An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Mary’s Central NS
Belmont Avenue, Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Uimhir Rolla: 19727G
Date of inspection: 28 January 2008
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of St. Mary’s Central National School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and 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 reporting inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St. Mary’s Central National School is a thirteen-teacher co-educational school catering for pupils from junior infants to sixth class. The school, which is in the parish of Donnybrook, is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. At present, there are 256 pupils on roll the majority of whom live in close proximity to the school. Whilst both ongoing and projected application trends indicate sufficient demand for a two-class intake at each class level, the current school building is unable to accommodate this number of pupils. As a result, the board has recently reviewed its admissions policy to give priority to siblings over new applicants from the parish. In accordance with the Education Welfare Act 2002, the board has produced an attendance policy which incorporates strategies to promote pupil attendance. The board has recently decided to consult the parents’ association regarding a reward system to celebrate excellent attendance.
The school aims to promote the full and harmonious development of its pupils in a holistic manner. It aspires to create a learning environment that is happy and child-centred, and fosters a sense of community and mutual respect in an atmosphere of inclusion and encouragement. The school’s ethos encompasses collective attitudes, beliefs, core values, traditional aspirations and goals. A strong sense of common purpose is evident amongst the stakeholders. The school’s commitment to its stated aims and ethos is reflected in the supportive school atmosphere and the positive interactions amongst the members of the school community.
The board of management, which is properly constituted, meets at least twice each term. Minutes of meetings are recorded appropriately and the financial accounts are certified annually in compliance with section 18(1) of the Education Act 1998. The board is commended for producing a detailed and comprehensive annual report on the work of the school which is presented at the annual general meeting of the parents’ association. Of significant concern to the board, in recent years, has been the need to provide new school premises. Despite ongoing efforts, the board has been unable to access a larger site which would accommodate both a one-storey building and sufficient playground space for increased pupil numbers. The restrictions of the current school site, compounded by an ongoing increase in pupil applications, has further complicated decision-making regarding the location and size of any projected new building. It is now timely that the board, in conjunction with the school stakeholders, agrees the way forward and plans accordingly.
The board is highly supportive of the work of the principal and teachers. The chairperson, who maintains regular formal and informal contact with the principal and staff, visits the pupils in their classrooms frequently. The board also maintains effective links with parents and the school community. Board members take their maintenance role seriously and the board conducts regular health and safety audits which form the basis of ongoing maintenance projects. The board is keenly aware of the importance of training and, in addition to attending CPMSA training, it also intends to invite relevant experts to present joint information sessions for themselves and other interested local schools. The board, which is commended for having actively participated with the staff in the production of a number of administrative and organisational policies, has also ratified curriculum policies. Posts of responsibility are reviewed in light of the changing needs of the school. The board ensures that the school complies with statutory regulations in relation to the length of the school year, the length of the school day, the allocation of teachers and the retention of pupils.
The principal exhibits well-honed leadership, organisational and interpersonal skills that enable her to lead and manage the school in an effective manner. The wider school community has identified her dedication, high professional standards and open-door policy as particular strengths. Her up-to-date knowledge of the curriculum and of education issues enables her to engage effectively in instructional leadership. Her primary focus is on the provision of effective teaching and learning, and how that can be best facilitated through the organisation and management structures of the school. Her leadership style promotes a culture of team work and enables staff members to undertake leadership roles that promote school improvement.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, deputy principal and four special duties teachers. The principal, in conjunction with the post-holders and staff, has engaged in a review of the assigned duties. The revised roles, which contain a clear and purposeful range of curriculum, administrative and pastoral duties, reflect the current priorities of the school. Lines of communication and accountability are clear, and post holders carry out their duties conscientiously. Members of the team play a key role in leading improvement and innovation in the school. The team meets regularly with the principal to discuss both management issues and matters related to the school’s strategic development. The agenda for these meetings is circulated in advance. To complement this good practice, it is now recommended that the minutes be recorded formally.
The teaching staff comprises an administrative principal, nine mainstream teachers, two learning- support teachers and one shared special needs teachers. The school’s class allocation policy facilitates the deployment of staff in a transparent manner and encourages teachers to experience a range of teaching contexts and class levels. The school is aware that, of the nine mainstream classes, only two are compliant with DES guidelines regarding class size. To facilitate the delivery of the curriculum to all pupils, it is recommended that these DES guidelines be observed. An ethos of collaborative team work and partnership with the stakeholders is cultivated. Staff morale is high and teachers feel valued, consulted and supported. The staff members access national programmes of continuing professional development and support, and some have engaged in post-graduate studies.
The school comprises eight classrooms, one pre-fabricated classroom, two small pre-fabricated rooms for resource teaching, two converted cloakrooms which serve as a small classroom for resource teaching and as a combined secretary’s office and library store respectively. The school community is concerned about the implications of the layout of the building and its limitations of space from teaching and learning, storage, and health and safety perspectives. The constraints of space have hindered the provision of a computer suite whilst the size of several classrooms militates against the provision of in-class support by the special education teachers. The board is conscious of its responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment for both staff and pupils. The ongoing maintenance programme has recently facilitated the refurbishment of toilets and the renewal of floor coverings in some classrooms and on the stairs. Those involved in the maintenance and cleaning of the school are complimented on their contribution towards maintaining a clean and safe environment for staff and pupils.
Within the physical constraints of the building, the school is generally making good use of resources. The school has invested in a good range of classroom resources which are used effectively to enhance teaching and learning. However, the limitation of storage space, which necessitates the use of the general purpose room for storage, hinders the full implementation of the physical education curriculum. It is recommended that the school accommodation needs be addressed as a matter of priority in order to meet the current and future implementation of the curriculum.
The school is commended on its ‘open-door’ policy which was identified by the staff, the board and the parents’ association as one of the key strengths of the school. The school has an active parents’ association which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council (NCP). The association actively promotes the involvement of the wider school community in the life of the school and organises a broad range of events including a family health-walk, parenting courses, an annual book fair and flower planting in addition to providing hospitality for school events. It also works in conjunction with the teachers to encourage parents to actively support specific class projects. The association communicates regularly with parents via letter and is currently compiling a data-base of email and mobile phone numbers.
Effective procedures are in place to facilitate formal communication with parents. An open evening for parents is held at the beginning of each school year. Curriculum information meetings, at which parents are provided with an overview of the year ahead in addition to advice on how to support their children, are also held by class teachers at the start of each school year. Parents are advised formally about their children’s progress through annual parent-teacher meetings and an annual written report. Additional meetings with parents are held on request. On-going contact is maintained with parents through the school journal and newsletters.
Parents of new entrants are provided with copies of relevant school policies and all policies are available in the school to all parents. It is recommended that parents be afforded a collaborative role in any future revisions to pertinent school policies.
The management of pupils is very good. Systems to promote good behaviour are well established and this is reflected in the pupils’ behaviour which is commendable. The teachers are clearly committed to the general welfare and pastoral care of their pupils, and a respectful and caring atmosphere is cultivated throughout the school. Pupils are proud of their school, are highly motivated towards learning and are eager to display their talents and achievements. Consideration should now be given to enabling them to participate in relevant decision-making through the establishment of a student council.
The quality of whole-school planning is very good. The school provides a clear, comprehensive school plan that encompasses curriculum, organisational and administrative policies. These policies are available in the school office whilst summaries of administrative policies are included in the school information booklet which is distributed to all new parents. The board is to be commended for its active participation in the development of several of the administrative and organisational policies in addition to having ratified all curriculum policies.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The quality of classroom planning is generally very good. All teachers provide long-term and short-term plans which are informed by both the curriculum and the school plan. In the best instances, these plans contain specific objectives in relation to knowledge, skills and understanding which are used to both guide and assess learning. Consideration should now be given to the extension of this commendable practice across the school. In addition, the school should consider the inclusion of greater specificity in relation to differentiated teaching and learning. Teachers maintain monthly progress records dutifully on a common school format. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Individual Pupil Learning Profiles (IPLPs), which are devised by the special education team in collaboration with class teachers and parents, are available in teachers’ folders where applicable.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The overall quality of teaching and learning is very good. Lessons, which are well structured and well paced, build on the pupils’ previous learning. In the best instances, the teachers share the specific learning objectives with their pupils and subsequently revisit them to track progress and plan for subsequent lessons. The majority of teachers employ a broad range of teaching methodologies, including collaborative group activities, paired work and individual activities in addition to whole-class teaching. Most classrooms facilitate both activity-based learning and discovery-learning. Many teachers make effective use of teacher modelling, scaffolding and higher-order questioning to support the pupils in their learning. Teachers also encourage their pupils to use subject-specific vocabulary. Effective use is made of manipulatives to enhance the pupils’ understanding of concepts. Pupils are also enabled to develop their investigative skills through engagement with artefacts and concrete materials. A positive learning atmosphere permeates the school and pupils respond well to their teachers’ high expectations for both participation in lessons and attainment. To ensure that all pupils are challenged at a level commensurate with their ability, it is now recommended that further provision be made for differentiated learning. The teachers are highly commended for the quality of displays in their classrooms, several of which are of an exemplary standard. These displays are aesthetically pleasing, interactive in nature and serve to both enhance and celebrate the pupils’ learning.
Maidir le múineadh agus foghlaim na Gaeilge, tá caighdeán ard le sonrú ar an obair. Glacann formhór na ndaltaí páirt i gníomhaíochtaí labhartha go fonnmhor. Ina theannta sin, léiríonn siad scileanna maithe léitheoireachta. Ag fágáil na scoile dóibh, tá caighdeán ard bainte amach ag na daltaí. I gcoitinne, comhaontaíonn na modhanna múinte leis an gcuraclam agus leagtar béim oiriúnach ar an gcur chuige cumarsáide. Úsáidtear an Ghaeilge mar theanga teagaisc i ngach rang agus is minic a úsáideann na múinteoirí an Ghaeilge mar theanga chaidrimh i rith an lae. Ionas go mbeidh seans ag na daltaí an Ghaeilge a chleachtadh, tugtar deiseanna dóibh páirt a ghlacadh i ngníomhaíochtaí beirte agus i rólghlacadh. Tugann go leor daltaí faoi ghníomhaíochtaí ilchineálacha scríbhneoireachta ina léirionn siad a scileanna laidre agus a gcruthaitheacht.
Sna bunranganna agus sna meánranganna, is díograiseach iad na daltaí agus iad ag glacadh páirte i ngníomhaíochtaí foghlama a bhfuil struchtúr cuí orthu. Is léir go bhfuil na gníomhaíochtaí foghlama sin pleanáilte go maith sa chaoi is go gcuirtear na háiseanna riachtanacha ar fáil agus go soláthraítear deiseanna foghlama ar leibhéal oiriúnach. Bíonn na páistí gníomhach ina gcuid foghlama féin. Tá stór maith amhrán agus rannta acu agus is breá leo iad a léiriú. Tá neamhionannas le sonrú sna bealaí ina gcuirtear an curaclam Gaeilge i bhfeidhm sna hardranganna. I gcásanna áirithe, tá sárchleachtas le feiceáil sa chaoi is go nasctar an Ghaeilge le hábhair eile. Chomh maith leis sin, múintear foclóir nua agus nathanna cainte ar bhonn struchtúrtha, agus déantar an Ghaeilge labhartha agus scríofa a cheangailt leis an ngnáthshaol tré úsáid a bhaint as suirbhéanna. Tá daltaí eile ann arbh fhiú deiseanna struchtúrtha a sholáthar dóibh an Ghaeilge a úsáid i ngrúpaí agus i mbeirteanna. Déantar clárú tairbheach ar dhul chun cinn na ndaltaí sna bunranganna agus tá gaol idir an measúnú agus na céimeanna teagaisc a leanann é. Maidir leis an ngné seo den churaclam, is é an dúshlán a bheidh os comhair na scoile amach anseo ná polasaí foirmiúil a fhorbairt i dtaobh measúnú foghlama agus conas cuntas a choinneáil ar dhul chun cinn na ndaltaí.
Overall, the standard of teaching and learning in Irish is impressive. Most pupils engage in oral activities confidently and demonstrate good reading skills. The standard of attainment as pupils leave the school is very good. In general, the teaching methods are in keeping with the curriculum with appropriate emphasis placed on the communicative approach. In all classes, Irish is used as the medium of instruction and, in several instances, teachers communicate incidentally through the language over the course of the school day. In most classes, pupils are provided with opportunities to engage in both paired activities and role-play to enable them to apply their language knowledge. Many pupils engage in a range of writing activities that demonstrate solid skills and creativity. In the infant and middle classes, pupils engage enthusiastically in well-structured lessons that are well resourced, appropriately challenging and facilitate active learning. They perform a good range of poems and songs with enthusiasm. The Irish curriculum experienced by some pupils and its mode of delivery at senior level varies. The exemplary practice observed includes effective linkage between Irish and other curriculum areas, the explicit teaching of new phrases and vocabulary, and the use of surveys to enable the pupils to apply the oral and written language to real-life situations. Other senior pupils would benefit from more structured opportunities to apply the language through group work and paired activities. In the junior classes, there is good recording of pupil progress with a definite link between assessment and planning for learning. The next challenge for the school in relation to this curriculum area is to develop a formal policy on assessing pupils’ learning and documenting that progress.
Teaching and learning in all strands of the English curriculum are excellent at each class level in the school. A solid foundation in literacy is laid in the infant classrooms and this is developed systematically as the pupils progress through the school. Across the school, pupils’ oral language skills are developed in a creative and practical manner and they express their views confidently and articulately. High-quality practice was observed in relation to some senior pupils who benefited greatly from a sophisticated language environment facilitated by the teacher’s own written and verbal modelling of rich language skills. The standard of debating skills demonstrated by children in the senior classes is exceptional. Most classrooms reflect rich interactive language environments. In all classes, pupils are enabled to read for meaning and are encouraged to engage in regular and sustained reading. Pupils in the middle and senior classes engage with a variety of texts including class novels. Their achievement in this strand unit is excellent. In the infant classes, pupils are taught the secretarial skills of writing whilst also engaging in the emergent writing process. In most classes, pupils are given frequent opportunities to engage in creative writing in a wide variety of genres. The teachers recognise the importance of aspiring to improve quality in all aspects of the pupils’ writing and enable them to participate in the editing of their work.
There were many outstanding examples of high quality teaching and learning in Mathematics in this school. Best practice included guided discovery-learning, the systematic development of skills and the application of mathematical concepts to problem-solving. In all classes, teachers link mathematical concepts to the pupils’ environment and facilitate effective integration of mathematics with other curriculum areas. Across the school, there was evidence of the judicious use of mathematical language in addition to the effective use of resources and manipulatives to enhance and extend the pupils’ comprehension of new concepts. In addition to whole-class teaching, pupils in most classes are also enabled to engage in paired activities and group work. A small number of children require more opportunities to become more actively involved in mathematical lessons and to engage in the practical application of their learning. Generally, pupils’ work is corrected regularly. It is important that all pupils have their written work monitored on a regular basis. In many classes, there is evidence of good planning to facilitate continuity and progression. Across the school, the documentation of pupil progress is good. It is now recommended that assessment data be used further to enhance the provision for individual pupil needs.
The overall standard of teaching and learning in history is high. Amongst the exemplary aspects of good practice observed in lessons were meaningful and stimulating use of artefacts, creative and practical strategies to develop pupils’ concept of change over time, excellent use of photographs, and effective linkage to personal and family history. Throughout the school, effective use is made of an appropriate range of timelines. In the senior classes, emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ higher-order thinking skills. Generally, pupils are enabled to work as historians; hypothesising and using resources to enhance and extend their knowledge whilst recording their findings. Consideration should now be given to extending this good practice across all classes.
In Geography, some outstanding work is undertaken with pupils in the junior classes. These lessons, which place great emphasis on the development of skills, incorporate effective collaborative learning activities. Pupils participate enthusiastically, are engaged in their work and have impressive knowledge of this area. Throughout the school, effective use is made of the local environment whilst integration is a particularly praiseworthy feature of geography teaching. Given this sound basis at the junior level, the challenge for the school is to ensure continuity and progression in the delivery of the geography curriculum across all class levels ensuring that it is suitably challenging, engaging and in keeping with the methods outlined in the curriculum. Assessment strategies and the recording of pupil progress are well established in the junior level and should now be developed consistently across the school.
The standard of teaching and learning in science is very good. Across the school, pupils are enabled to participate actively in investigative work which enables them to develop the skills of prediction, estimation and recording. Appropriate emphasis is placed on the concept of fair testing and pupils discuss their work enthusiastically and reflectively using subject-specific vocabulary. Most classrooms host displays of class investigations and several contain investigative areas. Solid foundations are laid in the infant classes where the pupils are enabled to develop their observation and prediction skills through scaffolded engagement in investigative work. Exemplary teaching was observed in the senior classes where the pupils are enabled to participate in guided discovery-learning. Differentiation is facilitated through the provision of open-ended investigations, appropriate scaffolding, and the effective use of higher-order questioning. The lessons, which are enhanced by sound teacher knowledge of the subject, are linked very effectively to other curriculum areas.
The standard of teaching and learning in the Visual Arts is good. All strands are represented in the delivery of the curriculum and good provision is made for linkage and integration with other curriculum strands. A high standard of work in relation to looking at and responding to the work of famous artists is evident throughout the school. A noteworthy aspect of work in the infant classes is the pupils’ physical recreation of famous paintings. Best practice in the middle and senior classes enables the pupils to respond to both the work of artists and their peers according to specific criteria. Consideration should now be given to formalising this good practice across the school and to encouraging the pupils to engage in criterion-referenced self-assessment. The limitations of space restricts the display of the pupils’ work. When reviewing the school plan, consideration should be given to ensuring that it facilitates continuity and progression in relation to the teaching of specific skills, particularly in the strand of paint and colour.
A broad and balanced music curriculum is experienced by pupils throughout the school. All strands are appropriately represented in the delivered curriculum. The linkage of strands and strands units, and the integration of music with other curriculum areas are noteworthy features of good practice. The pupils are musically creative and demonstrate an ability to respond to a broad range of music in a variety of ways. Musical elements are developed systematically across the school through interrelated activities and literacy is linked with song-singing and instrumental work. Pupils in the junior classes participate with great enthusiasm and application in the composing strand, and are very willing to discuss their work using appropriate subject-specific vocabulary. In the middle classes, pupils sing with musicality reflecting a good understanding of the elements of music. Differentiation is facilitated through enabling those who exhibit proficiency in instrumental playing to accompany song-singing and apply their knowledge when composing.
Good provision is made for the teaching of all strands of the drama curriculum. The school avails of the services of a specialist teacher and noteworthy aspects of good practice are her engagement with the principal and staff in the planning of the curriculum, and the class teachers’ engagement in the lessons. A broad range of drama conventions, including improvisation, is used effectively to enhance the delivery of English and Irish whilst deepening the pupils’ understanding of a range of issues in History and SPHE. Pupils engage effectively in drama activities.
4.6 Physical Education
The school deserves much credit for exploiting the limited physical resources to their fullest to deliver a broad and balanced physical education curriculum. To complement the school hall and the playground, the local public park and swimming pool are used to facilitate the delivery of all strands of the curriculum. However, the size and multi-purpose nature of the current school hall places some constraints on the full implementation of the strands of gymnastics and games. Further development of the strand of gymnastics is recommended. Equal opportunities are provided for boys and girls to participate in a range of games and other physical education activities. Lessons are well structured with the school plan facilitating continuity and progression across the school.
Both teaching and learning in the lessons observed in this curriculum area were of a very good standard. Planning and teaching are informed by the characteristic ethos of the school as stated in the school plan. Across the school, teachers incorporate a variety of suitable teaching methods to explore issues that are relevant to the pupils’ personal development and are also closely linked to the strands and strand units. The quality of the interactions, both amongst pupils and between pupils and teachers, is impressive. In the junior classes, exemplary recording processes are in place to track the pupils’ social and personal development through teacher questioning, portfolios and feedback from parents.
The school employs a broad and suitable range of standardised assessments to assess pupils’ achievement in English and Mathematics. These tests are administered annually to pupils from first to sixth class. In addition, the school administers a screening test to all pupils in senior infants. The results of these tests are used to identify pupils who may benefit from additional support. It is now recommended that these results are also used to monitor and track pupils’ learning as they progress through the school and that they inform differentiated teaching and learning within classes. Individual teachers use a variety of assessment modes including teacher observation, teacher-designed tests and tasks, checklists, observation notes, and the sampling of pupils’ work. All class teachers maintain records of test results. In several classes across the school, pupils also engage in both self-assessment and peer-assessment. In order to ensure both consistency in practice across classes and the formative use of data to inform the next steps in pupils’ learning, it is recommended that the school uses the elements of existing good practice, which are evident at various levels, as the basis for a whole-school approach.
One of the key challenges for the school is the review of current SEN provision with particular focus on: the linkage between special education and mainstream teaching, the use of diagnostic testing and the streamlining of provision. The special education team comprises one shared and two full-time special education teachers. Their caseload comprises pupils with designated hours and those who qualify for support under the general allocation model. To facilitate the educational provision for pupils with specific learning needs, their parents are invited to meet with the principal prior to enrolment. Systems are in place to enable the special needs teachers to liaise effectively with external support agencies. IEPs and IPLPs, which are informed by psychological reports as appropriate, are drawn up by the teachers in conjunction with the class teachers and are shared with parents. Senior pupils are involved in the IEP process and it is recommended this good practice be documented in the policy. Support is provided in English and mathematics with the teachers providing support in English, mathematics or resource teaching respectively. Some pupils receive support in both English and mathematics which entails working with two special needs teachers. To enable the special needs teachers to work more cohesively as a team, it is recommended that formal meetings be held on a regular basis. Consideration should also be given to extending the range of diagnostic testing. The model of intervention comprises withdrawal exclusively and consideration should now be given, within the constraints of classroom size, to incorporating in-class support where feasible.
The school has an open and inclusive enrolment policy. Appropriate provision is made to ensure that all pupils are enabled to engage in all activities.
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 January 2009