An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choir School

St. Patrick’s Close, Dublin 8

Uimhir Rolla: 19480V

Date of inspection:  25 February 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Conclusion

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

A whole-school evaluation of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choir School, Dublin 8 was undertaken in February 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Drama.  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.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

20

Mainstream classes in the school

4

Teachers on the school staff

2

Mainstream class teachers

2

Teachers working in support roles

2

Special needs assistants

0

 

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

St Patrick’s Choir School was founded in 1432 to educate the choristers of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Since its establishment, it has had an almost continuous history with its two interruptions being during the Reformation and Cromwell's Commonwealth respectively. It is now a two-teacher, co-educational school under the patronage of the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and provides education to pupils from third to sixth class. The school aims to educate its pupils to their fullest potential in an environment where Christian values are fostered and where they feel happy and safe.  Central to its mission is that the pupils’ spiritual, moral and religious development is fostered in conjunction with their intellectual, social and academic development.  Strong emphasis is placed on the musical heritage of the school. All the boys are choristers in the Cathedral Choir and the girls all sing in the Cathedral Girls' Choir. Free vocal and instrumental lessons are provided to all choir members by the Cathedral in conjunction with the D.I.T. Conservatory of Music and Drama. The choir, which broadcasts regularly on RTE and the BBC, has made several recordings and tours internationally. In addition to premiering the works of modern Irish composers, the choir participated in the first performance of Handel's Messiah on 13 April 1742.

 

The school’s ethos encompasses Church of Ireland traditions whilst conducting its work in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for religious differences.  The school’s commitment to its stated aims and ethos is reflected in the supportive school atmosphere and the positive interactions amongst the pupils and staff.  Whilst the school ethos indicates that religious education classes are based on the programme devised by the Church of Ireland, in practice religious instruction for the choristers primarily takes the form of daily attendance at Matins in addition to the weekly school assembly attended by all pupils. Lessons for the choristers, based on the Church of Ireland programme, take place at various times during school terms.  It is important that matters regarding religious instruction be clearly articulated in the published school ethos.

 

 

 

Records indicate that pupil attendance is generally very good. Parents are reminded of, and requested to comply with, the school policy on attendance. In addition, the school has established an awards system to celebrate both excellent and very good attendance.

 

1.2 Board of management 

The board of management is properly constituted. It meets at least four times each school year and the minutes of meetings are formally recorded. The treasurer presents a financial report at each meeting and submits detailed accounts to the Cathedral office. It is recommended that the financial accounts be certified annually in compliance with section 18(1) of the Education Act 1998.   The board has been active in progressing a school maintenance programme, purchasing educational resources and in the ratification of school policies.   The board also facilitates the attendance of teachers at pertinent continuing professional development (CPD) sessions. It is commended on circulating an annual report on its work to parents.

 

The chairperson is available for consultation with the principal as issues arise. It is now timely that provision be made for regular planned communication. The board ensures that the school complies with statutory regulations in relation to the allocation of teachers and the retention of pupils. The school currently works a half-day each Wednesday and it is recommended that this be reviewed to ensure that the board complies with the statutory regulations regarding the length of each school day (Circular 11/95 – Time in School). Daily attendance at choir practice and matins results in different school contact hours for probationers, choristers and girls. In addition, some pupils also attend instrumental tuition during the course of the school day. Meanwhile, it is noted that the girls receive more school contact hours over the course of the school week than that required by Circular 11/95 – Time in School. To ensure that all pupils experience the full school curriculum in accordance with the timetabling guidelines laid down in the Primary School Curriculum 1999, it is recommended that the board ensures that the time allocated to each curriculum area is in keeping with those guidelines.

 

1.3 In-school management

The principal leads and manages the school in an effective manner and has established a high level of professional credibility. She leads by example in setting high expectations for the staff and pupils. Her well-honed organisational skills greatly facilitate the smooth and efficient day-to-day operation of the school. The school climate is characterised by positive working relationships and a spirit of collegiality and teamwork is evident.

 

The in-school management team comprises the principal and the special duties teacher. They meet daily on an informal basis and also hold formal meetings, which they minute, on a regular basis. The principal leads and manages the whole-school planning process capably. The team engages in school self-evaluation to establish priorities for development and monitor their progress in effecting change.

 

1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The compact nature of the school community greatly facilitates informal communication with the parent body. The parent representatives highlighted the open-door ethos of the school and the accessibility and commitment of the staff as key strengths. Effective formal communication channels have also been established. Prospective parents are invited to meet with the principal, tour the school and liaise with other parents. On enrolment, they are provided with a school prospectus which contains information on the school in addition to pertinent policies. An open evening for new parents is held by the school in conjunction with the parents’ association each June. Regular newsletters serve to inform parents of school events and achievements.

 

Parents are highly supportive of both the academic and choral dimensions of the school. They particularly value the additional dimensions that membership of the choir affords their children. They attend and assist with school events, lead and assist with extra-curricular activities and actively participate with the board in fundraising activities.  

 

1.5 Management of pupils

The pupils are regarded as valued members of the school community and are treated with respect and equality. The teachers are clearly committed to the general welfare and pastoral care of their pupils and nurture their holistic development. The school’s code of behaviour, which promotes positive behaviour, self-discipline and a sense of responsibility, outlines the expectations of pupil behaviour clearly. The pupils are commended on their exemplary behaviour and on their respectful interactions with one another and the general school community. They are highly motivated, and participate enthusiastically and with commitment in both curricular and choral activities. It is now timely that consideration be given to enabling these articulate pupils to participate more formally in relevant decision-making through the establishment of a student council.

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The school has produced a coherent school plan that encompasses relevant organisational, administrative and curriculum policies. In designing the school plan, the staff has availed of the guidance of the support services. A cyclical process to school planning has been established. Organisational policies are discussed and agreed at board level whilst curriculum policies, which have been ratified by the board, are formulated by the staff. The policies are available in the school office and summaries are included in the school prospectus. The school has started to review the school plan systematically. It is now recommended that a more collaborative role be afforded to the parents in both policy formation and amendments to current policies. It is also recommended that the board signs and dates all school policies when ratifying them.

 

The quality of teachers’ individual classroom planning is good. Each teacher produces comprehensive long-term and short-term plans of work that facilitate continuity and progression in the delivery of the curriculum.  The school is commended for having adopted a common format for short-term planning and monthly progress records. Copies of individual pupil learning profiles (IPLPs) are included in the class teachers’ plans. Each teacher prepares an appropriate range of resources, illustrative materials and worksheets to enhance their pupils’ learning experiences.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

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.

 

3.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Language

Gaeilge

Múintear snáitheanna eagsúla an churaclaim Ghaeilge go héifeachtach. Léiríonn na daltaí dearcadh dearfach i leith na teanga agus, i gcoitinne, tá cumas labhartha maith acu. Leagtar béim chuí ar an modh cumarsáide agus glacann na daltaí páirt i nGaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil go muiníneach. Is éifeachtach an fheidhm a bhaintear as fearas and straitéisí éagsula chun suim na ndaltaí a mhúscailt agus a chothú. Is inmholta an úsáid a bhaintear as áiseanna an ríomhaire chun tionscnaimh ilghnéitheacha, a chomhtháthaíonn an Ghaeilge leis na hábhair eile, a chur i bhfeidhm. Tá sé sách soiléir go bhfuil na daltaí bródúil as a saothar san achar seo. Tá prionta go flúirseach sa timpeallacht agus bíonn neart ábhair saothair na ndaltaí le feiceáil sna ranganna. Léann na daltaí le cruinneas agus le tuiscint. Baintear dea-úsáid as obair bheirte, cluichí agus drámaíocht chun a scileanna labhartha a fhorbairt go taitneamhach. Is inmholta an aird atá dírithe ar phroiséas na scríbhneoireachta ina dtugtar deis do na daltaí tabhairt faoi réimsí éagsúla scríbhneoireachta. Moltar anois polasaí cuimsitheach a fhorbairt ar mheasúnú na ndaltaí san ábhar seo.

 

Irish

The teaching of Irish across all curriculum strands is of a very high standard. The pupils exhibit a positive attitude towards the language and attain very good levels of oral competence. Considerable emphasis is placed on the communicative approach and the pupils engage in informal conversation willingly and enthusiastically.  The teachers deliver stimulating lessons making effective use of a wide range of resources and strategies to capture and maintain their pupils’ interest. A particularly noteworthy feature is the use of ICT to produce class multi-media projects that combine the various curriculum strands effectively. Pupils are justifiably proud of their work in this area. The classroom environments contain a good balance of prompts and displays of the pupils’ work.  The pupils read with fluency and expression exhibiting good levels of comprehension. Paired activities, games and improvisations enable them to develop their spoken competence in a creative manner. The teachers are commended on their creative approach to writing which affords pupils opportunities to express themselves in a wide variety of genres. The next challenge for the school in relation to this curriculum area is to develop a formal policy on assessing pupils’ learning and documenting that progress.

 

English

The school plan makes good provision for the delivery of all strands of the curriculum.  Appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ oral language skills and they engage in discussions in an articulate and confident manner. Communicative and collaborative skills are further developed through engagement in paired and group activities. A print-rich environment, provided both in the classrooms and on the corridors, incorporates eye-catching displays of the pupils’ work in addition to an appropriate range of learning prompts. Pupils display varying reading abilities and consideration should now be given to further enhancing the current provision for differentiation.  Pupils are encouraged to read a variety of texts and the study of class novels encourages them to engage with, and respond to, the text. Pupils are enabled to produce writing in a variety of genres for a range of purposes and audiences. The teachers mark their pupils’ work conscientiously and provision is made for the editing of their work prior to publication.  The pupils present their work neatly in cursive script. Some provision is made for engagement in sustained writing and for pupil-teacher conferencing. To build upon this good practice, consideration should be given to extending the provision for enabling the pupils to redraft their work in the light of formative feedback provided by both their teachers and peers.

 

3.2 Mathematics

The quality of teaching of mathematics is very good and the pupils generally display a high standard of attainment. The teachers present well-structured lessons that are differentiated appropriately to accommodate the multi-class setting and pupils’ individual needs. Teaching incorporates the systematic development of skills, scaffolded discovery-learning and the application of mathematical concepts to problem-solving. In addition to whole class teaching, pupils also engage in paired activities and group work. The teachers link mathematical concepts to the pupils’ environment and facilitate the effective integration of mathematics with other curriculum areas. Across the school, mathematical language is used judiciously and resources and manipulatives are employed effectively to enhance and extend the pupils’ understanding of new concepts. Appropriate emphasis is placed on fostering the skills of estimation particularly in the number and measures strands. Pupils’ work is monitored carefully and marked conscientiously. To further facilitate differentiation, consideration should be given to the provision of open-ended mathematical investigations and the extension of collaborative group-work in which specific roles are assigned according to ability. 

 

3.3 Drama

The teaching of drama is good. Drama conventions are used as a learning tool across a range of curriculum areas and some discrete time is allocated to the teaching of drama within the Arts curriculum. The pupils’ participation in public concerts also serves to greatly enhance their performance skills. In addition, opportunities are provided to enable the pupils to attend performances in local venues and to engage in a drama outreach programme. Across the school, the pupils engage with enthusiasm and conviction in drama activities. In the senior classes, pupils reflect on the dramatic action as it progresses and opportunities are provided for them to discuss insights gained during the drama. The school draft policy makes provision for the coverage of the various curriculum strands. To further enhance the pupils’ learning, in addition to facilitating continuity and progression across a broad and balanced drama curriculum, consideration should now be given to the inclusion of more specific guidelines for the implementation of the individual strand units.

 

3.4 Assessment

The school has a policy on assessment and employs a variety of assessment tools to monitor the pupils’ progress. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered to new pupils on entry to the school and to all pupils in the summer term. Assessment data, which are shared with parents, are used to identify the needs of particular pupils including learning support provision. It is now recommended that these data are also used to monitor the impact of curriculum initiatives. Informal assessment procedures, which include teacher-designed tests and teacher-observation, are a feature of good practice across all classes. The class teachers maintain records of test results. To complement test data, consideration should be given to refining the pupils’ portfolios so that they serve to track their progress systematically. It is also recommended that pupils be enabled to engage in self-assessment against specific criteria. Pupils’ written work and homework is marked consistently and conscientiously. To build on this good practice, consideration should be given to extending the provision for formative assessment.

 

Parents receive an annual report on their children’s level of achievement in all curriculum areas, a copy of which is maintained in the school. The annual parent-teacher meetings facilitate formal consultation with parents. Additional consultations are also scheduled for new parents during their child’s first term at the school. Parents are also welcome to make an appointment to discuss their child’s progress at any point during the year.  

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The Special Education Team (SET) comprises a shared special education/resource teacher and a shared resource teacher. The school policy incorporates the staged approach and parents’ formal consent is sought prior to the pupils attending lessons.

 

The SET teacher, who provides support in literacy or numeracy as appropriate, visits the school on a weekly basis. Whilst this reduces travelling time during the school day, it poses some difficulties for the implementation of the senior curriculum and it is now timely that the model be reviewed. The SET teacher and Resource Teacher work closely to provide complementary support for a child in their care. Comprehensive IPLPs, which are produced for each pupil in receipt of support, are based on information provided by class teachers and parents in addition to the results of diagnostic tests. The intervention model comprises withdrawal exclusively and consideration should now be given to the provision of in-class support where feasible.

 

Lesson preparation and recording are completed in an efficient and professional manner. The teachers use an appropriate range of resources, both commercial and teacher-produced, to enhance their pupils’ learning. The pupils clearly enjoy and benefit from the lessons which are well-structured and based on learning targets that are clear, specific and measurable. At the end of each instructional term, the success of the programme is evaluated and this informs decisions regarding ongoing support.

 

The SET teachers and mainstream teachers are commended on their level of consultation: they hold brief meetings on a weekly basis to review progress and ensure that their plans complement those of the mainstream classes. They consult with parents formally at least once each term and more frequently as appropriate.

 

4.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

The school has an open and inclusive enrolment policy. Appropriate provision is made to ensure that all pupils are enabled to engage in all activities.

 

 

5.     Conclusion

The school has strengths in the following areas:

·         The board is commended on its outstanding commitment to promoting the ideals of the school’s founders.

·         The highly committed and conscientious principal and staff work together effectively in a climate of co-operation and mutual respect.

·         The standard of teaching and learning in Irish is commendable.

·         In addition to the mainstream curriculum, the pupils benefit greatly from the school’s rich musical heritage and are enabled to perform to the very highest choral standards.

·         The pupils are well-behaved, articulate and exhibit good application to learning.

·         The parents are very supportive of the work of the school.

 

The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:

·         It is recommended that the board comply with the Department of Education regulations (Circular 11/95 – Time in School) regarding the length of the school day.

·         It is recommended that assessment data be used in the school self-review process and that the provision for formative assessment be extended.

·         It is recommended that consideration be given to exploring ways in which the learning support provision might be delivered to the pupils more frequently.

·         It is recommended that instrumental music lessons be held outside class-contact hours. 

 

 

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 February 2009

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

The Board of Management welcomes the positive comments by the DES inspectorate which affirms the commitment and dedication of the school staff and the high standard of the pupils’ work, while recognising the community spirit of the school and cathedral and acknowledging the uniqueness of the school and cathedral choir.

 

The revised curriculum has been implemented with enthusiasm and creativity with a high level of co-operation among staff, parents, pupils and members of the Board of Management.

 

The school is situated in a very historic area and opposite St Patrick’s Cathedral.  There is a long tradition of pupils being taken on outings to explore the history and culture and the environmental aspects of the local area, which has been incorporated into the SESE programme

 

In addition, the school is involved in local community activities and has worked with the National Chamber Choir on music projects and with the Gaiety Theatre Drama Outreach Programme.

 

The school is participating in the Discover Primary Science Project.

 

The school has been a member of the Modern Languages Initiative since 1998.

 

The Board of Management regrets the withdrawal of the Summer Works Scheme having submitted a detailed plan which would have assisted the improvement of the school environment.

 

The capitation grant received for the school year 2007/08 was €10,414.80

 

 

 

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 Board had discussed the recommendations contained within the report and will endeavour to address some of them on a phased basis.  As part of this process the Board will consult with education partners and relevant stakeholders.

 

The financial accounts will be certified annually.

 

As existing policies are renewed and updated they will be signed and dated.  To date ratification has been recorded in the minutes of the Board of Management meetings.

 

Prior to the WSE the Board of Management had implemented procedures to reduce the number of instrumental lessons taking place during school hours and to minimise the effect on school hours.

 

The Board is satisfied that the teachers’ individual classroom planning is of a very high standard and is reflected on the quality and learning in the school.

 

All matters related to the school and choir are discussed with parents during initial meetings prior to a child joining the school and choir.  In addition, parents are encouraged to acquaint themselves with the nature and content of the Cathedral services and the Religious Education programme and to discuss any denominational queries with a member of the Cathedral clergy.  This is included in the ethos statement.  It is also included in the guidance booklet issued to prospective chorister parents.  Religious Education classes for all pupils are included in the teachers’ short and long term planning.

Through attendance at Matins the Choristers learn about the Church’s calendar of festivals and they gain a working knowledge of the teachings of the Bible and the Prayer Book, as well as the value of the practice of regular worship and prayer.  A weekly assembly is conducted by the Dean’s Vicar to supplement the pupils’ religious development related to the practical experience and discovery gained through regular worship.

 

The Board is satisfied that pupils are receiving the recommended time allocated to curriculum areas and some pupils are receiving in excess.

 

After consultation and review the Board is satisfied that the current arrangement for the provision of Leaning Support is working well, is benefiting the pupils, is practical and minimises disruptions to the two schools and their staffs.