An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Holy Cross NS
Tramore, Co. Waterford
Uimhir rolla: 19629G
Date of inspection: 29 April 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Holy Cross NS. 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; a response was not received from the board.
Holy Cross NS is located in the seaside town of Tramore, Co. Waterford. It is a co-educational, Catholic primary school under the patronage of the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. School enrolment has risen dramatically in recent years and the school, in cooperation with the other primary schools in the town, has worked to accommodate this demand. There are currently 597 pupils on roll and this growth trend is set to continue into the immediate future. In recent years, the school has achieved developing-school status regarding the appointment of additional teachers and this position will be replicated in the coming school year. Attendance levels are good. The school is active in promoting good attendance, including the presentation of certificates to pupils with full attendance at the end of each school year.
The board of management provides good support and guidance to the principal and the teachers. The board is properly constituted and it meets an average of five times each year. Minutes of meetings are carefully documented and maintained. A comprehensive principal’s report and a detailed financial report are presented at each meeting. Each member of the board has been assigned specific duties and all members are committed to carrying out their duties competently for the benefit of the school. Curriculum plans and organisational policies are presented to the board and ratified following discussion. It is recommended that the board undertake a review of the enrolment policy to ensure its full compliance with current equality legislation. The commitment of the board in pursuing the sanction of a new school building is noteworthy. A strong sense of community and positive relations between the board, the parents and the school staff are reported. The board works closely with the parents’ association in many successful fundraising activities and school events.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, the deputy principal, three assistant principals and nine special-duties teachers. The principal is very committed to the development of the school and the progression of high standards in teaching and learning. He provides strong leadership and he ensures commendable levels of openness and communication with the other members of the in-school management team, with staff, with the board of management and with parents. He has played a central role in progressing the school-building project and he has worked simultaneously on many areas of school development and improvement. He has initiated a school-generated mentoring programme and he takes an active role in the induction of newly appointed teachers.
The other members of the in-school management team offer excellent support to the principal. The senior-management team, comprising the deputy principal and the assistant principals, and the entire in-school management team meet with the principal on a regular basis to progress a range of pertinent school matters. All members of the in-school management team have clear duties which are carried out with high levels of dedication and efficiency. These duties are based on the assessed needs of the school, are regularly reviewed and include both curriculum coordination and organisational responsibilities. In particular, the in-school management team is commended for its innovative response to the promotion and evaluation of curriculum implementation.
The teaching staff comprises an administrative principal, twenty-two mainstream class teachers, seven learning-support/resource teachers and one part-time resource teacher for pupils with special educational needs. The class-allocation policy is effectively implemented and it ensures that all teachers have opportunities to experience a variety of class contexts. There is an awareness amongst staff members of the importance and benefit of continuous professional development and many teachers have undertaken courses that are of benefit to themselves and to the school. There are four full-time and one part-time special needs assistants (SNAs) employed in the school and they are deployed to meet the needs of pupils with special educational needs. The deputy principal purposefully coordinates the work of the SNAs including the facilitation of regular meetings with the SNA team. Other ancillary staff includes a full-time secretary, a cleaner and a caretaker who provide invaluable service to the school.
A majority of the school accommodation is provided in temporary prefabricated classrooms and major structural faults are in evidence in the main school building. The Department of Education and Science has recently sanctioned the commencement of a new twenty-four classroom building on a site adjacent to the present building. Current recreational space includes a small concrete area, a grass area and a games pitch. The school’s response to health and safety needs in structuring recreational breaks is commended.
A wealth of resource materials is available to teachers to support the implementation of all areas of the curriculum. These resources are well organised and appropriately catalogued. They are used to good effect in supporting pupils’ learning in each classroom. The school library is appropriately stocked with books to suit all reading levels and interests. A number of interactive whiteboards and data projectors have been purchased in recent years and these are used effectively by teachers. The parents’ association is lauded for its ongoing involvement in supporting the provision of information and communication technology (ICT).
Very positive links and communication are in evidence between the school and the parent community. The long-established parents’ association contributes significantly to the development of the school. It provides feedback on draft school policies and assists with the organisation and implementation of numerous school events. The association also plays a central role in school fundraising activities.
The school communicates effectively with the broader parent community through the school journal. The school is highly lauded for the manner in which it uses its website to actively involve parents in the day-to-day life of the school. Parents are provided with regular opportunities to discuss their children’s progress through formal and informal parent-teacher meetings and through the issuing of an annual written report.
During the course of the evaluation, the pupils were very courteous and mannerly and they were eager to discuss their work. The approaches taken to promote positive pupil behaviour are highly innovative and effectively implemented on a schoolwide basis. Weekly assemblies are organised in the general-purposes’ room and they usefully serve to acknowledge pupils’ achievements and to promote the Irish language.
The standard of planning activity in the school is very good and a comprehensive school plan has been prepared. The school is lauded for the adoption of a collaborative approach to planning, including the direct involvement of the board of management and the parents’ association. A clear long-term development plan has been prepared covering the period 2005 to 2012 and it is successfully used to guide planning activity. Plans for each area of the curriculum and a wide range of organisational policies have been devised. A majority of curriculum plans provide clear guidance for the teachers regarding the implementation of agreed approaches and they confirm the school’s commitment to achieving improvements in learning outcomes for pupils. Visits to classrooms and an examination of teachers’ individual planning and monthly progress reports indicate high levels of implementation of these agreed whole-school approaches. It is recommended that the school continue to use this development-planning approach in addressing curriculum priorities.
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 plans of work to support their teaching. In instances where effective short–term schemes are in evidence, planning is comprehensive in nature and is closely linked to the structure and content of the curriculum. Such plans include clearly stated learning objectives based on the strands and strand units, and do not over-rely on textbooks as their main source of content. Appropriate attention is given to teaching methodologies and strategies, opportunities for differentiation and the use of resources. It is recommended that the range of short-term planning templates in use be reviewed and that the effective planning practices observed in some settings be shared and extended on a schoolwide basis. Each teacher prepares a monthly report on the progress of learning in their classroom. These reports are retained centrally and are used occasionally to analyse the implementation of various aspects of the school plan. It is advised that this practice should continue to be developed. Individual and group learning programmes are prepared for pupils with special educational needs. Individual education plans (IEPs) carefully reflect pupils’ strengths and needs.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Overall, the quality of teaching and learning in the school is very good. The school is characterised by a happy and hard-working atmosphere and the teachers are successful in generating pupils’ interest in and enthusiasm for learning. The teachers create bright and stimulating learning environments both within and outside classrooms and pupils’ work is celebrated in high-quality displays. A variety of teaching methodologies is employed effectively, in tandem with good-quality, whole-class teaching and well-organised group and pair work.
Spreagtar suim sa Ghaeilge go coinsiasach sa scoil seo. Tugann an príomhoide ceannaireacht le spreagadh leis an úsáid a bhaineann sé as an dteanga, go háirithe i rith tionólacha scoile. Déanann gach oide an-iarracht an teanga a chur chun cinn i raon leathan de shlite. I bhformhór na ranganna tugtar na treoracha ranga uilig as Gaeilge, múintear dánta agus amhráin go rialta tríd na scoile agus tá prionta as Gaeilge sna seomraí ranga. Cothaíonn na gníomhaíochtaí seo go léir bá leis an teanga. Múintear an Ghaeilge go coinsiasach sa scoil. Sna bunranganna, baintear dea-úsáid as rainn, obair beirte agus as drámaíocht chun an teanga a chleachtadh in atmaisféar sona. Moltar an slí a bhaineann múinteoirí i ranganna áirithe úsáid sheiftiúil as an gclár bán idirghníomhach chun foclóir, abairtí agus ceisteanna a mhúineadh. Moltar chomh maith na cluichí a eagraíonn na múinteoirí sna bunranganna, go háirithe an béim a chuirtear ar athrá agus ar shlua-aithris chun struchtúir a dhaingniú. I ranganna áirithe baintear úsáid as an nGaeilge chun corpoideachas a mhúineadh agus b’fhiú an nós sin a leathnú ar bhonn scoil uile. Múintear struchtúir úsáideacha le múinteoireacht dhíreach, obair beirte agus cluichí cainte sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna. I roinnt de na ranganna sin spreagtar na daltaí chun ceisteanna a chur ar a chéile le linn obair beirte i slí struchtúrtha. Is dea-nós múinteoireachta é seo. Leathnaítear scileanna léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta na ndaltaí sna ranganna seo le cleachtaí cuí. Ó thaobh na léitheoireachta de moltar go mór an cur chuige atá sa scoil leis an úsáid a bhaintear as leabhair bhreise léitheoireachta, go háirithe úrscéalta simplí. Ó thaobh na scríbhneoireachta de, tá leabhair agus scéalta scríofa sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna agus caighdeáin mhaithe bainte amach san obair seo.
Interest in Irish is conscientiously developed in this school. The principal provides motivational leadership through his use of the language, especially during school assemblies. Every teacher makes a strong effort to promote the language in a wide variety of ways. In the majority of classes, instructions are given through Irish, poems and songs are taught throughout the school and there is print in Irish in the classrooms. All of these activities create empathy with the language. Irish is taught conscientiously in the school. In the infant and junior classes, good use is made of rhymes, pair work and drama to practise language in a happy atmosphere. The games organised by the teachers in these classes are also praised, especially the emphasis placed on repetition and whole-class practice to consolidate structures. In certain classes skilful use is made of the interactive whiteboard to teach vocabulary, sentences and questions. In some classes Physical Education lessons are conducted through Irish and this practice should be further developed on a whole-school basis. Useful structures taught through direct teaching, pair work and language games are features of the practice in middle and senior classes. In some classes pupils are encouraged to ask questions of each other during structured pair work. This is a good teaching technique. Pupils’ reading and writing skills are appropriately developed in these classes. In reading, the approach in the school of using extra and real Irish books is praised, especially the use of simple novels. In writing, pupils in middle and senior classes have written books and stories, and a good standard is attained in this work.
The quality of teaching and the standards achieved in English are very good. Each classroom presents as an attractive, print-rich environment and is successful in stimulating pupils’ interest in language learning. Oral language is appropriately addressed through discrete lessons, through linkage with reading and writing activities and through integration with other aspects of the curriculum. The teachers’ skilful questioning ensures that most pupils can discuss their interests and a variety of topics with ease and enthusiasm. The pupils in every class recite a wide selection of rhymes and poems.
In all classes, admirable care is taken to develop the pupils’ reading competence. Phonological awareness skills are developed in a structured manner at each class level. The pupils read fluently and most pupils display good comprehension levels as they progress through the school. A range of alternative reading material including parallel reading schemes, supplementary readers, large-format books, class novels and computer software, is purposefully employed. A number of laudable initiatives to promote pupils’ interest and competence in reading are implemented, including a shared-reading project, Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) and activities undertaken in partnership with the local library.
A developmental approach to writing is implemented on a whole-school basis. A range of appropriate pre-writing activities is undertaken at infant level. Pupils are given suitable opportunity to engage in a variety of writing genres. A good balance is achieved between functional and creative writing. Pupils’ writing is celebrated through colourful displays in classrooms and in circulation areas. A review of written work confirms a high standard in terms of language use and presentation. In most classes, handwriting skills are carefully developed and pupils present their work well. The staff is advised to ensure schoolwide consistency in the implementation of high standards of handwriting and presentation. Spelling strategies are taught appropriately and reinforced at each class level.
Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative
An effective programme is in place to introduce pupils to the French language and to aspects of culture including dance and music. Pupils’ capacity to use the language is fostered through its integration with other areas of the curriculum, for example Physical Education. The school has a special twinning arrangement with a French college of teacher education and the student teachers engage annually in teaching practice in Holy Cross NS. This is a laudable innovation as it provides well-structured opportunities for the pupils to experience the use of the French language.
The overall quality of teaching in Mathematics is praiseworthy. An examination of teachers’ planning and pupils’ work confirms that the strands of the mathematics curriculum are being implemented in an appropriately balanced manner. Lessons are well structured and paced. Mathematical concepts are explored well and suitably developed in all lessons. The teachers are lauded for their development of pupils’ oral-mathematics’ skills and the purposeful use of mathematical games. The pupils are provided with opportunities to engage in the learning process through good-quality questioning and through the purposeful use of manipulatives, visual aids and concrete materials. In some settings, mathematical concepts are effectively linked to the lives and environments of the pupils, including the use of mathematical trails. In other settings collaborative problem-solving activities are used productively. These latter practices should be implemented on a schoolwide basis. The school is praised for the many activities organised to promote mathematics learning, including the hosting of mathematics days and the creative use of ICT.
A competent standard of teaching and learning in History is in evidence. Appropriate emphasis is placed on exploring pupils’ personal and family histories, particularly in the infant and junior classes. They develop time and chronology skills through the well-structured use of story. The pupils are exposed to a wealth of myths and legends to deepen their understanding and appreciation of times past. In middle and senior classes, local studies are appropriately emphasised in project work. Timelines are used effectively in most classes to enable pupils to understand the chronology of events in History. An artefacts’ week is held annually during which pupils bring in items of historical interest. They display a laudable understanding of their use and application. In senior classes, the pupils are facilitated to develop empathy with children in History through the skilful use of the internet.
The quality of teaching and learning in Geography is very good. A broad and balanced curriculum is being implemented in all classes and the teachers use a suitable range of active-learning methodologies. At infant and junior levels, an appropriate emphasis is placed on investigating the immediate environment. Pupils’ map-reading skills are praiseworthy. Some excellent project activity was noted in many classrooms. The school is advised to monitor the continued effectiveness of project activity as a learning tool for pupils. Many teachers commendably endeavour to link their work in Geography to appropriate areas of the science programme.
Very good practice is in evidence in Science. Active engagement in science experiments and investigations are a feature of all classes. The skills of working scientifically are effectively fostered. Many classrooms have investigation tables and displays which serve to consolidate particular aspects of the science programme. The school is commended for its participation in the Discover Primary Science initiative and the achievement of an award of excellence is noteworthy. An annual science open day is held at which all pupils share their understanding of scientific concepts through engaging in active experimentation. The school has developed effective links with Waterford Institute of Technology and it participates in numerous events organised to promote the area of Science. Pupils are also developing a respect for their environment and a keen understanding of environmental awareness issues through their participation in the Green Schools’ initiative.
The quality of pupils’ work in the Visual Arts is good. There is an appropriate balance between all strands. The pupils engage in both two and three-dimensional projects. Lessons are well structured. Displays of visual art around the school are very attractive and colourful, most particularly in the junior section of the school. While a laudable emphasis on the development of pupils’ creativity is in evidence in a majority of classrooms, the use of template-based activities in some contexts should be avoided. The celebration of pupils’ visual-art work through the hosting of a whole-school art exhibition is praised. Pupils also take part in numerous visual arts’ competitions and they have enjoyed many successes.
The musical talent of the teaching staff is strongly in evidence and it is used to positive effect in the design and implementation of music lessons. A very broad and balanced music programme is in place and the availing of opportunities for linkage and integration is commended. Lessons are characterised by skilful teaching, the reinforcement of musical elements and pupils’ enjoyment. The pupils in all classes sing competently and opportunities are provided for them to listen and respond to a variety of musical genres. Pupils’ learning in this area of the curriculum successfully contributes to whole-school events, including religious services, musical productions and concerts.
The quality of teaching and learning in Drama is good. Lessons are well designed and implemented. The pupils’ skills to engage in improvisational drama are suitably promoted and a range of drama strategies is employed. The pupils display an appropriate capacity to cooperate and communicate both in and out of role. Drama is also successfully used as a teaching approach in other areas of the curriculum.
Overall, the quality of teaching in Physical Education (PE) is of a high standard. PE lessons are well planned and implemented. The teachers are successful in ensuring the participation of all pupils and group activities are organised in an efficient manner. Effective use is made of the school’s wide range of equipment and resources in supporting learning. The pupils participate in a broad range of extra-curricular games and activities and the commitment of individual teachers in supporting such activity is praised.
The building of positive relationships and the creation of a happy school environment are central to the life of Holy Cross NS. The atmosphere in the school is child-friendly, welcoming and respectful. A number of whole-school initiatives support the implementation of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), including school assemblies and the promotion of physical activity and healthy lunches. A variety of suitable active-learning approaches is used to address curriculum content, including talk and discussion, circle-time approaches, cooperative games and the use of photographs and visual images. The teachers are successful in creating a safe and inclusive learning environment and curriculum content is dealt with in a sensitive manner. The appropriate development of pupils’ values, attitudes and skills is in evidence. To assist in the implementation of the SPHE programme, the school regularly organises visits from appropriate members of the local community. They including the local Garda, water safety personnel and members of the local fire service. The school participates in the Junior Achievement Project which serves to promote pupils’ self-esteem and sense of responsibility. Trained members of staff implement the Rainbows’ programme during lunch periods and this is an invaluable service for pupils experiencing bereavement and loss.
The teachers employ a variety of methods to assess individual pupils’ progress including teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and tests, projects, portfolios and the monitoring of pupils’ written work. The level of assessment and record keeping undertaken by teachers varies from class to class. It is recommended that current assessment practices be reviewed to ensure the consistent implementation of appropriate practices on a schoolwide basis. The Middle Infant Screening Test is administered annually to pupils in senior infants, while standardised tests in literacy and numeracy are administered from first to sixth classes. The results of assessment are suitably communicated to parents. The special educational needs’ (SEN) team administers a range of diagnostic assessment. This serves to identify the particular literacy and numeracy difficulties being experienced by individual pupils and to plan appropriate programmes of intervention. The results of assessment are analysed by the class teachers, the SEN teachers and the principal in order to monitor pupils’ achievements and trends in teaching and learning. This practice is lauded and its further development is advised to ensure that assessment results adequately inform future planning for teaching and learning.
The quality of support for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) is good. Commendable features of current provision include the effective co-ordination of SEN provision, the implementation of early-intervention initiatives at infant level, the operation of a staged approach to intervention for all pupils and the effective utilisation of appropriate software programmes in senior classes. This is complemented by regular meetings of learning support/resource teachers (LS/RTs) and class teachers to plan for and monitor individual pupils’ progress, as well as direct liaison with post-primary school personnel as necessitated.
Pupils with SEN receive supplementary teaching in literacy and numeracy. Their achievement of specified learning targets, as recorded in their individual education plans (IEPs), is reviewed on a mid-year basis. A wide range of high-quality resources is judiciously employed in ensuring that pupils receive support that is engaging and effective. In planning and implementing lessons the LS/RTs are successful in responding to the learning needs that have been identified for individual pupils. Suitable pupil progress, in accordance with their differing ability levels, is in evidence.
Presently, support for pupils with SEN is provided primarily on a withdrawal basis. This is complemented by the provision of an increasing level of in-class support. However, some classes continue to be characterised by high levels of pupil withdrawal by a number of different SEN personnel. It is recommended that the effectiveness of existing approaches to the withdrawal of pupils be reviewed. In so doing, the school is advised to consider the maximisation of opportunities for pupils to access additional support in literacy and numeracy in the context of their mainstream classroom and the most efficient use of opportunities for LS/RT and class teacher consultation. It is further advocated that consideration of the various methods currently in use in providing in-class support form part of this review process to ensure the schoolwide implementation of the most effective SEN practices.
Currently there are six pupils in the school for whom English is an additional language and who are in receipt of language support. These pupils benefit from the practical approach to language learning being employed, with its blend of the use of toys and pictures, and the consideration of relevant vocabulary and language structures. Suitable pupil progress is in evidence. Appropriate consultation is engaged in between the language-support teacher and class teachers. This ensures that pertinent themes are addressed in the language-support context in order to maximise pupils’ active engagement in learning activities in their mainstream classrooms.
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:
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, December 2009