most teachers base their long- and short-term planning on the curriculum.
Considerable emphasis is placed on oral language development during English lessons and across a number of curriculum areas. Oral language lessons are well structured and a variety of themes have been chosen which are targeted at the children’s range of interests. Good questioning techniques are employed to develop thinking skills and discussions are well managed, ensuring the participation of all pupils. In the infant and junior classes children develop their speaking and listening skills through group work, stories and creative activities. In the middle and senior classes the teachers use mature language and, by careful use of probing questions, challenge pupils to develop their answers and express themselves more clearly. While the majority of teachers plan effectively for discrete oral language development, a greater emphasis on specific curriculum objectives in all classes will ensure continuity and progression in the development of the children’s oral skills as they progress through the school
In the infant and junior classes, story is employed effectively to develop pupils’ understanding of reading conventions, to encourage word recognition and to develop their skills of prediction. Effective use is made of large-format books to promote oral language development and to consolidate emergent reading skills. The teachers have successfully created a print-rich learning environment where children are exposed to charts, posters and labels, high-frequency words, onset and rime charts, individual words and full sentences. A range of activities is provided for the development of word-attack skills and particular attention is given to the development of phonological awareness through the use of the Jolly Phonics programme, the introduction of which is improving literacy levels. In the middle and senior classes novels and poetry are gainfully employed to enhance reading abilities generally and to provide an effective forum for the development of higher-order comprehension skills, character analysis and dramatic response. Opportunities are provided in class for Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) time.
Classroom planning for writing indicates that the children experience an environment which encourages the development of personal writing. In the infant classes letter formation skills are appropriately developed and subsequently expanded to initiate sentence formation and basic writing skills. Throughout the school, writing in various genres and for different audiences is regularly undertaken. The process of drafting, redrafting and editing is cultivated with some teachers modelling and scaffolding the writing process as suggested in the curriculum. The writing of poetry is explored and encouraged. Good use of made of various software packages to develop word processing skills and to achieve a good standard of presentation. The children’s ability to observe the conventions of grammar and punctuation are developed in the context of their general language development. When the school plan for English is reviewed, the good practice observed in the classrooms will provide an excellent basis for a whole-school, structured approach to process writing, replacing the current over-emphasis on handwriting skills and drills.
A whole school plan has been developed for the implementation of the primary curriculum in Mathematics. It outlines the philosophy and rationale underpinning the school’s approach to the teaching of this subject area. It has both breadth and balance and is designed to achieve consistency in the key approaches and methodologies used throughout the school. The aim is to ensure the development of problem solving skills through active learning and the use of concrete materials in real life situations with an emphasis on the importance of using the environment in the development of mathematical understanding. In the further development of this plan consideration should be given to providing further clarity and a detailed focus on ensuring common whole school approaches and discussion practices in the teaching of specific topics such as pattern, subtraction, tables and division and in the development of estimation skills.
The school plan provides useful guidance to the school staff in the provision of their long-term and short-term preparation where teachers at each level work collaboratively to devise a structured programme of work under the objectives of the strand units of the curriculum. Most teachers have created a maths-rich environment through assembling mathematical equipment and illustrative materials to complement their own personal schemes of work. Lessons in Mathematics are generally well taught and practical and activity methods which are commonplace are most helpful in clarifying the various concepts. Pupils manipulate physical material when exploring new concepts and talk and discussions are a feature of lessons in most classes. Emphasis is placed on the teaching and use of appropriate mathematical language. While whole-class teaching is the predominant methodology, in many cases pupils collaborate in pairs and in small groups when completing assignments. This approach fosters co-operative learning skills and facilitates teachers in supporting individual pupils as needed. At some class levels, group teaching is used effectively with learning activities matched to pupils’ abilities. It is recommended that this practice be expanded throughout the school and that the activities be differentiated to meet the needs of individual pupils.
In the infant classes, attention is given to ensuring consistency in concept formation and language development through engagement in early mathematical activities. The children experience a broad variety of work which involves data, number, shape and measures. In some classes a variety of teaching approaches is used. Suitable emphasis is placed on oral work to encourage the children to talk about what they are doing and to extend their mathematical thinking. In the middle and senior classes, a good variety of concrete materials is available and in most classes teachers use a range of hands-on equipment to support the work. Some learning experiences allow for guided discovery methods, and pupils are given some opportunities to collaborate on tasks and to co-operate in their learning. Pupils are encouraged to use appropriate mathematical language. Written work is corrected methodically and pupils are encouraged to present this work in a neat and ordered manner.
However, the standard of pupil attainment in Mathematics is lower than expected and there is an on-going need to raise the general standard of mathematics throughout the school. Further work needs to be undertaken in developing children’s oral work and mental calculation strategies and more emphasis should be placed on the cultivation of estimation and prediction skills to enable pupils to attain the desired learning outcomes from the various activities. Focused planning and the availability of an appropriate supply of concrete resources for purposeful, practical activities and participative methodologies through the extension of the ‘Maths for Fun’ programme need to be constructively organised on a school-wide basis. Provision needs to be made in classroom planning for children who are experiencing difficulties with tasks set in order to meet the individual needs of those children. The results of standardised mathematics tests need to be carefully monitored and tracked to inform teacher planning and to establish whole-class patterns and trends with subsequent programmes of work planned accordingly
A draft whole-school plan for the implementation of the History curriculum has been developed. The plan emphasises the importance of the history of the local area and includes some useful summaries of the history of Ballymun. In general, at classroom level, the inclusion of curriculum objectives in planning and the maintenance of the balance between the treatment of content and the development of skills will ensure the provision of a broad and balanced history curriculum at all levels.
Children’s historical work begins in infant classes with the children’s own past and that of their family and community. Stories, myths and legends are used at all levels to stimulate discussion and questioning and to allow the children to empathise with the feelings and circumstances of the characters portrayed. A wide range of resources is available to stimulate discussion and to extend pupils’ experience of history and good use is made of historical and personal artefacts. The children gain a good understanding of the sequence of events in history through their study of timelines. Their awareness of the culture of various ethnic groups is developed and the contribution and role of women in history is explored. Children who are members of the school’s photographic club are involved in recording the changes that are currently being experienced in the Ballymun area. This is a valuable recording of local history for future pupils.
Pupils could now be made aware of the full range of primary and secondary sources that can be used to investigate periods and events in the past and a range of documents, photographs and artefacts could be used to enhance the teaching and learning in this area. Further work on the development of local history at classroom level and on the development of trails in the local environment will encourage the children to appreciate the elements of the past which have given them and their locality a sense of identity. Such activities will allow the children to work as historians and will reduce dependence on textbooks.
A draft whole-school plan for the implementation of the Geography curriculum has been developed with an emphasis on the potential of the local environment for the study of geographical features and processes. Mapping activities enable the children to appreciate the uses and possibilities of maps while developing their understanding of common map features and conventions. The pupils are encouraged to record weather patterns and seasonal change is explored and discussed. In most classes, the children have a good overall grasp of the geography of their own immediate environment and community. Cross-curricular links to other subjects are made to reinforce and promote the learning. The creation of a map-rich environment should be prioritised in the middle and senior classes. The further use of the local environment as a basis for developing pupils’ knowledge and understanding of natural and human environments at classroom level is recommended. A high level of awareness is evident in relation to energy conservation and recycling and the school has been awarded two environmental Green Flags from An Taisce, and has represented Ireland at a European Green School event in Spain in 2004. A high-quality school garden, which is a great asset to the school, has been developed by pupils and teachers and is used throughout the year. Community links have been developed and children participate in the Junior Achievement awards, global action projects, recycling and in projects led by the Ballymun Development Group.
A draft policy for Science has been compiled. This policy needs to be taken beyond the draft stage and fully adopted by the school. Teachers plan a suitably broad programme of science for the pupils and time is allocated on the weekly timetable for science teaching. Many classrooms host well-stocked science display tables and a wide variety of science posters is available throughout the school. Lessons are suitably integrated with other areas of the curriculum. Teachers make good links with children’s previous learning. Textbooks are used creatively and judiciously. Appropriate learning resources for science are available. It is apparent that the pupils enjoy and benefit from the work in this area of the curriculum. The school garden and the on-going recycling projects, including that of water conservation for which the school won an award in 2006, provide excellent support for work in the living things and environmental awareness and care strands of the curriculum. In general, pupils participate in science lessons and are encouraged to work scientifically. In order to enhance the provision in this area it is important that the children are given more opportunities for hands-on work with greater emphasis being placed on investigative and experimental work. Further emphasis on designing and making will ensure that the children use and apply their scientific skills and knowledge to practical tasks. The school is involved in several science projects in the local community and with Dublin City University.
A detailed school curriculum plan exists for teaching and learning in visual arts. The types of work to be undertaken are described and outlined for the four class groupings. This work focuses on the making strand of the curriculum. The challenge now is to formulate a comprehensive whole school plan for the looking and responding strand of the curriculum, which will include detailed looking and responding activities for the pupils in each strand area. A good start has been made in practice with pupils looking at and responding to images of work in paint and colour. The use of portfolios for assessment represents best practice in the area. The quality of teaching and learning in the visual arts is good as the correct methodology is used for the most part. This places the child as the creator and inventor of the art piece. Good work is underway in using the child’s imagination and the work of artists as a starting point for art making. The appeal to the child’s experience, observation and imagination, as a stimulus for pupils’ art making, as described in the curriculum, should be further developed and extended throughout the school. The level of pupil engagement in the art making process is in direct proportion to the extent to which the teaching adheres to curriculum principles. Where this is done, the practice is commended highly. The use of a teacher led template approach to visual art making should be discontinued.
The standard of celebration of pupils’ artwork through display is of a very high order and an annual exhibition of children’s work is held in the school. The use of art trolleys supports the effective central management of art materials. Pupils make drawings using a variety of drawing materials to good effect, with particular reference to some impressive use of pastels to make drawings. Pupils make work in paint and colour. Work in this strand should now focus on work in colour to a greater extent. Work in the print strand is at the exploratory stage and should next concentrate on using a few simple techniques to make representational prints based on the stimuli outlined above. The excellent work underway in the after school photographic club should be incorporated into the work in print in the classroom. Very good work is underway using clay in some senior classes. While work in the construction strand is underway, more emphasis needs to be placed on the three-dimensional nature of the work. In fabric and fibre the availability of art trolleys with a myriad of useful materials, forms the foundation for interesting work in this strand. As the inspection occurred in the first term, the full body of work in this strand could not be seen. The report applauds the teaching of knitting underway in some classes and recommends that it be extended throughout the school. The area of looking at and responding to art is being implemented with regard to looking at work in paint and colour, and needs development as stated previously. The practice of bringing pupils to visit art galleries is much praised. The proximity of the Axis Arts Centre in Ballymun is a great asset which pupils visit regularly free of charge.
There is a strong music tradition in the school. The comprehensive school plan for music represents al aspects of the curriculum. Pupils perform songs from a broad repertoire, a menu of which is included for each class grouping. The pupils participate in the Cór Fhéile with choir and strings, and The National Children’s Choir, and in the Hallelujah Chorus in The Point Depot. This ensures continuity from year to year. Pupils in addition listen to music from a wide range of genres. This section could be further expanded in classroom practice, as could the composing strand of the music curriculum. Nevertheless, some excellent classroom practice was observed in this area and pupils are gaining experience in composing short tunes. The application of ICT to this area should now be explored, given the good foundation work already completed. The school has a good supply of music stands, percussion instruments and music CDs. The pupils also receive tuition in traditional Irish music. The high status afforded to music in the life of the school is reflected in the levels of the pupils’ engagement and achievement in the curriculum area. Displays along the corridors recognise work done by classes based on famous composers.
Of particular note is the opportunity provided for pupils to play a stringed instrument and to perform in the school’s orchestra. The school has developed its string orchestra in conjunction with three other primary schools in Ballymun, forming the Ballymun inter school orchestra in which each school has opted to represent a section of the orchestra. Pupils play violin and cello and most recently have achieved success in external Royal Irish Academy of Music examinations. Practice is before and after school time and a staff member and an external music teacher instruct forty pupils daily. The work underway is of a remarkable nature. The orchestra played for the inspection team and the standard was excellent. The Strings Club has recently performed in public with John Sheehan of The Dubliners in the Axis Theatre. This additional voluntary work adds considerably to the educational experience of the children and by extension to that of the extended school community.
As yet the school has no formal school development plan formulated for Drama in the curriculum. As in-service from the Department of Education and Science in Drama is recently completed it is recommended that the school planning process focus on setting an action plan in place for the formulation of the school plan for Drama. The service of arts cuiditheoirí from the Primary Curriculum Support Service may be contacted to guide the process further. Given the expertise on the staff, the formulation of this plan should be undertaken without delay. Teaching and learning in Drama is already underway in the classrooms. The principles of make believe and the use of imagination as dramatic devices are used to good effect. The use of Drama as a methodology is evident in the work in most classrooms. In some classes the elements of drama, role and character, action, pace, time, tension, significance and genre are accessed through fairy tale and the creation of a television commercial. Pupils from first and second classes and those with special education needs attend drama classes hosted by the Giving Children an Even Break scheme. This is a good basis for further development of these elements through work as outlined in the curriculum and its guidelines once the school plan is completed.
The school plan for Physical Education needs to reflect the comprehensive range of physical education activities being taught in the school, following the format set out in the relevant school planning sections of the curriculum documents. The school currently offers a full range of learning activities in all the physical education curriculum strand areas, with the aquatics and dance strands being particularly well presented. Pupils from second class upwards attend swimming lessons in the local swimming pool. A very high level of dance is taught in the school encouraged by expertise within the staff and additional dance classes are on offer after school. This planned work should be described in the school’s plan for Physical Education. The range of games and sport taught includes, tennis and tag rugby, which is funded by the Irish Rugby Football Union. The school is well resourced in physical education equipment and indoor and outdoor playing areas, which are suitable for implementing the Physical Education curriculum. The refurbishment of the indoor resource and hall areas has greatly improved the possibility for quality learning and teaching in the school. These resources are well used by the staff. At infant level, pupils work in gymnastics and make good use of integration with other curriculum areas, which is suitable for this age grouping. At junior and middle class levels, pupils are guided through a series of graded activities in the games strand, while dance sequences of a complex nature are taught at senior levels to very good effect. The level of pupil engagement and achievement in Physical Education is in direct correlation to the degree to which the pupils are physically active throughout the physical education lesson. Thus, the recommendation is to ensure that the lessons are well paced and to use a minimum of teacher directed talk throughout to ensure greater achievement.
The school’s policy on teaching Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is well thought through and grounded in the specific needs of the pupils in the school. Though the SPHE programme is well structured, the existing school plan is next for review. Its stated aim is to ‘provide SPHE for all the pupils in an environment where each child feels valued and effort is recognised and rewarded’ in an atmosphere of ‘mutual trust between teacher and child’. SPHE is taught in discrete lesson time in accordance with best practice and as an integral aspect of the fabric of school life as indicated by the quoted aims above. The quality of the pupils’ learning is diverse and of a very good quality as seen in the range of content provided, which includes a cookery class for the sixth classes and also a drugs awareness programme designed for the sixth classes. This drugs awareness programme is co-delivered by the Youth Action Programme under the auspices of the Ballymun Drugs Task Force. Pupils receive education in areas such as relationships and sexuality education through the Stay Safe programme. Walk Tall, Smoke Busters and dental hygiene programmes are also taught at designated periods throughout the school year. The school has been successful in promoting ‘walk to school’ schemes and has won a national award for this in 2004. The use of methodologies, such as circle time, and the spiral nature of the curriculum taught, set the foundation for good learning and teaching in SPHE. Pupils achieve good levels of knowledge and understanding in themed topics such as healthy eating, which is adapted to suit the particular age groups. In addition, posters along the corridors foster pupils’ sense of safety and their well-being. A significant number of teachers give freely of their time after school hours and work with the pupils in the Rainbows Club, which deals with bereavement issues. Recent awards received by pupils and their success in the local competitions all help to raise the self-esteem of the individual and the whole school. The work underway in SPHE is a positive aspect of the work and life of the school.
An extensive range of assessment modes is in operation in the school, from teacher observation, the use of individual pupil portfolios, to teacher-made and commercially produced formal and informal modes of testing. All teachers administer standardised tests in both English and Mathematics. The quality of record keeping is well managed on a whole school basis. The results of these standardised tests are used by the special education needs team, in collaboration with the parents and the principal teacher, to identify those pupils who would benefit from additional specialised teaching. Reports on children’s progress are made annually during parent teacher meetings and a written report is provided for each child at the end of each school year. The effect of the work undertaken in assessing progress in pupils’ learning impacts on the nature of the subsequent teaching methodologies used in mainstream classes and for those pupils identified as having special educational needs at either end of the ability spectrum. Of particular note is the fact that the school has prioritised the reduction of the number of pupils scoring on the lowest level of the standardised tests over a two-year period. This prioritising of a focused target can but maximise the impact of teaching and learning to achieve this aim. The next challenge is to monitor carefully the progress in achieving this target, perhaps by more frequent testing devised on an in-school basis.
The work of the special education needs (SEN) team in the school is of a very high order. The special education needs team in the school consists of two special class teachers, three learning support teachers (LSTs), one of whom specialises in a Reading Recovery system, one and a half resource teachers for pupils with disability, and a teacher on half time with responsibility for language support for those pupils whose first language is not English. The school has three special needs assistants whom the DES has sanctioned to assist five pupils. Pupils are facilitated to participate in mainstream class activities since pupils move between special classes and mainstream classes as best suits their individual needs throughout the school day. The school implements the learning support guidelines and circular 02/05 in accordance with DES directives and organises individual education programmes (IEPs) for those pupils working with the special needs team in the school. Work is planned in two terms with systematic review twice yearly. Good channels of communication are established and operate successfully between staff, parents and outside agencies to maximise educational support for the pupils. Teaching is on a withdrawal basis in tandem with a system where the learning support teacher goes into the classroom on a daily basis to support teaching and learning using the Jolly Phonics programme, with increasing levels of success.
A successful reading recovery programme is in operation. A small number of children are undergoing intensive individual help in reading and writing. This specialised one-to-one programme of reading recovery operates on a daily basis and the children experience the programme for approximately twenty weeks at senior infants or first class level. Letter names and sounds are reinforced. Children are encouraged to write daily and a series of graded readers is used to develop their reading skills. An extremely high level of preparation and planning underpins the provision of the support. Excellent records are maintained. Admirable levels of progress are evident and pupils are highly motivated and enthusiastic.
A wide range of teaching methodologies is in use, from individual to paired-work to working in small groups and the discovery mode of learning. Work is meticulously planned and preparation is carefully designed, accompanied by a comprehensive range of suitable resources to consolidate the learning of concepts to support the raising of numeracy and literacy levels. In addition, successful programmes, such as Maths for Fun, Language in the Classroom and First Steps, are adding to the rate of success achieved with particular reference to those pupils completing additional work with the special needs team. A comprehensive range of diagnostic tests is used to fine tune the assessment outcomes, which form the basis for the creation of dedicated IEPs for individual pupils. These include Marino and Schonell reading tests, Southgate for pupils in senior infants and the Neale Analysis test among many others. In addition, additional support can be given to a whole class grouping if the need arises. This practice is highly praised as it makes good use of the available resources, as is the plan to devote SEN resources to the more able pupils identified through screening, which will take place in the third school term. Creative ways of expanding this support to enable it run throughout the school year should now be explored. Good systems are in place to facilitate liaison between the class teacher and members of the special needs team. Overall, the special education needs team in the school is of a very high calibre and works in a professional manner to deliver support to those identified as needing additional educational support.
The school offers a comprehensive range of support systems for the girls in the school. The school runs a Breakfast Club and a comprehensive range of after school activities, which extend and further develop the education provision for the pupils. These activities include sessions run by Ballymun Initiative for Third level Education (BITE), and Dublin City University Access programme, violin classes, dance classes, Rainbows Club, and Sports for Success held in Saint Patrick’s College of Education. Of note is the recent introduction of the infant after school club. The DEIS initiative, School Completion Programme scheme and Giving Children an Even Break scheme all support the work of the school in its many after school activities. The school enjoys the support of a Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) teacher, whose dedicated and exemplary work focuses on developing and nurturing positive links between home and school. The work of the HSCL teacher includes keeping in touch with parents, organising further education classes for parents leading to FETAC awards, making house calls and being responsive to the particular needs of the whole school community at a given time. The HSCL teacher works in conjunction with many local community groups such as the Ballymun Partnership, and encourages parental participation in classroom work as in Maths for Fun and Language for Fun schemes, which is most successful. Excellent planning and management of resources, which adds to the success of the liaison work, support this work. The calibre of the work in the HCSL area is second to none. A small group of Traveller children and Polish children attend the school. Every effort is made to include them in the life of the school as evidenced by the availability of school documents translated into Polish. The quality of the intervention offered and the support received are of a very high order and add immeasurably to the work of the school to support the education of all its pupils.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.