An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
An Gleann, Corcaigh
Uimhir rolla: 19427R
Date of inspection: 5 November 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Bhréanainn. 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 representatives of the parents. 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 the 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 to this report.
Scoil Bhréanainn is an all-girls’ primary school situated in the parish of Blackpool in the northern part of Cork city. It was founded in 1975 and serves an area which is undergoing a process of redevelopment and housing regeneration. The school operates under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross and the Catholic ethos permeates the life of the school. The school’s mission statement articulates its intention to provide a holistic education in a happy, safe, yet challenging environment and espouses a clear commitment to the welfare and development of the community known as “The Glen”. Current enrolment, at 96 pupils, varies little from enrolment at the time of the last evaluation in 2000. It is expected to rise somewhat in the years ahead as the school meets the needs of families in adjacent housing developments. Attendance levels are good and the school is commended for its efforts to promote good attendance. Scoil Bhréanainn receives assistance from the Department of Education and Science under Band 1 of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative. It participates in the Home-School and Community Liaison Scheme (HSCL) and the School Completion Programme (SCP).
The board of management (BOM) is properly constituted and minutes of its meetings are carefully recorded. School accounts are maintained in exemplary fashion by the treasurer and it is now recommended that accounts be certified in accordance with Section 18 (1) of the Education Act 1998. Board members have availed of training in recent months. The board is committed to the ongoing development of the school. The school yard has been resurfaced and the rewiring of the building is almost complete. A pre-school operates successfully under the board’s auspices and a homework club is organised for pupils who can benefit from such a structured environment.
A range of policies, including those required by legislation, has been ratified by the board and a process of policy review is under way. The board’s cohesiveness and effectiveness would be further enhanced by a greater sharing of its workload.
A new principal was appointed to the school in September 2008. Her predecessor served as principal for all of the thirty three years the school has been in existence. During that time she worked tirelessly to deliver quality education to the girls of The Glen. Her successor was her deputy for many years and has the support of staff, parents and board of management in preserving the great traditions of the school and its further development. Such continuity of leadership should serve the school well in the years to come. The new principal has a clear vision for the future and her background in special needs education makes her ideally qualified to meet the ongoing challenges of raising standards in literacy and numeracy in an area of disadvantage.
The process of appointing a deputy principal is at an advanced stage and when ratified will allow for a restructuring of posts of responsibility and completion of the makeup of the in-school management team. Restructuring will allow for allocation of duties which reflect current priorities and provide for regular formal meetings of the team. Prior to this all post holders have been diligent in attending to the various duties assigned to them and a very positive atmosphere of co-operation and collaboration is evident among the staff.
The school has a teaching staff of ten, including the principal. There are six mainstream class teachers, a learning support teacher, a resource teacher for pupils of the Travelling community and a home school community liaison co-ordinator who is shared with the adjacent St. Mark’s school. Teachers have a wide experience of teaching different levels within the school and various staff members have experience of working in special needs and HSCL. This mobility has ensured very good outcomes in terms of capacity building within the staff. An audit of teachers’ expertise has been carried out and a record of continuous professional development courses attended is maintained. The principal consults with staff members individually to ascertain their individual class preferences. The formation of a formal policy on staff rotation would add to current good practice in this area. Two full-time special needs assistants work diligently under the supervision of the principal and class teachers. The board of management employs a secretary, cleaner and caretaker, all on a part-time basis.
Scoil Bhréanainn was constructed in 1975 and is well-maintained. Classrooms and support rooms are attractive and well-resourced. Each classroom has its own computer and printer. Outdoors there is a shrub garden, basketball court, hard court area, grass area with playground equipment and a playing pitch. All external areas are in a good state of maintenance and add to the attractiveness of the school. A school garden is under construction as part of the HSCL scheme.
Scoil Bhréanainn manages its day-to-day relationships with the school community exceptionally well. An open-door welcoming tradition ensures that parents and visitors are received with great hospitality and warmth. Staff meet with many parents on a daily basis. This enables communication concerning organisational and curricular issues in a relaxed and informal manner. The school contributes to a local magazine, Glen Views, on a regular basis. Through this publication the school informs parents and the local community about school achievements and events. The school might now consider beginning work on a school web site to further inform the public on aspects of school life. Much excellent work has been done to involve members of the community in school activities. This is particularly apparent in the involvement of local people in teaching pupils to play a range of musical instruments. The maintenance of links with past pupils through music is also commendable. Scoil Bhréanainn produces an introductory pack for new junior infants which is delivered to pupils’ homes by parents under the auspices of the HSCL programme. Some parents are currently involved in a science initiative as part of HSCL and in the past parents have been involved in Maths for Fun. Parent-teacher meetings are held twice yearly and written reports on pupils’ progress are issued at the end of the school year.
The management of pupils in Scoil Bhréanainn is very good and pupils work with obvious interest and enthusiasm. Reinforcement of positive behaviour and the development of pupils’ self-esteem are given significant priority by teachers. The school plans to engage with parents in a thorough review of its behaviour policy in the coming year and this initiative should add to existing good practice.
The quality of whole-school planning is good and the extensive documentation presented indicates that engagement with the planning process and with the support services has been ongoing for many years. Teachers collaborate effectively in the planning process and individual teachers demonstrate their capacity for leadership in various curricular and organisational areas. Generally policies are prepared by staff and taken to the board for ratification. A range of organisational policies has been prepared and these policies reflect the unique context of the school. A careful assessment has been made of the various disadvantages confronting education in The Glen and, more importantly, the school’s response in terms of dealing with these issues. The DEIS three-year plan covers five areas – literacy, numeracy, attendance, parental involvement and partnership with outside agencies. This plan is now in need of an in-depth review to ascertain the extent to which targets have been achieved across all areas mentioned. The staff has identified its immediate planning priorities and further development of a strategic plan together with a mechanism for evaluating planning outcomes would now be appropriate.
Curriculum plans have been drawn up in respect of all curricular areas. The plan for Drama is in draft form and will be ratified shortly. Many of these plans have recently been reviewed and indicate a determination towards full implementation of the Primary School Curriculum (1999). Future reviews should evaluate the impact of the various plans in terms of classroom practice and further adapting the curriculum to the unique context of the school.
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.
All teachers plan conscientiously for their work and a variety of approaches is in use. Planning ensures the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. Monthly progress records are maintained and it is recommended that these documents be maintained for an appropriate length of time to allow for their use in evaluating curricular implementation. It is suggested at this point that the staff might usefully consider common templates and approaches to planning and recording of progress. Such collaboration would ensure continuity and progression in learning and facilitate the further development of systems for monitoring progress.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
High-quality teaching that was well-planned, creative and energetic was observed in several instances during this evaluation. Teachers work hard to inculcate a strong work ethic among the pupils as they engage them through various participative learning strategies and the skilful use of resources. Guided self-discovery methods are in frequent use. Pupils have positive attitudes to learning and co-operate effectively and enthusiastically with their teachers. Teachers’ approaches to differentiation ensure that pupils with special educational needs are successfully included in the learning process. Pupils regularly work in small groups and pair work is occasionally employed. Pupils’ work is attractively displayed and celebrated in classrooms and corridors. Some productive use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) was in evidence and there is scope for building on this practice in the future.
Teachers strive diligently to improve learning standards and have achieved commendable success in doing so. Standards in literacy and numeracy continue to pose significant challenges for many pupils. The school is commended for the many initiatives undertaken to address these issues. It is recommended that teachers redouble their efforts in challenging pupils to improve their oral responses to questions.
In ainneoin na ndeacrachtaí a bhaineann le míbhuntáiste sa dúthaigh baintear caighdeán an-mhaith amach sa scoil seo i múineadh na Gaeilge. Tá cumas labhartha agus meon na n-oidí i leith na teanga inmholta agus déantar iarracht mhacánta chun dearcadh dearfach faoi úsáid na teanga a chothú. Tá plean scoile don Ghaeilge leagtha amach ag an bhfoireann teagaisc chun na prionsabail atá rianaithe sa churaclam a chur i gcrích. Is léir go dtuigeann an fhoireann na prionsabail seo ón tslí in a gcuirtear béim chuí ar na tréimhsí éagsúla cumarsáide sna ceachtanna. Is inmholta scil na ndaltaí sna hardranganna chun ceisteanna a chur agus a fhreagairt. Úsáidtear drámaí beaga, rainn agus grúp-ghníomhaíochtaí go héifeachtach chun cumas cumarsáide na ndaltaí a fhorbairt. B’fhiú amach anseo úsáid níos mó a bhaint as obair i bpéirí sna tréimhsí cumarsáide agus iarchumarsáide chun cur le héifeacht na hoibre. B’fhiú freisin díriú isteach ar an bhfilíocht nuair a dhéanfar athbhreithniú ar an bplean don Ghaeilge. Léann na daltaí go cruinn tuisceanach as na téacsleabhair sna meán ranganna agus sna hardranganna. Ullmhaítear na cleachtaí scríbhneoireachta go cúramach tríd an scoil agus tá saibhreas prionta sa Ghaeilge le feiceáil go forleathan.
In spite of the difficulties inherent in schools with disadvantage, a very good standard is achieved in the teaching of Irish. Teachers’ proficiency in and attitude towards the language are praiseworthy and a worthwhile effort is made to promote a positive outlook towards Irish among the pupils. The staff has devised a school plan for Irish to ensure that the principles of the curriculum are adhered to. It is clear that staff have internalised those principles from the manner in which appropriate emphasis is placed on a structured approach to conversation in lessons taught. The ability of pupils in senior classes to ask and answer questions in Irish was particularly praiseworthy. Drama, rhymes and group activities are used effectively to develop conversational abilities. This work would be further enhanced by the increased use of pair-work so that pupils would have maximum opportunities to practice conversational Irish. A review of the plan for Irish could also pay particular attention to the use of poetry. In the middle and senior classes pupils read accurately and with understanding. Writing exercises are carefully prepared and scaffolded and print in Irish is displayed throughout the school.
While the teaching of English is generally very good in Scoil Bhréanainn and while current trends show improvement, pupils’ achievement in literacy continues to pose significant challenges. The school continues to address these challenges through various worthwhile initiatives. All class teachers provide attractive, print-rich environments for literacy learning. In February of 2004 an action plan was proposed to tackle literacy challenges through paired reading, a focus on functional writing and an oral language programme which emphasised the development of social language skills. In September of 2007 a more individualised approach to reading was adopted in preference to the use of a class reader. The Glen Pilot Project, which sought to improve receptive and expressive language, commenced in October 2007.
There is appropriate emphasis on language in all areas of the curriculum and discrete oral language lessons are taught. Language-enrichment exercises are well structured. Pupils were observed engaging in very worthwhile discussions in some classes and there is potential to further develop this practice. The use of large-format books in the junior section is commended as is the emphasis on emergent writing. Phonemic awareness is nurtured through the use of Sound Linkage. Reading Recovery is now the primary early intervention strategy aimed at improving reading standards. All pupils in Senior Infants and first class avail of this programme and progress to date has been impressive. The Literacy Liftoff programme is also used and this programme is geared towards extending the methodologies of Reading Recovery to the junior classrooms. Investment in readers to facilitate this programme has been significant but very worthwhile. Very good teacher questioning helps pupils to explore themes encountered in stories read. Reading for pleasure is also encouraged, throughout the school, and a suitable range of reading material is available for this purpose. Pupils in the senior section of the school experience a wide range of texts as part of Readingo and these texts are chosen carefully to maximise the interests of pupils. Class novels are also used. Pupils are introduced to a broad range of poetry and are encouraged to respond in different ways to the poems chosen. The school plan for English stresses the importance of memorisation and recitation of poetry in the context of addressing literacy difficulties.
The First Steps writing programme was introduced in the school in 2006. Currently there is an emphasis on procedural writing and free writing in the school and some very good practice was observed in this area. Pupils’ written work is appropriately corrected and monitored and instructive feedback is given to pupils regarding their work. There is scope for greater display and celebration of pupils’ work and this could be considered in conjunction with a review of ICT provision in the school. Careful attention is given to the development of handwriting skills and the staff might now consider an earlier introduction of a cursive style in a further effort to minimise literacy difficulties.
The school plan for Mathematics was reviewed in September 2008. It is a comprehensive document dealing with language, common approaches to operations, estimation and problem solving, assessment and differentiation. The plan also includes numeracy milestones for classes one to six. All of these issues were prioritised when the school conducted a review of numeracy standards in 2007. Numeracy forms a key part of the Deis three-year plan also. Standardised tests are administered yearly in Mathematics and it is recommended that the test results be more closely monitored to ascertain the extent to which targets are being met.
Very good practice in the teaching of Mathematics was observed during this evaluation. Classrooms have stimulating mathematical displays and illustrations and are well equipped with supplies of suitable concrete materials. These are used purposefully to enable pupils to explore mathematical concepts in a practical, hands-on fashion. Lessons are well structured, suitably paced and differentiated to meet the needs of varying abilities. All teachers demonstrate their keenness to assist pupils in the acquisition of mathematical language. Estimating, reasoning and problem solving are given due attention. Work in Mathematics is linked to the environment and experience of the pupils. A decision on a whole-school basis to prioritise mental Mathematics at the beginning of each Mathematics lesson is commendable. Pupils complete Mathematics assignments carefully and neatly and their work is regularly monitored and corrected.
Achievement in Mathematics is evaluated mainly through the use of standardised tests, which are administered on an annual basis. Analysis of test results indicates good achievement in Mathematics, particularly in comparison to results derived from research in areas of disadvantage.
The recently ratified school plan for History deals with key issues in this important curriculum area and provides the basis for delivering a broad, balanced and coherent History curriculum for the pupils. Decisions have been made regarding the number of strands and strand units covered yearly in multigrade situations and this facet of the plan will require further consideration in the light of experience gained in the short to medium term. The school plan and teachers’ individual planning ensures that there is a suitable balance between skills development and the acquisition of knowledge and that topics are selected, as appropriate, from local, national and international contexts. The Glen is an area rich in History and a significant section of the plan deals with topics and sources relevant to such study. During the evaluation excellent work was observed in which pupils communicated their interpretation of a legend through dramatisation and integration with other curricular areas. History is taught very well.
Standards of teaching and learning in Geography are very good. Lessons observed were of a very high quality. Teachers’ planning for Geography makes suitable provision for all strands of the curriculum. Teachers make effective use of maps, globes and other concrete resources in their lessons to present and reinforce concepts. Pupils are given suitable opportunities to develop geographical skills and concepts and display a good knowledge of work done. A variety of methodologies, very good questioning techniques and opportunities for pupils to actively engage with topics ensure that their interest is sustained. Projects are regularly undertaken to scientifically explore the human and natural environments. Teachers are conscious of the role of Geography as an integrated element of the Social Environmental and Scientific Education Programme and plan accordingly.
Whole school planning for Science successfully guides teacher planning and practice. The plan emphasises the importance of working scientifically and delineates which sections of the energy and forces strand are covered in successive years. There are a number of noteworthy developments in the teaching of Science in Scoil Bhréanainn. As part of the HSCL programme parents will work with pupils in the coming months in a Science for Fun project. This initiative is very worthwhile in terms of parental involvement and also has a clear focus on hands-on investigative techniques. In the current year also fourth, fifth and sixth classes are participating in the Discover Primary Science Programme. An audit of resources available in the school to teach Science indicates the need for further investment in materials to ensure comprehensive coverage of all strands. The current evaluation provides evidence that pupils are given frequent opportunities to work scientifically. Attractive photographic records and displays of work carried out on recent field trips are particularly commendable. The use of multimedia and commercial models in senior classes to illustrate the workings of the human heart engaged pupils very successfully also. To build on existing good practice the staff might now consider extending work done on the strand dealing with environmental awareness and care.
The strands and strand units of the Visual Arts curriculum are addressed in a balanced and comprehensive manner. The attractive range of pupils’ work on display provides evidence that activities are carefully planned to give expression to their creative instincts and to facilitate enjoyment and exploration of a wide variety of art media and materials. In the relatively short period since the beginning of the school year many topics covering most strands, including clay, drawing, paint and colour, print and construction have been effectively explored in the various classes. Themes and topics are appropriately chosen to align with pupils’ experience, imagination, observation and curiosity. Teachers are commended for the manner in which they integrate work in Visual Arts with other areas of the curriculum. It is recommended that increased attention be given to looking at and responding to art and the visual world.
The teaching of Music is of a high standard throughout the school. Comprehensive programmes of work in listening and responding, composing and performing are guided by thoughtful planning on a whole-school basis. Teachers commendably integrate work in Music with learning across a range of curricular areas. Pupils enjoy singing songs in both Irish and English and their singing is of a high standard. Scoil Bhréanainn has a great tradition of providing instrumental music training to all pupils. The school has had a very productive relationship with the Cork School of Music and is fortunate to have musical expertise within the staff. In addition teachers from the community provide tuition in recorder, trumpet, flute and drums. This tuition facilitates accomplished performances by the school band at concerts, pageants, visits of dignitaries and on other occasions. The school is commended for maintaining links with some of its past pupils by facilitating their continued involvement in instrumental music.
A whole-school policy for Drama has been drafted by the staff. Teachers are commended for their engagement with the revised curriculum for Drama and for giving pupils the opportunity to improvise and to experience the creative process of making drama and reflecting on their work. Drama games, discussion, mime, group work, circle work and role play are successfully used to stimulate interest and to engage the pupils fully. Pupils are skilfully enabled to develop their appreciation of plot and theme. Very good use is made of questioning and discussion to encourage the pupils to evaluate activities and to explore how their work could be developed further. Pupils displayed high levels of enthusiasm, enjoyment and engagement in classes observed. Drama is also used very successfully as a teaching methodology in a range of curricular areas as referred to elsewhere in this report. There is a long tradition of preparing pupils for performance drama. These activities include Christmas pageants, school concerts and Seachtain na Gaeilge activities.
Delivery of the Physical Education (PE) curriculum is guided by a comprehensive whole-school policy. This policy gives an overview of the range of activities provided across all strands. Facilities for PE, which include a hall, basketball/tennis court and playing pitch, are quite good. These facilities are augmented by use of Mayfield swimming pool, the Glen Resource Centre and Glen Rovers GAA grounds. The athletics strand of the curriculum is given impetus by the school’s involvement in the Cork City Sports and the school’s own sports day. Games involvement includes preparation for and participation in Sciath na Scol camogie and football and Munster Schools and Barber Cup tennis. The school has a very proud tradition of involvement in coaching and playing tennis. Outdoor and adventure activities are also catered for and the school is fortunate to have access to Glen Park and the Glen Resource Centre for these activities. Pupils in senior classes benefit from courses in cycling safety. Activities observed during the evaluation placed an appropriate emphasis on skills acquisition and were very well structured and enjoyable.
The school plan for Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) outlines a two-year cycle for the implementation of the strands of the curriculum. Aspects of the Relationships and Sexuality programme are integrated appropriately with religious education and with other curricular areas. A range of methodologies, including circle time, drama and co-operative games is used to foster the personal development, health and well-being of each individual pupil in Scoil Bhréanainn. Work observed during the evaluation featured very good use of materials and the skilful encouragement of pupils to express their feelings. Levels of interaction and collaboration, group work and the quality of learning outcomes were impressive.
A comprehensive school assessment policy deals with the critical issues of forms of assessment, both formative and summative. It outlines the range of techniques in use by teachers in their day-to-day evaluation of learning outcomes and in making crucial decisions in regard to directing and adjusting their teaching. Formative assessment strategies in use include observation, discussion, conferencing, monitoring of pupils’ tests and written work and the use of the Drumcondra Profiles. A policy of regularly assessing pupil progress through the administration of standardised tests has long been established in this school. Tests are administered in English and Mathematics. Micra-T and Sigma-T are the tests used currently. A system of tracking pupils’ individual progress is now in place and this should be of major benefit in terms of monitoring standards. A more systematic analysis of test outcomes and the setting and measuring of targets for improvement would also add to the quality of this work. Teachers have designed a testing kit for the initial assessment of new junior infants. The Middle Infant Screening Test is administered after Christmas in senior infants and re-administered the following June. Micra-T and Sigma-T tests are now administered towards the end of the first term of the school year. The school policy also deals with diagnostic testing and this part of the policy links effectively with the formulation of Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Agreement has been reached among the staff on the manner in which standardised test scores are reported to parents.
Whole-school special educational needs policy is comprehensive and well thought out and exemplifies the care and attention given to pupils with learning difficulties. The school employs one full-time and one part-time learning support/resource teacher as well as resource teacher for pupils of the travelling community. All these teachers carry out their duties in a caring and conscientious manner. Support is provided for pupils in literacy and numeracy. Pupils are withdrawn as individuals and in groups and the support is very carefully co-ordinated to ensure a minimum of disruption. In-class support also features as a model of support delivery. Results of standardised and diagnostic tests are carefully analysed to identify learning difficulties and set learning targets. Setting more specific targets and regularly monitoring the extent to which they have been achieved would add to existing good practice in this area. The drafting of IEPs and Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs) is a collaborative effort and staff aspire to greater involvement by parents in this process. These plans are regularly reviewed and updated. The school employs two special needs assistants and they make a useful and constructive contribution to pupil learning under the careful guidance of class teachers.
The school is commended for its success in accessing supports that benefit its pupils. In addition to supports already mentioned school lunches are provided to some pupils through funding made available by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The school acknowledges the support of the Cork City Partnership in various initiatives and most recently for funding provided for the school garden. Pupils and families are also supported through participation in The Glen and District Neighbourhood Youth Project, which receives much of its funding from the Health Service Executive.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A dedicated, professional teaching staff who bring enthusiasm and creativity to their teaching, have, through their loyalty and commitment, given great stability to the school over the years.
· The school has an enviable tradition and ethos, built up under the guidance of the recently retired principal over many years. The newly appointed principal, by virtue of her experience of the school and vision for education, is set to build on the fine traditions of the school.
· The school has been particularly successful at building ties with the local community for the benefit of pupils.
· There is a very good atmosphere of harmony and co-operation in the school.
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.
Published, March 2009
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
As a school community we are very pleased with the content of our report and eager to tackle those areas highlighted for further development. A sincere thank you to both inspectors.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· Comprehensive plan and costings gone to dormant accounts for I.T. funding.
· Member of staff attending a web Design course.
· Emphasis on Oral language – all classes.
· Staff input and development at In-service Day
· Member of staff attending First Steps Oral Course in C.E.S.C.
· Funding found for suitable materials
· Training received for D.L.P. and D.D.L.P. and plans for in-service for Staff in final term in Child protection.
· Draft plan for Drama ratified in February.