An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Finian’s National School
Glenties Park, Finglas South, Dublin 11
Roll number: 19489Q
Date of inspection: 9 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
THIS WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION REPORT
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Saint Finian’s National School. 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 and the school’s board of management. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Saint Finian’s National School is a fifteen teacher co-educational vertical primary school in the parish of Rivermount under in the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin. The school was established in 1975 to cater for the educational needs of the newly developed area of Finglas south, to which many families had relocated from the inner city. The school is situated in the northern suburbs of Dublin. Enrolment levels peaked in 1977 when the number attending the school reached 762 pupils. Current enrolment trends are constant: a recently completed local housing scheme indicates potential for an increase in future enrolment numbers. At present the school caters for the educational needs of 228 boys and girls from junior infants to sixth class. The school’s catchment area corresponds to the parish of Rivermount and its environs. The single storey school is situated on a generous sloping site, which overlooks the Tolka Valley with magnificent southerly views to the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains. Well-tended shrubbery beds and mature trees add to the pleasing aspect of the school grounds. Tarmacadam areas surrounded by grass-covered areas provide ample playground space for the pupils. The school receives additional resources under the School Completion Programme and other Department of Education and Science initiatives. The standard of living has improved for many families and many parents are increasingly aware of the necessity of a good standard of education for their children. Yet, the challenge to the school is to continue to raise the educational aspirations of parents and pupils alike.
The school’s mission statement seeks to promote pupils’ self-esteem through the establishment of open and respectful relationships in a safe and caring school environment. It strives to promote the development of personal learning skills incorporating cognitive and emotional aspects. The characteristic spirit of the school is encapsulated in its determination to enable every child to acquire self-confidence in educational, social and athletic fields, leading to personal fulfilment, an understanding of national heritage, pride in the past and confidence in the future. Saint Finian’s National School promotes Christian values, sensitivity to others, compassion for the weak and a sense of duty to society. Its open spirit is manifest in the school’s positive approach to maintenance and security of the school complex. In the past, despite relentless vandalism involving the breaking of school windows over a period of years, the school’s senior management steadfastly refused to install grills on the classroom windows. This is to its credit. The school demands respect for all and in the context of a firm but fair code of discipline, encourages colour in the surroundings and happy faces on the children.
Pupil attendance is carefully monitored and good levels are maintained on the upward continuum. Nevertheless, the attendance of a small number of pupils gives cause for concern. In response, the school adopts a proactive approach to encouraging attendance involving all partners in the school community. This well-thought-through policy is responsible for the improvement evident in attendance levels. Pupils transfer to a number of post primary schools in the locality, with the majority of the boys attending the Patrician Boys’ Secondary School or Coláiste Eóin while the girls transfer to Saint Michael’s Holy Faith School, Mater Christi, or Coláiste Eóin. Every effort is made by the school to assist in the transferral of pupils. To date some pupils have not received a place in a secondary school for next September. This is a cause of concern to senior management in the school.
The previous school inspection report recommended greater uniformity of practice in relation to individual teachers’ preparation of schemes with particular reference to the skills and experiences to be provided to ensure greater continuity of approach throughout the school. The report also recommended the strengthening of penmanship skills in the lower classes. These recommendations are now implemented and will be commented on in the body of the report in the relevant sections.
The board of management is properly constituted under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin. The board convenes termly and minutes of the meetings are kept and accounts are audited annually. Many board members are long serving, which indicates their immense sense of pride in the school, which they see as being the heart and soul of their local community. The principal and the chairperson meet daily, which facilitates the carrying out of routine day-to-day school business. The board is cognisant of recent legislation in education and has approved the school’s policy on the administering of medicines, homework and attendance. Most recently the board has prioritised the ratification of obligatory policies, including the health and safety statement, policies on substance use, adult bullying in the work place and the school’s policy on healthy eating. The board is aware of its statutory obligations with reference to the Education Act and the Education Welfare Act and is compliant with Department of Education and Science (DES) regulations. Both the principal and members of the board state strongly their concern over the possibility of loosing a teaching post under the current general allocation system for special educational needs. At present they are challenging this decision. The board of management manages the school effectively and develops and reviews policy efficiently on an on-going basis. Communication with parents is co-ordinated through the parents’ representatives on the board of management. Very good informal channels of communication exist with parents and there is a free flow of information between all the stakeholders in the educational community. The board has created many links with the wider community as it sees the school as very much the pivot of the community.
This deeply committed and hard working principal has been the principal teacher since the school was established. He works tirelessly to ensure that the school has the best possible level of resources to support the teaching staff in its delivery of a high quality, broad and balanced curriculum to the pupils in their care. He enables the development of good administrative and organisational procedures, by delegating responsibilities to members of the in-school management team, which practice supports the effective running of the school. The principal ensures the operation of a firm but fair code of discipline. He works diligently to maintain the aesthetic of the school and its surroundings, for which he is highly praised. His role is central in ensuring that good communication exists between the board, the staff and the wider community. His clear thinking and respect for individuals’ qualities and strengths have made a significant contribution to the quality of the school’s management structure.
The in-school management team comprises the deputy principal, assistant principal and four special duties teachers. Members of the team provide an input on progress on the carrying out of their responsibilities at each staff meeting. The practice of reviewing allocated duties is praised and should be further embedded in the culture of the school. The role of the deputy principal includes curricular responsibility for Gaeilge and Science, organising the supervision roster, keeping the school register up-to-date and dealing with teacher absences in the junior section of the school. The post also includes a pastoral element marking positive pupil behaviour and significant pupil or school achievements. The duties of the assistant principal include curricular responsibility for English, Learning Support and information and communication technology (ICT). Corresponding organisational duties include the resourcing of ICT and dealing with teacher absences in the senior section of the school. One post of responsibility includes the mentoring of newly appointed teachers as a pastoral role. The responsibilities of the additional four special duties teachers all include specific curricular and organisational responsibilities and general pastoral duties. However, with some exceptions, no specific pastoral duties are assigned to the in-school management team. This report recommends that the pastoral aspect of all the above-mentioned roles be reviewed and that specific pastoral duties be identified and responsibility for them allocated across each of the six posts commensurate with the seniority of the post. The in-school management team is effective in its role and works collaboratively towards school improvement. The group works in a spirit of openness and collegiality. The principal chairs staff meetings, which are held at least once a term. Minutes are kept of all staff meetings and curricular and organisational matters are discussed.
The relationship between teaching staff and pupils is underscored by mutual respect and is supported by a clearly defined code of discipline. A very good level of discipline is evident in the school, supported by the implementation of the school’s excellent code of behaviour policy, which includes a minimum of simple rules clearly understood by the pupils. The quality of the interactions between pupils and teachers is of a very good standard. Pupils are eager to communicate and participate willingly in the work in hand. This supports the achievement of the school’s aim ‘to foster self-esteem among the pupils’. The day-to-day administration of the school is supported by the work of the school secretary. The school is efficiently administered and internal organisational structures are of a high order.
This is a single stream school with the exception of second standard, which currently has two class groupings. The teaching staff of fifteen consists of the principal and fourteen assistant teachers. It includes two full-time learning support teachers, one special class teacher, one home school community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator plus one teacher working in the Early Start initiative. Teachers are consulted concerning deployment preference and they are offered classes within their preferred range, when possible. In line with best practice, teachers on probation are not assigned junior infants or sixth classes. An experienced teacher mentors newly appointed or probationary teachers on a one-to-one basis. Teachers generally rotate classes on a two-year cycle. For the most part, provision is provided for special education needs on a withdrawal from class basis. There is a pilot scheme in operation to team-teach alongside the class teacher. As an alternative to the withdrawal approach this is welcomed and should be further developed. This report recommends the expansion of this approach to maximise the learning potential for all children.
In addition, resources accessed via the school completion initiative are deployed effectively to provide a drama therapy teacher for the school. Teachers funded by the School Completion and Fás schemes provide art classes for pupils from first to sixth classes. The board of management values the professional development courses recently undertaken by the staff in the Visual Arts, Music and Science and supported their attendance. This is most praiseworthy. The school has prioritised the curricular areas of PE, History and Geography as areas for future staff development. Teaching and non-teaching personnel are well managed and extremely open and positive staff relations are in evidence. Communication within the school is very good and the atmosphere in the staff room is friendly and affirmative. There is a strong sense of collegiality among staff members, and expertise and information are shared willingly on a regular basis.
A comprehensive range of resources to support teaching and learning has been accumulated over the years, which bears witness to the good use made to date of the DES grants and funds donated by the parent body. Educational resources include a recently purchased portable set of percussion instruments housed in a music trolley, science equipment, an array of mathematical equipment and resources to support PE in the curriculum. The importance, which the school places on developing literacy skills is evident in the extensive range of supplementary reading texts available in both class and school libraries. The school has recently installed broadband and has networked its twenty-two computers. This offers wonderful potential for expanding child-led learning. Resources for particular curricular areas are well managed and stored centrally for easy access by teaching staff. In this school a review of the whole school plan in a particular curricular area has been accompanied by a corresponding review of its curricular resources. This process is applauded and should be continued as other curricular areas are reviewed. The standard complement of office equipment is available to the staff.
The recently painted internal accommodation consists of nine mainstream classrooms, one classroom for the special class, two interconnecting classrooms allocated to Early Start, a computer room, a home school community liaison and parents’ room, and a room allocated to local community groups. In addition the school has a large general-purpose room, suitable for indoor basketball, adjoining which are two rooms used for special education. The school is laid out around two tastefully landscaped internal courtyards. The school has offices for the principal and the school secretary, a recently upgraded staff room, staff toilets and toilets for the pupils located off the corridors plus indoor storage areas. In addition there is a central storage area for visual arts equipment. Classrooms are equipped with whiteboards and blackboards. Good use is made of the classroom space to celebrate the work of the pupils across the curriculum. While some children’s work is on display along the corridors, better use should be made of this generous space to create a richer visual environment along the corridor system. Outdoor facilities include three tarmacadam playing areas, soon to be marked for sport, and a generous grassy space. A thorough school maintenance plan is in place. The school is cleaned daily to a very high standard by two cleaners, and the full-time caretaker undertakes routine maintenance of the school and its grounds. The school is maintained to a very high standard and all involved are praised for their input in maintaining the high aesthetic standard of the school environment.
The entire school community is praised for its commitment to the whole school planning process. All school plans and policies in draft form are made available to the parent body and, following consultation and ratification by the board, the final plan is on open view at all times in the parents’ room. Having been ratified by the board, subsequent review dates are set. The school plan is presented in clear, user-friendly language, and outlines policies and procedures relating to organisational and curricular aspects of the school. The process of curriculum development and review is an established positive characteristic of the school’s culture and is in accordance with best practice. The role of the in-school management team is acknowledged in this regard and it is praised for the painstaking work undertaken in developing the school plan to date. The school plan is disseminated to all members of staff as a reference point for individual classroom planning.
The school plan contains statements regarding the school’s general vision and aims for the education of the children in its care. It includes a number of policy and procedural statements including those on health and safety, attendance, adult bullying in the workplace and on healthy school lunches. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, September 1999) and Child Protection: Guidelines and Procedures (Department of Education and Science, (DES) April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. The principal has been appointed as designated liaison person in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Curricular statements include plans for Gaeilge, English, Mathematics, Science, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), the Visual Arts and Music. Curriculum areas prioritised for future development include PE, History and Geography, with the area of Drama to be developed subsequent to the receipt of DES in-service. Policy on planning for dyslexia and the school’s provision for gifted children is prioritised. The valid and purposeful nature of the planning process results in the formulation of policies and curriculum plans that reflect practice in the classrooms that are relevant to the pupils in the school. They are meaningful and specific, which is congruent with the school’s own self-evaluation and review of its plans. The school is praised for its forthrightness in this regard. Of particular note is the well-developed code of behaviour.
The board of management is involved in the implementation of the school plan insofar as it ratifies policies and those curricular plans formulated collaboratively by members of the staff under the guidance of the principal. For the most part, teachers strive proactively to implement the school plan in the classrooms. Good open channels of communication exist between the school and parents regarding the content of the school’s plan of work. Teaching and learning activities in the school reflect the central role played by effective curriculum and organisational planning and a concerted and laudable effort is being made in placing school planning at the kernel of the school’s educational process. Individual classroom timetables are organised to support the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum for all the pupils, which in turn facilitates the on-going achievement of the school’s aims and objectives for pupils as previously stated.
At infant, junior and senior class levels, teachers provide detailed, complete plans for their teaching. They prepare effectively for their individual classes, and they differentiate short and long-term plans on the relevant sections of the school’s curriculum plans. This best practice should be extended to all classes. The previous school inspection report recommended greater uniformity of practice in relation to individual teachers’ preparation of schemes with particular reference to the skills and experiences to be provided to ensure greater continuity of approach throughout the school. This matter still needs addressing. Some exceptional practice is noted in the school. This latter practice is characterised by a differentiated approach to classroom planning with work mediated to suit the abilities of the pupils at either end of the ability spectrum. This is supported by the use of a comprehensive range of teaching methodologies, such as active learning, discovery-based approaches and child participative methods. The quality of the teaching and the resultant pupil learning increases commensurately. This is a considerable asset to the school. The school’s senior management should explore ways of utilising this exceptional practice for the wider benefit of the whole staff, and as a means of addressing the need for continuity in approach as mentioned above.
In most cases, classroom planning adopts the curriculum structure of strand, unit and curriculum objective, rather than an over-emphasis on content, as seen in some classes. In order to support the monitoring of the extent to which whole school objectives and targets are being met, it is recommended that the format of the monthly report be reviewed, to include strand unit and curriculum objectived taught for that subject for the monthly period, in accordance with the relevant rule which requires that that portion of the curriculum dealt with during the month be noted. This should facilitate the monitoring of the implementation of the curriculum across all class levels and ensure continuity of learning from year to year. With reference to the achievement of whole school objectives, literacy and numeracy standards are improving and the pupils continue to benefit from the range of educational experiences provided by the school.
Moltar an dúthracht a chaitheann na hoidí le teagasc na Gaeilge. Cothaítear dearcadh fábhrach i leith na teanga agus baineann na daltaí taitneamh agus tairbhe as a dtaithí. Sa phlean scoile, leagtar curaclam suntasach amach ina ainmnítear aidhmeanna ginearálta, liosta de théamaí, feidhmeanna agus eiseamláirí teanga, modhanna múinte agus straitéisí teagaisc atá nascaithe i gcoitinne le prionsabail agus struchtúr snaithe agus snaithaonaid an churaclaim. Bunaítear cuid mhór den phlean ar an gclár Gaeilge Treo Nua agus ar na téacsleabhair agus acmhainní a ghabhann leis an scéim sin. Baintear úsáid rianúil as na postaeir, lipéid, frásaí na seachtaine agus as téamaí na míosa mar fhoinsí ábhair agus chun timpeallacht shaibhir prionta i nGaeilge a chruthú. Tá raon d’áiseanna teagaisc agus foghlama an chomhrá á leathnú agus tá na pictiúir agus na postaeir átá déanta ag na h-oidí féin á úsáid le héifeacht. Is inmholta mar a chomhoibríonn oidí ag gach rangleibhéil lena chéile in ullmhú clár oibre i gcoinne foghlama fadthréimhseach dá ranganna agus aithnítear an díograis a chaitear leis an obair seo. Ag eascairt ón obair sin, cuireann oidí aonair scéimeanna oibre don ghearrthréimhseach ar fáil ina soiléirítear an t-ábhar agus an ionchur nua teanga atá le teagasc. Úsáidtear éagsúlacht mhór i gcur chuige agus i módheolaíocht teagaisc sna ranganna éagsúla ach moltar leathnú a dhéanamh tríd an scoil ar fad ar na cásanna ina leagtar béim ar labhairt aonair na ndaltaí in ionad an sluafhreagairt agus ina gcruthaítear seansanna dóibh an teanga a chleachtadh agus a úsáid trí ghníomhachtaí éagsúla a bhaineann le comhthéascanna réalaíocha an pháiste, mar agallamh bheirte, drámaíocht, agus rólghlacadh a eagrú i suímh éagsúla.
Éiríonn go maith leis na daltaí sa léitheoireacht agus léann formhór acu le brí agus le tuiscint as réimse ábhar léitheoireachta. Cuirtear roinn rainn, amhráin agus filíocht oiriúnach i láthair na ndaltaí go tarraingteach, bríomhar. Bíonn rainn agus véarsaí taitneamhacha ar eolas acu agus aithrisíonn siad go fonnmhar iad. Tá dul chun cinn súntasach á dhéanamh i dtaca le féin-iarracht na ndaltaí a chothú ina gcuid scríobhneoireachta agus oiltear iad chun abairtí, altanna agus aistí a scríobh faoi stiúir na n-oidí. Moltar laghdú a dhéanamh ar an méid scríbhneoireachta atá á dhéanamh sna leabhair saothair atá in úsáid i gcuid de na ranganna agus a thuilleadh béime a chur ar obair phearsanta. B’fhiú pleanáil a dhéanamh sna scéimeanna fadthréimseacha agus gearrthréimseacha chun go mbeadh na “genres” éagsúla in úsáid chun an scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach a fhorbairt i rith na bliana. B’fhiú freisin machnamh a dhéanamh ar chruthú teimpléid uilescoile don phleanáil ghearrthréimhseach na noidí aonair agus don chuntas míosúil chun cothromaíocht a léiriú idir na cuspóirí agus an t-ábhar agus na spriocanna cinnte foghlama atá le teagasc chun gnothachtáil na ndaltaí a chinntiú thar raon leathan scileanna.
The comprehensive school plan for the teaching of English lays out broad aims and visions for the subject area. Approaches to the development of oral language, reading skills and penmanship and the role to be played by assessment in the general learning process are also outlined. The plan details work under the heading of oracy, reading and writing for each class grouping throughout the school. Of particular note are the sections on the development of personal writing, and approaches to the teaching of poetry, viewing it correctly as an integral aspect of the subject area. The plan should be reviewed to gain consistency in structure between class groupings to assist in continuity, as previously recommended. For the most part teachers plan and prepare for the teaching of English with reference to the school plan and the structure of the primary curriculum. In those instances where individual teachers reference the school plan and differentiate further for their long-term plan, good standards of teaching and learning result.
In most classes clear planning and preparation underpins the ongoing development of the pupils’ oracy and literacy skills. This best practice should be extended to all classes. At infant level, the availability of excellent educational resources underpins the development of phonological awareness and oral language skills through a thematic approach and the presentation of stimulating print-rich classroom environments. It is evident that the school places reading attainment as central to its English language programme. Pupils are exposed to a variety of texts and big books and, as a result, fluency levels are good. Exposure to an increasing variety of texts is evident in most classes and pupils read with developing fluency. This practice needs to be replicated across all classes to ensure continuity of practice and pupil attainment. Proper attention is given to the development of penmanship skills at infant and junior levels. The previous school inspection report recommended that these penmanship skills be strengthened at the lower end of the school. This recommendation has been addressed. Information technology is applied with excellent results to extend learning in the subject area. This is most appropriate for all age groups and should be further explored and developed in all classes. In most classes, pupils write with increasing levels of precision using age appropriate vocabulary in an expanding variety of genres as prescribed in the curriculum. At senior level, some excellent practice is noted in respect of developing pupils’ emotional and imaginative understanding through poetry. Ways should be explored to mediate this methodology to all classes. Pupils are developing their oral language ability; they are exposed to an ever-increasing number of texts and are becoming aware of the possibilities of writing and publishing their personal writing to an increasing degree. This is underscored by the school’s provision of excellent resources for the subject area. The challenge to the school is to ensure consistency in approach and to explore ways to extend best practices throughout the school.
In Mathematics, a school plan which is in accordance with the strand and strand unit structure of the curriculum has been prepared. Teachers at each class level have co-operated in delineating an appropriate series of topics and mathematical activities for concept formation, understanding and skill development in each strand of the curriculum, in number, algebra, shape and space, measures and data representation. This plan sets out the school’s approach to the teaching of Mathematics, which emphasises the development of mathematical language through talk and discussion, the relevance of linkage with other curricular areas and identifies a range of methodologies. The strategies include adopting an active learning and guided discovery approach through discussion, the development of mathematical language, engaging with concrete materials in purposeful and practical activities, co-operative learning and the development of problem-solving skills. There is evidence that this programme is implemented and applied in classroom practice to good effect. Consistent use of concrete, visual and structured materials is sustained throughout the school and purposeful practical activities and participative methodologies are constructively organised. The mathematical textbook Mathemagic is used as a core textbook in support of the programme and emphasis is placed on the mastery of tables, on oral mathematics and on linking concepts taught in mathematics to pupils’ experiences in the environment.
The teaching and learning of mathematics is approached with enthusiasm in all classes and pupils are encouraged to take an active part in their learning. The mathematics lessons observed were well-organised and well-structured and mathematical concepts were explored in a logical, consistent and developmental manner In the infant classes, attention is given to concept formation and language development through early mathematical activities. The children experience a broad variety of work, which involves data, number, shape and measures. In some classes a variety of teaching approaches is used. Suitable emphasis is placed on oral work to encourage the children to describe and discuss what they are doing and to extend their mathematical thinking. This programme is further developed in the junior classes where extensive use is made of concrete materials to support learning. In the middle and senior classes, a wide variety of concrete materials is available and in most classes teachers use a range of hands-on equipment to support the attainment of learning objectives. Some learning experiences allow for guided discovery methods, and pupils are given some opportunities to collaborate on tasks and to co-operate in their learning. The Maths for Fun sessions organised by the HSCL co-ordinator for the middle and senior classes consolidates this work. Pupils are encouraged to use appropriate mathematical language. Written work is corrected methodically and pupils are encouraged to present this work in a neat and ordered manner.
The majority of pupils in the school display a very good understanding of the principles of number and place value, they are accurate at computation work and they can discuss, analyse and solve a range of mathematical problems in each of the strands. Emphasis is placed on mental arithmetic, on problem-solving as well as computational activities but more work is required on the development of estimation skills. Regular revision is undertaken and the work is consolidated. Supplementary textbooks and other resources are also employed as sources for appropriate tasks and problems in real life situations. This allows for short-term planning of some differentiated work. Pupil progress is monitored at regular intervals through teacher-designed and standardised assessment tests. Teachers are aware of the difficulties experienced by some pupils in Mathematics and they provide them with a variety of opportunities on a one-to-one basis to acquire and display an understanding of the basic concepts.
Whole school planning for the teaching of History has not yet been initiated. Teachers plan for history in accordance with the curriculum structure. Successful approaches and methodologies should be carefully noted for inclusion in the soon-to-be-formulated school plan for History. The children study a broad range of topics, in which they engage with enthusiasm. Core principles of the curriculum that recommend the use of primary sources and artefacts as valuable starting points for working as historians are observed in the junior classes. Through the format of story the past is enlivened using primary sources, artefacts and photographs. The potential of the spiral curriculum to consolidate previous learning is observed at senior level, where work begun at the junior end of the school is expanded and consolidated through extensive investigation of stories from the lives of people in the past, the use of time lines and innovative teaching methodologies. Such exemplars of good practice should be applied to all class levels. The possibilities of the use of ICT in the teaching of history should be investigated for inclusion in the school plan, now that the school has acquired broadband and access to the Internet. Pupils are extremely interested in the subject area and are gaining in confidence through working as historians in the exploration of their own past.
Whole school planning for the teaching of Geography has yet to be initiated. All teachers plan their own individual long-term and short-term schemes. At junior level, pupils are developing a sense of place and space through mapping their locality. Geographical skills are developed through the use of maps and globes. The importance of creating a map-rich classroom environment is evident. Clear planning and teacher preparation, allied with appropriate questioning techniques, guide the pupils through the processes of observing, predicting, investigating and experimenting. Good levels of geographical investigation skills are thus developed. This process should be replicated in the middle classes. The school is well positioned to embed the good work already seen in the strand ‘care for the environment’ through its tree planting schemes that involve parents and in the strand ‘natural environments’ to complete a solid plan for Geography, which utilises the school and local environment to develop guided discovery and learning.
A comprehensive school plan for Science addresses overall aims for the subject area. In addition approaches and methodologies, safety issues during experimentation, and resources for science in the school are referred to. A detailed set of lessons is described for each class grouping at each class level. This is useful as a starting point for individual teachers’ long-term planning. It should not preclude the necessity for teachers to differentiate the whole school long-term plan for their individual class for that particular year. The whole school approach to involving pupils in Science for Fun events is to be praised as is the HSCL led in-school project to train parents to work alongside the teacher in the classroom during science sessions. This is most worthwhile. The school is well resourced for the implementation of the science curriculum through experiment and observation. A broad range of work is undertaken across the four strands of the science curriculum. Investigation tables, which enhance the pupil’s understanding in science, are provided in some classrooms. At infant level, discovery learning is observed as the pupils investigate energy and forces in an age appropriate manner, which is accessible to the children and makes learning fun. Proper use of resources underscores this approach. Work at senior level investigates the properties of materials in great depth placing the correct emphasis on the pupils working as scientists. Having completed the school plan, and having provided equipment for scientific experiments, the next challenge to the school is to expand and develop the designing and making strand across all class levels. The possibilities of integrating this with the construction strand in the Visual Arts should be considered along with exploiting ICT as a support methodology to bring the curriculum to life in the hands of the children. Parental involvement in the science for fun sessions is very innovative and should be expanded.
The school plan for the visual arts includes aims for teaching and learning in the subject, plus the proper recognition of the central role of the child as the creator and originator of the art making process. Details regarding thematic art making are listed on a termly basis for each class grouping. The plan should include a more detailed section on the looking and responding unit of the visual arts curriculum, plus a section based on curriculum methodologies, to replace the list of activities in the plan, which are not linked specifically to curriculum objectives. The Primary Curriculum Support Service and reference to its web site www.pcsp.ie offer relevant information in this regard. The development of a whole school approach to looking and responding to the works of artists in the six strands should complement the good work begun in the making strand to date. At present, class teachers plan for work in the six strand areas in the making strand with individual reference to looking and responding to works of art. Children make drawings using a variety of materials and tools. The introduction to the range of materials could be structured so that new materials are introduced as the child progresses through the school. Good work is underway in paint: now a balance needs to be achieved between work in paint and work specifically in colour. The print strand needs to be further developed throughout the school as it offers a wonderful opportunity to explore the element of texture and image making, especially for pupils who do not consider themselves artistic. Work in clay is seen in many classes and can be further expanded to allow useful exploration in three dimensions. Greater emphasis can be given to consolidating work begun in construction and fabric and fibre throughout the school. Knitting is taught to second class with the assistance of parents, which is commended. Time devoted to the development of children’s ideas and understanding through the visual arts does much to support the development of their self-esteem, which is a fundamental aim of this school and cannot be underestimated in import. The availability of additional art and craft classes run by Fás and Arts Squad add to the pupils’ experience of the visual arts. The target for the school is to continue to ensure that the work in the additional classes is rooted in curriculum best practice and to link this work to the work of the classroom with the intention of maximising the learning potential for all the pupils.
The school plan for Music lays the foundation for the place of Music in the curriculum. It includes a vision statement and aims for teaching and learning in the subject area. A comprehensive range of books, CDs and percussion instruments available in the school is listed. Approaches and methodologies for the teaching of Music are described as well as the role of assessment in developing pupils’ ability in the subject area. Very good work is underway at infant level, where the teaching methodology successfully integrates the performance of age-appropriate songs in Irish and English, with the listening skills of the children through exploration of a range of world music. It is noteworthy that traditional Irish music is given its proper place. The integrated approach to the Music curriculum is completed with pupils exploring simple rhythmic notation leading to composition. The wonderful range of percussion instruments allows the full complement of a class to make music simultaneously on percussion instruments. Work began at the junior end of the school is further developed at the senior level, where pupils perform successfully on the tin-whistle. In addition, pupils demonstrate an appropriate understanding of rhythm and musical notation. The practice of holding an annual Christmas concert adds immeasurably to the musical development of the pupils and should be continued. The school augments work in the classroom with visits to The Helix Theatre and The National Concert Hall to allow the children listen and participate in a wide range of live music performances. After school classes in guitar and keyboard are available to the pupils. This practice is hugely important in developing a rounded musical programme for the pupils in the school. The ongoing development of the composition strand should be given priority, to balance achievement to date in the performance and listening and responding strands of the curriculum. The application of ICT technology to music should be explored to enhance further the musical experience of the children to date.
At present no curriculum plan is in place for Drama. The delivery of in-service in the subject area by DES will provide a basis for formalising a school plan incorporating work already underway in the school on an informal basis. At present, Drama is incorporated into many aspects of the school’s work and provides a significant educational opportunity to reinforce pupils’ self-esteem, enhance oracy and literacy levels and sustain school attendance levels. The emphasis given to Drama in the curriculum at junior level demonstrates the intrinsic value to the child of Drama in exploring ideas leading to greater understanding. Work begun in History is extended through integration with Drama. This is a good basis for further development of these elements through work as outlined in the curriculum and its guidelines with a view to its consolidation through future in-service education. The school should begin the process of recording successful work underway at present, as points of reference for the school plan to follow.
The school has prioritised the completion of the school plan for PE following the current delivery of in-service in the area by the DES. Good facilities exist in the school for the implementation of the PE curriculum. The ample indoor hall is suitable for the playing of a variety of team sports, such as basketball. The hall is equipped with large apparatus used in gymnastics, in addition to a wide range of PE and sports equipment. In addition, the three outdoor tarmacadamed areas, soon to be marked out for games, are suitable for many PE activities. The senior management team is exploring the possibility of re-introducing the aquatics strand of the PE curriculum on a termly basis to the school. Currently the aquatics strand of the curriculum is not on offer due to difficulties encountered with regard to organising sessions in the local swimming pool. This inclusion of the aquatics strand would be in accordance with best practice and should be pursued. Individual class teachers plan for the short and long-term for their individual classes. In the case of the classes observed during the inspection process, proper warm up and cool down tasks were intrinsic aspects of the lessons, as was an awareness of pupil safety. At infant level, pupils engage in work in the outdoor and adventure activities strand area, which makes good use of the available resources, while maintaining pupil interest. At senior level, the dance strand in the PE curriculum is taught and pupils performed Irish dancing to the accompaniment of suitable Irish dance tunes. As previously stated, current best practice in the school should be noted to form the framework for the school plan. After school sporting activities include football and athletics.
The teachers co-operate with the board of management and are vigilant in providing a secure, safe, and healthy environment for the children in their care. The school plan for SPHE includes the content to be taught for each class level based on the structure of strand, unit and curriculum objectives of the curriculum. The school plan should be reviewed with reference to the planning section of the curriculum teacher guidelines. The centrality of the nature of the learning in SPHE underpins the quality of the relationships between pupils and teachers. Together with discrete timetabled lessons much learning is achieved through cross-curricular work and discussion. The programmes of work address pupils’ needs appropriately and effectively. Most teachers employ participative teaching and learning approaches to allow pupils explore topics including healthy eating, safety, school and classroom rules and bullying. The school’s open, and welcoming atmosphere and ethos reflects a firm commitment to the development and extension of the pupils’ skills in this subject area. As mentioned previously, the school has an excellent code of behaviour based on a minimum of clearly described mutually understood rules. These are stated in a positive tone and are indicative of the whole school approach to the pupil. The appropriatness of the pupils’ behaviour both inside and outside of the classrooms is a credit to teachers and pupils alike. The pupils’ personal and social development is attended to and values such as respect and co-operation are fostered. A strong sense of mutual respect exists between teachers and children and the pupils are well motivated to learn. It is evident that the children in the school respond positively to the interest, which teachers show in their personal development, educational progress and good behaviour. The general atmosphere of the school reflects the school’s commitment to the development and extension of the pupils’ self-esteem and awareness as articulated in the school’s vision and overall aims. Pupils are encouraged to help those less well off as they contribute generously to the Chernobyl appeal.
The school uses a comprehensive range of assessment methods, which include standardised assessment tests such as Sigma-T and Micra-T, teacher-observation, teacher-designed tests and check lists. In Mathematics and English, levels of attainment are assessed on an annual basis by means of standardised tests. Results of standardised tests are kept on file and are used to identify children with learning difficulties. There is scope for the further development of the use of work portfolios and curriculum profiles to greater assess children’s levels of achievement across a wider number of curriculum subject area. Assessment is seen as an integral aspect of the learning process. This is appropriate. A comprehensive range of tests is used to assess individual pupils with special needs. The special education team collates and tracks these results. As a follow-up, results are discussed with the principal and the whole staff with a view to targeting identified areas for improvement. Parents are kept informed of their children’s achievement during annual parent-teacher meetings. An end of year progress report for each child is sent home. Pupil achievement in literacy and numeracy is continuing to develop at a steady and consistent pace.
The special education needs team in the school comprises two full-time learning support teachers and one special class teacher. One special-needs assistant supports two pupils in the school. The school’s policy on special needs education is comprehensive, as it is grounded in the needs of the school’s pupil body. This recently reviewed plan is drawn up collaboratively under the guidance of the principal in accordance with DES guidelines for the area. The recent in-school review highlighted the need for the school to extend its provision for the more able pupils in the school, in recognition of their particular educational needs. This is most worthy. Work is planned for the short and long term for the pupils in receipt of additional tuition in Mathematics and English, in the context of the learning support guidelines. The special needs team devises individualised programmes for the pupils in consultation with the class teacher, parents and the relevant outside agencies. At present, all eight pupils attend the special class on a withdrawal basis. The practice, still in pilot form, of all three members of the special education needs team working along side the class teacher in the classroom is praised. The potential for learning offered by four teachers working simultaneously with small groups within a class is endless. This report recommends the mainstreaming and expansion of this approach, as it is in accordance with best international practice in the area.
The school is very well resourced for the provision of special educational needs and the deeply committed and experienced team makes excellent use of these resources to support and maximise the individual pupil’s learning achievements. The cohesive team provides a combined approach to additional tuition in both Mathematics and English language. Team members are cognizant of current trends in the field as they attend conferences organised by The Irish Learning Support Association on a regular basis. The additional teaching is characterised by a child-centred, individualised, participative approach, which is predicated on the assumption that the child’s presence in school is key to success in education. Teachers approach their work with great sensitivity to the self-esteem of the pupils in keeping with the aims of the school. Work in the special class context extends to cookery and exploring life skills. This results in very good attendance levels especially at the targeted senior end of the school. Pupils with special education needs are making good progress due to the effectiveness of the planning and preparation process and the quality of the teaching received. The strength of this professional team is a positive characteristic of the school.
The school’s provision for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds is supported through the School Completion Programme, the Early Start Initiative and the availability of a HCSL co-ordinator. These various DES schemes aim to ensure that the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities are prioritised and effectively addressed. The school has one Early Start class, which operates a dual day and caters for 21 children in total. While numbers are lower for this current year the full complement of thirty pre-school children are on the books for next year. The curriculum plan is based on the Early Start pre-school intervention project, with includes three sections covering cognitive, emotional and social development and language for the pre-school age group. Two excellently resourced interconnecting rooms are used intelligently to maximise the learning experiences for the pre-school group. Parental involvement in the class is welcomed. The work accomplished in this Early Start setting is of the highest order and is invaluable in preparing the participating pre-school children for their entry to the junior infant classroom. A very good standard of work and pupil achievement is evident.
The school operates a number of interventions under the School Completion Programme. Resources are put to practical use in the form of a school monitor who is employed by the school to inform the principal of pupil absenteeism in accordance with legislation. Transfer of pupils to second level is also a priority and is carefully watched. The school is proactive in its monitoring of pupils at risk. It deploys resources to organise a teacher led after school homework club for approximately twenty-five pupils. Pupils receive a snack and assistance in completing assigned homework. It is to the school’s credit that the educational welfare of the child remains to the fore when engaging in this work. The success and effectiveness of these schemes are monitored and constantly evaluated by staff members.
The school enjoys the services of a HSCL co-ordinator who is actively involved in all aspects of the whole school community. The dynamic programme of events on offer includes not only involving the parents in school based activities such as helping out in the science and maths classes but also in training the parents to pass on the skills learned to other parents. The work includes the availability of a drama therapist who works with small groups of children to enable personal development and growth. The school team carefully monitors the children’s progress at all times with reference to the drama therapy sessions. The work of the HSCL co-ordinator is of a very high calibre and contributes significantly to the quality of the provision for the pupils and their parents. Provision includes, a toy lending library, guitar and keyboard lessons, football club, craft classes, a junior infant language programme, first aid classes, a parent-toddler group and reading for fun sessions. A book rental scheme is in operation to facilitate parents to read to their children at home. Most significantly, the work of the HSCL co-ordinator involves mothers and fathers in its work. Fathers coach football classes in the school after school hours. The guiding principle of the school’s approach to enabling the school to provide for pupils with disadvantaged backgrounds is to encourage school attendance through the above mentioned measures and through employing an open door policy to parents at all times. The school is highly commended for this approach and significant success is being achieved.
There are two pupils from the travelling community enrolled in the school, both of whom are integrated fully in mainstream groupings and are withdrawn for extra tuition, as needs dictate. In addition, a small number of pupils are on roll, for whom English is not their first language. However, they are not in need of additional tuition in English. While the numbers from minority groups are low at present, it is recommended that the school formulate its policy with regard to its provision for pupils from minority groups and their intercultural needs, so that it has procedures in place, should the numbers increase in the future.
The relationship between school and home is defined by the open door policy articulated in the school’s policy statements and self-evaluation as previously mentioned. All school policies are available at draft stage and in completed form in the parents’ room in the school. While the parents’ association is not affiliated to the National Parents’ Council, very good informal channels of communication are in evidence between school and home. Parents are kept informed of upcoming policies and curriculum changes. Parents in conjunction with the HSCL co-ordinator review policies regularly and update these as needed. This is a wonderful example of real home-school collaboration. A core group of parents meets and decides on approaches to fundraising activities best suited to the needs of the group. The parents report that the school provides an open and happy learning environment for their children. The school management operates a long-standing policy of opening the school and its facilities to the community as a resource after school hours. This facility is utilised by many groups in the community, such as Finian’s Development Group and The Rathvilly and Virginia Environmental Group, which aim to involve residents in environmental issues and lobbies the local council on preventing vandalism and litter. Parents are involved in many fundraising activities such as the Christmas raffle and the annual walk, funds from which contribute considerably to the facilities and resources available to the school.
Parents are kept informed of their children’s progress in school formally through yearly individual pupil reports and informally as the need arises. The work of the HSCL co-ordinator involves much worthwhile work targeted directly at parents. Classes on offer include parenting courses, on matters relating to health issues and the upbringing of children. Parents are encouraged to direct their own learning. The home school partnership extends to the wider community of the Finglas area and the parents’ body is involved with groups such as Finglas Youth Club services. The dynamism of this sector of the school community augurs well for the long-term, as the school continues to raise the status of education in the lives of all in the community. It is a defining characteristic of the school.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· The school team demonstrates excellent collegiality and team spirit, as it operates in an open and dedicated manner to deliver a relevant curriculum to the pupils in its care.
· There is a wonderful sense that the school community is rooted in the heart of local community, and the Board of Management, the school staff, the parents and the pupils are collectively proud of this.
· The school has an excellent code of behaviour, which reinforces positive pupil behaviour and enforces discipline in a clearly understood manner.
· The school is very well resourced through the good use made of DES grants, the proactive effort of the whole school community and the recently received service of broadband.
· The school’s provision for special education needs is of a very high order as is the quality of the HSCL work and that of the Early Start programme.
· The school has adopted an appropriate whole school approach to teaching oral language skills in English in connection with the development of literacy skills.
· The staff is confident enough to self-evaluate the programmes and approaches of its work in teaching and learning. This should be expanded.
· The school needs to ensure that there is continuity in approach with reference to the implementation of the school plan and individual teacher preparation and planning in order to facilitate continuity in practice.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The format of the monthly report template needs to be reviewed to include the curriculum structure of strand, unit and curriculum objectives, to describe better the portion of the curriculum taught in that period and thereby facilitate the monitoring of the implementation of the school plan and continuity in practice.
· The school should carry out a review of the pastoral duties of the senior and middle management team to ensure greater clarity in their role descriptions and responsibilities to develop further their pastoral support to the pupils.
· The school should devise a whole school programme for looking and responding to the work of artists in the six strands of the Visual Arts curriculum.
· The school should formulate its plan to provide for the more able pupils in the school community.
· The school should continue to expand the practice of the special needs team working alongside the class teacher to support pupils with special education needs at either end of the ability spectrum.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.