An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Philip’s Junior School
Mountview, Dublin 15
Roll number: 19601H
Date of inspection: 19 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St Philip the Apostle Junior National School, Mountview, Dublin 15. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St Philip the Apostle School was built in 1979 and has 16 permanent classrooms. It shares its campus and assembly hall with St Philip the Apostle Senior School. The school is located in the residential area of Mountview and caters for pupils from the parish and outlying areas. The school is a Catholic junior school under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin.
Enrolment at St Philip’s has remained stable over the past three years, having increased substantially from 2003 to the current enrolment of 285. The school has a total allocation of twenty three teachers giving a pupil teacher ratio is 13:1. There has been a significant increase in recent years in enrolment of pupils from many different cultural and religious backgrounds, many of whom do not have English as their first language. These pupils have brought a great richness to the school in terms of learning to understand, appreciate and accommodate other cultures and traditions.
St Philip’s has designated disadvantaged status since 1991 and is one of five schools in the Mountview / Blakestown area that participate in the School Completion Programme. Under this programme the school organises breakfast and homework clubs and has the services of music and dance teachers. These projects operate under the title Equal Opportunities Programme (EOP). The school is in band 2 of the DEIS programme.
The staff consists of the principal, fourteen mainstream teachers, two language support teachers, four special education teachers, one resource teacher for Travellers and a shared Home School Community Liaison coordinator (HSCL).
The school has established procedures for monitoring pupil attendance. A special duties post holder has responsibility in this area. These procedures include contacting parents when there is cause for concern, the signing-in of late comers and the signing out of pupils who need to leave early, except in the case of doctor’s or dental appointments. Because a significant minority of pupils continue to have a pattern of poor attendance and in light of the positive impact which regular attendance has on pupils’ progress, it is recommended that further strategies be explored to improve attendance during the school’s annual review. In reviewing the strategies for improving attendance the school should involve the principal, the post-holder and the HSLC coordinator.
The Board of Management is properly constituted under the Education Act 1998 and meets on a regular basis. The board adopts effective procedures that ensure the smooth functioning of the school. Minutes of all meetings are carefully recorded and are agreed and a financial update is prepared for each meeting. School accounts are audited annually and presented to the patron for examination. Members give due attention to their duties regarding the employment of teachers and the allocation of special duties posts and ancillary staff. The board has been involved in the development of a broad range of policy documents and has worked closely with parents’ representatives to ensure effective collaboration regarding the development of specific policies. The policies that have been developed address issues such as enrolment, discipline, anti-bullying, substance mis-use, health and safety, pupil attendance and child protection. Draft organisational policies on first aid, special duties posts, relationships and sexuality education, the administration of medicines, homework, special education, safety and assessment are being prepared for ratification by the board. The principal reports to the board on a regular basis. The board supports the principal and staff by making funds available for the purchase of necessary resources and maintains the school to a very high standard. Board members expressed a high level of satisfaction with the quality of teaching and learning and with all aspects of the day-to-day running of the school. The school’s enrolment policy contains references to certain conditions relating to the enrolment of pupils with special education needs. The board is advised to revise this and to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that its policy would not be interpreted as a bar to enrolment and is fully in accord with the Education Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2002. The school timetable states that school operates from 9.00 am to 2.30 p.m. Pupils from junior infants and senior infants finish at 1.35, first classes at 2.10p.m.and second classes at 2.30 p.m. It is recommended that the school review this arrangement in light of Rule 56(1) of the Rules for National Schools and Circular 11/95, which outline the requirements governing the structure of the school day.
The principal teacher was appointed in 2004 having taught in the school for many years. She has an in-depth knowledge of the pupils, many of whom are second generation pupils of the school, and has a very good understanding of the context of the school. She is very proactive in her leadership of the school and carries the organisational and administrative duties in a committed and diligent manner. The principal takes an active role in overseeing the curricular planning process and has given very effective leadership in all aspects of the development of the English programme. She articulates the school’s priorities effectively and these include the provision of a pleasant and safe environment for all and continuity of curriculum provision so that all pupils reach their potential. Under her leadership the staff has undertaken a systematic review of all school plans and procedures. The volume of work done in these areas in recent years is commended. The principal is supported by a very dedicated in-school management team, which consists of a deputy principal, two assistant principals and seven special duties post holders. Posts were reviewed in accordance with Circular 07/03 in 2004 and new priorities were identified. This practice of carrying out such reviews is commended. All the post-holders have clear roles, which they understand and fulfil with confidence. Expectations are clearly defined, and post-holders are then given scope to develop their particular areas. Due attention is given to the carrying out of the various responsibilities attached to each post. There is a good balance between the administrative, curricular and pastoral duties attached to posts. The areas of curriculum responsibility include planning and co-ordination of Mathematics, SESE, SPHE, PE, Music, Visual Arts, English and Gaeilge. Organisational, administrative and pastoral duties include liaising and consulting with statutory agencies, screening of pupils for support, health and safety, purchasing, cataloguing and maintaining resources, library, Educational Opportunities Programme coordination and ICT. Other responsibilities include the maintenance of school registers, the coordination of the breakfast and homework clubs, timetabling, internal communications and the fostering of teamwork. Mentoring of substitute teachers and the many newly qualified teachers who have been employed in recent years is seen by the staff as a shared responsibility and many experienced teachers in the school actively support them. Formal and informal meetings between teachers occur regularly as part of the planning process. The efficient organisation and functioning of the school provide evidence that post holders take a professional approach to carrying out duties in their assigned areas of responsibility. It is recommended that the middle management meet periodically to review progress and to identify new priorities. Consideration should also be given to special duties teachers formally updating the board of management on developments in their particular areas of responsibility.
The board of management is aided by the staff in maintaining an attractive physical environment for the pupils and staff, which is a credit to all involved. Resource teaching posts are rotated where feasible on a three year basis in order to broaden the experience of all teachers. The board of management is currently funding three courses for teachers, two in special needs and one in first aid. Over the years teachers have up-skilled in a number of areas through a variety of recognised summer and post-graduate courses. The school has one special needs assistant (SNA) who is deployed flexibly throughout the day. A part-time school secretary and caretaker are employed under the Department of Education and Science (DES) grants scheme and both carry out their duties in a diligent manner. Contract cleaners are employed to clean the school daily. An external tutor teaches tin-whistle every week. A Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) coach and a soccer trainer also teach football skills under the Educational Opportunities Programme (EOP) on a weekly basis.
The school has sixteen mainstream classrooms, one of which has been divided into two resource rooms while another has been divided into three sections to accommodate special education teachers. A general purpose room is shared between the two schools on the campus. The principal and secretary have an office each and the library has been converted to accommodate a special education teacher (SET). A number of small areas are used to store Physical Education (PE) equipment and cleaning materials. The purchase of a fifty square metre prefabricated classroom has been approved to accommodate two resource teachers. Outdoor facilities include a hard-surfaced play area and a playing pitch. There is a kitchen off the general purposes room which is used to provide breakfast in the morning before school. The school has spent substantial funds on the provision of a variety of resources over recent years. These include well-stocked classroom libraries, an extensive range of science equipment and a range of materials to support the Visual Arts, Mathematics and Physical Education. A selection of books including big books and parallel readers has been purchased. The Science equipment is stored in accessible cupboards on the corridor and is carefully catalogued and referenced for age-appropriate usage under the various strand and strand units. Excellent examples of the pupils’ work in the Visual Arts are displayed in classrooms and on the corridors and they add colour and vibrancy throughout the school.
All classrooms have a number of computers connected to broadband. There are six computers in the learning support room and the special needs pupils use them to access suitable literacy and numeracy programmes for consolidation exercises. Teachers are encouraged to share ideas and good practice in accessing websites. The ICT co-ordinator also informs teachers of useful sites and liaises with curriculum co-ordinators with regard to particular subjects. There is a good range of suitable resources available for use on computers and the ICT plan includes the use of word processing, interactive multi-media, CD ROMS, interactive reading and spelling programmes, databases and the use of the internet for projects, reference work, problem solving in Mathematics, Science, Art and design.
School plans and policies aspire to include parents in all aspects of school life. Parents are invited to class-group meetings where aspects of the curriculum are explained. They are invited through the regular newsletters to share input and ideas regarding school policies and curriculum. A group of parents has been actively involved in helping in fundraising activities over a number of years. This group assists the school on the school fun day, on trips to the playground and with preparations for the sacraments. Some parents are also active in supporting the school through the Local Area Education (LAE) committee. There has been no tradition of a formally established parents’ association in the school as envisaged in the Education Act 1998. However the principal and parents’ representatives on the board of management have expressed the view that they would welcome such an association affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. The commitment to the development of shared reading, involving the parents is to be welcomed. Parents will receive training from the school staff. The HSCL is a valuable resource in this area and further initiatives should be explored in conjunction with her to maximise participation and communication between home and school.
Meetings with parents take place on a one-to-one basis annually. Parents also receive written reports on their pupils’ progress at the end of each school year. Homework copies and journals also provide opportunities for communication between teachers and parents and many parents meet with teachers informally at the end of the school day. The parents are welcomed each morning at the school and the principal and staff operate an open-door approach to all. The practice by some teachers of regularly sending parents a resume of work completed is innovative and might be considered as a further means of informing parents.
Pupils are very well behaved, mannerly and respectful and they engage fully with the tasks set for them by their teachers. Every effort is made to ensure that they benefit from and enjoy learning. The vast majority of the pupils are aware of and respect the class rules and the general school procedures. During observation, teachers’ classroom management and the management of pupils was excellent. It is obvious that this is a caring school and the commitment of the staff to the pupils’ welfare is apparent in all facets of school activity. The school code of discipline was ratified by the board of management. The code is made available to parents in booklet form and the pupils are aware of its content.
The school plan is devised through the collaborative activity of the principal, the staff and the board of management. The parents have participated in the formulation of a number of organisational plans. This approach to organisational policy formation is particularly commendable as it facilitates the inclusion of the broadest range of perspectives and it encourages commitment by all to policy implementation. The development of curriculum plans is undertaken by the principal and teaching staff primarily through in-service days and school-based planning days. The planning model is designed to include all staff in the development and implementation of policies and curricular plans. Planning is managed by the principal and planning co-ordinator who liaises with subject leaders. These in turn plan with subject group members. Staff meetings and subject group meetings are held to discuss and review plans. The process includes opportunities for parents to make submissions through meetings and through the school newsletter. The plan allows for feedback from parents and for the provision of guidance for them on specific areas of the curriculum. Board of management input is welcomed at all stages of the process and when policies are finalised the board ratifies them. Comprehensive draft plans for Mathematics, the Visual Arts, Gaeilge, Music, ICT, and English have been prepared. Initial draft plans for discussion in areas such as Physical Education, Social Environmental and Science Education have also been prepared. In finalising these plans, it is recommended that attention be given to the inclusion of descriptions of methodologies, use of resources, strategies for differentiation and assessment. Many examples of good practice in these areas, observed during evaluation, could be included as part of the plan. Lessons were well organised and, in general, the work laid out for pupils matched their ability levels. Teachers managed to promote the engagement and interest of pupils in the majority of lessons observed.
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 Pupils First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Pupils (Department of Health and Pupils, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 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 Departmental guidelines.
The principal teacher oversees the functioning of school planning and is very hands-on in monitoring its implementation as each plan is agreed and ratified. All the teachers comply with Rule 126 governing preparation for schoolwork and progress records. In the majority of cases, teachers set down comprehensive, well thought out long-term and short-term schemes of work. Practice varies, however, and in some cases short-term planning lacked sufficient reference to the strands and strand units of relevant curriculum areas. As planning continues some consideration should be given to the use of an agreed template with suitable curricular triggers and references to objectives, methodologies, differentiation and assessment. Many teachers devote considerable time and energy to preparing and organising resources for their classrooms, thus ensuring attractive and engaging learning environments for their pupils. All teachers keep monthly records which are maintained by the principal. Practice in recording them however varies and some discussion should take place regarding the most effective and efficient way of recording work completed so that the reports inform teaching and provide information which facilitates implementation, review and future planning.
Leagtar amach fís agus aidhmeanna na scoile do mhúineadh na Gaeilge sa phlean scoile agus dírítear aire na múinteoirí ar ghnéithe tábhachtacha den teagasc ann, gnéithe mar úsáid na Gaeilge mar ghnáththeanga, na straitéisí a chothaíonn cumas cumarsáide, feidhmeanna teanga, comhtháthú na snáitheanna agus measúnú. Cuirtear liosta fada de chluichí teanga feiliúnacha agus de nathanna na seachtaine ar fáil dóibh chomh maith agus tugtar le fios go ndéanfar athbhreithniú ar chur i bhfeidhm an phlean sa bhliain 2007. Glacann an scoil páirt i Seachtain na Gaeilge gach bliain d'fhonn spéis sa teanga a leathnú i measc phobal na scoile agus eagraítear raon leathan d'imeachtaí taitneamhacha ina nglacann na daltaí agus an fhoireann teagaisc páirt ghníomhach. Tá raon sách leathan d'áiseanna teagaisc curtha ar fail; ábhar comhrá agus léitheoireachta, cairteacha, puipéid agus dlúthdhioscaí ina measc, agus, le himeacht ama, tá na múinteoirí ag dul i dtaithí ar iad a úsáid go héifeachtach agus an leas is fearr a bhaint astu. Déanann siad dea-iarracht timpeallacht atá fábharach d'fhoghlaim na Gaeilge a chothú ina seomraí ranga agus ar fud na scoile le cairteacha, le hábhar priontáilte agus trí roinnt mhaith de threoracha a seomraí ranga a thabhairt tríd an meán seo.
Téann na múinteoirí i mbun theagasc na Gaeilge go díograiseach, léiríonn siad ábhar a gceachtanna ar bhealach taitneamhach, gníomhach agus baineann siad leas as raon straitéisí teagaisc agus acmhainní oiriúnacha chun suim na ndaltaí a mhúscailt iontu agus chun iad a spreagadh chun iarrachta. Glacann siadsan páirt go toilteanach sna himeachtaí foghlama seo agus taitníonn cluichí teanga agus rainn ach go háirithe leo. Leathnaítear a stór focal céim ar chéim agus cuirtear ar a gcumas roinnt eiseamláirí agus nathanna coitianta a úsáid i gcomhthéacsanna cuí. Ach meastar go rachadh sé chun tairbhe don oiliúint i gcoitinne dá gcuirfí go corásach agus d’aon ghnó le stór eiseamláirí na ndaltaí tríd an scoil. Baintear úsáid éifeachtach agus rialta as Gaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil ag amanna i rith an lae i ranganna ar leith agus b'fhiú an cleachtas seo a leathnú. Cuirtear tús rathúil le múineadh na leitheoireachta agus moltar ach go háirithe an cleachtas trína gcumann daltaí a leabhair mhóra féin le cúnamh a múinteoirí. Líonann said bearnaí in abairtí agus scríobhann said frásaí agus nuacht shimplí ina gcóipleabhair. Nasctar an saothar seo go ciallmhar leis na snáitheanna eile den chlár teagaisc agus coinnítear samplaí de sna seomraí ranga. Tá cnuasach deas rann agus amhrán Gaeilge ar eolas ag na daltaí ar fud na scoile agus aithrisítear go taitneamhach, bríomhar iad.
De réir mar a théann an próiseas pleanála ar aghaidh, moltar forleathnú a dheánamh ar raon na n-eiseamláirí a mhúintear i gcomhthéacs na dtéamaí éagsúla agus go mbainfí feidhm níos leithne as na deiseanna a bhíonn ag múinteoirí Gaeilge a úsáid go neamhfhoirmiúil ina seomraí ranga agus in achair eile den scoil.
The school plan for Irish sets out the school’s vision and aims for the teaching of Irish. It focuses attention on a range of important aspects of the programme, aspects such as the use of Irish as an everyday language, the strategies which develop the pupils’ ability to communicate, language functions, integration of the strands of the curriculum and evaluation. The plan also provides a comprehensive list of suitable language games and weekly phrases and it is noted that a review of the implementation of the plan will be undertaken in 2007. The school takes part in Seachtain na Gaeilge every year to promote interest and love for the language throughout the school community and a wide range of enjoyable activities is organised in which pupils and teachers participate actively. The school provides a sufficiently wide range of suitable resources to promote the teaching of Irish and these include a good selection of reading and conversational material, charts, puppets and compact disks. With the passage of time, the teachers are gaining experience in how to make the best use of these resources. They also make every effort to create a learning environment favourable to the learning of Irish in their classrooms and in the school generally through the use of print-rich materials and colourful charts and by using a good deal of the language for routine classroom communication purposes.
Irish is taught with enthusiasm and teachers present their lessons in an enjoyable and active manner. They employ a wide variety of teaching strategies and use suitable resourses to gain the pupils’ interest and to promote their participation in the learning activities. For their part, the pupils engage willingly in the lessons and they particularly enjoy playing language games and reciting rhymes.Their vocabulary is extended step by step and they are enabled to use some exponents (of language functions) and common phrases in appropriate contexts. However, it is felt that the effectiveness of the work could be further enhanced by systematically and purposefully adding to the the pupils’ store of exponents on a whole-school basis. Effective and regular use of informal Irish at various times during the school day is a feature of the work in some classrooms and this good practice should be extended. A successful start to the teaching of reading in Irish is made and the practice of pupils composing their own big books, assisted by their teachers, is especially commended. The pupils also complete sentences in work books and they write phrases and simple news in their copies. This work is linked sensibly to the other strands of the teaching programme and samples of it are maintained in classrooms. Pupils throughout the school recite and sing a pleasant collection of rhymes and songs with enjoyment and enthusiasm.
As the planning process proceeds, it is recommended that the range of exponents taught in the context of the various themes be expanded and that wider use be made of the opportunities which present to teachers for using Irish informally in the classrooms and in other areas of the school.
The school plan for English is comprehensive and has been developed in accordance with the structure and content of the English curriculum. It outlines methodologies and suggestions for the expansion and development of vocabulary and cognitive ability. The plan provides for the use of a wide ranging strategies and a number of commercial schemes to develop the pupils’ competence and confidence in reading. It emphasises the importance of enabling the pupils to enjoy a print-rich environment, to engage in pre-writing activities, to write for different audiences and to have their personal writing displayed. A major priority within the school plan is a published programme of synthetic phonics that was introduced in the infant classes in the last school year and will be phased in throughout the school over the next few years.
The quality of the teachers’ long-term and short-term curriculum planning for English ranged from good to excellent. Long-term plans that were considered very good included reference to integration of language across the curriculum, effective provision for oral language development, and reference to the delivery of the synthetic phonics programme as part of a broad and balanced language learning experience for pupils. In a few classes greater alignment with the content and approaches detailed in the school plan would be beneficial. Greater consistency in short-term planning across the school could be promoted through the use of an agreed template for short-term planning. The school plan and some of the classroom plans make specific reference to the importance of a print-rich environment and there are curriculum charts, commercial oral language posters and some samples of pupils’ work in evidence in the classrooms. Some further additional emphasis should be placed on the preparation and display of printed materials, labels, word lists, story-boards, and graphics linked with the oral and reading programme specifically to support the pupils’ acquisition of reading and other language.
Teachers demonstrated good practice in exploiting language-learning opportunities across the curriculum in areas such as Mathematics, History and Social, Personal and Health Education (SESE). The school’s development of “topic boxes” as a shared teaching resource to support stimulating lesson presentation and discussion in aspects of SESE is particularly praiseworthy. Very good facilitation of talk and discussion was observed during circle-time sessions and in group-reading sessions using large format books. In a few cases, however, clear oral language learning objectives had not been selected in advance and pupils were not provided with opportunities to explore the meaning of words or to practise using new words that had been introduced.
Where the teaching of reading was observed there was a strong emphasis on decoding sounds in accordance with the school’s new emphasis on phonic work. The reading scheme is linked to the phonics programme but there is reference in classroom plans to use of a wide variety of readers. In the first and second classes teachers also use a class novel. Given that shared or paired reading initiatives are a very popular means of promoting parental involvement in pupils’ reading development at home, it is recommended that the planned implementation of parental involvement in this vital area be commenced as soon as practicable. Such a reading initiative aimed at supporting parental involvement in home reading should be integrated as a routine element of the school’s reading plan for all classes.
Some effective differentiation strategies were in evidence including the use by teachers of worksheets and learning resources adapted to varying levels of ability, ability grouping for certain tasks, and supportive interventions by class teachers during the English lessons. There is good attention to the introduction and development of letter formation and basic writing skills. Good modelling of the writing process was observed and, in a number of classes, teachers employed a language experience approach basing simple reading tasks on text drawn from the pupils’ own writing. In a few of the sessions observed the writing tasks set for pupils were too challenging because support materials such as vocabulary lists were not available for pupils. Pupils’ written work in English is generally maintained in workbooks, news copies, and in folders of completed worksheets. The existing formats for organising and displaying samples of pupils’ writing should be extended to include, for example, displays of individual and group writing, storyboards, advertisements and process writing pieces. It would be helpful if selected individual samples of pupils’ writing were maintained in portfolios of work samples for assessment purposes.
Computers were available in all classrooms and in a few cases pupils were seen using ICT applications relating to language development.
The school has administered and collated the scores of standardised reading tests and an infant screening test periodically. The majority of teachers maintain checklists to track progress with phonic work and aspects of writing. The standardised test scores have been used primarily to aid decision-making in relation to the identification of pupils for supplementary reading support. The data has not up to now been used in a systematic way to inform development of classroom teaching strategies to respond to the requirements of groups of pupils whose literacy development needs to be extended in a targeted way. It is recommended that the school explore the potential of the available school data on pupils’ reading performance to inform development of teaching responses targeted at groups of pupils performing at different levels of ability in reading.
A draft plan for Mathematics has been prepared setting out the school’s aims for skills development across all strands of the curriculum. It details the content of each strand, the concepts to be mastered and the appropriate language to be used. This document is a useful and informative framework from which teachers can prepare and plan for teaching Mathematics in their classrooms. During the evaluation a variety of lesson presentations was observed. Good introductory work, skilful use of magnetic boards and the effective use of resources was observed in most classes. The pupils engaged well in many of the classes observed and were enthusiastic in carrying out the tasks set for them. However, consolidation work was not emphasised sufficiently in a number of the lessons observed and it was felt that some of the material presented to the pupils was not sufficiently challenging. In the context of school assessment, the introduction of standardised testing is seen as an important step towards setting a useful benchmark in Mathematics. Close analysis of the results will facilitate forward planning in a targeted way which should lead to consistency and completeness across all classes. Individual teachers’ written plans varied and in view of this variation there is a need for more guidance in the draft school plan in Mathematics in the areas of learning objectives, methodologies and differentiation. This guidance can be included in the plan when it is being further discussed and finalised and it will help develop a consistency of approach to Mathematics across the school. An inventory of resources might also be included in the final document.
Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) has been identified by the staff as an area of priority for future development planning. The overall school plan seeks to make linkages and to integrate History, Geography and Science with a number of curricular areas, in particular with Mathematics and English. It is recommended that these and further opportunities for integration be identified in the planning of the History and Geography elements of the school plan for SESE. The plan should also emphasise the importance of the pupils’ experiences and the role that Science, History and Geography have to play in affording pupils opportunities to acquire, in an age-appropriate way, the skills necessary to explore and understand the natural, human, social and cultural environments in which they live.
Planning at school level for Geography is scheduled to commence later in the year. Teachers’ individual planning for Geography aims to develop the pupils’ understanding and appreciation of the world in which they live. They plan suitable lessons which enable the pupils to explore and learn about the local, natural and human environment and the roles of people in the community. Suitable project work on trees, animals and the locality were displayed in some classrooms. The lessons observed consisted of introducing the pupils to basic mapping, using the classroom as the starting point and other topics included people at work, the weather and the story of bread. In some of the lessons observed, the pupils’ geographical investigation skills of questioning, observing, experimenting, measuring, recording and communicating were being developed. Opportunities for integration were provided and work sheets were based on pupils’ abilities. In general, the selection of content seems very appropriate and in particular the use of themes around people who work in the community is commended. It is recommended that, in developing the school plan together, the staff describe the strategies for developing the pupils’ awareness of spatial patterns, list a range of investigative and communicative skills to be used and outline what integrated themes and topics might be possible and appropriate for delivery of the subject. The plan should also outline some assessment methods which should be sufficiently flexible to accommodate these methodologies. A range of suitable resources should be identified in the plan. These resources should include a range of maps and simple geographical recording instruments to facilitate the investigative nature of the subject.
Planning for History is scheduled to commence next term. At present, it is taught by all teachers with reference to the strands and strand units of the curriculum. Where excellent practice was observed in the teaching of History there was practical engagement in the lesson by the pupils, an excellent level of talk and discussion, skilful use of artefacts and appropriate integration, particularly with English. The use of story boards in some instances was particularly praiseworthy. Pupils were encouraged to explore family and make connections with their own personal history through the use of photographs and pictures. Comparisons between today and the past through the use of artefacts afforded the pupils opportunities to identify how the world is different today from the world of the past. In some instances there was a lack of consolidation in the lessons observed and opportunities for developing topics were not explored to their potential. It is recommended that some of the excellent individual planning by teachers be used to inform the school plan when it is being finalised. The plan should also describe methodologies and strategies to accommodate all ability groups, particularly in the written tasks set for them. An inventory of artefacts available in the school should also be drawn up as the process of collecting these artefacts continues.
A provisional draft of the school Science plan has been prepared. It identifies the content to be explored under each strand unit for each class level. The plan underlines the importance of providing opportunities for the pupils to explore, investigate and develop an understanding of the natural, human, social and cultural dimensions of local and wider environments and refers to exemplars from curriculum documents. Science resources are available centrally and are carefully catalogued according to class levels and strand units. In some of the more successful lessons observed pupils were engaged in the activities provided through the use of some of these stimulating resource materials and the sharing of opinions. Good questioning strategies contributed to thoughtful predictions and group activities which put the pupils at the centre of the learning experience. In a few lessons observed, clear articulation of learning objectives identified in advance and consolidated at the end of the lesson ensured that the pupils understood the concepts under investigation. It is recommended that the completion of the SESE plan should include a description of a variety of methodologies which underline the importance of active participation of the pupils as scientists, geographers and historians and ensure that they learn and have opportunities to practise a range of investigative skills which will help them acquire open, critical and responsible attitudes. The plan should underline the importance of lesson consolidation through effective experimentation, investigation and recording and labelling by the pupils.
The principles of the Visual Arts Curriculum were outlined and agreed at staff meetings and the draft plan is the product of informal discussions among teachers and a planning day with a cuiditheoir. These have provided the teachers with a framework for implementation of the Visual Arts programme. Parents were also invited to make submissions through the school newsletter. The aims and objectives of the plan are in accordance with the principles outlined in the Primary School Curriculum. The methodologies listed in the plan emphasise the facilitative role of the teacher and place the pupils at the centre of the learning process through their personal involvement in the activities. Visual Arts lessons are well organised and resourced. Pupils experiment with a range of interesting materials and there is a good balance between making art and responding to art. The lessons observed were structured clearly and a range of appropriate materials was used as stimuli. Evidence was provided that the six strands of the Visual Arts programme receive close attention and much of the pupils’ work is displayed attractively in classrooms and corridors throughout the school. Pupils are provided with frequent opportunities to develop their artistic skills and to explore their creative abilities.
The school plan for music is currently under development. In Music education, pupils are enabled to participate fully in a wide range of music-making activities and a range of age-appropriate activities is used to develop their sense of rhythm, tone, pitch and tempo. A suitable variety of recorded instrumental and choral music is used to foster skills of listening and responding. Pupils at all class levels have a repertoire of songs in both Irish and English, which they perform with enjoyment and enthusiasm. Tin-whistle is taught to some pupils and the tunes played are melodious and accurate. A range of suitable music resources is available for all classes. Good work on rhythm and the use of percussion instruments was observed. It is recommended that the Music plan include an agreed suitable range-appropriate selection of songs in Irish and English and that it outline the development of a varied programme of music activities for the pupils.
The school plan on Drama will be informed by the in-service in this area due to be delivered early next year (2007). During the evaluation a number of lessons observed were integrated with drama, particularly Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and English. Teachers also used drama as part of some of the lessons observed in Gaeilge. The school plan should include opportunities for pupils to participate in a variety of drama-based activities as well as developing the integrated approach already in place.
A draft plan in Physical Education (PE) has been prepared by the school and it addresses all the strands and strand units of the curriculum. It also lists the wide variety of resources available for PE lessons. The plan underlines the importance of minor games and also focuses on the development games skills. Lessons observed were well organised and teachers made excellent use of the equipment available. The pupils engaged well and responded to the clearly articulated instructions given by the teachers. The use of Gaeilge during some of the lessons observed is commended. The school has plans to facilitate and promote participation by all in playground activities by providing games templates, which are being grant-aided by Fingal Co.Council. Plans are in place also to introduce the pupils to old Dublin street games. This will provide opportunities for all to have some exercise outside of the PE programme and this is to be recommended. In finalising the plan for PE, some guidance should be included to assist teachers in ensuring that the tasks presented during lessons progressively challenge all levels of ability among pupils and that they are afforded opportunities to develop a broad and balanced range of skills.
The school provides a supportive and caring environment for the pupils and they are encouraged to make links with real life situations and to make informed judgements through the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme. The draft plan for junior and senior infants provides a useful framework for the delivery of the programme throughout the school. It lists the contents under which each strand unit is to be delivered on a monthly basis. The completed plan should outline a variety of methodologies and approaches to be used in the classroom with a strong emphasis on pupils being active participants in their own learning and taking account of the objectives in the curriculum. Opportunities for pupils to interact with others and with their environment should also be provided for in the plan.
Resources used in the provision of SPHE include Walk Tall, the RSE programme, Esteem Builders, Alive O, cooperative games, story and the Be Safe and the Stay Safe programmes. Effective use of circle time to develop pupils’ awareness of a wide range of issues was observed during the in-school evaluation. The pupils are introduced to issues including relationships, sexuality, child abuse prevention, prejudice and discrimination at a basic level. Strategies used effectively included play, analysing photographs, discussion and drama activities and co-operative games. In completing the plan, it is recommended that SPHE continues to be structured in an integrated, cross-curricular way while emphasising the building of basic skills, values, attitudes and understanding appropriate to programme content issues.
The school has not yet developed a policy on assessment. However it has prepared procedures for good practice in testing. The range of standardised tests used includes Micra-T, Bracken Test, Non Readers’ Intelligence Test (NRIT), Ravens and the Middle Infants Screening Test (MIST). Results of tests are kept on file and are used to identify pupils with learning difficulties. The (MIST) is administered to senior infants in February. Micra-T, Level One is administered in September and June to first classes and MICRA-T, Level Two to second classes in June. The Ravens test and the NRIT tests are used to identify particular needs. It is planned to administer the Drumcondra Mathematics Test to first and second classes in October this year. Tests are administered by class teachers with the support of the learning support team and are used to inform teaching and to identify pupils for support. Parents are informed of their pupils’ achievement during annual parent-teacher meetings. Teacher observation, checklists and running records are kept by teachers in the course of their class work. Some work is recorded in portfolios. Records are passed on to new class teachers each year and reports are sent to parents annually. No formal assessment of Mathematics has taken place in recent years. The decision to introduce standardised testing in Mathematics this year is to be commended. Careful analysis of the results of these tests will facilitate the adaptation of teaching approaches in the context of the Mathematics programme and should lead to a more focused response to the needs and abilities of groups. There is scope for the further development of the use of portfolios of pupils’ work for assessment purposes. It is essential that the school develops a comprehensive policy on assessment which should include a careful selection of tests and should note appropriate timing intervals for their administration. The collation and analysis of results should inform planning and implementation and be of benefit to teachers in focusing on the enhancment of provision for all levels of ability in their classrooms.
The school policy on special educational needs commits to making all reasonable efforts to provide accommodation and educational resources for the support of pupils with special needs.
The school implements the staged approach to the identification, screening and referral of pupils for extra support as outlined in the Learning Support Guidelines and Circular 02/05. Suitable screening tests including teacher observation and appropriate check-listing take place in junior and senior infants. No standardised testing takes place before first class. Appropriate programmes of work are drawn up and implemented by the class teacher. The policy states that these programmes should be reviewed on a regular basis and in consultation with parents. Referral to the learning support team takes place if the interventions do not achieve the targets set. The school policy outlines a number of intervention programmes and strategies for the prevention of learning difficulties. Among these are group-teaching, an emphasis on oral language and differentiated homework. An Individual Pupil Learning Programme (IPLP) is drawn up for each child receiving supplementary teaching. They are based on an assessment of needs and specify learning targets for pupils. The learning support team draws up the IPLPs in consultation with class teachers, parents and other relevant personnel with knowledge of the pupils. The class and learning support teachers retain copies of the IPLPs. Parents have access to them, if they wish, at the school. The school timetabling policy commits to minimising disruption to mainstream classes during the withdrawal of pupils for support. In practice, however, the predominant method of delivery of supplementary support is withdrawal in small groups from classes. Some pupils are withdrawn more than once a day. Consequently there is a very significant level of pupil movement between mainstream and support rooms. Some pupils have been supported by a number of teachers and leave their classrooms more than once a day. Multiple withdrawals were observed from at least one classroom during the evaluation period. As currently organised, withdrawal on this scale could lead to fragmentation and discontinuity and make the task of providing access to the totality of the curriculum for pupils very difficult. The school should consider adopting a team approach so that, as far as possible, pupils receive supplementary support from only one teacher. The level of movement can be greatly reduced by providing a significant amount of support within the mainstream classroom in collaboration with the class teacher. The special education team consists of five teachers. A total of seventy pupils, including two Travellers, receive supplementary teaching. Twelve pupils are in receipt of support in more than one subject. A number of extra pupils are targeted for support by the team and these include pupils who have high proficiency in reading and pupils who need supplementary help with fine motor skills for writing.
In most cases, special education planning is systematic and effective and is appropriate to the needs of the pupils. Teachers plan together and the new members of the team are mentored by the planning coordinator. The team meet once a week to review progress. In some cases, individual planning includes objectives and in some cases detailed methodologies. Running daily records are kept and reports are given to class teachers. Some of the lessons observed were very structured and appropriate and effective use was made of the many resources available in each room. In a number of instances, group teaching takes place in class, particularly with high achievers in literacy and in helping to develop pupils’ fine motor skills.
It is stated in the school’s enrolment policy that “equality of access is the key value that determines the enrolment of pupils in the school” and that “the school respects the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in our society.” In practice, it has enrolled the children of many families who have come to Ireland and now live in the school’s catchment area. This number accounts for about 30% of its pupil population. Arising from the assessed English language needs of these pupils, two language support posts have been sanctioned in the school and they have been filled by two experienced teachers.
Following assessment in accordance with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) guidelines and consultation between support and class teachers, pupils are selected for supplementary teaching. IPLPs are drawn up in which appropriate language support targets and activities are described. Opportunities for consultation with class teachers are timetabled and IILT checklists are used to monitor pupils’ progress. Groups of three or four pupils with similar needs are usually withdrawn for focused work on the development of their language skills across the three strands of the English curriculum. A number of these groups were observed and they demonstrated a clear desire to succeed. Fortnightly schemes of work are prepared for each group and a good range of suitable resources is used effectively to support teaching and learning. Programmes of work are implemented in a systematic manner and with due sensitivity and the pupils make steady progress. A monthly record of the work completed with each group is maintained. The teachers report that the language of the home can have a significant impact on the rate of progress made by pupils. When reviewing language support provision, the school should consider how some elements of the programme could be delivered in settings which afford the pupils a wider range of experiences which would include working in mixed groups and peer learning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The teachers plan and teach their programmes of work diligently and with commitment.
· The behaviour of the pupils is exemplary.
· The board of management carries out its duties in an efficient and caring manner.
· The school presents as a stimulating learning environment for the pupils and of particular note are signage, the display of pupils’ visual arts work and the overall cleanliness of the accommodation.
· The teachers display a high level of mutual support for one another and particularly for newly qualified colleagues.
· All members of the teaching staff are committed to the provision of high quality education for special needs pupils.
· A welcoming atmosphere is created in the school for international pupils.
· In-school management is both progressive and adept at setting clear and appropriate targets
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· In regard to the length of the school day, it is recommended that the school review its arrangements in light of Rule 56(1) of the Rules for National Schools and Circular 11/95 which outline the requirements governing this matter. It is also recommended that it review its enrolment policy to ensure that it complies with the Education Act (1998) and the Equal Status Act (2002).
· It is recommended that attention be given to the inclusion of descriptions of methodologies, use of resources, strategies for differentiated approaches and for assessment in the school plans as they are finalised. Many examples of good practice by teachers, observed during evaluation, could be included.
· It is recommended that the planned implementation of parental involvement in a number of initiatives be commenced as soon as practicable in the school.
· The school is advised to review and rationalise its current arrangements for the provision of support for pupils with special educational needs and to consider ideas such as the introduction of more in-class support for these pupils so as to ensure the minimum of disruption to the work in classrooms and maximum benefit to the pupils who need support.
· It is recommended that the school develops a comprehensive policy on assessment which should include a careful selection of tests and the identification of appropriate times for their administration.
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.