An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Cnoc Mhuire Senior National School
Knockmore Avenue, Killinarden, Dublin 24
Uimhir rolla: 19613O
Date of inspection: 2 February 2009
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of Cnoc Mhuire Senior National School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and parent representatives. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Cnoc Mhuire Senior NS is a friendly, nurturing school which has the care and welfare of its pupils as one of its key priorities. The school is situated at the foothills of the Dublin Mountains in the Catholic parish of Killinarden in Tallaght, Dublin. It is one of three schools on a shared campus. This location contributes to the sense of community and belonging that the pupils experience. The building was renovated and extended in 2005 and is a bright, welcoming, secure space for all members of the school community. It is designated as a DEIS band 1 school. The school participates in the Giving Children an Even Break initiative and in The School Completion Programme. The school’s mission statement outlines clearly the school’s commitment to providing a safe, caring and disciplined environment for the pupils. This statement is reflected meaningfully and practically in the leadership and management of the school, in the very positive and supportive atmosphere in the school, in the mutual respect shown by all and in the effective approach taken to managing pupil behaviour.
The board fulfils all its duties competently. It meets regularly, keeps audited financial accounts and maintains appropriate and detailed minutes of its meetings. It is compliant with legislation and Department regulations. It ratifies all school policies and plans. Board members are allocated specific tasks and duties. The board is primarily concerned with finance issues, the development of parental involvement in the school and with addressing the very challenging behaviour exhibited by a small number of pupils. The board members speak highly of the teaching staff and are very supportive of the work being carried out in the school. The board communicates effectively with the school through the chairperson who visits the school regularly. Clear long-term goals are stated for each year and actions are put in place to ensure that these are achieved. The board members are aware of the challenges facing the school. They are very committed to working with and supporting the principal and staff in addressing the challenges, particularly those relating to improving pupil learning outcomes.
Leadership in the school is proactive and is reflective of the stated vision for the school. High standards of practice are set by the principal and deputy principal and their skills and experience effectively complement one another. Issues are critically analysed, targets are set and priorities are named. The principal fosters positive relations among all members of the school community and has high expectations of both pupils and staff. She is very aware of the challenges and issues facing the school. They include improving literacy and mathematics standards among the pupils, addressing the very challenging behaviour of a small number of pupils and increasing parental involvement. She is very familiar with relevant curriculum developments and issues and has very good skills as an instructional leader. She promotes and has a clear belief in collaborative practices. She is readily available to the members of the school community including parents. She aims to provide a high standard of education, to foster excellence in all practices, to promote mutual respect and acceptance for all and to create a safe, happy and friendly environment. The challenge now for the leadership is to translate that vision into practicable, realisable steps with clear goals and focused strategies in each of the priority areas.
The in-school management team work collaboratively and very diligently and meet at regular scheduled intervals. There is a sense of unity of commitment among the members to the individual care of pupils, to improving literacy and numeracy standards and to supporting the discipline strategy. All posts have a curricular, pastoral and organisational dimension in line with Department guidelines. Some good individual curriculum work has taken place under the guidance of the post holders. It is recommended that curriculum leadership among post holders be developed in order to focus on, and to ensure the achievement of, specific curriculum objectives as set out in the school’s strategic action plan.
The class teachers are deployed appropriately and work collaboratively with all the support staff to meet the needs of the pupils. All school personnel are valued, consulted and supported in their daily work and as they meet various challenges. The special needs assistants (SNAs) make a valuable contribution to the inclusion and care of pupils in the classroom. Other professionals including the school completion co-ordinator, the healthy schools co-ordinator, the games coaches, the part-time counsellor, the woodwork teacher and the art therapist also make a significant contribution to the work of the school and to the welfare of the pupils in their care. The school secretary and caretaker play a significant role in creating and maintaining a positive school environment.
The accommodation is of a very high standard. Some minor issues remaining from the recent refurbishment are currently being addressed. The classrooms are spacious, bright and very well equipped. The school also has a large cookery room and library. There is an extensive range of other teaching and learning resources in the school and these are used in a meaningful way to support learning and to meet individual needs.
This school is central to the community in which it is situated. Very good efforts are made to maintain contact with parents. A monthly newsletter is circulated to all parents and information evenings are arranged on a regular basis. The home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator works very closely with a number of parents. The open-door approach in the school is appreciated by the parent body as is the support and care afforded to each individual child. The leadership and management of the school are conscious of the need to improve parental involvement. A parents’ association affiliated to the National Parents’ Council was recently established. Increased parental involvement in school life is desirable in the context of raising attainment in literacy and numeracy.
Pupils are very well mannered and good behaviour is expected and actively fostered. The school has done a lot of excellent work in addressing the pastoral needs of the pupils and in managing the difficult behaviours that are exhibited by a small number of pupils. The consistent, proactive approach to discipline adopted by the teachers is very effective. Assembly time is used successfully to reward good behaviour and attendance. Reward certificates and ‘pupil of the week’ are among the other incentives in place that are also proving effective. The strength of the school in this area is that the responsibility for good discipline and behaviour is shared among the principal, the behaviour-support teacher, the classroom teachers, the parents and the SNAs. The board of management is also very supportive of the school’s approach to behaviour management. The school is commended on the very good practice in this area of school life. The school is effectively addressing attendance issues among a small number of pupils.
The school is currently embarking on a renewed whole-school planning process involving redrafting and revising many of its curriculum and organisational policies and plans. Significant time and effort has been given to developing the code of behaviour and this is contributing to the effective work in this area. The three-year DEIS action plan reflects some of the priorities identified by the school. The school’s commitment to self-review is commendable as is the willingness to collaborate in developing particular planning documents.
Among the main challenges facing this school with regard to whole-school planning are (i) the establishment of priorities in terms of curriculum and special education needs (this will involve, among other things, the drawing up and ratification of relevant concise whole-school plans for particular curriculum areas) (ii) the dissemination of the school’s priorities, targets and objectives among the members of the school community as appropriate (iii) the putting in place of systems to monitor the extent to which whole school targets/objectives are being achieved. The development of the roles of individual members of the in-school management team to lead specific curriculum areas will be critical to the success of whole-school planning, implementation and review.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
All teachers prepare long-term and short-term written schemes of work for each curriculum area. There is evidence of good collaboration in this process by teachers at the different class levels. The challenge for teachers now in their short-term planning is to ensure that, in the first instance, their plans are consistent with the revised school planning documents and that they take due account of the pupils’ achievements in summative assessments. A sharper focus on specific learning objectives, particularly in relation to the teaching of skills in literacy and numeracy, is required. Further attention to planning for differentiation is also needed in order to cater more effectively for individual and group learning needs. Consideration should be given to developing a monthly progress record template for use in all classes.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The overall quality of teaching is very good. A variety of teaching approaches is employed including investigative methods, activity learning, group and pair work and purposeful opportunities for independent learning. Some teachers share the purpose of the lessons with the pupils and there was evidence in many classrooms of clear explanations, effective questioning and building on previous learning. In general, lessons in the school are well-structured and well- paced and are very well resourced. The school timetable reflects the commitment of the school to English and to Mathematics. This is commended. Teachers interact very well with pupils and have created very positive learning environments. Written work is diligently corrected and very good efforts are made to foster the self-esteem and the self-confidence of the pupils. Classroom management skills and organisational skills among the teachers are very good.
Tá an clár Ghaeilge tríd an scoil bunaithe ar an dtéascleabhar. Is é an phríomh modh múinte atá in úsáid ag na hoidi ná an modh díreach. Tugtar cuid deiseanna do na daltaí páirt a ghlacadh sna gníomhaíochtaí agus an Ghaeilge a labhairt agus a chleachtadh. Moltar níos mó breise a chur anois ar an nGaeilge labhartha agus ar fhorbairt na scileanna cumarsáide i ngach rang. Moltar freisin an teanga agus an cultúr a chothú go neamhfhoirmiúil tríd an scoil.
The Irish programme in the school is based on a class textbook. The lessons are teacher directed and pupils in some classes are afforded some opportunities to engage in language based activities. It is necessary for a core communicative competence to be developed at each class level within the context of the overall school plan. The promotion of the Irish language in other school related activities is advised.
A love of reading is fostered through the school. English is meaningfully integrated with other curriculum areas. The teachers’ awareness of the need to differentiate the reading programme for all pupils, through the provision of a discrete reading time each day in all classes, is praised. The teachers generally are aware of the need to raise the standards of pupil achievement in literacy. A whole-school phonics plan has been put in place. The development of a specific school reading plan which sets out other reading skills to be taught at each class level is critical. This process should be informed by the data obtained from the reading assessments. The ongoing involvement of parents in their children’s reading is desirable.
The First Steps writing programme has been initiated in all classes. This renewed focus on process writing throughout the school has resulted in very good quality drafting and redrafting work and has provided opportunities for pupils to write in a variety of genres. Some excellent samples were seen during the inspection and pupils took great pride in talking about and presenting their work. The teaching of writing skills in a developmental way is the hallmark of writing lessons in this school. Very good progress in the pupils’ work since the beginning of the school year is evident. Writing workshops are taking place in some classes while portfolios and free writing copies are used in others. To ensure ongoing improvement in pupils’ writing, consideration should be given to how this writing can be assessed and how the progress of individual pupils can be tracked from year to year.
The school is praised for identifying the development of oral language at all levels as a priority in its action plan. To this end, a whole-school plan for oral language has been devised and is in the early stages of implementation. The proposal to allocate a discrete time each week to oral language activities is praised. One of the positive features of the programme outlined is that it is skills based and requires rich modelling of language by the teacher. A process for reviewing at regular intervals the extent to which the specific oral language targets have been attained is required.
The school management has prioritised a mental mathematics programme for the school in its three-year DEIS action plan in order to address the underachievement of some pupils in mathematics. Teachers are commended on adhering to the plan and on carrying out focused work on mental mathematics in a consistent way through the school. Independent learning is generally fostered and concrete materials are used to support the teaching and learning. Copies are well laid out, are corrected diligently and pupil efforts are praised. Lessons are generally well structured and well paced. Effective examples of problem solving were evident in the senior classes. It is recommended that a dedicated time for problem solving be included in every mathematics lesson at all class levels. The school intends to undertake a Maths Recovery programme during the next school year.
Future planning and delivery of the mathematics programme at the whole-school and individual class level should be informed by the data obtained from mathematic assessments. The setting of specific targets for particular pupils or groups of pupils that are directly related to the pupils’ existing competence, abilities and needs is critical in order to advance mathematics achievement in this school. Careful tracking of individual pupils and class attainments is also required.
The quality of learning and teaching in history is very good. Timelines, stories, pictures and photographs are used for the teaching of history and pupils are given opportunities to be actively engaged in their own learning and to develop the skills of a historian. The pupils questioned responded knowledgeably to the questions asked. History is effectively integrated with other curriculum areas and particularly with the English novels in the senior classes. A range of suitable resources is used to teach the history programme and these help to foster discussion and exploration around historical topics.
The quality of learning and teaching in geography is very good. Maps, photographs and talk and discussion are used effectively to stimulate interest and to develop knowledge within the geography strands. The pupils exhibit a very good knowledge of the topics covered to date. Pair and individual work is fostered and appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of geographical skills. Good links are made with history and other curriculum areas.
The quality of learning and teaching in science is excellent. The science programme is well balanced and pupils are given good opportunities to develop scientific skills. The lessons witnessed were well structured and required the pupils to be active in their own learning. Teachers encourage pupils to make predictions and to discuss investigations. Good emphasis is placed on the development of appropriate scientific language. Teachers question pupils very effectively in order to foster understanding and skills. Group work is used effectively and a good range of resources are available. It is recommended that scientific investigation tables be used in every classroom to build on the learning and teaching in this curriculum area.
The quality of teaching and learning in the visual arts is very good. The school programme reflects the content and approaches set out in the Primary School Curriculum 1999. It provides very good opportunities for the pupils to engage in the process of making art and for responding to their own work and to the work of various artists. The pupils’ art work is displayed throughout the school building and they take pride in talking about their own work. Individual expression is effectively promoted. School personnel who have particular strengths in this curriculum area contribute significantly to the programme at all class levels.
Pupils participate in very engaging music lessons and regular opportunities are given to them to perform for their peers. All strands of the music curriculum are taught. The programme places appropriate emphasis on the elements of music, different styles of music, and movement to music. Pupils sing tunefully and have a good repertoire of songs. Composition work is well developed and pupils are encouraged to respond to each other’s compositions in a respectful and constructive manner. Good efforts are made to integrate music with other curriculum areas.
Drama is used as an appropriate teaching methodology across the curriculum. The pupils engage in role-plays, drama games, improvisations and freeze frames with assurance and enjoyment. Some good examples of the use of drama to support the learning in English and SPHE were observed. It is recommended that a school plan for drama be devised which places emphasis on the development of key drama skills. This programme should be used to support the work of the school on fostering self-esteem, self-confidence and self-efficacy.
The school provides a broad physical education programme with suitable emphasis on skill development, team work and enjoyment. Lessons are appropriately structured and incorporate warm-up activities, demonstration of skill and consolidation through games and cool-down phases. Due attention is given to health and safety issues. Swimming lessons are provided for all pupils in third and fourth classes. The physical education programme is supported and complemented by a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular sporting activities. Tutoring is provided in Gaelic football and soccer and participation levels are consistently high.
The school personnel have successfully created a social, orderly and respectful environment where a sense of community and belonging are actively fostered and nurtured. The principal holds a weekly assembly which provides excellent opportunities to celebrate achievements and to motivate pupils. The individual needs of pupils are a priority and every effort is made to address any situation that arises. Some excellent programmes have been initiated in the school to support the SPHE curriculum. These include the Compass programme for sixth class boys and the self-care programme for girls.
The school is very committed to fostering the social, personal and health dimensions of the pupils’ lives and has recently assigned responsibility for this curriculum area to a special duties teacher. With the appointment of the healthy schools’ co-ordinator it is timely for the school to review the school plan for SPHE and ensure that it is based directly on the needs of the pupils and is grounded in the context of the school. It should detail the priorities of the school in this area, how Relationships and Sexuality Education will be taught to both boys and girls, the range of teaching approaches to be used in the delivery of the programme and how parental involvement will be fostered.
The school is aware of the need to review assessment practices. The teachers acknowledge the role of assessment in planning for and delivering programmes to meet individual pupil needs. They are also cognisant of the central role of assessment in improving learning and achievement and in increasing overall standards. It is recommended that an assessment policy be devised that outlines clearly how and when assessments will take place and the types of assessments that are most appropriate. Assessment for learning will be critical to bringing about improvement in literacy and mathematics attainment in the school. It is recommended that such assessment be developed further.
A range of approaches and styles of special education needs (SEN) provision was evident in this school during the inspection. This includes special class provision and the withdrawal of pupils individually or in small groups. The SEN personnel comprises three special classes teachers, one learning-support teacher, one learning-support/resource teacher and one resource teacher for travellers. It also includes seven special needs assistants (SNAs). The support team meets on a monthly basis. Part of the work of the team is the provision of support to a group of very able pupils. This is commended. Traveller pupils are integrated for learning support and this is working effectively. The support rooms are spacious and very well resourced and provide suitable learning environments for the pupils. Elements of good practice observed in some of the SEN settings include teaching based on the achievement of specific learning objectives, the ongoing review of progress, the pitching of the teaching at appropriate levels and the involvement of the pupils in target setting and the review process.
Overall SEN provision in this school requires re-organisation in practice. At the time of inspection a whole-school plan for SEN was being devised. It is important that such a policy incorporate the staged approach to SEN intervention. It should provide clear guidelines in relation to the roles and responsibilities of all the SEN team members including the SNAs. It should define the processes of selecting pupils for support teaching and how this teaching will be organised. It should also include the types and range of methodologies and resources to be used in the various settings, the format and approach to Individual Education Plans and the processes for assessment and review. Opportunities for increased provision of in-class support should be considered in accordance with Department of Education and Science guidelines.
The principle of integration and inclusion are central to the life of the school. All pupils are treated equally in the school regardless of ethnic background, need or ability. The school works very closely with a range of agencies to help them address the needs of individual pupils. This linkage takes time and effort on the part of staff members and they are commended on the effectiveness of their work in this regard. Because there are significantly fewer girls attending the school than boys it is crucial to ensure that the girls are encouraged and afforded opportunities to participate actively in lessons.
A range of support programmes and personnel are in place in the school to help meet the particular needs of some pupils. One resource that is particularly effectively used is the School Completion Programme (SCP) which assists in areas of literacy, personal development, self-efficacy and homework. A counsellor and an art therapist are also funded by the SCP. The behaviour-support teacher caters skilfully and sensitively for the needs of pupils with significant behavioural difficulties. She works closely and effectively with the principal, the class teachers and the SNAs in this regard and very good results are being achieved. The healthy schools’ co-ordinator focuses on health issues and works with both pupils and parents to address particular health needs. The HSCL co-ordinator works closely with families to support pupil needs. A care team comprising the principal, the behaviour-support teacher, the SCP co-ordinator, the HSCL co-ordinator and the learning-support teacher, responds effectively to critical needs that arise and ensures that an action plan is put in place. The school is complimented on identifying specific areas of pupil need and on devising programmes or approaches to meet those needs. It is important that the approach taken to meet pupils’ needs be co-ordinated and that all initiatives are closely monitored. All programmes and activities provided for individual children should be informed by specific curriculum or learning objectives. As significant time is afforded to these measures with some pupils spending significant portions of each day out of the mainstream class, it is essential that interventions are monitored closely to ensure that the outcomes are meaningful for the pupils involved and that their participation in mainstream classroom learning is not compromised.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The challenge for the leadership in the school is to translate the stated vision for the school into practicable, realisable steps with clear goals and focused strategies in each of the priority areas.
· It is recommended that curriculum leadership among post-holders be developed in order to focus on and to ensure the achievement of specific curriculum objectives as set out
in the school’s strategic action plan.
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.
Published January 2010