An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Thomas’ Junior National School
Esker, Lucan, County Dublin
Uimhir rolla: 19542R
Date of inspection: 12 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of St Thomas’ Junior National School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for its further development. During the evaluation the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days, during which the inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning records and teachers’ written preparation and met 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Thomas’ Junior National School is a twenty-six teacher, co-educational primary school. It is situated in St Patrick’s parish in Esker, in the western city suburb of Lucan. The school is a Catholic school, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin and the Catholic ethos permeates daily school life. It serves the neighbouring housing estates in St Patrick’s parish and currently has an enrolment of 457 pupils. In its mission statement, the school states its wish to create a school environment where all pupils are respected and encouraged to grow to their full potential and where children from all nationalities are embraced. There are thirty-seven nationalities represented in the school with the international pupils accounting for 30% of the pupil population. The majority of these are from Eastern Europe and the African nations. Enrolment in the school has been growing rapidly over recent years. Plans have been approved to extend the school by the creation of a fifth stream in the very near future to meet the demands for school places for a growing local population. Pupil attendance levels averaging 95% are at a very satisfactory level.
The school is managed by a committed and very supportive board of management which is properly constituted. It meets monthly and minutes of all meetings are maintained. Finances are carefully managed, school accounts are systematically audited and financial reports are frequently presented to board members. The chairperson is in regular contact with the school principal throughout the school year. All board members have received training with the Catholic Primary Schools Managers’ Association (CPSMA). Duties and responsibilities are allocated equitably among board members and a strong sense of teamwork is evident. Sub-committees are formed to respond to specific needs and concerns as they arise. The board currently devotes considerable time to financial matters, to employing staff and to the provision of teaching resources. It also focuses its attention on school maintenance in order to sustain the high standards of presentation and welcoming decorative order of the school. A recent item of expenditure involved the installation of electrical shutters on outer doors and windows to improve security. Minutes of meetings indicate that the board is actively involved in the development of organisational policies. It recognises the professionalism of the teaching staff, it ratifies school policies on a regular basis and notes dates of ratification and review.
At the pre-evaluation meeting board members outlined their satisfaction with the manner in which the curriculum is taught, with the achievement of the pupils and with the progressive nature of the school which is focused on continuous improvement. The board is compliant with legislation in regard to the length of the school day and the school year, the allocation of teachers and the retention of pupils. It actively seeks to encourage parents to become involved in the life and learning experiences of the school. In so doing, it promotes the school as a cornerstone of the local community. The current and primary priorities of the board centre on the future development of the school. Proposals for an imminent 25% expansion and the project management of the associated building extension project are concerns in this regard. The inadequacy of capitation funding, meeting the needs of the newcomer pupil population and traffic congestion in the immediate vicinity of the school due to the school’s proximity to a very busy thoroughfare and the road junction with the N4 are further issues of concern.
The in-school management team consists of the principal, the deputy principal, three assistant principals and seven special duties post-holders. The principal, who was appointed in 1999, is a very dedicated, conscientious and purposeful leader. He is commended for his professionalism and interpersonal skills in establishing excellent working procedures and relationships with his teaching colleagues and with pupils, their parents, the ancillary staff and the wider community. He has a clear vision for the strategic development of the school as a learning organisation that encourages the holistic development of pupils He attaches significant importance to the development of teamwork in adopting a collaborative and consultative approach to school development planning. The implementation of the curriculum and the on-going provision and enhanced use of the excellent range of curricular resources are among his priorities. He has a strong motivational influence on his teaching staff. He recognises and facilitates the development of their potential in encouraging their creativity in teaching and their active participation in the various organisational, curricular and pastoral working groups which he has put in place for the smooth running of the school. He practices a visible presence in the classrooms by regular visitation and organises assemblies to recognise and praise pupil achievement. He demonstrates proactive instructional leadership by liaising frequently with staff members regarding various aspects of the curriculum. He focuses attention on the on-going need to clarify content objectives and learning outcomes in planning and in monitoring improvement in the implementation of the curriculum. Together with the school’s highly committed management team he has created a positive pastoral and caring atmosphere in the school and has steered it successfully and effectively through a period of significant expansion and change.
The principal is ably supported in the management of the school by the deputy principal, the assistant principals and the special-duties post-holders. This team meets regularly and makes a very significant and recognised contribution to the smooth running of the school. Consultation and communication with the principal and the teaching staff about in-school management activity takes place on a regular and formal basis. The team has a wide range of expertise and each individual member is fully involved in all aspects of school management through effective delegation. Each position has specific leadership and co-ordinating responsibilities across the domains of pastoral care, organisation and curriculum. These duties are carried out in a dedicated, professional and enthusiastically collaborative fashion.
Due to their leadership whole-school planning activities are progressed through the formation of curricular teams from the teaching staff. Curriculum planning features prominently at well-managed staff meetings which are held once a month. Post-holders lead the discussion on the curricular, pastoral and organisational issues within their remit. Much credit is due to them for the effective procedures which they have incrementally put in place for curricular development. A highly collaborative approach is in evidence in relation to monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of teaching objectives and learning outcomes in curriculum areas. The schedule of duties for each post of responsibility is revised periodically to reflect the emerging curricular and organisational priorities of the school. A care team has been established to act as an additional support for class teachers where pupils’ social, behavioural, emotional or health difficulties interfere with their progress and well-being. The care team comprises the principal, the deputy principal, the SPHE coordinator and a chairperson nominated by the staff.
The current teaching staff comprises an administrative principal, sixteen classroom teachers and two support teams, one for special education and one for language support. These teams comprise four language support teachers and five special education teachers, all of whom are based in the school. The school has a policy of staff rotation which provides teachers with opportunities to experience a variety of classes and contexts and allows the sharing of expertise at different class levels over a period of five years. Teachers are encouraged to undertake professional development courses which enhance teaching and learning in the school and an annual bursary of €1500 is set aside by the board to support this. A list of courses attended each year is maintained and teachers are encouraged to share what they have learned with their colleagues. The school has a policy on teachers availing of personal leave with a maximum limit of two teachers being absent on any one day. The principal and deputy principal have joint responsibility for the induction of newly qualified teachers. They have devised a mentoring programme which involves a newly qualified teacher working in partnership with an experienced teacher at a similar level in a collaborative exercise which analyses and transmits skills in planning, teaching methodologies and classroom management. The school also has a dedicated school secretary, an enthusiastic caretaker and ten very committed special needs assistants.
The main school building was completed in 1976. It is well maintained and provides an attractively welcoming and comfortable learning environment. It consists of sixteen classrooms, two general purposes areas, a computer room, a principal’s office, a secretary’s office and a staff room. This building is also complemented by four temporary classrooms each of which is sub-divided to provide a total of eight teaching areas for resource and language support teaching. The school grounds provide a well-kept flowered garden to the front and two tarmacadamed playing areas, a games pitch and a garden area to the rear. A major renovation of the building was undertaken in 2001. This involved the replacement of doors and windows, the re-covering of the flat roof and the installation of skylights to improve the brightness and access to natural light in classrooms and corridors. The building was rewired and repainted on the inside and was customised for access and use by pupils with special needs. Carpets in classrooms were replaced and attractively designed marmoleum flooring was fitted in the two general purposes areas, on the corridors and on the wet areas in classrooms. It is expected that accommodation provision for a fifth stream will involve the extension of the staff room and ancillary facilities to cater for the needs of expanding staff numbers. The manner in which the classrooms, general purposes areas, school corridors and the reception area are colourfully and attractively presented and maintained is a noteworthy feature of the school. Here seasonal montages, colourful charts and illustrative resources and samples of the pupils’ high standards of work in the visual arts are attractively and tastefully displayed to enhance the learning environment and to create a welcoming ambiance within the school.
The school has continuously invested in the provision of resources and has cumulatively acquired a wide selection of attractive teaching and learning resources in all curricular and support areas. Each subject area is supported by a wide range of textbooks, teacher-reference books resources and materials. These include computers, software packages, well-stocked class libraries, televisions, CD players, videos and DVDs. The school is well-equipped with commercially produced charts and illustrative materials, supplementary reading materials, physical education equipment, a variety of musical instruments and resources, mathematics and science equipment, a collection of historical artefacts and resources and a very good range of visual arts supplies. In keeping with best practice, an updated inventory of the resources available is carefully maintained by each post-holder and staff members are informed about the availability of newly acquired resources at staff meetings. These resources are appropriately labelled, well-maintained and stored in a central location. Commendably, a sign in/sign out system is in place to maximise accessibility to staff members and pupils. The school has a dedicated ICT room and has developed its own website which is updated weekly. The teachers are encouraged to log interesting lesson material which they have prepared and experienced. Effective use of ICT to create very good quality teaching aids in mainstream and in support contexts was noted and favourably commented on during the evaluation. It is particularly praiseworthy that a large variety of open-ended, hands-on learning materials is organised in the infant classrooms in a manner conducive to promoting structured play for learning.
The school provides very clear communication structures between home and school and is acutely aware that good communication and effective cooperation between parents and teachers is fundamental to the development of a happy and effective learning environment. The representatives of the Parents’ Association interviewed during the evaluation expressed very positive views of their involvement in the development of school policies and in the manner in which parents are positively encouraged to communicate with the school about their children’s progress. Parents are in regular consultation with the principal teacher and opportunities to consult with teachers are readily available. Parent-teacher meetings are held in November of each year and annual school reports are sent to parents at the end of the school year. The weekly newsletter and pupils’ homework journals are regular mediums of communication. A school brochure and information pack is produced containing key school policies and general information for all parents.
The energetic and commendably helpful parents’ association supports the school in a number of ways. Through their association parents are actively encouraged to be partners in their children’s learning and provide finance for a number of school projects. They organise the annual book fair and the book rental scheme. They have funded a wide selection of books for the shared-reading programme and resources for paired-mathematics activities and for the provision of computers in classrooms. They provide extra supervisory support on school tours and they assist staff with the inter-cultural week and the Christmas display. They are involved in the Green School and school garden committees and in the ‘parents and grandparents history link’. The parents, in turn, are very appreciative of opportunities for fulfilling their supportive role and for being acknowledged for it which leads to positive school and community relations.
2.5 Management of pupils
The teaching staff’s expectations of pupil achievement, attendance and standards of behaviour are high and their management of pupils is very effective. The school has well-established and clearly defined organisational practices and procedures which serve to promote the efficient operation of the school day. The board of management and the teaching staff in consultation with parents have devised a very comprehensive code of behaviour which outlines examples of both good and inappropriate behaviour and includes appropriate sanctions, communication mechanisms and procedures for complaints. An anti-bullying policy and agreed expectations of behaviour are applied consistently across the school. School rules which are simple and easily understood are presented positively to pupils in class and at assemblies. They are encouraged to cooperate and their excellent behaviour contributes to effective learning in the classrooms.
Positive behaviour is reinforced in classrooms and emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ self-esteem. The importance of praise as a motivating aspect of school life is well understood and the school provides frequent and regular opportunities for pupils to be praised and their achievements are recognised and valued. The principal organises assemblies and visits all classes each Friday with rewards for good behaviour and notable achievements are highlighted publicly. Pupils show good attitudes to learning, they are eager to engage in discussion and participate fully in guided and discovery based learning. These practices and procedures also create a sense of order and safety and pupils are clearly comfortable and happy within this environment. They are friendly and very well behaved and are notably respectful of fellow-pupils, school staff and school property. Teachers interact with pupils in a very respectful, pleasant and affirming manner which serves to develop the pupils’ self-confidence and happiness in the school environment.
One of the key strengths and integral parts of whole-school endeavour is its on-going planning process. The critical importance of very effective vertical and horizontal planning is practised and emphasised. A comprehensive school plan has been developed and all policy statements are clear, succinct and coherent. The plan is very well presented. There is evidence that planning is systematic and highly organised and a structured and collaborative process is adopted. Planning is facilitated through well-organised use of annual planning days, staff and sub-committee meetings; class-level planning and class teacher and support teacher meetings. With the guidance of the principal teacher, the subject coordinators have set up committees. They have devised strategies and action plans which direct the formulation and review of particular policies in response to current challenges and compliance requirements. The planning diary for 2007/08 includes Drama, Irish, Science, SPHE, ICT, child protection and the associated templates for long-term and short-term curricular planning. As needs are identified an action plan is devised and expert personnel are actively sought and targeted to aid in this process.
The teaching staff has worked closely with the support services and many of the key principles of the School Development Planning Support Initiative and the Primary Curriculum Support Programme are applied. Key organisational policies have been drawn up which contribute effectively to the smooth running of the school. These include an enrolment policy which is inclusive and is in compliance with the Education Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2002. Other policies such as school attendance, homework, an anti-bullying statement and the code of behaviour, policy statements on health and safety, substance use and the administration of medicine, home school community links, and general school information which is translated into a number of languages, are also available. Access to the school plan by staff, board of management and parents is actively encouraged.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and the staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions of Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the department’s guidelines.
Curriculum planning documents include an account of the school’s vision and aims and outline a structured programme of work for each curriculum area to guide classroom planning and practice. The documents are characterised by a detailed degree of practicality and clarity. This ensures the implementation of the curriculum with due emphasis placed on progress, on the linkage of concepts, on teaching approaches and on the use of the environment to support active learning.
The quality of teachers’ individual long-term and short-term planning is impressive and they are commended for their thorough preparation of schemes of work. Teachers at each level and in learning and language support teams work collaboratively to develop long-term planning objectives which translate into focused practice in the classroom and ensure continuity and uniformity of lesson content at specific class levels. Each plan has a section on assessment techniques and a variety of assessment procedures. Careful consideration has been given to modifying activities for pupils with special needs and differentiation and equality of participation and access are included.
Teachers’ short-term planning is derived from long-term planning and relates closely to the school plan. Due regard is paid to the strands and strand units of the curriculum. Content and skill development is clearly and concisely delineated in objective statements. In some cases, teachers’ short-term plans could make more definitive reference to integration and differentiation. All teachers complete monthly progress records on common templates. These are centrally stored and successfully used to monitor the implementation of the curriculum. The progress records are also used by the learning-support teacher to indicate work done with individual pupils.
Overall the quality of teaching and learning observed in all classes and in support settings during the evaluation was of a high standard. The teachers are generally well informed and highly skilled and there is a strong ethic of work and achievement throughout the school. Purposeful teaching and high levels of pupil participation were observed. Lessons were well structured and well paced and objectives were explained. Pupils’ ideas were elicited at the beginning of each lesson and effective teacher-pupil interaction was in evidence. Teachers’ communication skills were very effective and skilful questioning techniques, together with explanation and instruction challenged pupils at all levels. Commendable efforts were made to involve all pupils, regularly adapting approaches to meet the needs of less able pupils with exemplary emphasis on hands-on activity. Teachers employed a variety of methodologies that embrace, in particular, working with concrete materials, talk and discussion, demonstration and engaging in open-ended investigative work. The effective employment of group and pair work and the appropriate use of discovery learning are just some examples of these varied approaches. This contributes in no small way to creditable learning in the development of higher order thinking skills for pupils. Structured play and exploration with a wide range of materials appropriately featured in the infant programme.
The teachers are to be commended for their creation of attractive classroom environments that supports learning. They use resources judiciously. Illustrative materials, including those based on the immediate locality are used effectively and samples of pupils’ writing and drawing is displayed and celebrated. ICT is used efficiently in all classes for display purposes. Nature and investigation tables feature in all classes and members of staff are to be applauded for their involvement in the Green Schools initiative. Textbooks are judiciously used in a supportive role. In the infant classes, teachers provide a very good range of resources to facilitate pupils’ learning through play. The pupils are enabled to engage with authentic, real-life activities and frequent opportunities are provided for sustained shared talk with fellow pupils and teachers.
The quality of pupils’ learning is generally very good, positive attitudes to learning are communicated to them and their knowledge, skills and understanding are enhanced through the delivery of a broad curriculum. Pupils show interest and pride in their learning, they are enthusiastic about lesson content and are developing effective literacy and numeracy skills. They listen attentively, respond well during discussions and work purposefully together. Pupils are making very good progress as independent learners and the general standard of their attainment is high. Across the school, the quality of pupils’ handwriting and presentation of work is of a consistently good standard and written work is corrected systematically.
Sa plean scoile don Ghaeilge atá forbhartha tá curaclam fóinteach agus pleananna oibre bliantúla do gach leibhéal leagtha amach faoi snáitheanna agus snáithaonaid an churaclaim. Leagann an plean béim ar an labhairt agus ar an éisteacht go speisialta agus déantar cúram freisin de mhúineadh na réamh-léitheoireachta agus na réamh-scríbhneoireachta. Ainmnítear mórthéamaí, fothéamaí agus frásaí na míosa chomh maith le straitéisí chun teagaisc leis an teanga a fhorbairt mar theanga chumarsáide. Is inmholta mar a bhaineann oidí áirithe feidhm as an teanga i dteagasc ábhar eile ar nós an Chorpoideachais. Cothaíonn na hoidí dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge. Reachtáileann siad ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge ‘gach bhliain. Cuirtear an plean scoile i gcrích sna seomraí ranga. Tá cúinní Gaeilge le sonrú ins na seomraí tríd an scoil. Cuirtear béim ar úsáid fheidhmiúil na teanga, ar leathnú stór fhocal, ar bhriathra nó ar thopaic mar sprioc don teagasc. Le linn an mheasúnaithe, léiríodh cleachtas inmholta teagaisc i roinnt mhaith ranganna a bhain usáid tairbheach as straitéisí teagaisc agus as ábhair léirithe chun teanga nua bunaithe ar théamaí áirithe a theagasc. Thug na hoidí faoi foclóir, abairtí, ceisteanna agus eiseamláirí difriúla teanga a fhorbairt ina gcuid gníomhaíochtaí teagaisc agus cuireadh béim chuí ar éisteacht ghníomhach agus ar obair i mbeirteanna. Freisin, baineadh úsáid éifeachtach as flúirse fearais mar phictiúir, postaeir áille, leabhair mhóra agus lipéid chun teanga nua a theagasc agus chun spéis na ndaltaí sa teanga labhartha a spreagadh. Baineadh feidhm mhaith as agallaimh faoi threoir, leis an béim ar labhairt aonair na ndaltaí. Cruthaíodh deiseanna fíorchumarsáide trí ghníomhachtaí éagsúla, mar agallamh beirte, drámaíocht agus rólghlacadh i suímh éagsúla. Gabhann beocht agus luas ceart leis an obair i gcoitinne.
Cothaíodh scileanna éisteachta na ndaltaí i ranganna áirithe trí úsáid leathan a bhaint as dlúthdhioscaí agus as cluichí éisteachta. Baineadh feidhm éifeachtach freisin as straitéisí éagsúla mar rainn, amhráin agus scéalaíocht chun rithim agus fuaimeanna na Gaeilge a theagasc agus bhain éagsúlacht agus taitneamh lena bhfoghlaim. Is aoibhinn mar a bhaintear feidhm as foinn cheoil chun eiseamláirí teanga a inmheánú. Is léir ó idirtheanga na ndaltaí go bhfuil tuiscint acu ar an bhfoclóir agus ar an struchtúir atá in úsáid agus go bhfuil forbairt chórasach ag teacht ar a gcuid scileanna chun abairtí a chumadh. Freisin is inmholta an chaoi inar féidir le daltaí áirithe ceisteanna Gaeilge a chur ar a chéile agus ar an múinteoir. Tá tús an-bhreá curtha le múineadh na léitheoireachta agus na scríbhneoireachta le cabhair lipéidí, fotheidil agus cluichí ins na bunranganna. Déantar freastal tairbheach ar an réamh-léitheoireacht agus ar an réamh-scríbhneoireacht agus tá an timpeallacht focal saibhir i bprionta ar na fallaí tríd an scoil le moladh.
The school plan for Irish contains a helpful curriculum and yearly plans of work for each level, under the strands and strand units of the curriculum. The plan places emphasis especially on speaking and listening, and attention is paid to the teaching of pre-reading and pre-writing. Major themes, subsidiary themes and phrases of the month for teaching, as well as strategies to develop the language as a communicative language, are outlined. The manner in which some teachers use Irish to teach other subjects such as Physical Education is praiseworthy. The teachers nurture a positive attitude to Irish. They organise ‘The Irish Week’ every year. The school plan is implemented in the classrooms. There are Irish corners to be seen in the classrooms throughout the school. Emphasis is placed on the functional use of the language, on the extension of vocabulary, on verbs or on a topic, as a teaching objective. During the evaluation, commendable teaching practice was displayed in many classrooms where beneficial use was made of teaching strategies and illustrative material to teach new language based on particular themes. The teachers endeavoured to develop vocabulary, sentences, questions and various language exemplars through these teaching activities and appropriate emphasis was placed on active listening and on working in pairs. In addition, effective use was made of plentiful resources such as pictures, beautiful posters, large format books and labels, to teach new language and to stimulate the pupils’ interest in the spoken language. Good use was made of structured interviews with the emphasis on the individual expression of pupils. Opportunities for real conversation were created through various activities such as interviews in pairs, drama and role-play in different settings. The work is characterised by liveliness and appropriate pace.
The listening skills of pupils are nurtured in certain classrooms through the extensive use of CDs and through listening games. Effective use is made of a variety of strategies such as rhymes, songs and stories to teach the rhythm and sounds of Irish and variety and pleasure are integral aspects of the learning. It is delightful how musical tunes are used to internalise language exemplars. It is obvious from the interchange of language of pupils that they understand the vocabulary and the structures in use and that there is a systematic development of skills in formulating sentences. The manner in which pupils are able to question each other and the teacher is commendable. A good beginning is made on the teaching of reading and writing with the help of labels, captions and reading games in the junior classes. Beneficial attention is paid to pre-reading and to pre-writing and the print rich environment of the walls throughout the school is praiseworthy.
The staff acknowledges that the language needs of the children provide the starting point for the approach to oral language development outlined in their collaboratively compiled, high-quality whole-school plan. Considerable emphasis is placed on oral language development during English lessons. Lessons are well structured and focus primarily upon pupils’ communication needs and upon exposing them to language-rich experiences. Teachers organise creative and stimulating lessons which enable the simultaneous development of the pupils’ oral, reading and writing abilities. Fluency and accuracy of expression are fostered. Effective use is made of physical materials, large format books, role-play approaches and visual stimuli to support teaching and learning. Purposeful listening activities are employed. The majority of the pupils are developing competence and confidence in oral expression. They show a good ability to listen carefully to each other and to their teachers and their attention span, concentration and perceptual abilities are being appropriately developed through the use of well-chosen stories and activities. Excellent support is provided for children for whom English is not a first language. Those children are targeted and supported in-class at junior infant level and are encouraged to learn from and interact orally with their peers while being supported by members of the Language Support and Learning Support teams.
A highly-structured reading programme is in operation throughout the school. A range of activities is provided for the development of word-attack skills and particular attention is given to the systematic development of phonological awareness. As a result, the pupils’ phonological awareness and word recognition skills are highly satisfactory. Highly structured in-class support by the special education team maximises the exposure of all junior infants to early intervention and enables the early identification of pupils experiencing difficulties in reading. Pupils experience a print-rich environment in all classrooms. They are very familiar with books and read with fluency and understanding. They engage confidently and competently in oral activities based on their reading material and have a well-developed vocabulary. Reading is accorded careful and structured treatment in all classes and pupils are given ample opportunities to develop their skills. Shared reading sessions are used well to introduce new vocabulary and to help the pupils’ understanding of, and response to, their reading. Dramatised story reading, using large format books, further cultivates interest in reading. Libraries are well stocked and the school has acquired an extensive range of supplementary reading materials such as parallel readers, large format books, high-interest/low-ability texts, novels and real books.
The whole-school plan for the teaching of writing is very comprehensive and includes sections on displaying pupils’ writing and on the development of handwriting skills. Writing skills are developed methodically and pupils make good progress as they move through the school. Creativity is fostered effectively during personal writing activities and pupils display good levels of application when engaged in process writing tasks. The range of writing experiences observed and the standards achieved are impressive. There is evidence in the classroom displays that pupils are encouraged to concentrate on grammar, spelling and punctuation. They are encouraged to be independent in their attempts at spelling and to use the skills and strategies they know to help them. In some classes effective systems have been developed whereby the pupils use personalised laminated cards containing high-frequency words to support their writing. Writing skills are appropriately advanced and penmanship and presentation are of a high standard throughout the school.
A very good whole-school plan for Mathematics which underpins the principles of the curriculum has been carefully formulated. It emphasises the importance of key areas such as the development of mathematical language, active learning through the use of resources, collaborative problem-solving, skill development and the presentation of written work. The presentation of the curriculum in this manner means that there is less reliance on the class textbooks and workbooks. Very good use is made of the excellent range of structured, visual and electronic resources available to enhance the teaching and learning of Mathematics. Attractive and purposeful displays of commercially-produced and teacher-designed illustrative materials create a mathematically rich and stimulating learning environment in each classroom.
Observation of classroom practice reveals that the overall quality of learning and teaching of Mathematics in the school is very good. While whole-class teaching is the predominant methodology, group teaching is also used in all classes to foster co-operative learning skills and this facilitates teachers in supporting individual pupils as needed. At infant level meaningful opportunities are created for pupils to acquire an appropriate early mathematical vocabulary and to purposefully utilise the language taught through an imaginative use and manipulation of concrete materials. Experiential learning is a central feature and creative teacher-directed use of concrete resources stimulates discovery and accommodates understanding of new concepts and number operations The pupils are given an active role in the lessons and they experience a broad variety of work in concept formation through practical activities such as counting, matching, ordering, sequencing and partitioning. Talk and discussion are central to the teaching and learning process. In general, pupils show a very good capacity to apply relevant mathematical terminology accurately and confidently while exploring tasks and explaining processes and outcomes.
This good work is continued in the junior classes where good use of structured resources is extended and where pupils’ understanding of number operations and awareness of shape measure and data are incrementally developed. Oral Mathematics is an essential feature of daily mathematical activities: pupils enjoy the exercise and they show strong competencies in this aspect of work. Estimation skills are developed and a significant emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ knowledge of number facts. Pupils’ written work is of a high standard and strategies for completing written work are taught. The teachers monitor the pupils’ work carefully and it is evident that many are making good progress in Mathematics. Pupils are regularly affirmed and given positive feedback for improvement. Effective practice in relation to the use of assessment data to inform planning, teaching and learning was noted. In keeping with best practice, it is recommended that more differentiation for individual needs and greater emphasis on skill development be provided. The aspect of Mathematics in the environment should be extended through the development of mathematic trails.
The pupils’ historical studies begin with their own past and that of their family and community. From junior infants through to second class they are encouraged to use a wide range of historical and other skills. They are enabled to recognise sequences of events and to begin to develop an awareness of chronology through well-structured activities. Good use is made of local resources. A series of lessons based on local bridges and other structures have provided excellent opportunities for integrated studies and for project work. The exploration and use of an extensive collection of artefacts, alongside the examination of a range of evidence in all classes observed is commendable and enriches the delivery of the History curriculum. Collections of big books based on historical themes are available throughout the school. In some classes, historical timelines are displayed. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes to act as a constant point of reference and to develop further the children’s chronological understanding.
Some very effective classroom practice was observed in Geography teaching and, overall, there is a high level of engagement with the curriculum. Lessons draw from the pupils’ own experience and help to cultivate a sense of place and space. Pupils in the infant classes are exposed to an excellent programme in which they are enabled to develop an awareness of and an appreciation for the work done by various members of the community in well-organised lessons. The use of practical approaches and the ready availability and very effective use of photographs facilitates the study of the immediate locality and provides an enjoyable and active learning context. In some instances, further consideration should be given to the use of suitable materials in order to develop the children’s graphical abilities in a developmental and age-appropriate way. The implementation of the Geography curriculum is complemented by the availability and use of maps and diagrams within the school environment.
A comprehensive school plan for the implementation of the science curriculum has been developed by the staff. The school grounds have been beautifully developed. They are recognised as an extremely rich resource and are used effectively by the teachers to support their science teaching. Work is on-going on the school’s garden and there are plans to create science trails. Throughout the school there is a high level of awareness of care for the environment and every classroom has a Green Schools information board. The school has been awarded two Green Flags by An Taisce. The staff has been pro-active in inviting experts to the school to contribute to the pupils’ and the teachers’ knowledge of various aspects of Science. Pupils from first and second classes visit Griffeen Park for National Tree day. Representatives from South Dublin County Council, Conservation Volunteers of Ireland and other agencies have shared their expertise with the school. The school has participated in the Discover Primary Science programme with its focus on the materials, energy, and forces strands of the primary curriculum. The pupils’ work in this area has been showcased to parents. Throughout the school, nature tables with seasonal displays are in evidence. Spring bulbs and autumn seeds have been planted in all classes. The teachers provide a variety of learning experiences in this curricular area. Pupils participate actively in lessons. Scientific skills are nurtured and lessons carefully build upon pupils’ previous knowledge and understanding. Lessons focus correctly on eliciting and discussing pupils’ ideas and on helping them to modify those ideas and to develop more scientific understandings. Scientific language and terminology is used effectively to help the children to clarify and interpret and to enable them to explore their own ideas and understandings.
The school plan for the Visual Arts is comprehensive and relevant to the needs of the pupils in the school. It includes sections on making art and on looking and responding to works of art. The school is excellently resourced with a range of art materials needed to implement the curriculum. Distribution of materials is centrally managed. All matters relating to the Visual Arts are channelled through the post-holder. A wide selection of images is on display along the entrance corridors and throughout the school, including framed pupils’ art work. The overall standard of display is very high.
The very successful implementation of the school plan is seen in the originality and spontaneity of the pupils’ art work. The high profile given to drawing as an integral art activity is highly commended. The pupils are given many opportunities to draw with a variety of different drawing materials, on many surfaces and page sizes. In addition, pupils use blank copies as personal drawing copies, which are carried over from year to year. The quality of the work in paint and colour is of a similarly high standard. The work is well controlled and refreshingly childlike. The work in print focuses on the development of many new print techniques. The challenge now is to progress to encouraging the pupils to use these learned techniques to make a print as a work of art in its own right. Examples of artists’ work are often used as a starting point for the pupils’ own art making, which is commendable as an example of linkage in the curriculum. Work in the three dimensional strands of clay, construction and fabric and fibre is well under way. Though early in the school year, many classes have begun their work in clay. Many good examples of construction integrated with the design section in Science are noted, which make excellent use of the standard construction games and toys to build imaginative structures. The use of ICT to record these structures before they are deconstructed is noted. Examples of pupils’ work based on weave and fabric and fibre is laudable, as is the use of the dress up box in the infant class to explore and experiment with fabrics and fibre, inclusive of batik and tie dye processes. Overall the implementation of the visual arts curriculum is of a very high standard with correct emphasis placed on the child as the creator and inventor of the art piece. They can speak fluently when asked to respond to their own work and that of their peers.
The school manages the assessment of pupils’ art in a comprehensive manner, through the recommended use of individual portfolios. This is exemplary practice. Parental participation is encouraged at all times. When the school plan is reviewed, the section on looking and responding could be extended to include a plan for looking at intercultural art and the section on teaching methodologies could be further expanded to reflect the good practice underway. Pupils are given an opportunity to visit an art gallery, as recommended. Each year boys and girls in first class visit the Irish Museum of Modern Art and The National Gallery. The school is commended for its plan to create links with local artists. The overall programme is supported by good use of ICT.
The school plan for Music includes all strands of the curriculum: performing, listening and responding and composing. The school is excellently resourced for the teaching of Music and a full list of available CD’s, percussion instruments, music related videos, and songs to be taught at each class level is available. Of particular note is the additional back up set of in-house, high quality music lessons created for use throughout the school. This excellent resource contributes significantly to the quality of the programme taught in the school. The programme introduces pupils to the full range of Irish, contemporary world music as well as listening and responding to music on a thematic basis. This differentiated programme should be included in the school plan.
The high quality of the pupils’ performance in Music is evident through the wide range of songs in both Irish and English which they sing with ease in the music class and within many other curriculum areas. The pupils derive much pleasure and confidence from performing. Some wonderful listening and responding, integrated with oral language development, was observed. The excellent use of visual images to consolidate learning and to respond to the music is noted. This concurs with best practice and should be extended to all classes. Pupils explore methods of composing their own music with increasing success. Very good examples of composing, of responding to well-selected music using percussion instruments, and of simple methods of notation are highly praised. Overall the quality of teaching and learning is very good. The possibility of beginning to teach a musical instrument at the senior end of the school should be explored, to extend and complement current work, given the level of expertise on the staff. The possibilities of using ICT to further extend and develop teaching and learning with regard to the composing strand could be explored. Pupils are encouraged to extend their music experience outside of the school setting. Each year pupils in the second classes participate as an audience in the series of class concerts performed in The Helix in Dublin City University.
The school has yet to formulate its plan for Drama. All teachers need to provide written plans for their classes based on the curriculum, prior to the completion of the school plan. Drama is timetabled and taught by all class teachers. Effective use is made of techniques such as role play and thought tracking. The pupils are central to the learning experience provided and they are actively engaged in the work in hand. The good quality of the teaching is supported by the provision of excellent visual resources which support the creation of structured drama and the valuable development of imagination. Good use is made of the available class space to enhance the learning for the pupils. In addition an external teacher of Drama works with all pupils from senior infants to second class on a weekly basis. This work consists of warm-up sessions based on age-appropriate vocal exercises, which emphasise correct breathing and use of voice, the reciting of tongue twisters and work in mime to good effect. Poetry is used successfully as a starting point for making drama. This quality work culminates in class plays performed annually in the school’s assembly halls, to which parents are invited. Each of the second classes performs a fully staged nativity play in the local church for parents. This work needs to be linked to the structure of the curriculum when devising the school plan for Drama.
Social Personal and Health Education
Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) has a high status in the overall life of the school. The school motto ‘Mól an Óige’ affirms its positive overarching approach to education in this junior school. This ethos is complemented by a strong sense of care for all aspects of the learning environment. The plan incorporates the various programmes in use such as Stay Safe, Walk Tall and the Bí Folláin scheme. The school’s on-going planning diary for 2007/08 informs that SPHE is due for review.
The quality of teaching and learning observed was good. The methodology employed by the teachers for the most part fosters active participation by the pupils as they are guided to explore aspects of themes such as taking care of my body, personal safety, safety in the home and recognising and naming feelings. Quality teaching is supported by purposeful use of visually stimulating educational resources. The teaching is child centred and time is given to the pupils to voice their personal opinions, which is exemplary. The quality of the pupils’ learning is commensurate with the implementation of the appropriate child-centred and active participative methodologies. The spiral nature of the curriculum is noted in the developing and incremental nature of the pupils’ learning, which is noteworthy. In addition, the staff and the special needs assistants work diligently to build pupils’ self-esteem in all classroom settings. All members of the school’s middle management team have responsibility for aspects of pastoral care in accordance with best practice. This pastoral work is further supported by the focused work of the care team. The school’s involvement in the British Council and Léargas jointly administered East West schools programme has embedded approaches to healthy eating for school lunches. This links directly with strand areas in the SPHE curriculum and provides valuable experiential learning for the pupils. The school community fosters intercultural education awareness through its annual ‘Intercultural Day’ held in February. The contribution of this, along with other social aspects of the work of the school, cannot be underestimated as they add immeasurably to the quality and richness of the received SPHE curriculum in the school.
The school delivers a quality programme in Physical Education (PE). A distinctive feature of the programme is its code of ethics linked to the Child Protection Guidelines. This is most worthy. The school is very well equipped with apparatus needed for a full range of games. A community notice board displays school and local PE and sports related events. Depending on available local resources, the school hopes to include the aquatics strand in the programme for pupils from next September. This plan is acknowledged and supported by this report. The school makes very good use of its internal infant and junior halls and outdoor facilities for the implementation of the PE curriculum. The external yard spaces and adjoining green areas are used when designing school trails for use in outdoor and adventure activities.
The overall level of teaching and learning in PE is good. Pupils are active throughout the lessons and a broad and balanced programme is achieved. The work in dance observed integrates successfully with Music and appeals to the pupil’s sense of wonder and imagination which is an acknowledged powerful educational force. Pupils are encouraged to create their unique personal responses as the lesson progresses, with meaningful learning outcomes for them. Pupils are managed effectively in the majority of classes. Further evidence of the school’s success in creating a PE-rich learning environment is seen in its initiation of a playground games project, completed as part of the East West schools programme. Parents are actively involved in the annual sports day. A range of sports is offered, including Gaelic football and hurling. Links are forged with local sports clubs including the local GAA club Lucan, Sarsfields, whereby all pupils in first and second classes receive coaching during school hours. Famous sports personalities from the local community are noted as role models with valuable education results for the pupils.
The quality of assessment and recording is good. An appropriate range of practices and approaches to formal and informal assessment is employed. Standardised tests are undertaken each year throughout the school in both Mathematics and English. At individual class levels assessment practices involve teacher-designed tests, teacher observation and, in some cases, specific screening tests. Such test results are used effectively for parent-teacher meetings and to identify the specific learning needs of individual pupils in providing guidance for the special education team.
Early screening and profiling of infant pupils presenting with difficulties is undertaken through the administration of aspects of Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) and the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST). The results of standardised tests in English and Mathematics are used for the selection of pupils for supplementary teaching. The Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) is also administered. Support teachers administer various diagnostic tests including the Quest Diagnostic Test, the Jackson Get Reading Right, Stepping Stones to Literacy, Dolch word lists, the Neale Analysis and the Larr test of emergent literacy to ensure planning programmes are appropriate for pupils’ needs. STEN scores are communicated to parents and are kept until a former pupil reaches the age of 21.
The work of the special needs team is one of the key strengths and hallmarks of good practice in the school. It is highly organised and very well managed and makes a significant contribution to the school’s achievement and to the pupils’ positive experiences at St Thomas’. The deputy principal ably leads and co-ordinates a highly skilled team of experienced and committed teachers in maximising the educational opportunities available to the pupils and in maintaining their needs as a central focus of the educational provision in the school. They provide high-quality support and fulfil a wide range of roles effectively. These include the provision of well-planned and extremely successful in-class support alongside effective withdrawal support for pupils identified with particular needs. A comprehensive and detailed whole-school policy for learning support and resource teaching has been formulated which promotes high expectations for pupils with special needs and provides a sound basis for the development of effective practice. It highlights the responsibilities of the principal and teaching staff in implementing the Learning Support Guidelines and in operating the staged approach to support teaching and learning. Programmes of work are well designed and suitably differentiated to enable all pupils to participate fully and maximise their progress. Targets, tasks and activities are carefully selected to take account of pupils’ individual needs. Members of the SEN team have carried out considerable research and have planned appropriate programmes of work which include provision for the development of individual children’s physical and motor skills.
The teachers have embraced innovation and have facilitated the implementation of the principle of early intervention which underpins the learning support and language support policies. Learning support is delivered on an in-class basis at junior and senior infant levels where a member of each of the learning support and language support teams engages in well-planned co-operative teaching in English with the mainstream teacher. An intensive early intervention programme which includes a strong focus on the development of phonemic awareness and a range of other word identification strategies is delivered. Good use is made of high quality resources and ICT to enhance learning support. Similar programmes are provided to pupils at first and second levels on a withdrawal basis. Flexible approaches involving the special education team, class teachers and parents keep the pupils’ needs at the centre of the educational process. There is a strong sense of teamwork and the level of reflection that has taken place in relation to how best to support the needs of these children is to be highly commended. In all cases, the teachers prepare consistently and diligently. A wide range of diagnostic tests is used. Individual education plans (IEPs) are completed for each child, clearly indicating their learning strengths, priority needs and targets. These IEPs are drawn up in consultation with class teachers and, where possible, with the parents. Communication between the special education team and class teachers is further enhanced by formal structures for meeting and planning programmes of work.
The provision for language support is also a key strength and hallmark of good practice in the school and is highly organised and very well managed. A special duties post holder ably leads and co-ordinates a highly-skilled team of experienced and committed teachers in maximising the educational opportunities available to the pupils. This is an important consideration as multicultural pupils now represent 30% of the pupil population. A comprehensive and detailed whole-school policy for language support has been formulated. Just as in learning support, language support is delivered on an in-class basis at junior infant level. This practice is commended and groups and activities are rotated between teachers for the first term before beginning to concentrate on more specific targeted pupils. Activities are structured and linked to classroom content and are mainly based on early English and Mathematics language and involve language development, skills and concepts as well as socialization.
Further to this, pupils from all classes, including junior infants in need of continued language support, are taken on a withdrawal basis in groups of four or five. From experience in the school so far, it is felt that pupils from senior infants and upwards with inadequate English skills benefit more from working in small groups in a designated language support room for the purposes of facilitating confidence building and competence in using English from oral, reading and written perspectives. Pupils are provided with very attractive and stimulating learning environments and very good use is made of high quality resources derived from ICT to enhance learning. The quality of the teaching by the support team is very good. Lessons are highly interactive and effective use is made of a variety of stimuli to promote conversation and language development. Pupils clearly enjoy these lessons and display enthusiasm for lesson content. The strong sense of teamwork and the level of reflection on how best to support the needs of these pupils are highly commended. In all cases, the teachers prepare consistently and diligently. The Integrate Ireland Language and Learning (IILT) pack is used to help plan programmes of work and both individual and group programmes are in place. In the case of newcomers to senior infants and upwards, pupils are assessed by an initial interview and their levels of language are interpreted with reference to the English Language Proficiency benchmarks. Those achieving A1 or A2 levels are deemed eligible for language support and work towards achieving B1 level when the support is discontinued. Many pupils are achieving very well and are well integrated into their classrooms. The school co-ordinates a cultural awareness week to celebrate the various cultures in the school.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The board of management performs its responsibilities in a pro-active, committed manner and the wide-ranging expertise of members contributes significantly to the successful management of the school.
· The board of management maintains the school building and surrounds in an excellent condition and attention to detail is obvious throughout the school.
· The principal and teachers have created a bright, stimulating learning environment and a very warm, caring atmosphere for all pupils.
· The board of management is commended for providing substantial teaching and learning resources for the implementation of the curriculum.
· The strong and purposeful leadership of the principal and post-holders and the high professional standards of the staff are notable in the raising of standards and in successfully steering the school through a period of immense change.
· A comprehensive school plan dealing with a multiplicity of administrative features and curricular activities has been developed.
· The good quality of teaching and learning, the standards of achievement and the highly-organised and effective support provided for all pupils are acknowledged
· The child-centred approach taken to the teaching of the arts, especially Visual Arts and Music, is exemplary.
· The schools policy on multi-cultural education and the manner in which all pupils are treated reflects very well on the schools inclusive policy.
· Ancillary personnel contribute positively and collaborate successfully in the efficient running of the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that all teachers provide written work plans for their classes in Drama, based on the curriculum, prior to the completion of the school plan.
· The possibility of beginning to teach a musical instrument at the senior end of the school should be explored, to extend and complement the current work. The possibilities of using ICT to further extend and develop teaching and learning with regard to the composing strand could also be explored.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of St.Thomas J.N.S. are satisfied to accept the inspection report, as outlined from the Whole School Evaluation team. We find the report is fair and balanced, and acknowledge the tremendous contribution, that the staff and all the educational partners make to the school. We embrace the challenges of the future including an expansion to the existing school, but have serious concerns about the legislative and administrative burden placed on the Board as a voluntary body. We expect the Department to take an active role in developing relevant guidelines and supports for the future governance of primary schools.
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 of St Thomas’ J.N.S. is committed to ongoing school improvement and will endeavour to build on the recommendations outlined in the report and on others identified through the school’s ongoing review of plans, policies and procedures.