An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Mark’s Senior National School
Springfield, Tallaght, Dublin 24
Uimhir rolla: 19390U
Date of inspection: 17 November 2008
A whole-school evaluation of St. Mark's Senior National School was undertaken in November 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on aspects of the school's provision including management, teaching and learning, planning and supports for pupils, with a particular focus on the provision of English as an Additional Language (EAL). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St. Mark’s Senior N.S. is a vibrant school. Since its construction in 1973, the school, in common with the nearby school, St. Mark’s Junior N.S., has experienced significant change in relation to its pupil population, staffing and accommodation. It participates in the Giving Children an Even Break initiative and the School Completion Programme. The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:
Total number of teachers on the school staff
Number of mainstream class teachers
Total number of teachers working in support roles
Number of language support teachers
Special needs assistants
Total number of pupils enrolled in the school
Number of pupils with English as an additional language
St. Mark’s Senior N.S. is a Catholic co-educational school under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin. Its school motto, “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine,” is reflected in all aspects of the work of the school, in particular the support provided for pupils with special education needs and those for whom English is an additional language. The stated mission of the school is to provide a well-ordered, caring, happy and secure atmosphere where the intellectual, spiritual, physical, moral and cultural needs of the pupils are identified and addressed. The involvement of parents in the work of the school, the professional development of teachers, the fostering of self-esteem and respect for all, and the promotion of gender equity and the Irish language are also stated aims of the school. Commitment to realising the school’s mission and aims is clearly apparent in the leadership and management of the school, the work in classrooms and support settings, the work of the non-teaching staff, and the contributions of teachers and management to extra-curricular activities. The Catholic ethos of the school is actively fostered through the school’s enabling of pupils to attend liturgical events on a regular basis and by the visible presence of the chaplain in the school. Respect for all religions is cultivated. A climate of inclusiveness is clearly evident in the welcome afforded to children and parents of all nationalities and ethnic groups, the efforts of the principal and teachers to ensure full participation by all pupils in school life, and the celebration of the diversity of cultures that exist in the pupil population through displays, the use of ICT, and the organising of multicultural events. All pupils are respected and their efforts and achievements are valued and celebrated. A further, striking aspect of this school is the very effective incorporation of ICT into the management, administration, teaching and learning dimensions of school life.
The board of management fulfils all its duties competently. It is properly constituted, meets regularly and takes an active role in the whole-school administrative planning process. All school policy documents, administrative and curricular, have been ratified by it. Minutes of board meetings are maintained. Board members are allocated specific tasks and duties. Accounts are audited in accordance with statutory requirements. School attendance strategies and a system of reporting annually to parents on the operation of the school are in place. Board members have a sound knowledge and understanding of educational issues of particular relevance to this school. They are concerned with issues of equity in the allocation of resources to support teaching and learning. They are committed to the educational welfare of all pupils in the school. The board ensures that the school building and grounds are maintained to the highest standard. It manages the provision of resources for all pupils, including those for EAL learners, effectively.
The school principal has excellent administrative skills. He has high expectations of the staff and has created management systems that empower the in-school management team and the teachers generally to deliver on the developmental priorities set out in the school plan. Strategic and day-to-day operational decisions are made by him in a transparent and effective manner. He makes excellent use of ICT in communicating with teachers and parents and has enabled teachers to exploit the potential of ICT in teaching and learning in a significant way. Links and liaison with outside agencies are very effectively used by him to support pupils with special education needs. A collaborative school planning process that takes account of the ever-changing context and needs of the school is enabled and facilitated by his leadership. He enables the in-school management team to lead the development of curricular, administrative and pastoral dimensions of school life in a productive and effective way. He also ensures that the delegated responsibilities are regularly reviewed and adapted to the changing needs of the pupils, including EAL pupils. The members of the in-school management team work very diligently, collaboratively and effectively in fulfilling their responsibilities. They report regularly to the teachers on the progress of their work and ensure that, in carrying out their duties, there is a clear focus on meeting the range of learning needs of the children in this school. The specific designation of duties relating to the co-ordination of supports for newcomer pupils and their parents as part of a special duties post is commended.
The principal ensures that teaching posts are deployed effectively to meet the learning needs of all pupils, including EAL pupils. Two of the Department-designated EAL posts are used to teach mainstream classes. This results in a reduction in the overall size of classes in the school with class size ranging from 22 to 26 pupils, and provides opportunities for increased differentiation of teaching and learning in order to meet the significant range of individual pupil need in classrooms, particularly in relation to language proficiency. Delivery of EAL support by the four other EAL teachers is on a withdrawal basis. There is a good level of collaboration and consultation among the EAL teachers and between the EAL and mainstream class teachers in planning for and delivering support to EAL pupils. Special needs assistants (SNAs) are appropriately deployed and carry out their duties effectively in accordance with the school’s comprehensive special education policy. The school secretary and caretaker contribute very effectively to the smooth functioning of the school.
The overall quality of accommodation in this school is very good. The school’s 24 permanent classrooms are spacious, bright, and very well equipped. Staff facilities and indoor play areas are of a very high standard. Two special classes are accommodated in temporary rooms. Three special education needs (SEN) teachers and their pupils share a room that was originally a mainstream classroom. A storage room was recently converted to accommodate the four EAL teachers and their pupils. While the EAL teachers and their pupils work positively and productively together, the fact that they share a relatively small working space places some restrictions on pupil mobility in the room, the range of activities that can be organised, and on storage and display facilities. The school is well heated and well ventilated. The building and its grounds are maintained to a commendable standard. Management, staff and pupils take pride in the presentation of classroom and corridor displays where pupil learning is showcased and celebrated. Bright and stimulating resource-rich, print-rich and language-rich learning settings are the norm in this school.
The extensive range of teaching and learning resources in this school is very well managed and utilised to support, reinforce and advance learning, including the learning of EAL pupils. In particular, very good use is made of ICT to enhance the pupils’ learning experiences. The school’s commitment to planning for, providing and updating ICT equipment and skills as an integral part of teaching and learning is commended. ICT is also used to celebrate the many cultures in the school through electronic displays of elements of EAL pupils’ cultures, EAL pupils’ work and greetings in their first languages. The school also supports cultural and linguistic diversity through the organising of intercultural days and the teachers’ encouragement of EAL pupils to use their first language in pairs, where feasible, in order to access the mathematics curriculum.
In its home-school links policy, the school recognises that parents are the primary educators of their children. The policy aims to ensure that there is effective communication between teachers and parents and, to that end, a number of worthwhile strategies are implemented. These include the holding of annual parent-teacher meetings, the issuing of an annual written report to parents on the progress of their child, and the communication of information on school activities to parents through regular newsletters and Textaparent. As part of its strategic plan, the school intends to increase its use of ICT in its communications with parents. In accordance with the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, the school requires parents to send an explanatory note when their child has been absent from school. The board is commended on its practice of reporting annually to parents on the extent to which the school’s objectives have been achieved by means of a meeting for parents and a published written report. The school also deserves much credit for the effort it has invested in the recent establishment of a parent-teacher association. A key aspiration of the parent representatives of that association is that all pupils will reach their full potential, particularly in the areas of language and mathematics. The communication of key aspects of the English and mathematics programmes to all parents is desirable in the context of equipping them to become more involved in their children’s education.
The management of pupils is excellent. All pupils, including EAL pupils and pupils with SEN, are treated with dignity and respect by all staff members. Management ensures that the necessary resources and supports are provided to support the full involvement of all pupils, including EAL pupils, in all aspects of school life. A comprehensive pastoral care policy and a very effective code of discipline are successfully implemented. Expectations of pupils are clear, reasonable and fair. Pupil effort and achievement are consistently rewarded and celebrated. EAL pupils are placed in age-appropriate classes. Procedures for the induction and integration of new pupils, including EAL pupils, are impressive. They include the holding of meetings between the principal and the parent(s)/guardian(s) of each pupil transferring to the school, the reforming of classes at third and fifth class levels, and the organising of a pupil familiarisation day whereby the pupils of second class in St. Mark’s Junior N.S. have an opportunity to visit St. Mark’s Senior N.S. before they transfer to the latter school.
The quality of whole-school planning is very good. All teachers are involved in the planning process. The in-school management team, under the direction of the principal, lead the development of curriculum and administrative whole-school policies and plans that take due account of legislative and curriculum requirements and the particular context of the school. The policies are considered and ratified by the board. The school’s extensive list of policies includes policies on enrolment, inclusion, EAL provision, SEN provision, intercultural education and home-school links. The implementation of policies is regularly reviewed by the principal and policy sub-committees. Provision is made for the updating of policies to meet the changing needs of the pupils. Very good use is made of ICT in the dissemination of policies to the teachers following their ratification.
The whole-school plan for English has benefited greatly from the ongoing work of a number of sub-committees in recent years. An extensive review of the plan was undertaken in 2008. The plan was further modified in the early part of this school year. It sets out clearly relevant objectives, content and methods for each of the strand units of the English curriculum. The whole-school plan for mathematics is of a high standard. In addition to clearly setting out relevant, skills-based learning objectives for each class level, it is also of value in its guidance regarding the standardisation of a number of mathematical procedures and the use of mathematical language in the school. There is evidence of the school’s commitment to planning for improvement in curriculum delivery. This includes the school’s use of sub-committees to monitor the implementation of the English and mathematics curricula generally and the designation of specific, interruption-free, daily periods for English and for mathematics in every classroom.
According to the school plan, the stated goal of EAL provision in this school is the development of the EAL pupil’s “social and academic communicative competence”. The identification of these two necessary dimensions of effective EAL provision is commended. Objectives relevant to the realisation of that goal are succinctly set out, assessment processes are detailed, and classroom strategies and the role of parents are specified. A challenge facing the school is the communication of key school policies and plans to parents who do not speak and/or read English.
All teachers prepare long-term and short-term written schemes of work for each curriculum area. There is evidence of very good collaboration in this process by teachers at each class level. As a result, there is consistency in the content of lessons at each class level. The challenge for teachers now in their short-term planning is to ensure that there is sufficient focus on specific learning objectives, particularly in relation to the teaching of skills in language and in mathematics. Further attention to planning for differentiation is recommended, particularly in relation to the specific learning needs of EAL pupils in mainstream classroom contexts. The production by the EAL team of a booklet to assist mainstream class teachers in supporting EAL pupils is praiseworthy. Records of pupil progress across the curriculum are maintained.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
A range of teaching styles and strategies is evident in the teaching of English and English as an additional language in this school. Among the examples of high-quality practice are the focussed, objectives-based teaching of oral language and listening skills, the specific teaching of the skills of reading, and the regular teaching of process writing in a variety of genres as set out in the school plan. In the settings where best practice is evident, account is taken of the outcomes of assessment and differentiated provision relating to those outcomes is made to address specific learning needs of pupils, including EAL pupils and pupils with SEN. The challenge for the school in the teaching of English is to ensure that the focus on oral language and reading skills development evident in a number of settings becomes a feature of all oral and reading lessons. It is recommended that, in addition to ensuring that there is a consistent focus on reading and oral language skills development in English, attention is given to ensuring that pupils in all classes have regular opportunities to engage in developmental process writing in a range of genres. In this regard, the tracking of pupil progress in writing is important. The teachers’ commitment to using the designated literacy hour for the teaching of English is praiseworthy. The school clearly recognises the need to raise the standard of achievement in English generally and in English reading in particular. Effective use of formative assessment will be critical in this regard.
Very good use is made of resources to support pupil learning in mathematics. The language of mathematics is generally very well taught and is regularly reinforced through oral lessons, the labelling of resources and wall displays. Active methods are generally very effectively used to elucidate concepts and to advance and consolidate pupil learning. The use of apparatus enables EAL pupils to progress in their understanding of mathematical concepts. Due attention is given to the development of the pupils’ problem-solving skills through the ongoing incorporation of real-life problems into the lessons and the use of strategies such as “problem of the week”. Some provision for differentiation, including differentiation to meet the needs of EAL pupils, is made in the teaching of mathematics in a number of classrooms. It is important that all teachers ensure that every mathematics lesson is guided by specific skills-based objectives that have due regard for differences in individual pupil need, ability and learning style. Written work in mathematics is generally clearly laid out and regularly corrected. There is an awareness among the in-school management team and the teachers generally of the need to bring about an improvement in the level of overall pupil attainment in mathematics and to reduce significantly the numbers of pupils who are experiencing difficulty in this curriculum area.
The school’s approach to assessment has evolved considerably in recent years. The school now has in place a number of very effective strategies for assessing pupil performance. They include teacher observation, teacher-devised tasks and tests, the compilation of portfolios of pupil artwork, the use of checklists and the use of standardised tests in mathematics and in English. Excellent records of pupil progress are maintained. A process of tracking class, group and individual pupil progress, including the progress of EAL pupils is underway. The challenge for the school as a whole and for individual teachers in relation to assessment is to ensure that the data gathered from the consistent use of rigorous assessment procedures are used to set clear and specific targets for pupils that are periodically reviewed and modified in the light of their progress. In short, it is recommended that formative assessment be incorporated into the work of individual teachers and that it is also used to assess the extent to which the school is achieving its overall objectives.
A comprehensive whole-school policy on SEN provision is in place. The policy is grounded on principles of early intervention, the prevention of failure, the involvement of parents and the allocation of additional resources to pupils in greatest need. The stated aim of SEN provision in the school is to optimise teaching and learning opportunities so that pupils with learning difficulties can develop personally and can achieve adequate levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy before completing their primary education. The policy clearly and appropriately sets out the methods of selecting pupils for SEN support and provides very useful guidance to teachers on the drawing up of individual learning plans and group education plans. Very good use is made of ICT in cataloguing a wide range of worthwhile resources for pupils and teachers in SEN settings. Procedures for liaising with parents and external agencies are included in the SEN plan.
Information from class teachers and assessment results are used in the process of identifying a pupil’s learning strengths and needs. Very good use is made of a range of diagnostic tests to refine the learning targets. Individual pupil learning plans are, in general, succinct and practical and the targets contained therein are measurable, achievable and time-bound. Teaching and learning in SEN settings are generally of a high standard. Teachers engage positively with the pupils and are encouraging and supportive of their efforts. Very good use is made of resources, including ICT, in SEN settings. Active, creative and fun learning opportunities are a praiseworthy feature of SEN provision in a number of SEN settings in this school. SEN support is delivered on a withdrawal basis with pupils leaving their mainstream classes for particular periods in order to attend learning-support, resource, or special class teachers. It is recommended that consideration be given to extending the current model of SEN provision in the school to include an element of in-class support as outlined in Department guidelines. Review of the progress of SEN pupils occurs with appropriate regularity.
Proper procedures are in place for the initial assessment of and programme planning for EAL pupils. The Primary School Assessment Kit is used to determine the listening, speaking, reading and writing skills of EAL pupils. Data obtained through that assessment are supplemented by other types of assessment such as teacher observation and, in some instances, the administration of standardised tests. Praiseworthy features of planning for EAL pupils in support-learning contexts include the setting of specific measurable targets that relate directly to the assessed needs of the pupils. EAL teachers work cohesively and very effectively as a team in planning and delivering programmes for EAL pupils. They are patient, kind and respectful in their interactions with their pupils. They avail of opportunities to promote and celebrate the languages and cultures of EAL pupils and, where feasible, they communicate directly and frequently with parents in relation to the progress of their children. They work with the aim of ensuring that every EAL pupil will achieve a standard that will enable him/her to become fully integrated into mainstream classroom learning activities.
The school complies with all legal obligations in terms of the admission of all pupils to the school and the participation of all pupils in the life of the school. It is an inclusive school. It actively supports all pupils in accessing an education appropriate to their needs, regardless of race, creed, membership of an ethnic group, or gender.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The school climate is inclusive, welcoming and supportive of all pupils, including EAL pupils. All pupils are respected and their efforts and achievements
are valued and celebrated.
· ICT is very effectively incorporated into the management, administration, teaching and learning dimensions of school life.
· The board of management is committed to the educational welfare of all pupils in the school and fulfils its duties competently.
· The principal has excellent administrative skills.
· The members of the in-school management team work very diligently, collaboratively and effectively.
· The management of teaching supports for EAL pupils is very effective.
· The overall quality of accommodation is very good.
· The extensive range of teaching and learning resources in this school is very well managed and utilised to support, reinforce and advance learning, including
the learning of EAL pupils.
· A number of worthwhile strategies are implemented to ensure that there is effective communication between teachers and parents.
· The board is commended on its practice of reporting annually to parents on the extent to which the school’s objectives have been achieved.
· The management of pupils is excellent.
· The quality of whole-school planning is very good.
· There is very good collaboration in planning by teachers at each class level.
· Very good use is made of ICT in the dissemination of policies to the teachers following their ratification.
· The identification of social and academic communicative competence as two necessary dimensions of EAL provision is commended.
· The teachers’ commitment to using the designated literacy hour for the teaching of English is praiseworthy.
· A comprehensive whole-school policy on SEN provision is in place. Teaching and learning in SEN settings are generally of a high standard.
· EAL teachers work cohesively and very effectively as a team in planning and delivering programmes for EAL pupils. They are patient, kind and respectful in their
interactions with EAL pupils.
· The school actively supports all pupils in accessing an education appropriate to their needs.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· A challenge for teachers in their short-term planning is to ensure that there is sufficient focus on specific learning objectives, particularly in relation to
the teaching of skills in language and in mathematics. Further attention to planning for differentiation is recommended, particularly in relation to the specific learning
needs of EAL pupils in mainstream classroom contexts.
· It is recommended that, in addition to ensuring that there is a consistent focus on reading and oral language skills development in English,
attention is given to ensuring that pupils in all classes have regular opportunities to engage in developmental process writing in a range of genres.
· It is recommended that formative assessment be incorporated into the work of individual teachers and that it is also used to assess the extent to which
the school is achieving its overall objectives.
· It is recommended that consideration be given to extending the current model of SEN provision in the school to include an element of in-class support
as outlined in Department guidelines.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management wishes to acknowledge the courtesy and professionalism of the Inspectorate during their visit to St. Mark’s Senior National School.
The B.O.M. welcomes the very positive findings of the W.S.E. report. The B.O.M. also welcomes the constructive comments and recommendations in the report. In particular the B.O.M. welcomes the Inspectorate’s appreciation of the vibrancy of the school and the climate of inclusiveness that is evident in the welcome afforded to children and parents of all nationalities and ethnic groups. We are glad that the report recognises the commitment and hard work of the: principal, teaching staff, ancillary staff and parents to ensure full participation by all pupils in school life. We appreciate the acknowledgement of the very effective incorporation of I.C.T. into the: management, administration, teaching and learning dimensions of school life in St. Mark’s S.N.S.
We thank you for this very positive report and its recognition of the school’s effectiveness. The Board of Management and staff have found both the process and report affirming and energising.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The B.O.M. and staff have begun the process of reviewing the report in detail. It is intended to incorporate all W.S.E. recommendations in the school’s strategic plan which will be implemented during the next five years.
To date, the key recommendations acted upon include:
· Teacher short-term planning: focus on the teaching of skills in language and in mathematics. Further attention is now given to planning for differentiation
particularly for E.A.L. pupils.
· We are constantly reviewing our School Plan in relation to the English Curriculum, even though we are happy with the skills development work in the areas of
Reading and Oral Language we are further focusing on the area of Writing with particular attention to the different genres.
· In response to extending the current model of S.E.N. provision in the school, the teaching staff have engaged in an inservice day on ‘Team Teaching’.
· Other key recommendations of the report will be initiated and developed in due course as part of our whole-school action plan.