An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Virgin Mary Girls NS
Shangan Road, Ballymun, Dublin 9
Uimhir rolla: 19303W
Date of inspection: 4 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Virgin Mary Girls’ National School, Ballymun. 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 parents’ representatives. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Virgin Mary Girls’ National School was established in 1969 to cater for the newly-built community in Ballymun and shares a building with Virgin Mary Boys’ National School on Shangan Road. The whole area has undergone radical changes in recent years under the Ballymun Regeneration Project. The school operates under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. In its mission statement the school states its wish to promote the development of a learning environment through the provision of a quality and comprehensive system of education that is inclusive of all its children in a happy, safe and caring environment.
The school participates in the Department of Education and Science’s initiative to counter educational disadvantage, Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), and partakes in the Home-School-Community Liaison (HSCL) service, School Completion and Early Start programmes. Under the DEIS scheme the school also benefits from extra staffing and funding.
The last school report was furnished in 2001. Enrolments have fallen over the years from a high of some 800 pupils to the current enrolment of 154. Although attendance levels for most pupils are generally satisfactory, poor attendance and poor punctuality by a significant minority of pupils gives cause for concern. The school itself is making every effort to address this problem and has developed a positive approach to improving attendance levels in conjunction with the Ballymun Educational Support system (BEST). The school’s Care Team monitors levels of absenteeism on a daily basis and regular attendance is rewarded and celebrated.
The board of management is a joint board serving both the boys’ and girls’ schools. It is properly constituted and its members are very supportive of the school. The board meets monthly. Minutes of all meetings are maintained. Finances are carefully managed and accounts are externally audited. All board members are fully committed to and work diligently for the good of the whole school community. The chairperson is in regular contact with the school principal throughout the school year. Policies are under continuous review and are regularly updated. While minutes of meetings indicate that policies are discussed and ratified by the board, it is suggested that all policies be signed and dated by the chairperson on ratification.
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. It cultivates relationships within the school community, among the parents and with the wider community of Ballymun. Of current concern to the board is the feeling of isolation experienced on the east side of the new dual carriageway through Ballymun, the concentration of finance and development on the opposite side of the dual carriageway and the knock-on effect this has had on recent enrolments. The board is also concerned with on-going upgrading of the school buildings, the decline in enrolments and the funding of psychological assessments. While the board of management actively supports the school and acts promptly when necessary, it could become more involved in collaborating with members of the in-school management team and in enhancing their contribution to the management of the school.
The principal enjoys the confidence and support of the teaching staff, the board of management and the parents. She has been a member of staff for many years and has been committed to the task of running the school since her appointment as principal in 1990. She seeks out and develops productive partnerships in the immediate and wider community and has good relationships with pupils, parents, staff and appropriate agencies. She demonstrates a caring and sensitive attitude towards all the school’s pupils and has been acquainted with the majority of families in the area for many years. Daily administrative and organisational tasks are undertaken efficiently and areas such as organisation, school planning and pastoral priorities have received a considerable amount of thought and attention. At this point in time it is recommended that the instructional leadership dimension of the role be developed further by focussing on reviewing implementation of the whole-school plans at classroom level.
The in-school management team consists of a deputy principal, one assistant principal and four special duties postholders. This team provides support for the principal in the general administration of the school and collectively they have a wide range of experience and expertise. Each member of the team has responsibility for a curricular, organisational and pastoral area. Duties were agreed among members at meetings of the team, and these duties reflect the current priorities of the school. Meetings are held once a term, before school hours, at which post-holders report to the team on developments in their areas of responsibility. Members of the in-school management team are all long-serving members of staff and, as such, are totally dedicated to the school and to the families served by the school. It is advised that a schedule be formulated to provide for more frequent meetings of the team so that their contribution to whole-school management can be further developed and nurtured.
The teaching staff comprises the principal teacher, nine mainstream class teachers, two full-time learning support teachers, one shared resource teacher for pupils with disabilities, one shared home-school-community liaison teacher (HSCL), one shared special-class teacher and one shared resource teacher for children of the Travelling community. Teachers are allocated to pupils and classes in accordance with departmental guidelines. The school has a policy of changing class teachers on an annual basis and mobility between class levels is encouraged. In recent years several long-serving members of the teaching staff have retired, changing the dynamic of the staff composition. Currently, most of the school’s most experienced teachers are working in the special needs area while the majority of mainstream teachers have qualified in the last three years. This situation needs to be examined and redressed in order to maintain a better balance between experienced and recently qualified teachers in the mainstream and special needs areas. The development of a policy on teacher allocation and rotation is recommended.
The work of the teaching staff is ably supported by the school secretary, school caretaker, housekeeper and a shared School Completion Programme (SCP) project worker. The school is cleaned to a high standard by a local group of cleaners and the caretaker maintains the school building and grounds to a high level. The school also employs an Irish dancing teacher, a tag-rugby coach for the senior classes, a swimming instructor and a cookery teacher. School policy supports continuing professional development and an annual budget is set aside for this purpose. Teachers are supported in undertaking courses which will enhance teaching and learning in the school and, in return, they must agree to present and share what they have learned with colleagues. A range of supports is available to assist and mentor new teachers and the school participates in the Ballymun Partnership programme for newly qualified teachers.
The school is extremely well equipped with resources for learning. Each subject is supported by a wide range of text books, teacher-reference books and materials. These include computers, software packages, well-stocked class libraries, televisions, CD players, videos and DVDs, commercially produced illustrative materials, supplementary reading materials, physical education equipment, musical instruments, a wide variety of mathematics and science equipment, a collection of historical artefacts and resources and a range of visual arts supplies. Resources are well maintained, and are updated and renewed regularly. They are appropriate and accessible and, when used, are used well. Classrooms are bright and comfortable and are well furnished. The corridors and hall area are particularly attractively decorated with eye-catching displays of the pupils’ work as well as samples of art from a variety of artists.
The school building is thirty-eight years old and was extended in 1975. The accommodation consists of twenty permanent classrooms, nine mainstream rooms, learning support and resource rooms, library, computer room, cookery room, principal’s office, secretary’s office, staff room and toilets, indoor and outdoor storage areas, a parents’ room and a school hall which is shared with the boys’ school. Some space has been leased to a Youthreach programme. Outdoor facilities include tarmacadam and grass areas. These extensive resources are used to support the operation of a breakfast club and Early Start programme (which is based in the boys’ school) as well as homework and activity clubs. In recent times new heating and security systems have been installed. Electrical wiring has been upgraded and it is proposed to repair the roof and add new railings in summer 2008. The school building has been very well maintained over the years and the board of management, teaching staff, housekeeper and caretaker are commended on their efforts in this regard.
There is no parents’ association in the school at present. The home-school-community liaison teacher is shared between the boys’ and girls’ schools and has been very active in attempting to involve parents in school life in order to create better relationships between parents, the school and the wider community. Parents are encouraged to become involved in supporting programmes such as Maths for Fun, Science for Fun and paired reading. The school provides a parents’ room where courses in areas such as child development and play, and food and nutrition are provided. Class meetings for parents are held each year and a welcome ceremony for new junior infants helps their parents to become acquainted with the school and its operation. High-quality information packs have been prepared and distributed providing information on school policies, school closures, pertinent support services accessible through the school as well as information on programmes and facilities within the school. Parents are invited to contribute to policy formation through surveys, questionnaires, class meetings and the parent representatives on the board of management.
Standards of pupils’ behaviour and discipline are generally good. Pupils co-operate with staff and there is a pleasant atmosphere in the school. The teachers display deep interest in and obvious commitment to the well-being and progress of their pupils. Lunchtime clubs cater for children who have difficulties socialising with other children during playtime. The Care Team monitors attendance closely and contacts the homes to check why children are absent. Some staff members have undertaken training with the Incredible Years Initiative which examines troubling aspects of children’s behaviour in the classroom and outlines proactive teaching strategies, which could be successfully employed to overcome them. The availability of such a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is a direct result of the commitment of staff to the pupils in their care and is to be commended. Many of these initiatives are managed by the in-school project worker who regularly evaluates their effectiveness and adapts them to suit the needs of the children in the school. Improvements in attendance and other achievements are celebrated in the school and it is recommended that the possibility of school assemblies be explored as a further method of celebrating and sharing the children’s successes.
The process of school planning is on-going and involves the teaching staff, board of management and parents, working in collaboration. This has resulted in the production of a comprehensive school plan which outlines policies, procedures and programmes for a range of organisational and administrative areas. Action plans for priority areas are available. 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, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). 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.
The teaching staff is commended for the work done on developing policies to support implementation of the curriculum. Advice has been sought from the School Development Planning facilitator and from the DEIS facilitator. All curricular policies are firmly based on the Primary Curriculum and have been developed in consultation with the support services. The school has identified the need to raise attainment levels in literacy and numeracy and has formulated excellent three-year plans in English and Mathematics in its efforts to achieve this. The policy for Gaeilge would benefit from being made more relevant to the school context. Policies in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) need to include greater emphasis on the development of skills. The planning diary indicates that Drama and Visual Arts are being prioritised for review and development this year.
Securing the connections between the whole-school plan and all classroom planning, and monitoring and evaluating the implementation of that plan across the school on a regular basis, should now be prioritised in order to ensure that it is impacting positively on children’s learning experiences at classroom level. Close and careful monitoring of the implementation of the curriculum alongside rigorous strategies for evaluating its impact on the quality of teaching and on pupil achievement will help to achieve the desired goals of the plans and will contribute towards school improvement. Continued analysis of trends in standards and pupil achievement will assist in the school’s drive to improve standards.
All teachers are committed to providing long-term and short-term planning and maintain monthly progress records. The quality of this classroom planning varies considerably, however. Some teachers provide excellent planning which is informed by both the Primary School Curriculum and the school plan. These plans include clearly stated curriculum objectives; attention is paid to teaching strategies and the planned use of resources. Programmes of work are differentiated and possibilities for integration and linkage are explored. The template that is currently in use in the school limits the scope of this high-quality planning. In those classrooms where the teachers rely solely on the prepared planning template, planning is inadequate. In these cases, there is an over-emphasis on content and not enough exploration of teaching strategies and methodologies. The use of resources is not planned for and no reference is made to differentiation or to assessment.
While the school plan includes guidelines on teacher planning it is recommended that the format of classroom planning be prioritised in the school’s action plan, that the current templates be adapted and used more effectively and that the good practice which is in existence in some classes be emulated across the school.
Currently, most teachers submit their short-term planning templates as monthly progress records. In those classes where short-term planning is reflective of the curriculum structure, the cuntas míosúil supports continuity and progression in learning and can be used successfully to provide for systematic and regular monitoring of the implementation of the school plan. However, in other cases where short-term planning is poor, the practice is unsatisfactory. It is recommended that the school’s practice regarding the monthly progress report be reviewed. This review should include arriving at a common understanding of the purpose of the monthly report as well as an examination of its possibilities for improving teaching and learning across the school.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The quality of learning and teaching in the curriculum was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and a review of samples of work and copybooks in all classrooms. The whole teaching staff is extremely committed and dedicated to the school and the children. All teachers make effective use of praise. Some excellent teaching and learning was observed but this high standard is not consistent throughout the school. In those classrooms where the standard of teaching and learning is high, lesson content is clear, sufficiently challenging and matched to the pupils’ age and stage of development. Lessons are structured and well-paced and a variety of appropriate resources, methodologies and teaching approaches is used.
However, in many classes there are insufficient opportunities for pupils to engage in learning in an active and independent way. In these cases, the teaching is teacher-directed and the pupils are passive. It is recommended that the staff spend time exploring the various methodologies and teaching strategies suggested in the curriculum and examining how they can be implemented effectively across the school. Staff would benefit from having opportunities to observe the good quality teaching in operation in some classes. More widespread use of the school’s rich supply of concrete materials and resources, alongside further opportunities for group work and pair work, will facilitate the children’s social and personal development and will help them to appreciate the benefits to be gained from co-operative effort. Further opportunities for engagement in high-quality interactive processes and in imaginative and socio-dramatic play would enhance the provision at infant level.
Sa phlean scoile atá curtha ar fáil don Ghaeilge, áirítear aidhmeanna agus cuspóirí teagaisc an ábhair, maille le cur síos ar scileanna, ar mhodhanna múinte agus ar úsáid áiseanna. Go ginearálta, tá an plean bunaithe ar bhunphrionsabail agus ar snáitheanna agus snáithaonaid an churaclaim agus tugtar aird ann do na feidhmeanna teanga, don Ghaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil agus do mhórthéamaí an churaclaim. Freisin, leagtar amach bailiúcháin d’ábhair teagaisc ó fhoinsí áirithe a bheadh úsáideach agus cuiditheach do ghach rang leibhéal i dteagasc na mórthéamaí sin. Tá sé mar chuspóir ag an bplean seo dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge a chothú i measc na ndaltaí. Baintear úsáid freisin as raon leathan d’áiseanna teagaisc, ábhair i bprionnta, lipéid agus postaeir tarraingteach sna seomraí ranga, cuid a ghabhann leis na scéimeanna trádála agus cuid atá déanta ag na h-oidí féin mar spreagthach don chomhrá.
Le linn an mheasúnaithe, léiríodh cleachtas inmholta sna hardranganna a bhain úsáid tairbheach as straitéisí agus as ábhair léirithe chun teanga nua, bunaithe ar théamaí áirithe a theagasc agus chun na cuspóirí teagaisc a leagadh amach sa phleanáil ghearrthréimhseach a chur i gcrích. Thug na hoidí sin faoi foclóir, abairtí, ceisteanna agus eiseamláirí difriúla teanga a fhorbairt ina gcuid gníomhaíochtaí teagaisc agus cuireadh béim chuí ar éisteacht ghníomhach agus ar obair i bpéirí. Freisin, baineadh feidhm thairbheach as postaeir, lipéid, sceitsí, drámaíocht, scéalta, amhráin agus as cluichí suimiúla cumarsáide chun rannpháirtíocht na ndaltaí a chothú agus chun a gcumas tuisceana agus labhartha a chur chun cinn. I bhformhór na ranganna eile, áfach, bhí caighdeán na ndaltaí agus na múinteoireachta lag agus níor chloíodh leis an nGaeilge mar theanga theagaisc le linn na gceachtanna. De réir cosúlachta, ní fhorbraítear an contanam cumarsáide sna ranganna sin. Cuirtear an bhéim ar an gcur chuige traidisiúnta, ar cheisteanna agus ar an slua-fhreagairt, in ionad cumas aonarach éisteachta agus labhartha na ndaltaí a fhorbairt. Bítear ag brath an-iomad ar théacsleabhair mar bhunús don teagasc agus don fhoghlaim agus bíonn deacracht ag líon suntasach daltaí abairtí a chumadh agus ceisteanna a fhreagairt.
Cruthaítear timpeallacht shaibhir phrionta i roinnt seomraí mar thaca don léitheoireacht agus don scríbhneoireacht. Léann cuid de na daltaí go réasúnta líofa agus is féidir leo ábhar na léitheoireachta a phlé go réasúnta cumasach. Bunaítear an léitheoireacht ar ábhar téacsleabhar go príomha agus bíonn an t-ábhar léitheoireachta a chuirtear ar fáil teoranta go maith i bhformhór na ranganna. Moltar athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar chlár teagaisc na léitheoireachta tríd an scoil agus raon níos leithne d’ábhair léitheoireachta agus raon cuí d’fhíorleabhair a bheith i ngach seomra ranga chun na scileanna léitheoireachta a leathnú. B’fhiú freisin feidhm a bhaint as leabhair mhóra tharraingteacha sna ranganna sóisearacha chun réimse teanga na ndaltaí a leathnú agus chun suim sa léitheoireacht a chothú. Déantar cúram cóir de mhúineadh na scríbhneoireachta agus taispeántar an obair go néata sna cóipleabhair. Tá formhór den obair bunaithe ar na leabhair shaothair. Tá gá anois le breis deiseanna a thabhairt chun saorscríbhneoireacht a dhéanamh bunaithe ar spéis phearsanta na ndaltaí. Tá cnuasach rann, dánta agus amhrán Gaeilge foghlamtha ag na daltaí i ngach rang agus aithrisítear iad go taitneamhach agus go fonnmhar.
Ta gá práinneach analís agus díospóireacht a dhéanamh ar na cláracha éagsúla atá bailithe sa plean scoile chun clár amháin teanga chinnte don chomhrá idir fhoclóir, fhrásaí agus téamaí a chur in oiriúint do riachtanais na ndaltaí agus comhthéacs na scoile Tá gá freisin na dea-chleachtais atá ar bun i roinnt bheag rangsheomra a chur i bhfeidhm go córasach ar bhonn na scoile ina hiomláine chun rannpháirtíocht na ndaltaí in úsáid abairtí agus ceisteanna simplí a chur chun cinn go torthúil ionas go bhféadfaí a gcuid scileanna cumarsáide a fhorbairt a thuilleadh.
In the school plan provided for Irish the teaching aims and objectives are included, together with descriptions of skills, teaching methods and the use of resources, Generally speaking, the plan is based on the basic principles and on the strands and strand units of the curriculum and mention is made of the language functions, incidental Irish and the major themes of the curriculum. Collections of teaching materials from various sources, useful and helpful for each class level in the teaching of the major themes, are also outlined. The plan aims to foster a positive attitude to Irish among the pupils. Use is also made in the classrooms of a wide range of teaching resources such as printed materials, labels and attractive posters, some that accompany commercial schemes and some made by the teachers, to stimulate conversation.
During the evaluation, praiseworthy practice that made effective use of strategies and illustrative materials to teach new language based on particular themes and to implement the teaching objectives outlined in the short-term planning was demonstrated in senior classes. Those teachers endeavoured to develop vocabulary, sentences, questions and various language exemplars through their language teaching activities and appropriate emphasis was placed on active listening and working in pairs. Effective use was also made of posters, labels, sketches, drama, stories, songs and interesting conversational games to nurture the participation of pupils and to promote their understanding and expressive competencies. In the majority of the other classes however, the standards of teaching and the achievements of pupils were weak and Irish as a medium of teaching was not adhered to. To all appearances the conversational continuum in those classes is not developed. The traditional approach of questions and unison response is emphasised instead of developing individual pupils’ listening and expressive skills. Too much reliance is placed on textbooks as a basis for teaching and learning and a substantial number of pupils have difficulty in composing sentences and in answering questions
A print-rich environment is created in some classrooms as a support for reading and writing. Some of the pupils read with reasonable fluency and they are able to discuss the reading material with reasonable capability. Reading is principally based on textbook content and the range of reading material that is provided is very limited in the majority of classrooms. It is recommended that the teaching programme of reading throughout the school be reviewed and a wider range of reading material and an appropriate range of real books should be in every classroom to expand reading skills. It would be useful to use large and attractive books in the junior classes to expand the pupils’ range of language and to nurture their interest in reading. Proper attention is afforded to the teaching of writing and the work is presented neatly in copybooks. Most of the work is based on workbooks and textbooks and there is a need now to create opportunities for creative writing based on the personal interests of pupils. The pupils in every class have learnt collections of Irish rhymes, poems and songs and these are recited pleasantly and enthusiastically.
There is an urgent need to analyse and discuss the various programmes that are outlined in the school plan to provide a definite conversational language programme comprising vocabulary, phrases and themes for the needs of pupils and the school context. There is also a need for the good practice in some classes to be systematically implemented throughout the school to promote the participation of pupils in using simple sentences to develop their conversational skills further.
The school has developed a three-year literacy plan which focuses on the development of oral language, reading and comprehension, and writing in English. The plan for oral language is well-thought out and includes benchmarks for each class. Oral language development receives attention in all classes. Pupils are encouraged to discuss various themes, and in most classes, specific objectives are outlined for this aspect of the English programme. Effective use is made of a range of material resources and most teachers model the use of language well by using challenging vocabulary and sentence structures. A more deliberate focus on the development of oral language as an end in itself is recommended. The inclusion of specific oral language objectives in all classroom planning will help expand the children’s vocabulary and will increase their confidence and competence in using language as well as the continued development of their expressive and receptive skills.
Pre-reading skills are being developed well in the infant classes. Phonological awareness is developed systematically and methodically using the Jolly Phonics programme. Support teachers work in class alongside class teachers on a daily basis focussing on phonological and phonemic awareness, syllabic awareness, onset and rime and word attack skills. Suitable attention is paid to the development of reading skills and big books are used appropriately. Print-rich environments have been created throughout the school, both in the classrooms and along corridors and in public areas. Novels are used in the middle and senior classes to develop a variety of reading skills, including comprehension of the text, discussion skills and a positive attitude towards books. This positive attitude is further cultivated by affording the children opportunities to become involved in Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) time, Children and Parents Enjoying Reading (CAPER), paired reading, author visits and storytelling. The local library is used regularly and each classroom has a selection of books.
Both the functional and creative aspects of writing are being developed well, in accordance with methodologies espoused in the curriculum and some good samples were observed during the course of this evaluation. The school plan clarifies the genres of writing expected at each class level. Opportunities are provided to write in a variety of genres and written work is regularly monitored and displayed in most classrooms. The whole staff has received training in First Steps and the programme is being implemented throughout the school. Poetry and rhymes are used in all classes to foster the children’s enjoyment of language and pupils also have opportunities to write their own poetry and verse.
The three-year action plan to improve numeracy levels provides a useful basis and guidance for the school staff towards the adoption of whole-school approaches to the implementation of the curriculum. However, in most classes up to and including the middle standards, the frequent use of whole-class teaching and teacher-directed learning militates against the implementation of many of the changes of emphases and teaching methodologies advocated in the curriculum and in the school plan. Opportunities for resource-based active learning and language development are underused. Consequently, there is scope for the development of independent and extended learning and for the cultivation of estimation and problem-solving skills.
Some very good practices in the implementation of the curriculum and the school plan were observed in some infant classes and in all senior classes. Teachers in these classes plan constructively and their planning, teaching methodologies and discussion practices reflect and relate closely to curricular objectives and to the school’s action plan. Real-life situations are utilised and the school’s range of resources and the wider environment are used appropriately to create meaningful activity-based learning opportunities which are pitched at the interest and competency levels of pupils. Children collaborate in pairs and in small groups when completing assignments and regular oral questioning develops and consolidates understanding. An appropriate balance is struck between teacher talk and pupil engagement. It is recommended that these strategies and approaches be adopted in all classrooms.
In general, the overall standard of pupil attainment in Mathematics in the school is low. The school is aware of this and the action plan for numeracy is attempting to raise the profile and general standard of mathematics throughout the school. Consistency in the quality of mathematics teaching across the school, as well as improved planning and teacher preparation and the widespread use of concrete resources, must be made a priority.
Activities are organised for infant and junior classes in which the development of the children's sense of time is begun through the exploration of elements of their immediate past and the past of their families and locality. The pupils have many opportunities to visit areas of cultural and historical significance and have recently been involved in a North-South project and have visited Áras an Uachtaráin. In some senior classes children demonstrate a very good understanding of the connections between events and the ability to establish a chronology and overarching narrative or story. Further work on consolidating pupils’ knowledge of historically significant events, people, and concepts is now required. The use of evidence and artefacts is commendable and the school has compiled a wide variety of resources to support the teaching of the History curriculum. When it is reviewed, the school plan should help to coordinate local studies in the school so as to ensure that children explore the environment thoroughly throughout their primary years. Further emphasis is also needed on the development of the skills of working as a historian at both whole school and classroom level.
Map-rich environments have been created to complement the study of the Geography curriculum. Mapping activities aimed at refining the children’s knowledge of the local environment are employed. Planning indicates that the home, school and immediate surroundings provide the context for much of the geographical work. In the senior classes, visits within the local community are profitably used to stimulate the children’s interest in the environment and provide an enjoyable and active learning context. Opportunities for pupils to engage in more extended enquiry-based approaches should now be considered and the systematic development of skills as advocated in the curriculum should be included in planning both at whole school and at classroom level.
The school has acquired a wide range of resources in this area and children participate actively in lessons. Science posters are displayed in many classrooms. The school is extremely fortunate to have access to local amenities such as Albert College Park, the National Botanic Gardens, Santry Woods, Coultry Park and Ballymun Recycling Centre. Good use has also been made of the Dublin City University (DCU) access service and the Pfizer Science Bus. Children from senior classes visit the science laboratories at the local Trinity Comprehensive School each year. Parental support has been garnered for Science for Fun activities. Some excellent work has been done on the development of science trails within the school grounds and there are plans for the construction of a wild flower garden.
The children are provided with a variety of learning experiences in Science. The extent to which pupils are encouraged to explore simple scientific ideas through some practical investigations varies across the classes, however. A greater emphasis on open-ended investigative work which allows the children to explore their own ideas and develop independent learning skills is recommended.
A good start has been made with regard to looking and responding to the visual arts as the school has a store of children’s library books based on the lives of artists. The school’s entrance and corridor areas are visually pleasing. Examples of the children’s art as well as framed reproductions of paintings by Irish and international artists are on display alongside an original framed print of Ballymun. The purchasing of original works of artists for public display is highly commended. As a means of building on this good work, the school plan needs to include a section on looking and responding to works of art.
Mindful that the emphasis in the visual arts curriculum is on the process of art making, which places the pupils as the creator and inventor of their art pieces, rather than the finished product, overall, work in the visual arts is progressing well in the school. In all classes pupils are engaged in making drawings and working in paint and colour using a good range of materials and tools. This work can be further extended with the emphasis continuing to be placed on the pupils making their unique art work. In the print strand more focus needs to be placed on the making unit: the pupils need to master the print techniques and then use them to make their own prints. Good work is underway in clay as pupils are exploring the medium as a means of creating three-dimensional work. Work in the construction and fabric and fibre strands is progressing in line with the principles of the curriculum. The inclusion of knitting at senior level is commended and should be extended to the middle classes in accordance with curriculum guidelines. The work of pupils is celebrated in all classes through quality classroom displays. The use of portfolios in many classes is commended as a method of supporting assessment. Participation in the recent Able Intelligent Fearless Adventurous (AIFA) sculpture project and visits to arts centres such as Glenasmole for dyeing and spinning workshops all enrich the pupils’ experience and achievement in the visual arts. These programmes should be planned for systematically and embedded in the school plan to ensure their continuance. Resources within the wider arts community such as the Axis arts centre and the Sparkes Community Arts Project are used to good effect.
A comprehensive plan exists for the teaching of music in the school. The pupils are given opportunities to perform before an audience through their participation in performance days which are held each term and the school choir which sings at various events throughout the year. A wide range of resources are available and these are well used in supporting the work in the classrooms. At infant level pupils have opportunities to explore creative methods of adding sound to a story. In the middle classes, children explore methods of composing and singing which enhance performance. At senior level, pupils sing songs in both languages and play a range of tunes on the tin whistle to good effect. The possibility of expanding the teaching of an instrument to pupils in the junior or middle classes should now be explored. While some work is underway in the composing strand of the curriculum, this needs to be further developed in all classes. In addition, the use of ICT should be explored as a means of recording the compositions made by the pupils and of enhancing their listening skills.
To date, the school plan for Drama describes a list of stories for use at each class level, plus educational resources, props and costumes to support implementation. When the plan is expanded, child-centred teaching methodologies need to be emphasised. This can be readily achieved if based on the examples of good practice evident in the teaching and learning observed during the inspection process. Techniques including thought-tracking and hot-seating are used well, especially at senior level. Here, the emphasis is placed correctly on the active participation of the pupils in the dramatic process. Very good work is underway in integrating the work in the classrooms with that of the story-telling project offered in conjunction with the local Axis arts centre. Pupils have the opportunity to visit the Gaiety pantomime once during their years at the school. This is a tradition which is of great value to the pupils and should be enshrined in the school’s revised scheme for Drama.
The school plan for Physical Education is in accordance with curriculum guidelines for the subject area and details the many links and supports, which are available to the pupils in the school. The plan includes provision for the teaching of all curriculum strand areas. The Aquatics strand is taught in the local swimming pool. Irish dancing and ballet classes are available. A wide range of games including volleyball, tag-rugby, mini-soccer, mini-hockey, rounders, Gaelic, basketball, tennis skills, mini-Olympic handball, unihoc and hurling is organised. Good use is made of local amenities such as Santry Woods and Malahide Castle for outdoor and adventure activities. The subject area is well resourced and an annual sports day is held in Coultry Park. In the lessons observed during the course of this evaluation, pupils were guided to explore gymnastics and movement with an emphasis on improving individual skills. This work is further developed as pupils progress through the school, with some very good practice observed at middle class level. Pupils’ achievement and engagement in the subject area is good. The school staff places a high priority on physical education and the pupils benefit as a result.
The area of Social Personal and Health Education has a high profile in the school and this is reflected in the broad nature of the school’s plan. Sections on teaching methodologies and assessment approaches need to be included in the plan, however. Staff with responsibility for pastoral care give full support to family members or guardians and keep other staff informed of relevant background information concerning individual pupils. Staff are alert to the emotional, physical and social needs of pupils and are sensitive to background information. They address any needs identified at an early stage, using other sources of expertise, including a wide range of external agencies, as appropriate. Strong links have been established with initiatives such as the Aisling after school club, the Ballymun Initiative for Third level Education (BITE), Ballymun Educational Support System (BEST), Youth Action Project (YAP) and Ballymun Partnership Education initiative. The pupils have participated in the Global Action Project (GAP) which aims to empower them to become active citizens in their locality, caring for the social, economic and environmental landscape of their community.
The quality of teaching and learning evident in the subject area is based on the broad range of supports provided by the school and the wider community. The programme is laid out for the class groupings over the recommended two-year cycle and provides suggestions for integration with other subject areas. Pupils in the senior classes participate in and benefit greatly from cookery classes in the school. Good levels of pupil achievement and engagement observed in the learning in this area are commensurate with the use of active participative methodologies which focus their attention and emphasises individual pupil’s learning. The use of teaching methodologies such as circle time further facilitates pupils’ engagement. Pupils are interested in the subject area and are able to discuss topics relating to themselves, others and the wider world with increasing fluency. By placing greater emphasis on the use of child-centred and active learning and teaching methodologies the quality of the pupils’ engagement should continue to improve incrementally.
Pupil progress is monitored systematically. Standardised tests are administered in English and Mathematics. The tests include the Micra-T, Sigma-T, Marino graded reading test, MIST and NRIT. Results of standardised assessment have been used to formulate the school’s action plans in numeracy and literacy. Some very practical and useful checklists have been included in the school plan for assessing early literacy levels, early listening skills and oral language development. Pupils’ workbooks, copybooks and textbooks are regularly monitored. Teacher observation is used consistently throughout the school as an assessment tool. It is recommended that all classroom teachers incorporate assessment into their planning and that the results of teacher observation and teacher designed tests and tasks are used to inform future planning.
Support for pupils with special educational needs is provided by a dedicated team of five special needs teachers who are deployed in a variety of roles. Two full-time learning support teachers are based in the school while the special class teacher, resource teacher and resource teacher for children of the Travelling community are shared with the boys’ school. The flexible approach of all members of the special education team and their blend of withdrawal and in-class supports keeps the pupils’ needs at the centre of the educational process and ensures that the provision for this cohort of children is very good. The school places great emphasis upon inclusion and pupils from the special class spend part of each day with their peers in mainstream classes.
In all cases, the teachers prepare consistently and diligently. A wide range of diagnostic tests is used. Individual education plans (IEPs) are completed for each child, clearly indicating their learning strengths, priority needs and targets. These IEPs are drawn up in consultation with class teachers and, where possible, with the parents. The programmes followed are highly structured, activity based, well resourced and sufficiently challenging. Lessons are cleverly integrated with other areas of the curriculum and clear targets in literacy and numeracy are identified and met. Lesson content draws on stories from the children’s own culture, knowledge and understanding. This very highly commended practice is used particularly well to inform the lesson content of the support provided to children of the Travelling community. Learning support and resource rooms are very attractive and visually stimulating and good use is made of high quality resources to enhance learning. Strong links between home and school are encouraged.
A Reading Recovery programme is in its second year of operation in the school. A group of four pupils from a clearly-defined age group are receiving intensive teaching and support over a short period of time to develop their reading skills. Staff members have also trained in the First Steps Programme which helps children become successful readers and are currently waiting for training in Maths Recovery and in Ready, Set, Go. A programme of early intervention and prevention operates in all infant classes and reference has been made in the English section to the work being done in-class by the support team
The school is included in Band One of DEIS and the initiatives available to the school under this scheme are coordinated by the principal. A school-based programme operates under the auspices of the School Completion Programme whereby selected pupils are withdrawn from class to participate in a range of activities which promote positive attitudes to learning and attendance in school. The programme is run on child-centred principles and offers space for self-directed learning. This aspect of the school completion programme offers an invaluable service to its pupils and affords them an opportunity to work on a one-to-one basis with an adult member of the school community. The room where these activities take place is well resourced and offers much needed time-out space for the pupils.
Some staff members have undertaken training with the Incredible Years Initiative which examines troubling aspects of children’s behaviour in the classroom and outlines proactive teaching strategies, which could be successfully employed to overcome them. A mentoring service is also available for children who need extra support to improve their behaviour. A contractual system is drawn up and improved behaviour is monitored and rewarded. Early Bird, lunch-time and after-school clubs offer extra supports to children with behavioural difficulties.
Strong links have also been established with relevant community agencies through the home-school-community liaison teacher (HSCL). Based in the boys’ school, he coordinates a wide range of supports for children in both schools. Huge efforts are made to develop close cooperation between parents and the school and to encourage parents to become more involved in their children’s education. A wide range of activities is organised, aimed at encouraging greater contact between parents, teachers and local voluntary and statutory groups. Regular home visitations enable the establishment of trust with the families and allow for issues in the community that impinge on learning to be addressed.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school succeeds in providing a safe, secure and happy environment for the children.
· The building has been very well maintained over the years and this is testimony to the commitment of the board and to the caretakers, cleaners and staff.
· An extensive range of resources is available and a stimulating and attractive learning environment has been created throughout the school.
· Good relationships have been cultivated with the local community, with voluntary groups, the Axis Arts Centre and with Dublin City University (DCU) and benefits have accrued to the school in the form of training, support and staff development.
· The school has identified the need to raise attainment levels in literacy and numeracy and has formulated excellent three-year plans in its efforts to achieve this.
· A wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is available to pupils and the commitment of staff to these activities is commendable.
· The principal and staff are dedicated, supportive and committed to the school and its pupils.
· The work of the Care Team and the level of pastoral care shown to the pupils, including the school’s keen monitoring of and support for regular attendance, is praiseworthy
· The quality of the Home-School-Community Liaison service and the work of the Special Educational Needs team contribute significantly to the work of the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a much greater emphasis is placed on clarifying and establishing whole-school approaches to methodologies in relation to teaching and learning.
· There is a need for the development and management of an effective process for classroom planning which is informed by the well-constructed school plan. Improved classroom planning would better prepare the teachers for teaching and would result in improvements in the learning experiences of the children.
· It is recommended that the purpose of the monthly progress report be examined and that the current format of the cuntas míosúil be reviewed.
· It is recommended that a greater balance of experienced and recently-qualified teachers be achieved in the classrooms and that this policy be included in the school plan.
· The possibility of school assemblies and the net gain of these to the school and the pupils should be explored.
· Opportunities for teachers to observe each other teaching should be considered.
· The school needs to continue to work on improving the children’s attainment in Mathematics.
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.