An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Whole School Evaluation
St. Aidan’s National School
Uimhir rolla: 19698C
Date of inspection: 11 November 2009
A whole-school evaluation of St. Aidan’s National School was undertaken in November 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. Aidan’s National School is a fourteen-teacher, co-educational primary school which operates under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Killaloe. The school, which is located in Shannon town, was established in 1982. Since then, there has been steady growth in its enrolment, in line with the increasing population in the surrounding area. A new school building was constructed in 1987. This building is well maintained and is situated on a large site which includes a playing pitch, a surfaced play ground, carefully-planned car parking spaces and a set-down area for drop off and collection of pupils. A nearby community hall is used for whole-school events and sports activities.
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 has identified its aims and objectives which are reflective of the aims of the Primary School Curriculum (1999). The school is immersed in the tradition of the local area and considerable emphasis is placed on maintaining positive relationships between the principal, the staff, the pupils and their families. There is a good atmosphere in the school and a very good rapport is in evidence among the members of the school community. It is recommended that, in accordance with the Education Act 1998 Sections 15(b) and 21(3), a formal mission statement be articulated by the school community, in order to capture the strong characteristic spirit which is manifested in the day-to-day life of the school.
The board of management carries out many of its functions effectively. It is properly constituted and attendance at regularly convened meetings is very good. Minutes of these meetings are documented. The roles of chairperson and treasurer have been specifically allocated. The chairperson of the board of management discharges her duties efficiently. She has regular contact with the principal with whom she meets on a weekly basis and she meets with post holders incidentally to discuss issues as they arise in the school. School accounts are maintained and on an annual basis, the treasurer of the board presents an account of all income and expenses incurred over the course of the year. In accordance with Section 18 of the Education Act 1998, it is advised that these accounts should be certified annually. Other members of the board are assigned tasks as needs arise and there is immense willingness amongst all members to offer practical assistance with the work of the school. At this juncture, it is advised that the board of management avail of training which is provided by the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA). This will help all board members to gain a greater understanding of the role and functions of the board of management as envisaged in Section 15 of the Education Act 1998.
Credit is due to board members for their enthusiasm and for their commitment to the development of the school and its environs. Minor repairs and improvements are addressed efficiently. In recent years, the board has purposefully addressed the manner in which the perimeter of the school is defined and secured. In 2009, the board oversaw internal extension work being carried out and this work resulted in a comfortable room which fulfils the dual function of office and staffroom.
There is evidence that the board takes practical measures to support the school’s work and to ensure the creation of an effective learning environment. Good pupil behaviour is expected and when breaches of the code of discipline occur this issue is addressed effectively by the board. The board is committed to the provision of materials which support pupils’ academic work and recently, interactive whiteboards were purchased for use in classrooms.
School organisational policies are well prepared and all policies required by legislation are available. In the spring of 2009, the board of management commenced a process of reviewing a number of school policies. This process of review is on-going and the manner in which it is carried out is commendable. Representatives of the teaching staff, the board of management and the parent body work in a consultative manner to examine and review policies. During evaluation meetings held with the board of management, methods for facilitating awareness and access to these policies by the whole-school community were discussed. It was agreed that the school’s website could prove a valuable means of communication in this regard.
The principal, who has served in this role since 1982, has a very strong, visible presence in the school. He provides decisive, committed leadership and accordingly the school is very effectively managed. He is very supportive of the staff and the school community. Over the course of the evaluation, it was reported by staff that his regular, affirming interaction with pupils has a very positive impact on their academic and social development.
The principal is ably supported by a deputy principal and four special-duties post holders who engage in a range of duties. Post holders carry out their duties diligently and they work with a sense of camaraderie as a mutually supportive team. There is evidence that post holders have provided some purposeful guidance in relation to whole-school curriculum planning and implementation and it is noted that there is readiness to extend this role. Accordingly, the school’s capacity to further improve is good.
In the future, it is advised that the principal and the in-school management team assume a more active role in relation to curricular leadership and in overseeing the implementation of the school plan from class to class. In particular, there is a need to ensure that the approaches and methodologies outlined in the whole-school plan are put into practice consistently throughout the school. A more specific focus on the use of child-centred teaching methodologies as observed in some classes is also needed. In order to assist teachers to develop as reflective practitioners, it is advised that progress in relation to curricular implementation be evaluated more regularly through review and discussion. Additionally, it is advised that long-term and short-term goals for development in specific aspects of the curriculum be identified and addressed at whole-school level.
The post holders’ duties were reviewed formally in 2005 and informally on an annual basis since then. It is advised that a formal review of these duties takes place more regularly and that consideration be given to prioritising the implementation of the whole-school plan when assigning duties.
At the time of the evaluation a formal parents’ association was not in place in the school. At the post-evaluation meeting, the board of management indicated its intention to facilitate the establishment of an association in the near future. Parents eagerly support the school through organising and facilitating a range of events including fundraising events, a Christmas concert, an Easter bonnet parade and an annual sports day. Some parents are involved in coaching the school’s hurling and football teams. As part of the school’s involvement in the Green-Schools programme parents and pupils are encouraged to walk to school each Wednesday and all parties are enthusiastic about this activity. Good efforts are made to communicate with parents. Pupils keep a journal and parents sign pupils’ work on a regular basis. An annual parent-teacher meeting is held and a school report on each pupil is issued.
The principal and teachers communicate regularly both formally and informally. Regular staff meetings are held and there is evidence that these meetings are productive. An informative school website is in place. This contains a considerable amount of practical information including the history of the school and a copy of newsletters which are distributed to parents regularly. Pupils in senior classes write a blog which documents their experiences and observations of school life. Samples of pupils’ written work and work in the Visual Arts are displayed on the website. This practice is highly commendable as it encourages pupils to produce work of a high standard and provides them with a broad and far-reaching audience for their work.
A positive atmosphere permeates the school and pupils are friendly, courteous and eager to talk about their experiences in a range of curricular areas. Pupil-teacher relations are respectful and positive. Once a week a whole-school assembly takes place. The school’s code of behaviour is clear and consistently enforced and high standards of behaviour are expected.
At some levels, there is scope for development in the management of pupils during lessons. It is advised that the emphasis placed on didactic teaching be lessened. In place of this, it is recommended that methodologies be more judiciously chosen to afford pupils increased opportunities to engage in group work and independent work. This will allow pupils to participate as central contributors to their learning and will help to increase their willingness to engage in lessons.
The school’s policies on a wide range of organisational areas have been clearly documented in the school plan. Comprehensive curriculum plans are provided for each subject area of the curriculum. Priority should be given to monitoring the extent to which these plans are being implemented at each class level.
While all teachers undertake classroom planning and preparation, this aspect of the school’s work has scope for development. Long-term planning tends to be generic, offering broad guidelines on curriculum implementation and would be more appropriately placed in the whole-school plan as a means of informing the yearly or termly plans of work to be undertaken in each classroom. Long-term plans need to be customised and personalised to meet the specific needs and strengths of the particular class groupings. Teachers’ short-term planning would also benefit from review to allow for greater emphasis to be placed on the specific objectives to be addressed in each curriculum area. It is recommended that the teachers consider the development of a common template for the purpose of short-term and long-term planning. This template could also be used as a tool for teachers to reflect on the extent to which the school plan is being consistently implemented at each class level. All teachers compile monthly progress reports (Cuntais Mhosúla).
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.
English is well taught in the majority of classes and pupils’ learning outcomes are of a high standard across the three curriculum strands of oral language, reading and writing. All classes feature well-stocked libraries and samples of pupils’ personal writing and project work are on display in most classes and on the school’s website. In most classes, good efforts are made to develop a valuable print-rich environment. It is recommended that these displays include more full sentences in junior and middle classes.
Many teachers employ a variety of effective teaching approaches and the pupils participate actively in many classes. Lessons observed in the middle and senior classes provided very good opportunities for active participation by pupils. However, in some lessons, whole-class, teacher-directed approaches were used predominantly and there was little evidence of effective differentiation of content and approaches to cater for pupils of varying abilities. It is recommended that teachers at all class levels place greater emphasis on differentiation in their lessons and provide increased opportunities for the enhanced, active engagement by the pupils.
The standards of oral language lessons differed greatly throughout the school. At some class levels, very good oral language lessons were observed, particularly those that incorporated focused opportunities for language acquisition and language development among the pupils and where the work was effectively linked to other strands of the curriculum. Effective use is made of games, pair work and circle time in many classes to maximise the interactions between pupils.
Reading skills are appropriately developed throughout the school and, in general, pupils are fluent and confident readers. A specific phonological awareness programme has been developed at whole-school level and the beneficial results of this are in evidence in many classes. A number of effective early-reading activities are employed in junior classes and are supported by the use of rhymes, word games and a variety of resources, including large format books. It is advised that additional attention should be given to fostering pupils’ appreciation and enjoyment of stories and books. A shared-reading programme has been established in Senior Infants whereby the pupils and their parents read age-appropriate books at home. This is commendable practice, the benefits of which should be extended to include pupils from Junior Infants and middle classes. In addition, the school is encouraged to consider developing a similar in-class shared reading programme with the assistance of visiting parents. Pupils in senior classes read a variety of genre to a high standard and class novels are a feature of the programme. Commendable use is made of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and online resources, to support reading in the senior classes.
Writing is very well taught throughout the school. Pupils’ abilities are systematically developed from early-writing activities in infant classes to the very good standard of creative writing in the senior classes. Lessons at all levels are well developed. Teachers employ a range of effective methodologies and avail of opportunities to link pupils’ written work with other curricular areas. Pupils’ abilities in functional writing are carefully developed and include a focus on spelling strategies. In line with the school’s policy on writing, the majority of teachers teach and promote penmanship through careful demonstration and modelling of the skills. It is recommended that all teachers ensure that pupils’ penmanship skills are appropriately monitored and developed.
Pupils are exposed to a variety of types of poems, as well as being afforded opportunities to compose their own poetry. Poetry is linked effectively with other areas of the curriculum.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is good in the majority of classrooms with evidence of very good practice observed in some instances. Overall, pupils’ learning outcomes are of a high standard across the five strands of the curriculum with attainment in the strand of number deserving of particular mention. A plentiful supply of concrete materials is available in all classrooms and generally, these are used effectively to support concept development and skills’ mastery. The use of the interactive white board to develop the pupils’ estimation and thinking skills in the senior classes is particularly creditable and this approach could be usefully extended to other classrooms. The development of a mathematics-rich environment could also be extended in some instances with particular reference to displaying the specific mathematical language required by pupils to explore particular concepts.
The range of teaching methodologies employed by teachers varies considerably, but in most instances good practice was observed including cross-curricular integration and the use of games, ICTs, talk and discussion and collaborative learning. In some of the junior classes, it is advised that greater emphasis be placed on allowing the pupils opportunities to engage in more open-ended learning. This will allow pupils the freedom to explore relationships and patterns and to develop higher-order thinking skills. Teachers at all levels should be encouraged to consider ways in which lessons can be differentiated to allow pupils to engage in activities which are commensurate with the varying range of abilities within each classroom.
It is evident that pupils are developing the skills of gathering, representing and interpreting data. They have a good knowledge of the properties of shape and angles. They can estimate measurements and show competence in using practical equipment to measure. In some instances, it is advised that real-life problems be used to a greater extent as the context in which these skills are developed. This will also provide an alternative to traditional textbook exercises. Very good progress in number is achieved as pupils advance through the school. By the time they have reached the middle classes they have a very good knowledge of number facts as well as a good facility with mental arithmetic. In the senior classes, pupils have developed very good understanding of place value and they can manipulate more complex number in a variety of problem-solving contexts. Their estimation skills are commendable. The teachers are commended for their work in this area of the curriculum.
Over the course of the evaluation it was noted that the quality of teaching and learning in History ranged from satisfactory to very good. Teachers’ long-term planning specifies aims, content, skills, teaching approaches and strands and strand units to be taught over the course of the year. Short-term planning is less specific and is based on the text-book content to be addressed in each fortnight.
At some class levels, high-quality displays complement teaching and learning. Class museums contain collections of items of interest which pupils are keen to handle and explore. The skills of synthesis and communication are clearly in evidence in some instances, as pupils converse confidently about artefacts and their significance. Pictures, photographs and posters are also used as a basis for discussions and as a means of exploring vocabulary and history-specific language. In some cases text books are judiciously used. However, there is evidence that at some class levels there is a degree of over-reliance on text books as a basis for lessons and as a means of recording and consolidating pupils’ knowledge. It is advised that the emphasis placed on the use of text books be lessened and that teachers exercise more astute judgement in relation to the benefits of their use.
Lessons in the junior classes focus on sequencing activities through the use of story, principally as a means of developing the pupils’ sense of chronology and to encourage an interest in the past. In addition, pupils demonstrate the ability to identify and discuss change over a period of time. Under the direction of the class teacher, pupils devise timelines using suitable materials which are sourced by teachers. It is advised that these timelines be permanently displayed and used more continuously to plot the sequence of events that are of significance to pupils. This will help in the development of chronological understanding. In the senior classes and middle classes, some of the lessons observed were of a very-high quality and featured the use of very good resources which enabled the pupils to work as historians. These resources included school records in the form of enrolment registers and roll books, scanned materials from the local library, old coins, ordnance survey maps and aerial photographs of the local hinterland dating back over seventy years. Teachers’ use of technology in the teaching of History is commendable. Judicious use of the interactive white board adds greatly to lessons. In addition, the internet is used for research and to source materials from the national archives and the national library. Pupils in these classes have a good knowledge of local and national history and of aspects of international history. They can chart the chronology of epochs in Irish history on a timeline.
Local history is well catered for. At all class levels, pupils have opportunities to interview people from the community in order to gain an insight into life in the past in Shannon. Good efforts are made to engage in fieldwork in the surrounding area. The local church is visited and in one instance, this visit led to pupils developing a brochure detailing features of interest in the church. A variety of means of presenting work is used including sketches, photographs, and rubbings of interesting details in and around the church. Pupils also visit significant historical sites in County Clare and in Limerick city.
Throughout the teaching of History, there is evidence of effective integration with the teaching of English. Comprehension skills and the ability to sequence are developed through reading texts and recalling key facts. In some classes, the pupils engage in creative writing based on historical themes and the standard of this work is praiseworthy. The use of drama strategies as a means of exploring historical characters is commendable as it helps pupils to develop empathy with characters and to gain a deeper understanding of life in the past.
At this juncture, the challenge for the school is to ensure that the very good practice observed in most of the middle and senior class settings is extended and embedded in practice throughout the school. There is a need to ensure a greater focus on pupils’ learning through the use of more child-centred methodologies. Accordingly, it is advised that increased opportunities to work in pairs and in groups be provided and that through guided discovery, pupils should be allowed to explore artefacts at first hand. It is also advised that formative assessment be used to ascertain pupils’ prior knowledge of topics as well as the extent to which pupils can relate to topics as they are being discussed. In the course of whole-school planning for History, it is recommended that the school take practical measures to source and prepare materials. Building up a repository of resources over a period of time, to include artefacts, books, maps and resource packs on different topics would be of benefit. Maintaining an easily accessible up-to-date inventory of materials would also assist teachers when planning for lessons in History.
Teacher observation is the main assessment tool used in the junior classes. Criterion-based assessment of project work and formative assessment of pupils’ progress is more prevalent in the senior classes. Some of the class teachers maintain good records in aspects of the curriculum, from which pupils’ progress is easily determined. Pupils’ written work is regularly corrected and some teachers provide constructive comments to enable pupils to improve their work.
In the infant classes, the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is administered. From first class onwards, standardised attainment tests in English reading and Mathematics are administered annually. The results of these tests are analysed by the class teachers and learning support teachers and, in conjunction with teachers’ observations, are used to identify pupils who would benefit from additional support. At third and sixth class levels, cognitive ability tests are administered.
The learning-support teachers administer a range of diagnostic tests to assist in the identification of pupils’ specific needs. These include the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability (NARA), QUEST and the Early Literacy Test. Individual pupil folders are maintained in which specific comments on progress in English and Mathematics are noted. Pupils’ progress is documented in the areas of sight vocabulary, word blending, rhyme, comprehension and phonics. Individual strengths and targets for improvement are clearly noted. Pupils engage in self evaluation using a simple pictorial system which has been devised by teachers. This practice is commendable.
Three teachers provide supplementary support to pupils under the general allocation model and to pupils who have been allocated resource teaching hours. Overall, the quality of the support provided is good. The learning support teacher and the resource teacher work full-time in the school. The resource teacher for travellers assumed her post in September 2009 and is shared with two other schools. She provides support for pupils in this school each afternoon.
Since September 2009, the learning-support and resource teachers have shared their caseloads. This shared practice is acknowledged as a very positive development as it contributes to the development of a team approach as well as providing a valuable opportunity for the teachers to work with pupils of varying abilities. All pupils in receipt of support are withdrawn from the mainstream classroom for the purpose of provision of support. It is recommended that this situation be reviewed and that elements of in-class support teaching be incorporated into the provision for pupils with special educational needs. As this school does not provide early intervention to pupils in the infant classes, it is also recommended that the in-class support programme include an early identification and prevention strategy in infant classes. This strategy may take the form of station teaching for a defined period of time and would involve a collaborative approach between support teachers and class teachers.
The three teachers prepare conscientiously for their lessons and carefully monitor and record pupils’ progress. Effective Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are developed for pupils in receipt of resource teaching and Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs) have been developed for pupils attending learning support. These include clear learning objectives and realistic success criteria against which pupils’ progress is measured. There is evidence of collaboration between class teachers and support teachers in the development of the IEPs and some parents are familiar with their child’s IEP. During the evaluation, some of the lessons observed were protracted and inappropriately paced resulting in a number of pupils not being sufficiently challenged. It is recommended that greater focus is placed on the intended learning objectives and that the lessons are suitably differentiated to ensure enhanced benefit to the pupils. This is particularly important in the case of small group lessons where there may be varying needs and strengths amongst the attending pupils.
Support teaching is provided in a friendly and supportive environment. The support rooms are well-resourced and teachers make effective use of a wide range of materials, books and equipment, including suitable education software on the computer. In general, the teachers employ a variety of teaching methodologies.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· A very positive atmosphere pervades the school. The emphasis placed on generating positive relationships between all stakeholders has led to the prevalence of an welcoming environment in which pupils thrive both academically and socially.
· This is a very well-run school and credit is due to the principal and the board of management for overseeing its development over the years.
· The board of management is committed to supporting the work of school, particularly in relation to maintenance issues. Accordingly, the school building and school environs are very well maintained.
· Very good efforts are made to establish and maintain positive links between the school and the community.
· Overall, very good standards are achieved by pupils in aspects of the curriculum.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· The board of management should outline a formal mission statement for the school. It should also ensure that school accounts are certified annually. The board is also advised to ensure that training is provided for all its members and its plans to establish a Parents’ Association are realised.
· There is a need to identify areas for development across the curriculum and to plan in the long term and short term for development throughout the school.
· There is a need for more purposeful differentiation over the course of teaching and learning, to ensure that all pupils are enabled to access learning at a level that is commensurate with their level of ability.
· It is advised that the emphasis on whole-class, didactic teaching be lessened and that pupils be given more opportunities to engage with topics, to discuss topics and to offer suggestions.
· There is a need for review of some aspects of provision for pupils with special educational needs. In particular, it is advised that the support provided include in-class support and early intervention and prevention strategies in infant classes.
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, June 2010