An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Saint Damianís National School

Walkinstown, Dublin 12

Uimhir rolla: 19943M

 

Date of inspection: 16 October 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction Ė school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Conclusion

 


Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of St. Damianís National School, Walkinstown was undertaken in October 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 Geography. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

Introduction Ė school context and background

 

St. Damianís National School is a Catholic, twelve-teacher, co-educational, vertical primary school situated on the fringe of Crumlin parish. Originally built as separate boysí and girlsí schools sharing a common site, the current St. Damianís is an amalgamation of both schools, effected in 1989. Ten of the original classrooms are currently leased to the Eastern Health Board on a medium-term lease. School enrolment numbers are stable.

 

 

The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

244

Mainstream classes in the school

9

Teachers on the school staff

12

Mainstream class teachers

9

Teachers working in support roles

2

Special needs assistants

2

 

1. ††††Quality of school management

 

1.1   Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

There is a very welcoming and inclusive atmosphere in St. Damianís primary school. It is Catholic in ethos, while being welcoming and inclusive of all faiths. Its ethos is evident in the daily recitation of prayers, the creation of dedicated sacred spaces in classrooms and reception areas, and in regular religious observances. Its philosophy is founded on the values of tolerance, acceptance and the uniqueness of the individual child. It actively promotes the role of parents as partners in education. The school places a high value on the development of personal and social responsibility among pupils. This is achieved through the many programmes, initiatives and school activities provided to the pupils across domains such as environmental awareness, development aid, sport and participation in international educational projects.

 

1.2 Board of management

The board of management functions in an effective manner. It is properly constituted. Board meetings are convened regularly and minutes are maintained.† All members of the board display a high level of commitment to carrying out their statutory duties. They work effectively and cohesively in ensuring that the relevant legislative requirements as they pertain to school policies are met.† School accounts are audited annually. The board ensures that Departmental regulations regarding the length of the school year and the school day, the retention of pupils, and class size and allocation are observed. It plays an active role in policy development, ratification and review. It has formulated a strategic plan for the phased upgrading and maintenance of the school. This plan is currently being implemented and is significantly improving the physical environment of the school. The board is very supportive of educational initiatives in the school. It maintains effective channels of communication with parents through the parentsí representatives on the board, the schoolís website and attendance by the chairperson at meetings of the parentsí association. The chairperson visits the school every week. The school monitors and reports on school attendance, and has strategies in place for the promotion of school attendance, in fulfilment of the requirements under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. It is important that the success of these strategies be closely monitored in relation to those pupils whose attendance could be further improved.

 

1.3 In-school management

The principal provides effective leadership. He capably manages the school and attends to his administrative duties in a competent manner. His work is characterised by the pursuit of high standards, excellent working relationships with all members of the school community and a clear vision for the school informed by the schoolís ethos. He displays an empowering style of leadership. He ably leads the collaborative process of whole-school planning. To this end he has set up practical organisational structures for managing the development and review of school policy. His high level of engagement with the pupils as they go about their work in classrooms and with their parents overall, is a praiseworthy feature of his leadership. An extensive range of duties is carried out comprehensively by the in-school management team. These duties are regularly reviewed. The team work very closely with the principal to address current whole-school issues and areas for future development. The team meets every month and presents a report of their work at each staff meeting. It is advised that the role of curriculum leadership among post holders be enhanced further. In this regard their expertise should be utilised to advance, monitor and review whole-school approaches in specific aspects of curriculum delivery including assessment and differentiation.

 

1.4 Management of resources

Teachers are deployed appropriately and the school policy regarding the allocation of teachers to classes enables teachers to gain experience in teaching at various class levels in mainstream settings. The secretary provides excellent administrative support. The school building and grounds are well maintained. The quality of school accommodation is generally good. Overall, classrooms are of an appropriate size. Aspects of the school building such as heating and flooring are currently being upgraded. It is advised that consideration be given to improving storage facilities in classrooms and upgrading pupilsí furniture. The schoolís recreation facilities are good overall. The school makes good use of its internal garden. †The school has an appropriate range of resources to support teaching and learning in mainstream and support settings. The school is particularly well resourced in terms of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). All classrooms host interactive whiteboards and there is a suite of sixteen computers in the computer room. The quality of most classroom environments is good in terms of vibrant curriculum displays, the successful promotion of print and mathematics and the celebration of pupilsí work. Appropriate commercial and teacher-designed resources are used by teachers during lessons.

  

1.5 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

There is excellent management of relations and communication with the school community. A tradition of welcoming and involving parents in all aspects of school life is well established. The parents are given a strong voice regarding planning and significant education developments in the school. They participate in shared-reading programmes, Mathematics-for-Fun, Green-School-Programme actions and other classroom-based learning activities. The parentsí association is very active in supporting the work of the school through fundraising, assisting at sporting occasions, concerts, preparation for sacraments and many other aspects of school life. Effective communication channels are in place. Each year the teachers and the principal host meetings with the parents of new entrants and with the parents of pupils at each class level.† An informative school booklet is distributed to all parents. There are very strong home-school links in place. Parent/teacher meetings are held each year. High levels of communications are enabled, both formally and informally, through the use of homework journals, notes, annual reports, online access to school policies and the visible presence of parents in the school.

 

1.6 Management of pupils

Overall, there is very good management of pupils. The pupils conduct themselves in an orderly and respectful manner. The teachers are caring and affirmative towards pupils and pleasant, mutually-supportive relations are evident between and among teachers and pupils. A whole-school approach to promoting good behaviour by pupils has recently been adopted. This approach is successful in many classrooms in ensuring that the pupils are attentive and ready for learning at all times during instruction periods. Through their work on the Green Schools Programme, the pupils are enabled to contribute to a range of positive actions regarding recycling, conservation and personal responsibility. In 2008 the Student Council was established to represent the views of pupils. In enhancing the pupilsí voice consideration should be given to involving the pupils, as appropriate, in organisational elements of the school day within classrooms such as sharing of the dayís timetable and sharing of the learning objectives of lessons.

 

 

2.†††† Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The quality of whole-school planning is excellent. An extensive range of organisational policies is in place. These are comprehensive, informative and accessible. They capably address legislative and procedural requirements. Curriculum plans pertaining to English, Mathematics and Geography provide excellent guidance on many aspects of curriculum delivery including programme content, methodologies and skillsí development. There is scope for greater clarification regarding specific whole-school approaches to assessment in these curriculum areas. These assessment approaches should provide detailed information on the attainment of specific competencies, skills and knowledge by pupils at each class level. An effective whole-school planning process is in place. There is close consultation between the teachers, board of management and parents in drawing up and reviewing policies. The views of parents are sought through surveys and at meetings of the parentsí association. The publication of school policies online on the schoolís website is praiseworthy in this regard. All teachers have a copy of the school plan. †

 

The quality of classroom planning is good. Long-term plans are comprehensive overall. They are reflective of the strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and link well with the school plan. A common template for short-term planning/recording of progress is in place. Many teachers prepare objectives-based short-term planning. This approach should be adopted by all teachers. In particular, teachers should ensure that learning objectives are linked to the outcomes of assessment and address the specific skills to be taught in discrete curriculum areas.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Skills Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Skills, 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.

 

 

3.†††† Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 English

The overall quality of the teaching of English is very good. The teachers enable the pupils to develop an appreciation of language, both spoken and written. In most classrooms, a print-rich environment is created. The use and enjoyment of books are promoted through reading corners, story sacks, illustrations and large-format books. In general, libraries are well-organised and appropriately stocked; thereby ensuring an adequate range of fiction and fact books appropriate to the interests and abilities of the pupils is available. Stimulating methods for the teaching of oral language that include news reports, photographs, story, poetry and information and communications technology are used at many class levels. The pupilsí oral language skills are very good. A well-structured, well-paced phonics programme is effectively taught. Excellent use is made of nursery rhymes and the interactive whiteboard to develop and consolidate phonics work in the junior classes and to teach reading skills. A very good focus on the explicit teaching of reading skills is evident throughout the school. The teachers generally follow a very clear, developmental plan for advancing those skills and for extending the pupilsí range of reading genres. In a number of classrooms, impressive drama and other creative work arising from English texts is undertaken.

 

The overall standard of pupil attainment in reading in this school is high. Very good attention is given to the teaching of poetry at all class levels. Opportunities for using poetry to achieve objectives within a number of strands of the English curriculum are very well used. The teaching of writing in this school requires review in order that the examples of high-quality work in writing noted in a number of classrooms become the norm throughout the school. Best practice in this school includes the provision of regular, frequent opportunities for the pupils to write creatively in a variety of genres; the giving of frequent, regular and formative feedback to the pupils on their work; the celebration of the pupilsí writing through displays, books, and the acting of dramas and screen plays written by them; and the meaningful linkage of writing with other strands units of the English curriculum. Review of the implementation of the whole-school plan for writing is recommended in order to ensure that there is an appropriate progression in writing skills across a range of genres as the pupils move from class to class and that high standards in writing are attained at all class levels.

 

3.2 Mathematics

All teachers in this school diligently monitor and correct their pupilsí written mathematics work. They timetable mathematics lessons in accordance with curriculum guidelines and, for the most part, give some prominence to mathematics language, resources, and illustrations in classroom displays. In the junior classes and in a number of the middle and senior classes, there is a very good focus on the sharing of lesson objectives with the pupils and on ensuring that the lessons are lively and well-paced, with the required provision for activity learning and very good use of relevant resources, including ICT. In most classrooms, there is a good emphasis on practical mathematics with appropriate attention to problem-solving. Mental mathematics is well taught to a number of class levels.

 

Overall pupil attainment in mathematics is very good. To develop mathematics teaching and learning in this school, the teachersí current recognition of the importance of differentiation needs to be translated into clear, practical, skills-based targets for individual pupils/groups of pupils within each class. This will require greater specificity in short-term planning than is currently the case in a number of classrooms, particularly in relation to the methods, resources, tasks, and consolidating activities required for particular pupils/groups of pupils. Close, on-going monitoring of the pupilsí acquisition of mathematics skills with a view to gathering practical data that will inform future, differentiated classroom planning for mathematics is also required. On-going review of the implementation of the schoolís mental mathematics programme is also recommended in order to ensure that mental mathematics is consistently taught to a high standard across the school with due provision for individual pupil need and ability.

 

3.3 Geography

Overall, geography lessons are well structured and appropriately paced. The teachers ensure that new content and terminology are carefully explained. Discussions are well directed by teachers and pupils are enabled to work together on tasks. The teachers use a suitable range of resources and teaching methodologies such as photographs, ICT, games, posters and graphical materials during instruction. †The extended use of investigative, skills-based learning is recommended to develop the pupilsí skills of working as geographers on an ongoing basis. The pupilsí learning is recorded in a variety of ways encompassing work samples, projects, booklets and written tasks in copies. Some of this work is of a very good standard. A number of classroom environments provide good visual displays incorporating appropriate maps, posters and subject-specific-vocabulary to consolidate the pupilsí learning. Overall there is a need for all classrooms to host a greater selection of high-quality maps and globes for use by the pupils in analysing and communicating geographical knowledge during discrete geography lessons and across all curriculum areas.

 

The pupils demonstrate good knowledge and awareness of issues relating to the care of the environment. Competent work is underway at all class levels regarding recycling and conservation activities. The local environment is used as a means of developing the pupilsí awareness, enjoyment and understanding of aspects of the geography of the area. The teachers organise walks in the locality and work has begun on developing trails. It is recommended that more trails and field trips be developed systematically that are linked with the achievement of specific curriculum objectives. This would facilitate the teaching of more focused local studies in a spiral, developmental way. Overall, the pupilsí mapping skills are developed appropriately and they can make simple maps of home, school and imagined areas. The junior pupils display a sense of place and can talk about members of their immediate and extended family, the school and community. Aspects of weather, climate, national and international geographical features, and human environments are appropriately taught.† There are very good examples of well laid out, informative and attractive projects at different class levels.

 

3.4 Assessment

A range of assessment modes is in use in the school. From class to class a variety of teacher-designed tests, checklists and work samples are in evidence.† In addition, all teachers undertake informal assessment through observation and questioning. Key decisions should now be taken at whole-school level regarding the exact modes of assessment to be undertaken at all class levels in specific aspects of curriculum delivery. The Middle Infant Screening Test is administered to senior infant pupils to assess their early-reading skills and to identify any learning needs they may have. Standardised tests are administered annually from first class onwards and results are communicated to parents. The school has made good progress in collating and analysing these results with a view to impacting on teaching programmes within classrooms. In this regard teachers should more closely align their planning to the outcomes of assessment to ensure that programmes of learning and educational experiences are matched to the specific learning needs of individuals, or groups of pupils.

 

 

4.†††† Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

Pupils with special educational needs (SEN) receive additional support in a caring and encouraging manner. The SEN team comprises a resource teacher (RT) and a learning support/resource teacher (LS/RT). In addition, two special needs assistants carry out their work in close cooperation with the class teacher and work capably in assisting specific pupils with their care needs. SEN support is primarily provided on a withdrawal basis, with provision also for in-class support. Pupils are selected for learning support based on results from standardised tests and observations by class teachers. There are appropriate levels of communication between SEN teachers, parents and class teachers regarding the assessment of pupilsí learning needs and the sharing of information regarding pupil progress. The approaches to planning for individual pupils vary. It is recommended that the SEN team and the class teachers work towards greater cohesion regarding target setting, programme content and assessment/review mechanisms. In general, learning environments are attractive and stimulating. An appropriate range of resources is available. Some very good use of visual, physical and ICT resources was noted during the evaluation leading to very good levels of engagement and appropriate learning outcomes for the pupils concerned. The issue of exploring different models of support was raised during the evaluation. This merits further consideration, particularly in the provision of focused learning opportunities to develop the social and communication skills of targeted pupils.

 

4.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

The ethos of the school is clearly manifest in the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere that is actively promoted by all staff members. The pupils are enabled to participate in all in-school activities, school trips and tours through grant aid, financial support of parents and funding by the board. A book rental scheme is underway. The school has a proud tradition of sporting excellence and there are admirable levels of participation and achievement in a very wide range of sports by both boys and girls. There are many initiatives and school-based activities underway, involving pupils at all class levels. Among them are the Green Schools programme, the Student Council, a school choir, Comenius Project, the school garden, Discover Science and Development Education activities.† A variety of after-school activities and clubs encompassing sport, music, languages, quizzes, chess and computers are available to pupils.

 

 

5.†††† Conclusion

 

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

         The principal is an effective leader. He promotes collaboration, commitment and the pursuit of high standards among staff through his empowering leadership style.

         The school staff displays an impressive work ethic which is reflective of the inclusive, respectful and welcoming ethos of the school.

         The quality of the whole-school planning process and policy documentation is excellent.

         There is very good attainment by pupils in literacy and numeracy.

         The board carries out all its duties effectively.

         There are excellent relations with parents and very strong home-school links. A strong voice is given to parents regarding planning as well as significant education developments in the school.

 

 

The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:

 

         The outcomes of assessment should be linked more closely to planning for future teaching and learning. Teachers should ensure that specific educational experiences that meet the

      particular requirements of individual pupils are planned for and delivered.

         It is recommended that greater attention be given to the teaching of skills to pupils in discrete curriculum areas.

 

 

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