An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Pope John Paul II National School
Malahide, County Dublin.
Uimhir rolla: 19627C
Date of inspection: 2 March 2009
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of Pope John Paul II National School, Malahide. 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’ association. 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Pope John Paul II National School is a co-educational senior school, catering for pupils from second to sixth class, the majority of whom attended St Sylvester’s Infant School from junior infants to first class. The school is a Catholic school, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin. Current staffing comprises an administrative principal, twenty-nine teachers and six special-needs assistants. Pupils are mainly drawn from the local area of Malahide and 566 pupils were enrolled at the time of the evaluation. Enrolment fluctuates slightly from year to year in response to the numbers transferring from the infant school. The board of management reported that it works closely with St Sylvester’s Infant School in monitoring future enrolment trends. To this end, the board is proactive in ensuring that the school can accommodate pupils from the local area. The board reported that the school’s recently revised enrolment policy is implemented in a fair and transparent manner. Pupil attendance is very good and this is enhanced by effective procedures to monitor and support attendance.
The school was established on the present site in 1980 but draws on a tradition and heritage going back to the mid-nineteenth century. To meet the demands of growth in the local area, the school was extended significantly in 2003. The school is warm, bright and comfortable, providing an attractive environment for pupils and staff. A number of well-maintained, child-friendly internal gardens further enhance the school area. As a result of the board’s strategic maintenance plan, the school is maintained to a high standard internally and externally. Considerable pride is taken in the maintenance of the school’s grounds and this is supported through the collaboration of parents, pupils, staff and the full-time caretaker.
The school’s stated mission expresses commitment to encouraging and motivating pupils to achieve their full potential, intellectually, socially, spiritually, emotionally and physically. The school’s policies and attitudes are underpinned by Gospel values, espousing mutual respect and trust. During the evaluation, management and staff acknowledged the provision of a happy learning environment as a key aim, while at the same time fostering individual pupil responsibility. Evidence of the commitment to this aim was apparent in the quality of classroom interactions and the respectful atmosphere that permeates the school.
The board of management is highly supportive of the work of the school and is well informed with regard to curriculum development, organisational issues, legal developments, pastoral care responsibility and the day-to-day aspects of school management. The board is properly constituted and meetings are convened on a very regular basis. The effectiveness of the board is further enhanced by the frequent meetings of the principal and the chairperson of the board. The principal’s detailed reports inform the board and there is also opportunity for parents’ representatives and teachers’ representatives to present a report at these meetings. The board reported that accounts are audited appropriately and are well managed. The current priorities of the board relate to financial management, matters concerning school refurbishment and aspects of policy development and review, most notably the revision of the enrolment policy and the health and safety statement. Considerable discussion and collaboration is evident with regard to the formulation of these policies. Board members are very generous with their time and share their skills enthusiastically. It is noteworthy that the board has identified particular targets for the duration of its tenure and its members are endeavouring to meet these targets. Individual roles have been allocated to board members and subcommittees are formed to manage projects effectively and to ensure their progression and completion.
The board expressed as a priority its commitment to the school’s mission statement and the provision of a good quality education for all pupils. To this end, the board is very generous in the provision of all necessary resources to maximise the learning experience for the pupils. Staff members are encouraged and supported to avail of continuing professional development where it is feasible to do so. Board members have availed of training provided by the Catholic Primary Schools’ Management Association (CPSMA). Satisfaction with all aspects of pupils’ progress was expressed by the board and the dedication and professionalism of the principal and of the school staff were highly praised.
The highly effective curriculum, organisational and pastoral care leadership provided by the principal is informed by her clear and shared vision for the school. The continual improvement in standards of teaching and learning is at the centre of this shared vision. The principal attaches particular importance on being reflective while at the same time being well-disposed to embracing change. In her role as principal, she brings considerable experience, expertise, energy and conviction to this role. To this end, she enjoys the support and confidence of the staff, the parents and the board. She places great importance on open communication and collegiality, and liaises closely with the in-school management team regarding various aspects of the curriculum, organisational and pastoral care initiatives. Through her consultative and collaborative approach, she is particularly successful in setting and achieving curricular, organisational and pastoral priorities while developing and sustaining an affirming and positive school atmosphere. She demonstrates a sensitive and perceptive approach towards pupils and all members of staff and maintains a very visible presence throughout the school. She is highly supportive of a team approach and also encouraging of individual post-holders and staff members. This active delegation of leadership empowers the in-school management team to be pro-active and effective in carrying out their duties.
The principal is ably supported in her role by the deputy principal, three assistant principals and nine special duties post-holders. The principal and deputy principal meet regularly on a formal basis and this facilitates the effective day-to-day management of the school. The deputy principal carries out her duties conscientiously and works closely with other members of the in-school management team. The duties of the in-school management team are reviewed regularly following appropriate consultation and these duties reflect the changing needs of the school. Organisational, curricular and pastoral responsibilities are assigned in line with Department of Education and Science guidelines, encompassing a wide and varied range of duties. Members of the team are committed to their roles and carry out their duties diligently. Individual members of the in-school management team provide an overview of their action plan for the school year. A formal meeting at the commencement of the year is convened to prioritise particular aspects of the school action plan. Following this, subcommittees are then formed to provide impetus and momentum for identified relevant initiatives. Through regular committee meetings and consultation with the principal, whole-school planning and development are appropriately prioritised. In recent times, Mathematics and English have been prioritised for review under the school’s two-year action plan. Cultural, sporting, environmental and pastoral care initiatives led by post-holders enrich the atmosphere of the school and further reflect the school’s mission statement.
The staff deployment policy endeavours to ensure that all teachers are afforded the opportunity to experience a variety of classes and contexts and this practice promotes a sharing of expertise at different class levels. Individual staff members have further developed their pedagogical skills across a broad range of areas, and this considerably augments the skills base of the school. An agreed agenda is prepared for the regular staff meetings. Post-holders report at staff meetings on the progress achieved in their particular areas of responsibility. A commendable practice has been established whereby staff members share the outcomes of professional development opportunities with other teachers during these regular meetings.
Support for newly qualified teachers is provided through an internal school support system provided by the principal and a post-holder. Class groupings of the same class level are located in close proximity to each other, enabling collegial support for new teachers. At the time of the evaluation, the school has the support of six special-needs assistants (SNAs) posts, two of which are held in a job-sharing capacity. Individually, and as a team, they support the school effectively and are conscientious in promoting pupil independence and meeting the care needs of individual pupils. These posts are rotated annually to ensure that pupils do not become overly dependant on any one individual. They work effectively under the direction of the class teacher in the implementation of their duties. Regular meetings with the principal provide opportunities to discuss their work as a team.
The school benefits from the services of a highly dedicated and committed full-time secretary and a part-time secretary. A full-time school caretaker carries out general maintenance duties internally and externally to a high level, ensuring the systematic repair and enhancement of the school environment and garden areas. The school is cleaned to a high standard on a daily basis by four individual cleaners and an intensive programme of cleaning is undertaken during holiday periods.
School accommodation consists of twenty-one permanent classrooms, one temporary classroom, three learning-support rooms, one resource room, one language support room, one computer room, a staff room, a principal’s and secretary’s office and a general purposes room. A strategic maintenance plan is in place which is monitored by individual board members in consultation with the principal. With the support of parents, works were carried out last summer to ensure the upgrading of some facilities in the older part of the building. A tarmacadam area provides an appropriate recreational area for pupils and the school has access to a local green area located behind the school. The ongoing development and maintenance of a number of themed central garden spaces is worthy of particular praise as they enhance the aesthetic environment of the school.
The pupils, teachers and board are to be complimented for the high quality internal environment that they have created and their commitment to its care is noteworthy. Classrooms are attractively presented and teachers are commended for the stimulating and purposeful displays of visual aids, materials and samples of pupils’ work, which help to create an environment that is very conducive to the full implementation of all aspects of the curriculum. A policy on school displays ensures that these are seasonal and relevant. The displays of pupils’ work and achievements in the school foyer, corridors and general purpose room enhance the environment and engender pride in the pupils about their place of learning. A wide-ranging array of teacher and pupil resources is available in well-organised central storage areas. All resources are audited and comprehensive lists of resources, under each of the curricular areas, are outlined in the school plan.
The computer room provides hands-on experience in relation to various aspects of information and communications technology (ICT) and classes are time-tabled for its use. A wide range of software material has been acquired and is used effectively. In addition, a range of ICT facilities is provided in each classroom.
One of the hallmarks of good practice in this school is the well-established communication and partnership in evidence between parents, teachers and the school community. The school has established an active and dedicated parents’ association which meets regularly. Their activities make a very significant contribution to school life. They are very supportive of the work of the school, the principal and the board. The parents’ association is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council (Primary) and officers have participated in training organised by the organisation. The parents’ association maintain close communication with the principal, meeting monthly with her prior to and directly after its meetings. An outline of their proposed activities is submitted to the board for approval at the commencement of the school year. The representatives of the parents’ association met as part of the whole-school evaluation process and they commented on the openness and welcome afforded to parents by the principal and all staff members. Parents have an opportunity to discuss their child’s progress during the annual parent-teacher meeting and an open door policy facilitates more regular meetings by appointment. An annual report is issued at the end of the year outlining details of each pupil’s progress. Parents’ representatives reported high levels of satisfaction with the quality and standard of teaching and the educational progress made by their children.
Parents are very active in the organisation of a number of fundraising events and have provided valuable contributions in supporting school-based initiatives, most notably the equipping of the computer room and the purchase of modern ICT equipment. Parents’ representatives have contributed significantly to aspects of policy development, most notably Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE), the code of behaviour, the anti-bullying and substance-use policies. Parents’ support is actively encouraged from within the school. Parents were responsible for the production of a Christmas talent show which was actively supported by members of the teaching staff and board. An induction evening for parents of newly enrolling pupils ensures that the transition from the infant school is well managed. The staff has produced a booklet which outlines in some detail school policy in respect of certain key areas such as behaviour, enrolment procedures, homework and attendance. Regular news letters and notes from the principal and the parents’ association provide information on school initiatives. The school’s website also provides another effective means of communication with the wider community.
The management of pupils is very good and pupils are encouraged to be respectful and courteous to one another and all staff members. A very pleasant atmosphere permeates all the work of the school and the pupils display confidence and interest in their learning activities at a level commensurate with their age. The school’s code of behaviour and anti-bullying policy outline guidelines for positive behaviour. These have been adapted by individual teachers at various class levels and these guidelines are displayed in the classrooms. During the evaluation, inspectors noted that pupils’ self-esteem is further supported by affirming and appropriate comments from their teachers. Rewards and positive reinforcement are used constructively by all teachers. Assembly for particular class levels is a regular feature of practice in Pope John Paul II National School and this provides an opportunity to celebrate positive behaviour and focuses on the development of pupils’ self-esteem and self-worth. Well-established routines have been developed with regard to playground areas and an appropriate supervision roster is in place during lunch-break. Booklets containing these routines are made available to all staff members at the commencement of the school year. Following transfer from the infant school, pupils remain in the same class grouping for three years. Pupils are placed in newly constructed classes at the commencement of fifth class to encourage the development of new friendships and also as a preparation for transition to post-primary school. Effective links have been established with post-primary schools to enable the pupils to transfer with confidence. A range of extracurricular activities is organised by staff members outside of school time.
A comprehensive school plan has been developed as required by section 21 of the Education Act, 1998. The plan documents an array of procedures and practices in administrative, organisational, pastoral care and curricular areas. The school has developed a range of administrative policies which comply with statutory legislation. It has also devised a variety of organisational policies, the implementation of which impacts positively on safety and the effective running of the school. School policy and practice promotes the involvement of parents in the formulation and review of policies. On completion of the draft policy, it is discussed by the parents’ council and circulated to the parent body for their views. Following consideration of parents’ views, policies are ratified by the board, many of which have a review date included. To facilitate school self-review, it is recommended that a review date be included in all policies. Particular policies are made available on the school website and all pertinent policies are made available in booklet form during the induction evening.
School planning for all curricular areas of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) has been developed. A two-year action planning diary guides curriculum review with action plans in place to review particular aspects of English and Mathematics. Individual post-holders act as co-ordinators for specific curricular areas and this is commended. There is evidence that the curricular policies are reflected in the teachers’ own personal planning and that they are consequently impacting positively on the teaching and learning in the school.
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 comprehensive long-term and short-term plans of work and these are very good generally. Planning is based on the strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum (1999). Most plans provide clear detail on objectives, content, methodologies, resources, assessment details and differentiation strategies. There is considerable evidence of collaborative classroom planning at individual class group levels, where teachers plan horizontally for their classes on a number of topics. This is further developed at staff meetings where teachers share practice and adopt a vertical approach to curriculum planning, ensuring the spiral development of content and skills across all levels. Monthly progress reports are compiled by each teacher and copies of these are stored centrally by the principal.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The quality of teaching and learning is very good overall. Teaching inspires very high levels of interest, enjoyment, effort and application in the pupils, while at the same time developing higher-order thinking skills. Pupils were enabled to analyse and form evaluations based on active learning methodologies and collaborative learning strategies. Good thinking skill development was particularly evident during lessons where pupils engaged in well-structured collaborative group work and circle time. During many lessons observed, whole-class, group and pair-work were skilfully implemented. Lessons observed were well structured and appropriately paced and teachers use a variety of resources to introduce new concepts and reinforce learning. Samples of pupils’ project work, visual arts and process writing indicate a high level of confident and skilful use of ICT by pupils in these curricular areas. The quality of the pupils’ written work in terms of quality of content and standard of presentation was found to be very good.
Tugann na hoidí faoi mhúineadh na Gaeilge go han-díograiseach, bríomhar. Is léir go bhfuil tionchar láidir ag an bplean scoile ar an obair ó thaobh na béime a leagtar tríd an scoil i gcoitinne ar theagasc na bhfeidhmeanna teanga agus ar fhrásaí na seachtaine. Is spéisiúil agus is cabhraitheach an tagairt a dhéantar sa phlean scoile maidir lena mhíniú do thuistí an tábhacht a bhaineas leis an gcumarsáid agus maidir le dearcadh dearfach a thabhairt dá bpáistí i leith foghlaim na Gaeilge. Cuireann ha hoidí an-chuid acmhainní ar fáil do mhúineadh na Gaeilge, ar a n-áirítear póstaeir, cairteacha agus dlúthdhioscaí go háirithe.
Ó rang a dó anuas, gabhann cinnteacht agus taitneamh le cur i láthair na gceachtanna Gaeilge agus baineann na hoidí feidhm as deiseanna labhartha ar nós na nuachta, na filíochta, amhrán, drámaí, rólghlacadh, scéalta agus cluichí teanga. I gcuid mhór ranganna, tá caighdeán na haithriseoireachta agus na hamhránaíochta ar chaighdeán an-ard. Cabhraíonn sé seo go mór le cothú spéise agus suime na ndaltaí i bhfoghlaim na Gaeilge. I ranganna a dó agus ins na meánranganna, is an-chreidiúnach an bhéim a leagtar ar leathnú foclóra agus ar chur ar cumas na ndaltaí ceisteanna a chur ar an mhúinteoir agus ar a chéile. Ins na hardrannganna, leagann na hoidí béim chuí ar na forainmneacha ceisteacha agus ar cheart-úsáid na mbriathra agus a n-aimsirí. Chonacthas samplaí breátha d’úsáid na teicneolaíochta i dteagasc na Gaeilge sa scoil agus moltar an chaoi ina ndéantar modh an aistríúcháin a sheachaint san obair. Moltar freisin an fheidhm a bhaineann cuid mhór oidí as an Ghaeilge mar theanga bhainisteoireachta i rith an lae. B’fhiú an dea-nós seo a threisiú níos mó fós tríd an scoil maidir le chur chun cinn na Gaeilge.
Tá cuid mhór prionta Gaeilge le sonrú ins na ranganna tríd an scoil agus déanann na h-oidí ceangal nadúrtha idir an labhairt agus an focal scríofa. Léann formhór na ndaltaí a gcuid téacsleabhar go cruinn, soiléir agus léiríonn siad tuiscint inmholta ar a bhfuil iontu. Chun cur le heispéiris léitheoireachta na ndaltaí, d’fhéadfaí cur le stóras fíorleabhair Ghaeilge i genres éagsúla. Tá an scríbhneoireacht bunaithe don chuid is mó ar an obair ins na téacsleabhair agus ar théamaí pearsanta. Déanann na daltaí an clárú seo go han-néata, taitneamhach don chuid is mó.
The teachers approach the teaching of Irish in a very earnest and lively manner. It is evident that the school plan for Irish has a strong influence throughout the school generally on the teaching of the functional language idioms and the weekly phrases. There are interesting and helpful references in the school plan which explain to parents the importance of the communicative approach and of conveying to their children a positive attitude towards Irish. The teachers provide a very comprehensive range of resources for teaching Irish. These include posters, charts and recorded materials.
From second class onwards, there is a focused and attractive approach to the presentation of Irish lessons. The teachers afford the pupils opportunities to speak Irish by means of news, poetry, song, drama, role-play, story and word games. In many classes, the recitation of poetry and singing is of a very high standard. The work here greatly assists the cultivation of the pupils’ interest in learning Irish. In the second classes and the middle classes, a very creditable emphasis is placed on extending the pupils’ vocabulary and on enabling them to ask questions of the teacher and of one another. In the senior classes, teachers place due emphasis on interrogative pronouns and on the correct use of verbs and tenses. Good use of ICT was in evidence in the teaching of Irish and the manner in which direct translation is avoided is commended. Irish is used as the medium of classroom management in many classrooms. It is recommended that this good practice be extended throughout the school to further progress the learning of Irish.
Classrooms present as print-rich environments and teachers link spoken and written Irish easily. Most pupils read their textbooks accurately and clearly and they indicate commendable understanding of the content matter. To further enrich the pupils’ reading experience, it is recommended that the supply of authentic Irish books in different genres should be enlarged. Writing is based for the most part on text books and on themes of personal interest. The pupils generally record their written work very neatly and attractively.
The school plan for English is comprehensive and focused. It facilitates continuity in curriculum delivery and progression in content and skills development. The teaching of English was found to be very good and teachers demonstrate clear commitment to achieving and maintaining high standards. Good quality lessons across all strands were observed during the evaluation and pupils demonstrated that they have developed very good language skills. Care is taken to ensure that experiences in oral language, reading, writing and poetry are integrated and connected creatively. The quality of oral language experiences is noteworthy. Pupils demonstrate confidence during discussion, speak assuredly about a range of topics and respond eagerly to questions. They have good skills of verbal presentation.
Classrooms are prepared as high quality print-rich environments. Effective teaching of reading lessons was observed during the evaluation and high interest in all aspects of English reading was evident among the pupils. Teachers use open-ended questioning techniques and carefully-chosen higher-order questions in a skilful manner. A range of very good quality strategies supports the discrete development of reading skills. Pupils are engaged regularly in discussion surrounding characterisation, reading for information and re-reading to confirm answers. Work on summarising, scanning texts and very good quality discussion surrounding character motivations featured during lessons evaluated. The emphasis placed on developing skills alongside a love of reading ensures that many pupils achieve a very good standard in reading and this is reflected clearly in the school’s standardised assessment results. Well-stocked classroom libraries were found that contain examples of high quality children’s literature in different genres.
Productive discussion forms the basis for creative writing in English. Pupils demonstrated good levels of reflection during discussion observed. Process writing is well established and has facilitated attention to layout, content and sentence structure. The quality of pupils’ writing is high, with pupils able to express and articulate themselves confidently. They write successfully in a range of genres and can use language appropriate to the purpose.
Very good quality teaching of poetry was observed, with stimulating poems chosen for the pupils. Appreciation, composition and learning of poems are included in the poetry programme. Pupils demonstrate great enthusiasm for poetry and capably explore themes underpinning it. Pupils were observed analysing and debating the themes of poems spontaneously and in a mature manner. Suitable attention is paid to committing poems to memory with many pupils demonstrating very good facility for recitation.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good. During the evaluation, a variety of methodologies was observed, including whole-class teaching, purposeful pair work and some good examples of co-operative group work. Teachers use good questioning techniques, including questions of a challenging nature, and pupils are encouraged to answer confidently and accurately. The school has assembled a praiseworthy range of mathematical resources and these are appropriately used in relation to the acquisition of mathematical concepts during learning activities. The use of modern ICT resources to stimulate and sustain pupils’ interest is a feature of practice in some classrooms. Due attention is given to the integration of Mathematics with other areas of the curriculum and opportunities to relate Mathematics to real life contexts are explored in many classrooms.
The development of mathematical language in all classes is a noteworthy feature of the practice in this school. Pupils demonstrate a good ability to use this mathematical language to explain a variety of number operations and to articulate their approach to problem-solving strategies. A section of the display area in each classroom is devoted to providing a mathematics-rich environment which contributes to the consolidation of pupils’ learning.
Lessons observed were appropriately structured. Oral mathematics is an integral aspect of each lesson and, in many classrooms, teachers explore linkage across the strands during this activity. Differentiation is a feature of most teachers’ planning, with good individual and group support provided for pupils who may be experiencing difficulties. An extension of the amount of time for some individual pupils to engage with concrete resources is recommended as a means of further differentiating and supporting their learning activities.
Pupils in the second classes demonstrated confidence in problem-solving and are enabled to compute accurately. In the middle classes, pupils utilise specific language in relation to shape, area, data and time and have appropriate understanding of place value. In the senior classes, pupils compose their own problems and indicated for the most part, a very good understanding of fractions, decimals, percentages and number theory. Where in-class support is provided, there is evidence of a collaborative approach and an emphasis on consolidating pupils’ learning.
The school plan for History informs the teachers’ own personal planning to good effect. In the classrooms where the teaching of History was observed, the teachers generated interest in and curiosity about the past creditably. The pupils are enabled to investigate topics such as the Famine, festivals and recent Irish history and to empathise with people from the relevant times. Suitable opportunities are afforded to pupils to develop their understanding of time and chronology, change and continuity. The use of timelines is particularly helpful in this regard. Very good use is made of a variety of books and other illustrative materials, most notably photographs. To further the pupils’ understanding of the chosen topics, drama is profitably employed as methodology enabling and encouraging them to work as historians. A number of projects have been completed, some with the assistance of ICT, and the pupils speak knowledgeably and confidently about their work. The school plan indicates that parents and local historians are invited to speak to the pupils on topics of both local and national interest from time to time. Trips to places of historical interest, such as Kilmainham Gaol provide opportunities for further developing pupils’ interest in History. A trail of the local area has been developed which enables the pupils an opportunity to practise their skills as historians in an active manner. This is very commendable. Aspects of local folklore and place names are also investigated. A greater supply and use of interesting artefacts in the classrooms would add further impetus to the teaching and learning of History in the school.
A spiral approach is in evidence in the school plan for Geography. Topics have been carefully chosen and there is evidence of continuity and progression in content and skill development across all class levels. The provision of a variety of maps in all classrooms is supportive of the acquisition of geographical skills. In the classrooms where lessons in Geography were observed, a range of resources is appropriately employed to stimulate pupils’ interest and enthusiasm. Clear and focused talk and discussion periods form part of these lessons. In some lessons, the development of spatial language is commendable. Pupils’ graphical skills were evidenced in lessons where pupils engaged confidently in a hands-on manner with a range of maps. Pupils undertake a variety of projects, whereby they investigate, research, compare and contrast features of human and natural environments of a local and global nature. Pupils’ interest in and awareness of their natural environment is further developed by observing and investigating phenomena, such as the weather and its influences on their lives. In the middle and senior classes, pupils discuss the interrelationship of human and natural environments. Consequently, they are enabled to develop an understanding of environmental and fair trade issues in a manner commensurate with their age and ability levels. Very good links have been developed with local agencies which support the school in undertaking field-trips in the local and wider environments. Exhibitions in relation to marine life and invited speakers further support the school with aspects of the strand environmental awareness and care. The development of a trail in the garden areas provides opportunities to practise a range of skills in a meaningful manner. The school is developing a range of resources to support the teaching of Geography, most notably photographs, ICT resources and weather investigation equipment.
The teaching of Science is undertaken with enthusiasm and teachers demonstrate a very good understanding of the principles which underpin active learning methodologies. In the classrooms where science lessons were observed, lessons, for the most part, were based on open-ended problem-solving tasks, thereby allowing the pupils to interact with materials in their environment. Investigations based on magnetism and electricity, forces, heat, plants and animals enable the pupils to participate in well-managed experiments where they engage in opportunities to work scientifically. Suitable emphasis is placed on teaching appropriate scientific terminology. Pupils can speak confidently about the outcomes of their investigations using a well-developed scientific vocabulary. Where lessons were active, well-managed pair and co-operative group work was observed. Lessons are scaffolded by teacher modelling, whole-class teaching and the use of modern ICT. Pupils record their findings pictorially, using diagrams, annotated drawings and in written form.
The pupils’ learning in the strand environmental awareness and care is further facilitated through the school’s involvement in the Green-Schools Programme. The Green School committee, which is supported by parents, teachers and led by a post-holder have been awarded recognition for waste management, energy conservation and are now actively involved in water conservation. Pupils have had the opportunity to display their skills in Science through the organisation of a school-based science exhibition under the title of Save Energy Day which enabled pupils to successfully display their scientific skills. The school is commended for this approach. To build on the success of this endeavour, the school should consider further opportunities of this nature. A vast range of resources has been acquired to support all strands and these are centrally stored and regularly updated.
The teaching of Visual Arts is of a high standard in this school, as evidenced from the well-presented samples of pupils’ work on display in classrooms, corridors, foyer and the general purposes room. Fine examples of work in fabric and fibre, print, construction, drawing, paint and colour and clay were among the samples on display through out the school. In the classrooms where lessons in Visual Arts were observed, talk and discussion were purposefully engaged in to encourage pupils’ understanding of the range of visual elements. In addition, pupils’ own experiences, imagination, observation and the work of famous artists were employed productively in the making of art. Lessons observed were very well planned and organised, with an appropriate emphasis on the process of making art. Modern ICT is used creatively by some teachers to explore some of the elements of art, most notably pattern, rhythm, shape and line. The potential for integrating all strands of Visual Arts with other curricular areas is duly exploited. There is also evidence that pupils, in a number of classrooms, as well as making art, are encouraged to look and respond to their own work, the work of their peers and the work of famous artists, most notably Picasso and Kandinsky.
The quality of pupil participation in visual arts activities is highly commended as these well-planned lessons provide pupils with opportunities for expression, decision-making and enjoyment. Assessment procedures include the retention of portfolios, teacher observation and the aforementioned displays. A commendable range of resources for all strands has been acquired and is centrally stored and well maintained.
A structured music programme is implemented throughout the school so that pupils are exposed to the three strands of the music curriculum—listening and responding, performing and composing. There is a very good range of resources available in the school to support this curricular area, most notably percussion instruments, posters and charts and music recordings in a variety of genres which is culturally representative. Very creditable teaching and learning in Music were observed during the class visits. Various methodologies are employed during the teaching of lessons including whole-class, group and pair work, listening and responding and active learning. Appropriate activities are used to promote the development of musical elements, such as a sense of pulse, rhythm, tempo, pitch, dynamics, structure, timbre and texture. The pupils have a very positive attitude towards Music and the quality of their performance in singing, sometimes in parts, and in instrumental work, is of a very high quality.
The teaching of Drama is very good. High quality interactions and positive classroom atmospheres result in very good levels of engagement. Lessons observed during the evaluation were well structured and pupils participated co-operatively and enthusiastically. Teachers used a range of strategies successfully, including teacher-in-role, engaging pupils in role play, in pair work and in stimulating games. Good quality warm-up activities were chosen which pupils clearly found encouraging. Through active participation and role-play, pupils’ engagement was maintained, thereby stimulating their thinking effectively. Pupils were facilitated productively to explore emotions and motivations of characters in different and challenging scenarios and expressed themselves very well. A solid balance is maintained between the process and performance of Drama. Pupils demonstrate good insight into the conventions of performance drama. In their school plays, pupils are facilitated to incorporate their own ideas and develop their personal confidence. Drama is integrated effectively with a number of other curricular areas.
The school plan for Physical Education espouses the principles of variety and diversity rather than specialisation. In this regard, the boys and girls in this school are exposed to an exciting range of physical education activities. The lessons observed indicated very appropriate warm-up exercises for the pupils, all of whom were suitably attired. The lessons also displayed a well-planned and structured approach to the work and there is due consideration for safety and order. A variety of athletic and ball skills is being suitably developed in the pupils by means of station training work. Pupils engage enthusiastically and a very good range of physical education resources is employed to good effect. Very commendable standards are being achieved by the pupils in the senior classes in creative movement to music involving balancing benches and mats. The school participates in a pilot programme to promote cycling skills and safety issues. The school prepares the pupils very well for a wide variety of sporting activities, such as athletics, basketball, Gaelic football, hurling, soccer, rugby, cricket and swimming. In-school support is also provided by the local GAA, cricket and rugby clubs. Teachers and parents organise after-school activities involving a number of sports. The school, involving boys’ and girls’ teams, has been successful in a number of sporting competitions in the recent past.
The quality of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) as experienced by the pupils in the school is very good. Pupils learn in a positive school climate, in which a commitment to doing one’s best and having pride in one’s self and one’s school is actively fostered. SPHE is clearly guided by the school’s mission statement and ethos. A number of policies such as a code of behaviour, substance use, child protection, RSE, healthy eating and the homework policy has been devised to support teaching and learning in SPHE. In the lessons observed, effective use of circle time, talk and discussion, pair work and group work was noted. Opportunities are afforded whereby pupils explore and speak about feelings, emotions and factors which influence their decision-making process. Initiatives such as the anti-bullying week serve to create awareness in maintaining and sustaining a very positive school environment. A variety of programmes, most notably Walk Tall, Stay Safe and Be Safe form the basis for lessons in this curricular area. In addition to discrete lessons, opportunities are taken to integrate SPHE with other curricular areas. The services of a number of agencies in the local community provide support in relation to aspects of safety and protection. Pupils are encouraged to donate and share with others, particularly during sacramental events in their lives. Pupils are enabled to participate in a variety of other practical activities whereby a sense of empathy and social responsibility is fostered in an age appropriate manner. The Rainbows Programme is available after school, providing support for pupils experiencing loss or bereavement. This is co-ordinated and facilitated by trained staff members. The school plan for SPHE is equality proofed and this is commendable.
Teachers demonstrate a clear understanding of the importance of assessment as a tool for learning and they monitor the progress of pupils’ learning consistently. A range of very good quality formative and summative assessment practices was found. Detailed assessment records in many subjects, but particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy, are maintained. Many teachers maintain profiles of individual pupils’ learning, results from checklists and portfolios of pupils’ work. Standardised tests are administered annually to determine levels of attainment in English reading and Mathematics. These results are analysed carefully. Good quality screening and diagnostic tests are used to support supplementary teaching. Pupils’ written work is monitored and corrected methodically, with teachers providing formative, affirming feedback to aid learning.
In some settings, attention is paid productively to pupils’ own assessment of their learning strengths and needs. Many pupils have succeeded in being very specific about aspects of their learning which provides valuable feedback to teachers. It is recommended that a whole-school policy for assessment now be developed which should focus upon documenting the effective practices already implemented in many settings and aim to further embed them throughout the school. The document, Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum – Guidelines for Schools, produced by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment should prove useful in this regard.
The whole-school learning-support policy was developed through a consultative process. It is comprehensive, clear and practical and outlines the roles played by different members of the school community in teaching in support settings. Learning support and resource teaching are organised very carefully, with some support provided in specific areas according to individual need, while other support is aligned more closely to the mainstream class programme. There is need to clarify further within the learning-support policy how the amount of support provided to individual pupils is related to their particular needs. This clarification should be made as soon as possible. Planning in all support roles is clear with learning targets sequenced appropriately. Individual education plans (IEPs) and individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) are prepared through suitable consultation among teachers and with parents. Realistic and clear time-bound learning targets and diagnostic information are included within them, although some scope remains for all learning targets to be fully individualised. Comprehensive records are maintained and the acquisition of learning targets is monitored carefully. The records found during the evaluation were very clear, facilitating effective communication among teachers and with parents.
Teachers prepare very good quality visual resources for all teaching and especially for developing pupils’ comprehension and mathematical skills. Differentiated reading material, physical and visual materials and games are used successfully to create active learning environments for pupils. Carefully-chosen graded reading schemes and computer software are used very satisfactorily. At the time of the evaluation, support teaching was provided in a number of ways, through tuition in withdrawal settings, in-class support and through team-teaching in mainstream classes. The teaching evaluated was structured, purposeful and affirming, and pupils are making suitable progress. Active learning, including learning through games, forms a central aspect of delivery. Small-group teaching was structured and targeted very carefully. Co-operative teaching in mainstream classes was stimulating and well prepared. Very clear explanation of key mathematical concepts and of reading skills was observed, with teachers taking care to provide appropriate scaffolds during the teaching of concepts. These well-thought out strategies effectively consolidate understanding, thereby enabling pupils to find connections among concepts and to solve problems by thinking systematically in clear steps. Play-based teaching approaches, turn taking and social interaction are also integral parts of the lessons observed. The creative use of physical resources and the clear teaching of phonics and decoding to develop reading rate are all very commendable and well-established elements of support teachers’ practice.
School policy clearly shows that pupils from all cultures have equality of access to the school. At the time of the evaluation, a number of newcomer pupils were enrolled. School resources have been deployed appropriately to support their learning. The newcomer pupils have contributed to the diversity of the school population and have made evident progress in expressive and receptive language. A full-time teacher of English as an Additional Language (EAL) provides support to the newcomer pupils. The language support setting is prepared as a language-rich environment and contains good quality resources. A range of strategies that support vocabulary development is practised effectively. During teaching observed, emphasis was placed upon encouraging pupils to think and use language to navigate different materials and tasks. Very good use is made of active learning approaches. The Primary School Assessment Kit is used to provide detailed information on individual pupils’ progress in the EAL context. This information is appropriately used to guide and inform planning. Provision of language support is timetabled carefully to maximise the benefits of the intervention.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The board of management is highly supportive of the work of the school and is very well informed with regard to its responsibilities and duties.
· The principal provides most effective instructional, organisational and pastoral leadership for the school and undertakes her role with commitment, professionalism and enthusiasm.
· The in-school management team is highly committed and provides very good leadership.
· The dedication of the teaching staff contributes to the high quality of teaching and learning in the school.
· There is a collaborative approach to whole-school planning and the school plan is implemented consistently.
· The management of pupils is of a high standard and a most positive learning environment has been created in the school.
· Very effective and well-structured systems of communication and collaboration are in evidence between all the education partners.
· A wide-ranging array of well-chosen resources is available and easily accessible throughout the school.
· There is evidence that ICT is used effectively in teaching and learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· In relation to the provision of supplementary teaching, there is need to clarify further within the learning-support policy how the amount of support provided to individual pupils is related to
their particular needs.
· It is recommended that a whole-school policy for assessment be developed which focuses upon documenting the effective assessment practices already implemented in many settings and aims
to further embed them throughout the school.
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 June 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management is very pleased to receive the Whole School Evaluation Report. We welcome the affirmation, in the Report, of the high standards we apply in our School. In particular, we are pleased to see the Report acknowledge the professionalism, dedication and commitment of all our Staff. We also note that the Report highlights the academic excellence and positive learning environment we have in our School.
The high quality of education provided in our School is based upon a partnership between the Board of Management, the Staff, and the Parents of our children. This partnership is clearly outlined in the Report and plays a central part in ensuring the well-being of our children. The Board is happy to note that the Report places a considerable emphasis on the on-going level of communication between the Board, the Staff and the Parents. The School is also noted for its role in the local community and in that regard, the Report notes the considerable support we receive from our local community.
The Board wishes to record its appreciation for the professional approach of the Inspectorate. Their consideration and courtesy ensured that the evaluation was a positive experience for the Board and the Staff.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board will support the Staff in their endeavours to implement the recommendations of the Report. The Staff has already addressed the matter regarding the ‘Weighting System’ for Learning Support.