An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Good Shepherd National School
Churchtown, Dublin 14
Roll number: 19939V
Date of inspection: 10 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 04 October 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Good Shepherd 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. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Good Shepherd National School is a twenty-three teacher school catering for children from junior infants to sixth class. It is in the parish of Churchtown and operates under the patronage of the Catholic archbishop of Dublin. Pupil enrolment has fallen significantly since 2003 and the school has a current enrolment of 240 pupils. It is reported that the recent closure of a large local factory and the increased cost of housing in the immediate area have contributed to this significant decrease. The school caters for a diverse population and many of the pupils come from outside of the parish making it difficult to define the catchment area for the school. As participants in the School Support Programme, the school receives additional funding and resources. These have been used in a variety of ways and have provided the school with a very favourable pupil teacher ratio.
According to its mission statement, the school welcomes all religions and nationalities, provides a nurturing, happy and caring environment, and encourages the uniqueness of each child and mutual respect for all people. It also aims to ensure the physical, emotional and moral well-being of the pupils and to foster self-esteem. The school has a happy and caring environment and staff members succeed in nurturing the pupils’ self-confidence. It is to the credit of the staff that pupils, irrespective of ability, needs or origins, do not perceive differences among themselves and that mutual respect is fostered and promoted. The school is concerned about the level of absence of a small percentage of pupils and communication with the relevant parents is ongoing to address these concerns.
The board of management meets once a month and is properly constituted. Minutes are kept and accounts are certified annually. Some members have been assigned individual responsibilities. The main focus of the board, at this time, is on the maintenance of the school building and on reducing the large debt which has been incurred over a period of years. The members devised a five-year plan regarding summer works and the board is commended for the work carried out to date and for attending to this upgrade in a systematic way. The board has recently initiated a voluntary contribution scheme in order to provide supplementary funding for the school. The treasurer, principal and school secretary have worked hard to improve significantly the finances of the school. The board is aware of the school policies that are under development and the members approve the plans devised by the teaching staff. It is recommended that the board become more aware of their role in enhancing the quality of teaching and learning by greater engagement in the school planning process and that they take responsibility for communicating the results of this planning to the parent body. The board is very supportive of the principal and of staff members and provides funding towards teachers’ professional development.
In compliance with relevant legislation and regulations the board has an admissions policy and a code of behaviour and work has begun on the development of a child protection policy. It also complies with Departmental regulations in relation to length of school year, the allocation of teachers, class sizes and the retention of pupils. As it is important that all children are supervised by their own teacher from the beginning of assembly time each day, it is recommended that the board review all assembly times and ensure that it is compliant with the Time in School Circular (11/95).
The board should now collaborate with all the partners to devise a vision for the future development of the school embracing the current context and building on the stability that has been established. This should include developing a strategy for working closely with all the parents and involving them more in the day-to-day life of the school. It should also include a projection of enrolment figures to enable the school to plan strategically.
Four changes of principal over an eight year period have occurred in the school. The current principal was appointed in September 2005. Establishing stability has been the hallmark of her tenure to date. She is succeeding in improving the morale of the teaching staff and her effective overseeing of the maintenance plan is resulting in visible improvements in the working environment for the teachers and in the creation of an attractive learning environment for all the pupils in the school. She communicates regularly with staff members both formally and informally. She is also proactive in developing links with the local community and she maintains a visible presence within the school. As part of her commitment to the role she participates in the Misneach programme for school leadership. Her recognition of this period of time as a new beginning for the school creates the opportunity for her to build on the foundations she has laid and move the school forward into a new phase. This should involve her becoming the driving force behind developing a new vision for the school, which would be articulated by the whole school community, and subsequently ensuring that all decisions are informed by this vision. As stability has been established she could now give more time to overseeing the coherent development and implementation of both curriculum and organisational policies and plans.
The principal is supported in her work by an in-school management team which consists of a deputy principal, three assistant principals and seven special duties teachers. The deputy principal is very supportive of the principal and their styles of management complement one another. Each of the special duties positions has specific responsibilities attached to it and these duties are carried out in a dedicated and enthusiastic manner. A formal review of the duties has recently taken place and some were re-assigned in order to equalise workloads. While these new arrangements facilitate some development in particular aspects of school life, it is recommended that a further review be undertaken to ensure that each post holder has responsibility for a curriculum, an organisational and a pastoral care area, as outlined in circular 07/03. A more cohesive approach to in-school management is recommended which will build capacity for the future and foster the professional development of all the teachers.
The teaching staff comprises an administrative principal, ten mainstream class teachers, three special class teachers for pupils with mild general learning disability, four learning support/resource teachers, two speech and language teachers, two part-time speech therapists, one resource teacher for Travellers (RTT) currently job sharing, one home-school-community liaison co-ordinator (HSCL) and one language support teacher. Ten full-time and two part-time special needs assistants (SNAs) make up the full complement.
Teachers’ professional development is enhanced through opportunities to experience teaching in a range of classes. This practice should form the basis of a policy which will ensure that all teachers are afforded the opportunity to experience the full range of positions available on a continual basis. The teachers have also engaged effectively in the professional development programme provided by Primary Curriculum Support Programme. Individual teachers have engaged in a variety of courses ranging from short courses to those at both diploma and Master’s level and in professional development provided by the School Development Planning Initiative, the FÍS project and the National Pilot Project on Induction. A number of areas for individual future professional development have also been identified. Future participation in professional development should take account of priority needs in the school and consideration should be given to some whole-school approaches to this aspect of development.
The SNAs support seventeen individual pupils in the school. The role of each SNA is clearly defined and is carried out under the direction and guidance of individual class teachers. The school is commended on the effective deployment of the SNAs as they provide appropriate support for those assigned to them and they ensure their effective inclusion in the daily life of the school. The participation of the SNAs in ongoing professional development relevant to their responsibilities is also noteworthy. External tutors are employed for drama and swimming which take place within school hours. These activities are currently funded by parents, and while all pupils are included it is recommended that this practice be reviewed. A wide range of activities are provided for pupils outside of school hours.
The school is accommodated in a single storey building which is more than adequate for the current needs. With nineteen permanent classrooms and two prefabricated classrooms the school has a dedicated library, a computer room and a designated parents’ room. The school also houses a kitchen where cookery classes take place, two halls, resource rooms and a comfortable staff room. The school is cleaned on a daily basis by contract cleaners. Supportive secretarial services are available to assist the teaching staff and pupils and care-taking services enable minor repairs and maintenance of the school grounds to be undertaken on an ongoing basis. The school staff and pupils are ably supported by the diligent and committed work of the secretary. The very spacious outdoor facilities which include a large pitch, a hard court and a large tarmacadam area are greatly appreciated by the children and the staff and are put to good use for the pupils. A programme of refurbishment is underway in the school and much progress has been made to date including the complete repainting of the internal building. The redevelopment of the school garden and the upgrading of the computer room will also be part of the programme of work. The completion of this programme will greatly enhance the facilities available to children and staff. The artwork and samples of children’s work displayed on the corridors and in the classrooms contributes to the positive atmosphere and provides a context for celebrating pupil achievement. The school facilitates the provision of after school activities for the children and for classes and courses for the parents through the HSCL scheme. Rooms are regularly hired out to various community groups in the area.
A wide range of resources is available in the school to support teaching and learning including class libraries with books suitable for both boys and girls; concrete materials for mathematics particularly evident in the junior classes and in the special education settings; investigative materials for science, history and geography; equipment for physical education; ICT equipment in both the computer room and in individual classes and a wide range of art materials. The appointment of curriculum leaders with responsibility for auditing, purchasing and maintaining materials would enhance the distribution and effective use of these materials. The use of the computer is evident throughout the school but particularly in the special classes and the computer room is effectively used by most classes. The level of resources available for teaching pupils with special needs is noteworthy.
The school does not have an official parents’ association at present. However, parents are called upon to organise and participate in fundraising activities as needs arise and have always responded very generously. Parents are directly involved in some school activities such as the shared Mathematics programme in third class. They have been consulted on the Relationships and Sexuality Education, Substance Use and Internet Use policies. Positive relations are fostered through the termly newsletter, regular notes in the pupils’ diaries and the School’s Green Committee. Parents of pupils with special needs have been directly involved in the development of individual education plans for their children and are kept regularly informed of their progress.
The school should capture the positive approach of the parents by reflecting on the most appropriate ways to involve them in supporting the school vision in a structured and formal manner. This should include re-activating the parents’ association with a focus other than fundraising, and identifying a range of strategies to encourage parents to become more actively involved in the daily life of the school. The home-school-community liaison service will play a key role in eliciting the views and requirements of parents through a needs analysis process. It is important that a cohesive approach is taken to the organisation and management of the courses to meet the needs identified. Parents will be key figures in enhancing the profile of the school and it is essential that time and energy is given to developing their involvement and building on their commitment to the school.
The school has a brief code of behaviour and an anti-bullying charter which are available in each child’s journal. The school is praised for the mutual respect that is fostered and practised among the school community. Children behave very positively, creating an atmosphere that is conducive to learning. All classes are very well organised which contributes to the overall discipline and behaviour in the school. The use of the praise book and the regular assemblies and the general positive re-enforcement adds to the overall effective behaviour management. The assembly is a very important part of the discipline approach and is commended.
3. QUALITY OF SCHOOL PLANNING
The school plan is readily available in three folders and is easily accessible. It is apparent that the teachers have been involved in the development of this plan for a number of years. The role of co-ordination of the planning process is shared between the principal and a member of the in-school management team. To build on this practice, consideration should be given to including parents and board members as partners in the school planning process on a structured and ongoing basis.
A number of organisational policies are included in the plan and it is reported that parents were consulted in the development of some of these. In a number of cases these do not provide specific guidance for implementation appropriate to this school. It is recommended that a consistent approach to structuring policies be developed which will ensure that all aspects of a particular issue receive attention and that the policy is relevant to this individual school context. In order to facilitate overall school improvement, action plans should be developed to provide guidelines for implementation and monitoring and to identify individuals to lead both the implementation and the ongoing phase. The appointment of these leaders should be linked to the review of the post-holders duties.
Effective work has taken place in curriculum planning. A needs analysis process was carried out which led to the identification of priorities for development. A plan of work for each school year has been completed since 2003. Plans have been devised for Language, Mathematics, Social, Environmental and Scientific Education, PE, Social, Personal and Health Education, the Visual Arts and ICT. These plans reflect the principles and the strands of the curriculum but further work is needed on identifying the methods, approaches and resources that should be used. The level of detail on methodologies in the Mathematics plan provides clear guidance for teaching and learning and it is apparent that it influences practice in the classroom on a positive and consistent basis. This could provide a blueprint for planning in other subjects.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board and staff have begun to take 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). A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines but the board has yet to adopt and implement the policies.
Mainstream class teachers engage in long and short-term planning. Different approaches are used and the quality of these varies. The effectiveness of the collaborative planning for pupils with special needs is apparent in the successful integration and learning experiences of these pupils in mainstream classes. All teachers provide long-term plans which contain aims and objectives from the curriculum and a very brief outline of content. It is important that long-term planning is the means by which the school plan is implemented on a whole-school basis, a broad and balanced curriculum is delivered in all classes, and continuity and progression in learning are realised for every pupil. Further detail needs to be included in the long term plans to reflect these principles. The school is to be commended for its use of frameworks from the School Development Planning initiative for individual planning which reflects an effort to bring consistency to classroom planning throughout the school. Some very good examples of short-term planning using these frameworks are evident and these inform daily teaching and learning. It is recommended that a whole-school approach to classroom planning be agreed which will include the identification of clear, specific learning objectives and the content to be taught in each curriculum area. All teachers compile monthly progress reports and these are kept on file in the principal’s office.
The school is to be commended on the development of a comprehensive and appropriate whole-school policy on provision for pupils with special education needs. This informs both individual planning and practice in the classroom situations. It ensures the delivery of broad and balanced programmes in each special education class setting. Ongoing monitoring and review is integral to the planning process among these teachers and this is reflected in the ongoing adaptation of the process and content for the pupils.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Overall teachers deliver a broad curriculum in all classes with good emphasis on the Arts and PE. Effective whole-class teaching takes place throughout the school. Clear instructions and guidance are given to pupils during the lessons. Learning is very meaningful when pupils are active in their own learning and engaging in group and pair work. Arrangements have been put in place to provide teaching, according to ability, in some curriculum areas. Whole-school approaches have also been developed to meet pupil needs, for example, in the settings approach devised for the teaching of Mathematics. Some very good group work, incorporating discovery learning, is evident in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) classes and this contributes significantly to the development of pupils’ understanding. Very good examples of the effective use of ICT to enhance learning were observed in junior, senior and special class settings.
The school is fortunate in that the average class size is eighteen pupils. This provides ample scope for active participation and the use of a variety of teaching approaches. The staff is encouraged to exploit these small numbers positively and to use as much small group work as possible. To support this type of teaching it is essential to ensure that each class has adequate resources to engage the pupils in independent learning and to counteract the over-reliance in some areas on the prescribed textbook. Some excellent examples of differentiated learning were observed and it is recommended that this now be extended to all classes.
Rinneadh athbreithniú ar an bplean scoile i mBealtaine 2006 agus d’aithníodh na stratéisí chun úsáid na teanga agus an cur i bhfeidhm a fheabhsú. Tá leanúnachas le feiceáil idir an plean scoile agus pleananna na n-oidí. Tá réimse leathan d’áiseanna le haghaidh múineadh na Gaeilge ar fáil. Úsáidtear an Ghaeilge mar theanga cumarsáide sna ceachtanna Ghaeilge i bhformhór na ranganna. Moltar an cleachtadh sin a chur i ngníomh ar fud na scoile. De ghnáth cuireann an fhoireann an iomad béime ar chaint an oide sna ceachtanna ach baineann cuid acu úsáid as obair bheirte, as obair ghrúpa, as dramaíocht agus as cluichí éagsúla i roinnt ranganna. Moltar níos mó béime a chur ar na gnéithe seo i ngach rang chun scileanna cumarsáide a fhorbairt agus chun féinmhuinín a chothú. Tá bá ag na daltaí óga leis an nGaeilge agus canann said amhráin agus rainn le brí agus sprioraid. Is léir go bhfuil deacracht ag na hoidí an spreagadh agus an suim chéanna a chothú sna ranganna eile. Tá téascleabhar caighdeánach in usáid i ngach rang agus tá béim cuí leaghta ar mhúineadh an fhoclóra. Cé go bhfuil na daltaí in ann an Ghaeilge a léamh go cruinn sna meán agus sna hardranganna, ba chóir níos mó béime a chur ar a dtuiscint a fhorbairt agus ar ábhar na léitheoireachta a phlé. Tá caighdeán cuíosach maith bainte amach ag na daltaí sa Ghaeilge. Tá sé socraithe ag an bhfoireann atmaisféar níos fabhrach don Ghaeilge a chothú sa scoil agus cabhróidh sé sin go mór le suim agus dearcadh dearfach a shaothrú i measc na ndaltaí.
The school plan was reviewed in May 2006 and strategies to improve the teaching and daily use of Irish were identified. Teachers’ individual planning generally links well with the contents of the school plan. The school has a good range of resources to support teaching in this curricular area. The practice of using Irish as the medium of instruction during Irish lessons is evident in most of the classes. It is important to ensure that only Irish is used by teachers in Irish lessons at all levels through the school. Whole-class teacher talk dominates lessons but some good examples of pair work, group work, games and drama were noted. The use of these throughout the school to further the communication skills of the pupils is recommended. Pupils in the junior classes are positively disposed towards Irish and they perform songs and rhymes with enthusiasm and pride. It is apparent that teachers experience difficulty cultivating the same level of interest and motivation as the pupils’ progress through the school. A standard text book is in use throughout the school and appropriate emphasis is placed on vocabulary development. While pupils in the middle and senior classes can read with accuracy, additional emphasis should be placed on developing their understanding and on discussing content. The pupils’ overall standard of achievement is fair. As has been identified by the staff, the raising of the profile of Irish should help to increase interest and foster a more positive attitude towards the subject.
The school plan for English encompasses the range of diversity in the school stating that ‘over half the student population have restrictive language experience’. It includes a whole-school approach to reading, writing, spelling and assessment. The outline for oral language development is comprehensive, focused and based on the acquisition of language skills on an incremental basis and recommends forty five minutes of discrete oral language activity each week. Oral language teaching is primarily focused on discussion of topics and on questions and answers in readers and other textbooks. In light of the excellent work carried out on the plan and its relevance for this school population, it is recommended that the school now review its approach to oral language in the mainstream classes and include a discrete oral language lesson or at the minimum include focused oral language objectives in the teacher’s classroom planning. The school plan for phonics is excellent and provides a clear and developmental approach. Classes in general are adhering to its structure and approach and pupils are being exposed to a structured phonics programme.
The school has an excellent policy on handwriting which is reflected in the practice in all the classes and much success has been achieved in the standard of handwriting as a result. Pupils are given opportunities to express themselves creatively and examples of the pupils’ work were effectively displayed during the evaluation. By developing the structured approach to writing, currently in use in some classes, pupils will experience more satisfaction with their own work and will gradually develop the skills to express themselves more effectively in the written word.
A print rich environment has been created by teachers and the school is commended for this good practice. Appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of a sight vocabulary throughout the school. Big books are used at the early stages to foster interest in reading and language skills but because ability levels vary considerably at this stage it is recommended that less material be explored in order to allow for the skills to be developed at a pace which is appropriate to the pupils. Reading in the middle and senior classes is based on a standard reader. It is recommended that teachers differentiate the reading programmes within these classes in order to address the varying levels of ability being exhibited by the pupils. A range of supplementary readers should be introduced in each class and a differentiated approach to the development of comprehension skills be fostered. The school is fortunate in that the expertise and the commitment are available among the staff to put this into practice. All classes are stocked with a range of library readers and while it is evident that pupils readily take these books to read during the library time each day – it would be more beneficial if books were graded and a record was maintained of the books being read and enjoyed. In a few of the classes children enjoy reciting poetry. Good attention is paid to spelling and pupils partake in regular spelling tests.
The teachers are to be commended for their collaborative and comprehensive engagement in planning for the teaching of Mathematics. The plan provides effective guidance on the use of common terminology and approaches to teaching the various strands, along with information about resources and assessment. In practice, a whole-school approach to the teaching of Mathematics is apparent in the organisation of classes and in the team approach to providing support by the special education teachers. It is noteworthy that standardised tests are analysed annually and that ongoing discussion and experimentation occur to enhance the learning experiences and the achievement levels of all pupils. At present, all classes are timetabled for Mathematics at the same time to facilitate group-learning arrangements where special education teachers work closely with mainstream class teachers and pupils are divided into ability groups. While effective collaboration ensures that a balanced curriculum is delivered and that learning experiences are generally suited to the needs of pupils, the opportunities provided by working with smaller groups need to be further exploited to enhance achievement levels. In particular, greater use should be made of resources and active methods should be more widely used.
In general, teachers succeed in cultivating positive attitudes to Mathematics and in classes where effective use of games, active learning approaches and pair-work are evident all pupils participate willingly and display high levels of interest. Concrete materials improve learning to some extent in many classes and, although the number strand dominates learning in the first term, the measures and data strand are also taught and some early mathematical activities are organised at infant level. Overall, pupils demonstrate appropriate understanding of number and place value at infant, junior and middle level and to some extent at senior level and they answer questions related to shape, angles and measures with accuracy. While some evidence of the development of problem-solving skills is apparent, further work in this area is needed. Teachers monitor work vigilantly, correcting written work on a regular basis, devising tasks and tests, and providing individual support as required. In order to increase motivation and improve achievement levels, the current time allocated to Mathematics and the system of grouping by ability level should be kept under review, with particular attention to its effect on achievement at all levels and on motivation in the senior classes. A mathematics’ environment should be created in all classes and paired and small group work should be undertaken.
The range of topics explored in History is closely aligned to the textbook and teachers make good use of integrated themes or topics to organise their work in this curriculum area. The planned programme links well with other subject areas, most notably Geography and Science. Teachers are generally successful in enabling the pupils to develop an interest in and curiosity about, the past. They incrementally foster an understanding of the concepts of change and continuity over time. Good provision is made by the teachers for the acquisition of concepts and skills associated with sequence, time and chronology, appropriate to the developmental stages of the pupils. Effective use is made of story, in particular of the pupils’ own life stories in the lessons observed. Examination of artefacts and the use of photographic evidence and time lines are notable features of practice. The pupils enjoy lessons in History and have a good grasp of the topics taught to date.
The planned programme for Geography represents a good balance between the three strands. Talk and discussion are used effectively to stimulate interest and to develop knowledge within these strands. The pupils exhibit a good knowledge of the topics covered to date. Their sense of place and space is well developed. Pupils in the middle and senior classes demonstrate a very good understanding and knowledge of the physical geography of Ireland and other countries of the world. Commendable project work is undertaken in a number of classes. Very effective use is made of the school’s extensive ICT facilities to enable pupils engage in research and to enhance project presentation.
The teachers’ individual planning provides evidence of a varied programme in Science, suited to the age and interest of the pupils. The programme in environmental science is closely linked to seasonal change and nature tables are in evidence in the classrooms. A good range of resources has been acquired and kits have been compiled for specific strand units. The teachers promote the development of the pupils’ scientific language successfully. Lessons observed were well-structured, combining direct teaching with activity-based learning with excellent practice noted in a number of classes where all pupils engaged in hands-on activities and investigations. Pupils demonstrate an enthusiasm for their work and a good knowledge of the topics covered.
A member of staff co-ordinates the Green Schools project and the school has been awarded two Green Flags for work carried out on environmental awareness. The pupils’ participation gives opportunities for them to be involved in decision-making as well as environmental awareness. The school is commended on its achievements in this area and on its ongoing commitment to the project. Pupils in the senior classes are afforded further opportunities to develop their scientific skills through an after school science club. The school also hosts an annual science competition which generates great enthusiasm for science.
The school is to be lauded for the wide range of visual arts experiences provided for the pupils. School planning documents contain a series of suggested activities for the various classes for each of the strands of the curriculum. Visual Arts resources are stored centrally and are easily accessible to all classes. The lessons observed during the evaluation were well structured with due attention paid to the development of techniques and the appropriate use of tools and materials. Pupils’ creativity is fostered and the use of drawings and pencil designs as a basis for three dimensional work in clay is particularly noteworthy. Pupils are encouraged to talk about their work and to engage in a process of experimentation. Very attractive displays of two and three dimensional work in drawing, paint, print, fabric and fibre, clay and construction adorn the classrooms and corridors. Of particular interest and note is the high quality clay work created as a result of involvement in an artist in residence scheme. This display, which has been exhibited publicly in the past and will shortly be exhibited in Collins Barracks, features two elements of the pupil’s lives – movement and my favourite space and is illustrated in drawing, story and clay form. The development of the elements of art including line, texture, form, shape and space is apparent; pupils enjoy active engagement in the various activities and pupils with special educational needs are included in all visual arts activities.
The quality of teaching and learning in music varies throughout the school. At infant level songs are used to reinforce learning and to enhance enjoyment and CDs are effectively used to ensure that pupils sing at appropriate pitch. In the course of the evaluation aspects of the performance and listening strands were observed. Enthusiastic song-singing, clapping and body percussion occurred in junior and middle classes. Children were afforded opportunities to compose and play rhythmic patterns using hand-made percussion. The school choir provides interesting musical experiences for pupils from third to sixth class and the teachers are to be praised for their efforts to engage the choir in two part singing. The choir performs at religious occasions and at school concerts. The time allocated to music on the timetable of senior classes suggests that this area receives less attention than recommended in the curriculum guidelines. It is recommended that a review of teaching and learning in Music occurs and that whole-school planning is undertaken to enhance current provision and to ensure that all pupils benefit from a broad and balanced curriculum delivery.
An external tutor provides drama classes for pupils in all the classes in the school. Parents provide funding for this and all pupils are included in the classes. Praiseworthy attention is paid to the various strands of the Drama curriculum and in senior classes, the pupil’s self-esteem is enriched by their experiences. Drama games are effectively used to engage pupils in role play, and to act in character. Performance is a major element of the Drama programme and pupils cooperate with enthusiasm in making drama. The positive experience drama provides for the inclusion of pupils with special education needs is noteworthy. Little evidence of the teaching of Drama is apparent other than the work of the external tutor. It is recommended that a whole-school plan for Drama be developed this year when training for the implementation of the curriculum is provided and that all teachers take responsibility for the delivery of the Drama curriculum in their own class. The integration of Drama with other areas of the curriculum and the advantage of using Drama as a methodology should be considered and included within the plan.
Pupils are given the opportunity to engage in physical education activities across all the strands of the curriculum. Good facilities are available in the school and a wide range of equipment is centrally stored and is readily accessible to the teachers. The effective integration of pupils with special needs in this learning is highly commended. The involvement of the SNAs in the PE programme contributes greatly to the success of the activities for those pupils with specific physical needs. A number of sports activities are made available to pupils after school hours. Participation in soccer and Gaelic leagues along with non-competitive games are a significant feature of school life. Pupils talk with great enthusiasm about the physical education activities provided in the school and the interest displayed by the teachers. In order to ensure that a comprehensive programme of skill development takes place it is recommended that teachers engage in detailed planning for this curriculum area in all the classes. Well-structured lessons observed included development of skills such as ball handling, and provided opportunities for all pupils to be actively engaged. Pupils display confidence and an ability to co-operate as they participate in individual, pair and team activities. A member of the in-school management team takes responsibility for this curriculum area and this ensures consistency in implementation.
Mutual respect and consideration for others is fostered in the day to day life of the school. A positive supportive atmosphere is evident in all classes and this is reflected in the staff room and in the interactions among staff members. The school has prepared a school plan for SPHE which identifies the strands and strand units to be taught each month throughout the school. A number of other whole school initiatives contribute to the social, personal and health education of the pupils. These include the establishment of a school council. Members of the council display self-confidence in expressing their own opinions and state that their views and suggestions are being listened to and valued. The school is commended on this initiative and on the manner in which it is structured and implemented. Talks on sexuality and substance misuse are provided for pupils in fifth, sixth and senior special classes. Each class has a set of class rules displayed and in some cases these were developed in conjunction with the pupils. The principal holds a weekly assembly which provides opportunities to celebrate achievements and to foster a sense of belonging. The school has also engaged in specific projects which have a social or personal theme.
While this very good work at whole-school level is commended, reflecting the commitment of the staff to the well-being of each individual pupil, it is essential that this is supported by discrete lessons which allow time and structure for pupils to develop their own personal skills and attitudes. In observing lessons in SPHE and in reviewing teachers planning, too much emphasis is placed on text book activities and on teacher-directed learning. A wider variety of teaching strategies to foster personal and social skill development needs to be included in the SPHE programme with appropriate lessons timetabled in each class on a regular basis. It is also essential that the RSE policy is updated to meet the current needs of the school and that other polices such as a policy on interculturalism /celebrating differences should be developed. These would help to develop particular skills to address issues in pupils’ own lives and provide guidelines for teachers and parents on how specific issues should be explored.
The school administers a comprehensive range of standardised and diagnostic tests and analyses results to determine specific abilities in literacy and numeracy. Considering the good practice that has been developed in these areas it would be beneficial to extend assessment to include other curriculum areas and to involve the pupils in self-assessment. A policy on record maintenance is included in the school policy on special needs and this ensures that all records are stored appropriately and are only available to those who require them. This is particularly important for pupils attending the classes for speech and language disorder and the school is commended on the professional approach taken to this work. In general, ongoing monitoring is taking place within classes and the correction of written work is carried out on a consistent basis. In some classes meaningful profiles are maintained, as are good examples of pupil progress records. Some excellent examples of using assessment information to inform class teaching were observed in the special classes and in the other special education settings.
The school is to be highly commended on the provision it makes for pupils with special educational needs who make up a significant number of the total school population. The content and skills taught reflect the curriculum guidelines for special education and are appropriate to the ability and needs of the pupils. The school policy outlines the approach for liaising with outside agencies and ensures that effective use is made of the significant human and material resources granted by the Department and that all practices are in keeping with Departmental guidelines.
The use of a formal integrated approach and the complimentary inverse approach to integration, fosters a culture of inclusiveness. The multi-sensory approach is used very effectively in special education classes. The level of collaboration between teachers and other professionals enhances the learning experiences for these pupils. Engagement in specific projects, for example, in the Artist in Residence programme is an excellent initiative for all pupils but particularly for those with special educational needs. The learning in many of these settings is consolidated through the use of ICT which provides a focus on individual and independent learning.
The individual pupils who are withdrawn from mainstream classes for either resource teaching or learning support benefit from very well-planned individual education plans and programmes of work. Class teachers and parents are directly involved in the development of these plans which are regularly monitored and reviewed They are devised using the results of a number of diagnostic tests, they suggest the use of a range of teaching approaches and materials which are available in the school. A wide range of teaching methods, suited to the various needs and strengths of the pupils, and a number of intervention programmes are used effectively by the teachers. This reflects their continued efforts to locate and use a variety of approaches to suit individual pupils. Much work has been carried out in recent times on collating test results and using this material to identify pupils who need extra support and resources either in language development or in reading. As a result the school has achieved very good results with these pupils and reading levels in this grouping have notably improved. Reading targets have also been identified for pupils in the classes for Mild General Learning Disability and achievement levels are very good across these groupings.
The school caters for a very diverse population. While a significant number of the pupils have special needs, the school also caters for traveller pupils, international pupils and some pupils who have been designated as educationally disadvantaged. The school is in receipt of a range of supports from the Department to cater for the specific needs of these particular groups of pupils. The school is commended on the way in which all pupils are effectively included in the various school activities. This meaningful integration has resulted in a very positive attitude in the school towards minorities and those who are perceived to be different. In recent years the President’s Award was received by the pupils for the anti-racist covenant they designed and which is included in each copy of the school diary.
As part of the HSCL scheme language classes are made available to parents whose first language is not English. The programmes of work provided for pupils from minority groups are of a very high standard and it is evident that pupils are benefiting from the teaching and the caring attitude that is practised. To complement the work in this area the school is now ready to establish a care team that would take responsibility for developing a co-ordinated and consistent approach to pupils with emotional and/or other difficulties. The school should build on this inclusive approach by identifying it as a very positive feature of the school and by creating more opportunities to openly and regularly celebrate this diversity.
Parents are involved in the school through a programme which includes classes and courses and home visits. Of particular note is the involvement of parents in the shared Mathematics activities. The school liaises with local and voluntary/statutory agencies to secure funding and to assist in providing support for parents and pupils. It is recommended that a whole-school review of the involvement of parents and community be undertaken which will enable greater involvement of parents in school activities in the future. Particular focus should be placed on the refurbishment and use of the parents’ room and on the relevance of some of the courses provided for parents.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
We were happy to welcome the WSE Inspectors to our school and thank them for their affirmation of the excellent work being carried out in all areas of the curriculum and for their recognition and praise of so many positive elements within our school. We are especially pleased at their high commendation of the behaviour of the pupils throughout the school and their recognition of the excellent way in which we educate together, in a truly inclusive manner, pupils of all abilities, religions and nationalities. We welcome the inspectors’ appreciation of the strengths of the school and their acknowledgement of what has been achieved by the deep commitment and hard work of pupils, parents, principal and staff supported by the Board of Management.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board of Management and staff of the school have examined the recommendations contained in the report. Some of the more simple short-term recommendations have already been addressed, for example, additional books have been purchased for the extension of differentiated reading and plans for the re-furbishment of the parents room during the coming year are currently being costed. Other suggestions like developing a whole school approach to classroom planning, require a more long-term strategic approach and will form part of our next five year programme of renewal and the very positive recommendations contained in the report will be included in this.