An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Whole School Evaluation
St Paul’s Senior National School
Ayrfield, Dublin 13
Uimhir rolla: 19618B
Date of inspection: 8 October 2009
A whole-school evaluation of St Paul’s Senior National School Ayrfield was undertaken in October 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Mathematics and History. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St Paul’s Senior National School is a co-educational primary school located in the north Dublin suburb of Ayrfield and caters for pupils from the immediate parish. The catchment area is demographically mature and future projections indicate that enrolment trends will remain stable. In general, very good levels of attendance are attained by the majority of pupils.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teachers on the school staff
Mainstream class teachers
Teachers working in support roles
Special needs assistants
The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. The Catholic Christian ethos of the school espouses the full and harmonious development of each pupil within a community where mutual respect is promoted. The realisation of this ethos is evident in the well ordered and happy learning environment that pertains within the school and in the respectful interactions that are successfully nurtured throughout the school.
The board of management undertakes its business in a focused, procedural and committed manner. It meets regularly and minutes are maintained appropriately. Financial reports are provided at regular intervals in the school year, with a full financial report being presented to the school’s patron on an annual basis. The board is conscious of its statutory obligations and ensures compliance with the Department of Education and Science regulations. The board’s current priorities include the upgrading of the school hall and the maintenance of a happy learning environment.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, the deputy principal, an assistant principal and three special duties teachers. The role of the principal is characterised by an effective and reflective management style and capable administrative skills. These skills are evidenced by the highly organised learning environment and the strong sense of collegiality and teamwork that pertains in the school.
The principal is ably assisted in her role by the other members of the in-school management team. Each member of the team has considerable experience within the school. Individually, they demonstrate a shared commitment to their respective roles across a range of organisational, curricular and pastoral duties. It is recommended that these duties be reviewed to ensure that they respond to and meet the identified curricular needs of the school, most notably the implementation of the mathematics programme. Post-holders report at staff meetings on the progress achieved in their particular areas of responsibility. To add further momentum to their important role as curriculum leaders an action plan should be devised to facilitate curriculum review and development.
An annual staff rotation policy successfully ensures that best use is made of teacher expertise within the school. The support settings are staffed by very experienced teachers. New staff members are provided with advice and support by the principal and through a “buddy” system within the school. The school has the support also of a very dedicated ancillary staff which includes a secretary, a school caretaker and cleaner. Two special-needs assistants provide support to assigned pupils in mainstream classes. They discharge their duties conscientiously and with a very good sense of care for the pupils.
The school building was constructed in 1978 and was refurbished in 2005. It is maintained to a very high standard throughout. Circulation areas within the school are attractively presented with samples of pupils’ work, visual aids and displays that identify and celebrate pupils’ achievement in a range of endeavours. A variety of useful resources for all curriculum areas is recorded within the whole-school plan. These resources are stored centrally or within individual classrooms. A networked computer and internet access is available in all classrooms. Pupils also benefit from time-tabled access to the well-equipped computer room which also features other modern information and communication technology (ICT) facilities.
A dynamic and active parents’ association is very supportive of the work of the school. This support is manifested through fundraising events and by involvement in a range of activities, most notably the school’s saving scheme. In building on such commendable school involvement, it is recommended that the school considers wider opportunities for engaging parental support in curricular areas such as English and Mathematics.
Generally, the parents’ association is satisfied with the education provided in the school. Its priorities centre on the further development of communication structures between itself, the board of management and the wider school community. To this end, the association plans to involve parents to a greater degree in its activities and functions. Comprehensive monthly newsletters are issued, detailing school events and activities.
Regular assembly is a feature of pupil management and opportunities are created to acknowledge pupils’ efforts and achievements. A positive atmosphere permeates the school and pupils are treated with fairness and respect. There is a strong emphasis on positive-behaviour strategies and the pupils in general are well-behaved and engage enthusiastically in their classroom activities. Pupils’ journals are successfully used as a means of communication with parents and aspects of the code of behaviour are communicated within these. The school’s code of behaviour has been updated recently. However, it is recommended that this policy explicitly sets out procedures to be followed in the case of suspension and expulsion; the document Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools published in May 2008 by the National Educational Welfare Board should be consulted in this regard. A range of activities is organised for recreation periods and these are carefully supervised. Staff members are supportive of extracurricular cultural and sporting activities.
A whole-school plan has been developed, encompassing a range of organisational and curricular areas. Commendably, many of these policies have been devised in a collaborative manner. Elements of the school plan have been reviewed in recent times. However, it is not clear when some policies will be reviewed. It is recommended that an action plan be developed to identify and prioritise the organisational and curricular policies for future review. Going forward, all policies developed should be signed and dated by the chairperson on ratification by the board. The school’s enrolment policy should be reviewed to ensure that it reflects existing good practice and to ensure compliance with relevant equality legislation.
Whole-school curriculum plans have been devised that are comprehensive and detailed. All teachers provide long-term and short-term schemes of work. There is some variation in the approaches to long term-planning. Some very good practice was noted whereby teachers devised their long-term planning in such a way that it is specifically contextualised to meet the needs of their class grouping. Very good short-term preparation was evident in almost all classrooms. In these instances, objectives, methodologies, resources and differentiation strategies were outlined providing clarity and direction for expected learning outcomes. Consideration should be given to extending this good practice across the school.
Monthly progress reports are completed by all teachers and are stored centrally by the principal. Where practice was found to be good, teachers provided appropriate detail on the work completed in their classrooms. This praiseworthy practice should be discussed further so as to guide a whole-school approach to recording pupils’ progress and to guide future self-evaluation at school level.
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.
Good quality teaching and learning was observed in English in almost all settings during the evaluation with some exemplary practice also noted. Care is taken to ensure that experiences in oral language, reading, writing and poetry are appropriately integrated and connected. Many pupils throughout the school display an ability to express themselves confidently. Good use is made of oral language contexts such as story, novels and cross-curricular opportunities in this endeavour. In a small number of settings, further opportunities are needed to ensure that pupils articulate clearly and engage in collaborative activities that will develop appropriate active listening and speaking skills.
Teachers in all classes demonstrate a strong commitment to promoting reading as an enjoyable and worthwhile activity. A graded reading scheme is in use throughout the school and all classes have access to a range of appropriate novels. The school has an excellent library with a broad range of reading materials in a range of genres. Its use is time-tabled for pupils’ access. In many classrooms, teachers appropriately display the library material in an interesting and inviting manner. This approach further generates interest and enthusiasm for reading.
Effective lessons in reading were noted during the evaluation. Many teachers use open-ended and carefully-chosen higher-order questions in a skilful manner. A diverse range of effective strategies supports the discrete development of reading and comprehension skills across the school. Pupils competently engage in discussion surrounding characterisation, reading for information and re-reading to confirm answers. Standardised literacy tests indicate that many pupils achieve a level in reading commensurate with their ability. However, in a small number of settings where there is a very broad level of attainment, group teaching of reading would be of benefit to further cater for the varying needs of these pupils.
A good balance is achieved between functional and creative writing. Good quality samples of pupils’ process writing are displayed in designated writing areas. In some senior classes, pupils successfully publish booklets of their own creative writing. Pupils’ enthusiasm for writing is appropriately and creatively nurtured through participation in a structured writing work-shop. Pupils’ handwriting is neat and well organised in general. A cursive handwriting style is introduced in third class and most pupils have developed a fluent and legible personal style of handwriting in senior classes. Copybooks, for the most part are monitored regularly with feedback of a formative nature provided by many teachers. Pupils have achieved a good understanding of writing conventions. Spelling strategies are taught and reinforced at each class level.
Appreciation, composition and learning of poetry are included in teachers’ individual planning throughout the school. Very good quality teaching of poetry was observed in a number of classrooms where stimulating poems were selected, high levels of purposeful pupil engagement were achieved and pupils capably exhibited an imaginative response to imagery and the use of language. In some senior classes, commendable attention is paid to committing interesting and challenging poems to memory with many pupils demonstrating a good facility for recitation. This practice should be further embedded throughout the school.
Throughout the school, the quality of teaching of Mathematics is good with some very good practice observed during the evaluation. In almost all settings appropriately structured lessons were noted. Where teachers are successful in stimulating pupils’ enthusiasm, care is taken to ensure that the work has relevance for the pupils and is skilfully connected to their life experiences. An emphasis on the direct teaching of mathematical language was noted in some settings. Commendably, the effective and accurate use of this language by pupils during plenary sessions was a feature of very good practice. Activity-based learning, the use of concrete materials and guided discussion were observed in almost all lessons throughout the school. A range of suitable strategies and games is successfully used to develop proficiency in fundamental mathematical skills and concepts.
Commendably, some teachers cover elements of the five strands on a rotational basis, facilitating appropriate linkage across the strands. This approach to long term-planning for Mathematics should be further explored at a whole-school level. In almost all settings, teachers’ short-term planning makes appropriate reference to a range of differentiation strategies. In particular settings, the successful implementation of these strategies was observed during the evaluation. The extension of these effective strategies is recommended throughout the school. While many classrooms have a mathematics-rich environment, there is potential to extend these displays to the main circulation areas of the school.
Standardised test results for Mathematics indicate a wide range of attainment levels across the school. The approach of individual teachers towards the implementation of the mathematics curriculum is praiseworthy. However, further emphasis on estimation, linkage, problem solving and a more differentiated approach throughout the school would enhance the pupils’ overall attainment levels in the subject. Commendably the school has noted whole-class trends in the levels of attainment. The analysis and tracking of these trends at individual pupil level is also recommended as a means of more targeted intervention.
It is particularly noteworthy that pupils are encouraged to record their work neatly and with accuracy in suitable copybooks. This work is regularly monitored by all teachers and effective feedback of a formative nature is provided in almost all settings.
History lessons observed indicate that teachers are successful in generating curiosity and interest in learning about the past. In all lessons observed, teachers established good links between pupils’ prior knowledge and the new material being presented. Throughout the school very good use is made of a suitable array of resources, most notably photographs and artefacts. All teachers capably use these resources to illustrate and explore aspects of continuity and change over time. Commendably, in a number of settings, pupils were enabled to synthesise, analyse and make deductions from the variety of materials provided. This skill development was enhanced by teacher-led questioning and facilitated discussion.
Timelines and designated history areas are aspects of display in some classrooms. It is recommended that a whole-school approach be adopted for the use of timelines in the development of skills and concepts in History. Well-managed pair and group work was observed in almost all classrooms and many teachers made effective use of plenary sessions to assess pupils’ historical understanding and the development of skills. Further integration of History with other aspects of the curriculum would enhance provision in this subject area.
Through the use of story and artefacts from the recent past, pupils in the middle classes develop a sense of chronology. In some settings, language skills are appropriately developed. The pupils in the senior classes display a good understanding of cause and effect processes. Many indicate a very impressive empathy with people across aspects of local, national and international history.
A sense of pupils’ personal history is being established through interviews with parents and grandparents. This has been successful in a number of classrooms and should be extended throughout the school. Some aspects of immediate local history have been identified and links have been established with the local library and historical society.
As an extension of the work in the classroom, pupils visit museums, sites and interpretive centres in the greater local area. Pupils document and present their findings in booklets and folders and well-presented project work. The school is acquiring a range of interesting artefacts and these are prominently displayed in the main circulation area. This is supportive of a skills-based approach in the teaching and learning of History.
A whole-school policy on assessment has been devised. Useful informal assessment strategies are documented within this policy, many of which are reflected in the teachers’ personal planning. Teacher observation, teacher-devised tasks and pupil’s projects are widely used as assessment strategies. Standardised tests in reading and Mathematics and the Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) are administered appropriately.
The results of these standardised and teacher-devised tests are used to inform planning and facilitate the selection of pupils for diagnostic assessment. Test results are collated, carefully recorded and centrally stored. Information on the pupils’ achievement and attainment levels is passed on each year to the next teacher. Parents are kept informed of their children’s progress by means of an annual report and through parent-teacher meetings.
The recently reviewed whole-school policy on special education provision is very comprehensive and outlines guiding principles, selection procedures and the policy on continuing and discontinuing learning support. Individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) and individual education plans (IEPs) are in place for all relevant pupils. Regular consultation with classroom teachers is maintained. Weekly plans and progress records are kept for individuals and groups for whom supplementary teaching is provided.
Support is provided in literacy, numeracy and social skills development. Supplementary teaching consists of either an individual or group approach, primarily on a withdrawal basis. In the lessons observed, phonological awareness was developed through the use of a graded scheme. A plentiful supply of appropriate games, materials, high interest books and equipment is available. Information and communications technology (ICT) is used effectively in some settings. The pupils’ self-esteem is enhanced through motivation and the experience of success is promoted in carefully structured activities. To build on the good practice observed and to capitalise on teacher expertise, it is recommended that the school considers wider possibilities for team teaching and in-class support for pupils with special educational needs. In so doing, this restructuring would minimise the fragmentation of time and reduce the necessity for some pupils to attend a number of support teachers.
The school has recently embarked on an initiative designed to further develop pupils’ proficiency in Mathematics. This initiative is well-planned. These lessons operate on a withdrawal basis and are delivered in an effective manner, building on pupils’ life experience and their environment. A wide range of resources provides hands-on opportunities for pupils to practise and develop concepts. Pupils engage readily and enthusiastically in these lessons. The pupils are provided with various opportunities to discuss problem-solving strategies and to clarify their understanding of concepts. In particular, these lessons make very good provision for linkage and integration. Commendable emphasis is placed on the development of an affirming and appropriately challenging learning environment.
The school has developed a plan to guide and manage the teaching of English to newcomer pupils. The Primary School Assessment Kit is used to identify pupils’ needs and to inform programmes of learning. Language provision classes are delivered on a withdrawal basis in small group settings. The provision of this supplementary support within the pupils’ own classroom is recommended to support the acquisition and development of cognitive academic language.
A small number of pupils from the Traveller community are fully integrated in mainstream classes and they also receive conscientious supplementary teaching in the support setting. However, restructuring of this support is recommended to ensure it is of a more integrated nature and that it is based solely on the pupils’ diagnosed and identified educational needs.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The board of management is supportive of the school and is commended for the high standard in which the school building is maintained.
· The principal and the other members of the in-school management team are highly praised for their positive leadership and management style.
· Teachers are committed to providing a high quality, holistic education for their pupils in a stimulating and supportive learning environment.
· Classrooms and circulation areas are well-presented and well-organised.
· The pupils are friendly and courteous and eagerly engage in all classroom activities.
· Parents are actively involved in a range of initiatives and are supportive of the work of the school.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· To raise the level of pupil attainment in Mathematics, a leadership role should be established within the in-school management team to co-ordinate the implementation of initiatives.
· It is recommended that an action plan be developed to identify and prioritise aspects of school development planning.
· It is recommended that data generated from existing assessment practices for Mathematics be further analysed to inform differentiation in teaching and learning.
· It is recommended that procedures to be followed in the case of suspensions and expulsion be clearly set out in the code of behaviour.
· The restructuring of learning support for pupils from the Traveller community is recommended to ensure it is of a more integrated nature and that it is based solely on the pupils’
diagnosed and identified educational needs.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2010