An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Mark’s Junior National School
Springfield, Tallaght, Dublin 24
Uimhir rolla: 19472W
Date of inspection: 04 November 2008
A whole-school evaluation of St. Mark’s Junior 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 Junior N.S.is a dynamic school. Founded in 1974, the school has undergone considerable change in terms of its pupil population, staffing, and accommodation. The school 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 Junior N.S. is a Catholic school under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin. Staff and management promote a Catholic ethos and a school climate that is welcoming, tolerant, safe, caring, and inclusive. Teaching and learning take place in a context of respectful relationships, in which every pupil and member of staff is valued and affirmed. In this school, all children, whatever their ability, are cherished for their uniqueness. The all-round development of each pupil is central to the work of the school. Equality of opportunity among staff and among pupils is actively promoted. Pupil independence and pupil collaboration in learning are fostered. The school is attentive to the particular learning needs of the individuals in its diverse pupil population which includes a very significant proportion of newcomer children. The school welcomes all pupils and creates a climate of physical, emotional, social and intellectual security for them and for their parents. Classroom and corridor displays, notices, pictures, the school’s electronic welcome screen, and a range of intercultural school events reflect and celebrate the diverse cultures of the pupils in this school.
The work of the board of management is effective. The board operates in accordance with all statutory and other regulatory requirements. Its members are clearly committed to the welfare of the pupils and staff and work hard to ensure that optimum learning and working environments are created and maintained. They are aware of the strengths of the school and they communicate regularly and effectively with the principal and school staff. Board members have a visible presence in the school. They attend school functions in which pupil achievement is celebrated. They support the whole-school planning process through commenting on and ratifying school policies and plans as they are developed, reviewed and revised. They are keenly interested in the educational attainment of all pupils in the school, including pupils for whom English is an additional language. They are concerned with issues of equity among all pupils in terms of educational opportunity and the provision of resources.
The quality of leadership provided by the principal in this school is excellent. It is characterised by open communication and effective collaboration with staff and parents, and kind, respectful and engaging communication with pupils. Systems are in place to ensure optimum two-way consultation with all teachers on all aspects of educational provision in the school. The school’s vision and mission are clearly articulated in the principal’s leadership of the school. She promotes a culture of reflection, self-evaluation and analysis of outcomes and empowers the in-school management team to lead in specific and relevant pastoral, administrative and curriculum areas. She leads whole-school planning in a dynamic manner that facilitates effective teacher collaboration in meeting the on-going and changing needs of the pupils. In the execution of their functions, the in-school management team contribute very significantly to the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum which is focussed on meeting the learning needs of the pupils, including the learning needs of EAL pupils. The attachment of the role of intercultural officer to one of the special duties posts is commended. Post-holders meet regularly and provide frequent updates to the staff as a whole on the progress of their work. They enable teachers who are not post-holders to become involved in sub-committee work relating to the responsibilities of the post-holders and thus contribute very significantly to the ongoing professional development of the staff.
The management of teaching supports for EAL pupils is very effective. Of the six designated EAL posts, one is used to meet the significant language needs of pupils in the six junior infant classes through the effective deployment of that post in a mainstream junior infant setting, thus reducing the size of junior infant classes. Delivery of the rest of the EAL support is through a model that combines EAL support and a significant proportion of special education needs (SEN) provision and results in one EAL or one SEN teacher being available to each mainstream class to provide a combination of in-class and withdrawal support, thus minimising the necessity for pupils to attend multiple support teachers. The level of collaboration between mainstream class teachers, SEN teachers and EAL teachers in planning and delivering supports to pupils is commended, particularly with regard to ensuring that the specific identified needs of individual pupils, whether SEN or EAL, are appropriately addressed. Special needs assistants (SNAs) are properly deployed and fulfil their duties competently in collaboration with and under the guidance of the principal and teachers. The school’s secretaries carry out their duties in an exemplary way.
The quality of accommodation is very good. Classrooms are generally large, bright, well heated, and well ventilated. Support-teaching rooms are also bright and spacious. Indoor play areas are impressive. Staff facilities are of a high standard. Caretaking duties are undertaken with great
diligence and skill. The board is commended on the very high standard of maintenance and cleaning of the building. Its hands-on approach to ensuring health and safety issues are addressed through annual auditing and servicing of plant equipment is particularly praiseworthy. Teachers and pupils are praised for their contributions to creating a very attractive and stimulating place of learning and work.
The management of resources is excellent. Every classroom, support room, indoor play area and the school as a whole are extremely well resourced. The school’s policy on updating, renewal and augmenting of resources, including ICT, is consistently implemented in a very effective way. Excellent resources for EAL teaching and learning are available. The school climate supports and celebrates cultural and linguistic diversity in an impressive way. Corridor displays stimulate, promote and reinforce learning across the curriculum and create worthwhile opportunities for valuable incidental learning by pupils as they move around the school.
Parental involvement in the life of the school is welcomed, valued and actively facilitated. The principal and the school’s secretarial staff are very welcoming of parents. The school provides particular assistance to parents who do not speak English as their first language through the sourcing of persons who speak the parents’ language and through the translation of key school policies and documents into eight of the most commonly used languages of parents in the school. These practices are highly commended. The board of management is also commended on its practice of reporting annually to parents on the achievement of the school’s objectives as required by section 20 of the Education Act 1998. Other mechanisms used by the school in its maintenance of highly effective communication with the school community include newsletters, annual parent-teacher meetings, annual reports to parents on pupil progress and the provision of other opportunities for parents to meet with school personnel as required. The school’s parents association is very supportive of the work of the school. Parents take an active part in school-based programmes such as Maths for Fun. They also assist in the organisation of fundraising activities, the exhibition and sale of the pupils’ art work, and the provision of hospitality at school and liturgical events. A challenge facing the parents association is the facilitation of increased involvement of parents of EAL children in the work of the association.
The management of pupils is excellent. A positive code of discipline is successfully implemented. School rules are clearly displayed in words and through photographs. Positive, respectful attitudes are consistently encouraged and modelled by the principal and teachers. Respect for the diversity of cultures in the school is fostered. EAL pupils are placed in age-appropriate classes. They are effectively helped to become fully included and involved in the life of the school through a buddy system in classroom and playground settings whereby a newcomer pupil is paired with a pupil who speaks his/her first language. The school is in the process of setting up a care team to track and support vulnerable pupils. Discipline is considered at every staff meeting and the code of discipline is reviewed annually.
The quality of whole-school planning is very good. A very effective process of policy development, implementation and review that involves leadership by the in-school management team and opportunities for involvement of all teachers as well as engagement by the board of management and parents is in place. The school plan contains all required policies including policies on enrolment, inclusion, intercultural education and home-school links. Those policies are clearly written, compiled in an easily accessible format, given to and used by each teacher, and available to parents upon request. Clear, whole-school curriculum plans for English and for Mathematics have been devised. Those plans take account of the relevant curriculum guidelines and the context of the school, in particular the significant language needs of a considerable proportion of the pupils. The emphasis in the English plan on the importance of oral language in literacy and cognitive development is laudable. To strengthen the practical effect of the English plan in the context of overall pupil achievement in reading, it is recommended that the specific steps necessary in the teaching of the skills of reading at each class level be set out. The school’s commitment to self-evaluation and planning for improvement is clearly evident in its specific, appropriate and necessary targeting of literacy and mathematics teaching and learning in its current action plan.
The quality of whole-school planning for EAL is very good. The EAL policy aims to enable pupils to understand and use basic classroom language, to understand the norms of behaviour in the school, and to build confidence and self-esteem. It identifies key methods for effective delivery of EAL support, recognises the collective responsibility of teachers with regard to the development of pupils’ language proficiency, and makes provision for annual review of the policy. To strengthen the potential effectiveness of the policy, the inclusion of a specific aim in relation to developing the pupils’ academic language in order to access the curriculum is advised.
The quality of classroom planning is generally very good. All teachers consistently prepare long-term and short-term written plans. The collaborative nature of classroom planning at each class level is praiseworthy. Monthly progress reports are diligently maintained by all and are regularly reviewed by the principal. One aspect of written planning that requires development in a number of classrooms is planning for differentiation, particularly in relation to the particular learning needs of EAL pupils. Written plans for EAL pupils in support-learning contexts contain appropriate social language targets and are clearly related to the pupils’ needs as measured by the Primary Assessment Kit. Overall, there is close collaboration between mainstream and support teachers in the setting of learning targets for EAL pupils and pupils with special education needs. Records of pupil progress in all curriculum areas 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 high standard in the teaching of English is evident in many classrooms in this school, particularly in relation to the teaching of the skills of listening and speaking. Very good provision is made for the teaching of social language to EAL pupils. Class books, diaries, and creative writing in a variety of genres are part of the writing programme evident in several classrooms. Consolidation of a whole-school approach to the teaching of emergent and personal writing is recommended. Story-telling is skilfully used to develop oral language and creativity. Excellent practice is also evident in a number of rooms in relation to the teaching of phonological awareness, reading, and the academic language necessary to access the curriculum. The school’s ongoing and renewed focus on developing literacy skills through having a daily hour dedicated to the teaching of literacy is commended. The challenge for the school in relation to the teaching of English and English as an additional language is to ensure that the high quality teaching observed in many classrooms becomes a feature of all classrooms. Specifically, the challenge is to ensure that oral language teaching consistently includes teaching EAL pupils the academic language necessary to access the curriculum; and that there is regular, step-by-step teaching of the skills of reading in all classrooms. The school, through its own review, reflection and its analysis of pupil attainment, is aware of the need to raise the bar of achievement in reading and to narrow the gap between the highest achieving and lowest achieving pupils.
The school’s renewed emphasis on raising the standard of mathematics attainment at all levels is commended. The introduction of a daily interruption-free period designated specifically for the teaching of mathematics in all classrooms is praised. Very good examples of high quality teaching in Mathematics were evident during the inspection. Among the particularly praiseworthy features of mathematics teaching in this school are the explicit teaching of the language of mathematics with proper differentiation for EAL pupils where needed, incremental and active exploration of concepts, the maintenance of a proper balance between the strands taught, and due attention to problem-solving. Very good use is made of paired and small-group work in several classrooms. In general, pupils have adequate individual, group and paired access to relevant mathematics learning resources. To maintain the ongoing improvement in overall pupil attainment levels in mathematics, it is necessary for the school to continue to develop its use of formative assessment in order that planned programmes of work in this curriculum area address individual pupil need, including the needs of EAL pupils, and are appropriately challenging. The recent introduction of an effective system of in-class targeted support in mathematics for pupils with EAL and/or special education needs through group and/or one-to-one work with a support teacher is commended.
A very good range of assessment strategies is in use in this school. They include teacher observation, teacher-devised tests and check lists, standardised tests in mathematics and English, early literacy tests, and a selection of diagnostic tests. The Primary School Assessment Kit is used to assess the language needs and abilities of EAL pupils. The quality of school records and reports on individual pupils is good. Analysis of standardised test results is undertaken at a whole-school level. Tracking of individual groups of pupils also occurs. The school recognises the role of formative assessment in ensuring appropriate differentiation for all pupils and targeted intervention as appropriate. The challenge is to ensure consistent, ongoing use of such assessment through the school to guide planning as well as teaching and learning programmes, particularly in the areas of Mathematics and English.
As part of its whole-school strategy for meeting the needs of all pupils in its care, this school provides a combined EAL/SEN support service through merging the roles of the Department designated EAL and SEN teachers. The impetus for this development arose from staff concerns about levels of attainment by pupils in the areas of English and Mathematics. The model is based on the premise that a high level of consultation and co-operation between the class teacher and the support teacher is critical to bringing about the best possible pupil learning outcomes. While the model has only recently been implemented, it has the potential to provide a pupil focussed, needs based support service that addresses both EAL and SEN needs in a context that minimises pupil withdrawal from class and avoids the need for pupils to deal with multiple support teachers. The school intends to monitor closely the progress of pupils in order to assess the effectiveness of this approach to EAL/ SEN support. An integral component of SEN provision in this school is the school’s long-established language unit which comprises two classes.
The quality of the whole-school policy on special education needs provision is very good. Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined; principles of effective learning in support settings are set out and assessment and reporting procedures are detailed. Planning for communicating with external agencies in meeting pupils’ needs is in place. Provision is also made for activities to increase parents’ involvement in supporting their children’s learning. The role of the principal as a member of the special needs team is also clearly and appropriately defined. There is formal provision for liaison between class teachers and support teachers, including language-class teachers in the setting of learning targets for pupils with SEN.
The quality of teaching of pupils with SEN is very good in classroom, support-room, and language-class settings. Very good use is made of group and paired activities. One-to-one support is provided as needed. Resources are appropriately used. Class teachers, support teachers and language-class teachers work closely in implementing learning programmes for pupils with SEN. They also collaborate in assessing the progress of those pupils. Notably positive rapport exists between children in receipt of SEN support and the teachers providing that support. Pupil achievement of learning targets is closely monitored and documented. The kindness of teachers towards pupils with multiple disabilities and their skill in advancing the learning of those pupils is particularly praiseworthy.
The language needs and abilities of all EAL pupils are thoroughly assessed through the use of a number of assessment strategies, the primary one being the Primary Assessment Kit. Other modes of assessment, including standardised tests and teacher assessments of pupils, are also used to inform decisions regarding the planning of programmes for EAL pupils. The quality of planning for such pupils by the support teachers is generally very good with a clear focus on the identification of relevant, achievable, measurable and appropriate learning targets. Close collaboration among support and classroom teachers and the involvement of parents where possible are praiseworthy features of this target setting.
The overall quality of support provided for EAL pupils is very good. Through small group work and one-to-one support, many EAL pupils receive focussed intervention that contributes not only to their language and overall cognitive development, but also to their inclusion in classroom and school life. A significant proportion of support for EAL pupils is delivered in the mainstream classroom in close collaboration with the class teacher and, where relevant, the SEN team and SNAs. The open, collaborative and professional approach of staff to supporting EAL pupils is impressive. Well-structured lessons and activities, stimulating and varied methods, group work and active learning are features of the EAL support provided. The efforts and achievements of EAL pupils are praised and affirmed by mainstream teachers and support personnel. Pupil progress and the extent to which learning targets are achieved are carefully documented. Parents are kept up to date on pupil progress through individual meetings and end-of-year reports.
This school is welcoming of all pupils and ensures that in its policies and its practices the legal rights and entitlements of pupils from disadvantaged, minority and other groups are respected. It actively supports all pupils in accessing an education appropriate to their needs and in participating fully in the life of the school.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The school climate is welcoming, tolerant, safe, caring and inclusive.
· Teaching and learning take place in a context of respectful relationships, in which every pupil and member of staff is valued and affirmed. All pupils are cherished for their uniqueness.
· Board members are clearly committed to the welfare of the pupils and the staff and they work hard to ensure that optimum learning and working environments are
created and maintained. They have a visible presence in the school.
· The quality of leadership provided by the principal is excellent.
· The in-school management team contribute very significantly to the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum that is focussed on meeting the learning needs of the pupils,
including the learning needs of EAL pupils.
· The management of teaching supports for pupils with EAL is very effective.
· The quality of accommodation is very good.
· The management of resources is excellent.
· Parental involvement in the life of the school is welcomed, valued and actively facilitated.
· The board is commended on its practice of reporting annually to parents on the achievement of the school’s objectives as required by statute.
· The parents’ association is very supportive of the work of the school.
· The management of pupils is excellent.
· The quality of whole-school planning, including whole-school planning for EAL, is very good.
· The collaborative nature of classroom planning at each class level is praiseworthy.
· The school’s ongoing and renewed focus on developing literacy skills is commended.
· The school’s renewed emphasis on raising the standard of mathematics attainment at all levels is commended.
· A very good range of assessment strategies is used.
· The quality of the whole-school policy on SEN provision is very good. The quality of teaching of pupils with SEN is very good in classroom, language-class and support room settings.
· The collaboration between mainstream class teachers and SEN teachers in meeting the needs of pupils is praised.
· The kindness of teachers towards pupils with multiple disabilities and their skill in advancing the learning of those pupils is particularly praiseworthy.
· The overall quality of support provided for EAL pupils is very good. The open, collaborative and professional approach of staff to supporting EAL pupils is impressive.
· The school actively supports all pupils in accessing an education appropriate to their needs and in participating fully in the life of the school.
The following key recommendations are made in order to improve further the quality of education provided by the school:
· It is recommended that there is regular, step-by-step teaching of the skills of reading in all classrooms.
· The development of planning for differentiation to ensure that it is undertaken in all classrooms is recommended.
· The teaching of emergent and process writing skills in a systematic, developmental way through the school is recommended.
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 November 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management and Staff of St. Mark’s Junior National School are delighted that the Whole School Evaluation Report reflects the spirit, ethos and climate of our school.
It is fulsome in its praise and recognises that we are a learning school community where every person matters and where we seek to draw out the unique potential and contribution of all.
The Board of Management and Staff recognise that a learning school must have a built in evaluation process where strengths and gaps are identified and actively worked on.
We believe that St Mark’s Junior National school has such a mechanism actively in place and that the whole school community has ownership of the process.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Both the recommendations to:
a. Identify and implement the step by step teaching of reading skills
b. The need to teach, emergent and process writing skills in a systematic developmental way
has been identified by staff prior to the Whole School Evaluation and are both being actively addressed.
We believe that differentiation is being fully undertaken in every class but acknowledge that including it in the planning in a written form may ensure it is never left to chance.
This too is being addressed.