An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Rathdowney, County Laois
Roll number: 20071L
Date of inspection: 1 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
THIS WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION REPORT
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Bhríde, Rathdowney. 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 students and teachers, examined students’ 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Scoil Bhríde is a full-vertical, co-educational school situated in Rathdowney town. The current school came into existence in 1998 as a result of amalgamation of the two Catholic schools in the town at that time: the convent school, which had previously been run by the St John of God order of nuns, and St. Kieran’s Boys’ National School (BNS). Since amalgamation, the school has continued to operate on two discrete campuses, with the senior classes situated in the building that was previously the convent school and the junior classes in the building that was formerly St. Kieran’s BNS. All school partners unanimously assert that this arrangement has proved difficult, especially in early years of amalgamation when the principal was charged with full-time teaching duties. Consequently, Department of Education (DES) sanction for renovation and extension to the junior school building to accommodate all classes on one campus has been warmly welcomed by all. The school has a current enrolment of 225 pupils comprised of 104 boys and 121 girls. Due to the extensive growth and development of Rathdowney town and hinterland, enrolment in the school has expanded consistently in recent years and communication with school partners at the time of evaluation suggests that this trend is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. School records indicate that pupil attendance is very good. Scoil Bhríde is a Catholic school under the patronage of the Bishop of Ossory and school policies acknowledge that it will continue to have a Catholic ethos but also signify clearly that all pupils are welcomed in the school, regardless of religion, race or status. The school philosophy emphasises the education of the whole child in an environment that respects the dignity and uniqueness of each child and enables all students to develop to their maximum potential and fulfil their role in society. This is the first whole school evaluation conducted in the school and the first school report furnished since the establishment of Scoil Bhríde.
Scoil Bhríde is managed by a properly constituted board of management, which functions in accordance with Department of Education and Science (DES) regulations and recommendations. The board presents as competent, hard-working, supportive, well-informed and pro-actively involved in all aspects of school management. At least two board meetings are convened each term and in excess of this if required. Formal minutes of all meetings are recorded and maintained. The minute book is presented to the school patron once each year for inspection and endorsement. A financial report is furnished by the treasurer at each meeting. School accounts are audited annually by an external accountant and are also presented annually to the patron for inspection. An ongoing maintenance programme is operated to ensure the continuous upkeep of the buildings and grounds of both campuses. Teachers and parents are kept appropriately informed of relevant board of management activities and decisions by their respective representatives. The chairperson of the board maintains close communication with the school through regular visits once or twice weekly. The board commends unanimously the professional commitment of the staff, evidenced in the quality of academic, social and personal development activities provided for all pupils. The members express a high level of satisfaction with all aspects of the day-to-day running of the school and the spirit of collaboration and transparency promoted and respected by all school partners. The main issue of priority voiced at the pre-evaluation meeting was the impending renovation and extension of the junior school building to accommodate all classes in one updated building and allay the inconvenience accruing from the current, temporary situation.
The principal of the school has acted in that capacity since amalgamation and had previously served as principal in St. Kieran’s BNS. The efficient day-to-day running of the school, the high quality of planning observed, the collaborative relationships recounted by all partners and the impeccable demeanour of the pupils all testify to the level of efficiency and professionalism with which the duties of the principal are discharged. Despite the hindrance of having to operate between two campuses, a visible presence throughout the entire school is maintained and the quality of curriculum delivery and pupil progress in all classrooms is monitored. The principal is thoroughly familiar with the community, the school and the educational needs of the pupils. A considered approach to providing an holistic education to meet the needs of pupils is evident in the range of educational, sporting, musical and environmental projects organised for the children. Policies and procedures foster self-fulfilment, professional development and pleasant working relationships for staff and encourage cooperative, productive rapport between all school partners and the community. Structures accommodate transparent dissemination of information to all relevant parties. School records are meticulously maintained.
A supportive and industrious middle-management team plays a significant role in school management and administration. The team is comprised of deputy principal, two privileged assistants and two special-duties teachers. Although contracts have not been put in place, duties assigned to each post are clearly defined in the school plan and reflect a judicious balance of curricular, administrative, social, pastoral and public relations responsibilities. It is advised that contracts should be affected with the post-holders to officially endorse allocation of duties. The team meets on the first Friday of each month to discuss and review overall school policy, current issues and individual curricular areas. In relation to their curricular responsibilities, post-holders liaise with colleagues to organise the coordination, compilation and implementation of the school plan for their assigned subject areas. Each special duties teacher has a corresponding coordinator in the opposite campus for each organisational duty. Each post-holder submits to the principal a brief forward plan at the start of the year and a progress record at the end of the year for presentation to board of management. Post-holders report at all staff meetings on their individual areas of responsibility. The meeting with the middle-management team during evaluation exuded an admirable sense of professional responsibility, commitment and teamwork in the fulfilment of their duties. Post-holders expressed a high level of satisfaction with the management structure in the school, the delegation of duties and the cooperation afforded by all colleagues. All post-holders are highly commended for the efficiency and efficacy with which they carry out their duties and the consequent valuable contribution they make to the effective management of the school.
A formal staff meeting is held at least once each term. All staff members receive adequate notification of meetings and are afforded an opportunity to submit items for inclusion on the agenda. Meetings are limited to two hours duration and are scheduled so that half is conducted within and half outside of school hours. The responsibility for chairing staff meetings is rotated and the chairperson is responsible for adhering to the projected timescale. Apart from routine administrative and housekeeping issues, curriculum development and school planning are dealt with at each meeting. Time is also allocated for reports from the principal, special-duties teachers and teachers who have attended relevant external meetings or courses. The principal takes informal notes at each meeting but the practice of keeping official minutes is advised. Observation of day-to-day practice during the in-school evaluation denoted satisfactory observance of statutory DES requirements, compliance with school policies and a praiseworthy supportive attitude to colleagues amongst all members of staff.
Human and material resources are managed efficiently throughout the school. The junior school building, which was built in 1961, consists of four classrooms, a learning-support room, a general purpose room, a principal’s office, a secretary’s office, a staffroom, toilets, cloakrooms and storage areas. The outdoor facilities on that campus consist of a tarmacadam area, a grass area, an outdoor shelter, a games pitch and a hard court. The senior school building was built in 1924 and consists of five classrooms, a learning-support room, a resource teacher’s room, a general purpose room, toilets, cloakrooms and storage space. Recreation areas attached to that building consist of a tarmacadam area, a grass area and an outdoor shelter. The local GAA club also makes its playing pitch available to the school for matches, training and sport-for-all day.
Part-time cleaners clean both buildings daily and a larger clean up is carried out during the summer and Christmas vacations. The school has the services of a part-time caretaker who tends to regular maintenance of buildings and grounds. The interior of both buildings is maintained to a clean, hygienic standard and the exterior is presented in an attractive totally litter-free condition. It is evident that care of and pride in their environment has been inculcated into the children. The array of murals on the walls along the walkway approach to the senior school is a very attractive feature. This painting was done by the pupils in conjunction with Laois County Council Arts. The school garden is also an unusual feature of the school and a source of pride to all concerned. Some planned work projects have been postponed pending advice from DES regarding the timescale for provision of the new building. Recent renovations completed include: the division of a classroom in the senior school into three small rooms to accommodate special-education teachers and the language teacher; the conversion of the junior school servery into a resource room; reorganisation of a spare classroom in the senior school to provide an art room; and painting of the interior of the senior school.
The school is well equipped with technological and educational resources. Each building has an ample supply of desktop and laptop computers, printers, digital cameras, photocopiers, laminators, CD players, video players, televisions, videos, CDs and CD ROMs. A suitable range of software programs has been built up to accommodate integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into teaching and learning throughout the school. All computers have recently been upgraded and networked and the school broadband system is now in operation. Some noteworthy utilisation of ICT was noted during classroom observation. Classrooms are also equipped with an extensive range of concrete materials. A wide array of resources for the teaching of Mathematics, English, Physical Education (PE), Music, Art and Science has been acquired through recent DES grants. These materials are stored either in individual classrooms or centrally. Classroom observation indicated that these resources are used very productively to enhance teaching and learning in line with recommendations for implementation of the revised curriculum. Each building has a central library for use by all classes and the stock of books is augmented by supplies from Laois County Library. Each classroom also has an individual supply of age-appropriate reading material. Classrooms and corridors are attractively decked with illustrative visual aids, which enhance both the aesthetic appearance and the educational stimulation of the pupils’ environment. The range and quality of the teacher-designed resources throughout the school is particularly commendable.
The teaching staff consists of: an administrative principal; eight mainstream classroom teachers; three special-education teachers; a part-time language teacher, employed for two hours daily to support international pupils; and a part-time French teacher, employed for three hours each week as part of the school’s involvement in the DES pilot programme for teaching of French. Allocation of classes and distribution of pupils is decided by the principal in consultation with the staff. School policy on allocation of classes states that no mainstream teacher will spend in excess of three consecutive years with any class group. Prior to each review, each teacher is asked to submit personal preference for the forthcoming period. To ensure integration between all staff members within both campuses, at least one teacher from the senior school and junior school will alternate at each review. This system works effectively to consolidate inter-staff relations and to ensure that each teacher is afforded broad experience with a variety of classes. Due to the increased allocation of special education personnel in September 2005, the policy for long-term deployment and interchange of special-education teachers is targeted for review before the end of the current school year.
In addition to the teaching staff, the school has the services of a full-time secretary, a part-time caretaker for eight hours weekly and two part-time cleaners for ten hours weekly. Payment of ancillary staff is financed through DES schemes and capitation grants. The valued contribution of ancillary staff to administration of the school is acknowledged by the principal, staff and board of management.
The quality of whole-school planning and individual teachers’ planning throughout the school is praiseworthy. A comprehensive school plan has been devised to structure and direct administrative and curriculum practices. All relevant school partners contribute to the compilation and ongoing review and revision of this document. The assistance of Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and School Development Planning Support (SDPS) has also been gainfully employed to augment the planning process.
In line with DES recommendations, the administrative section of the plan contains clearly defined policies to support the efficient and safe day-to-day running of the school. The thirty-one policies included cover essential areas related to enrolment, attendance, health, safety, discipline, reporting, equality, dissemination of information and routine in-school procedures and structures. 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, September 2004) and Child Protection: Guidelines and Procedures (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. Policies are carefully tailored to meet the specific needs of the school and are clearly worded to be easily understood by relevant audiences. The parents’ association and board of management are consulted for their opinions and recommendations at the initial discussion stage of each policy and a final draft is referred to each party for advice before finalisation. All policies have been dated and targeted for review at a specific future date. It is recommended that, when the board of management sanctions the final drafts of policies, these drafts be officially endorsed with the signature of the chairperson.
The curriculum section of the plan contains a comprehensive policy for each subject area. These ensure the effective implementation of all strands and strand units of the curriculum in a sequential and developmental nature throughout the school, in line with the principles of the revised curriculum. While all members of staff make an essential contribution to the formulation of these policies, specific responsibility for co-ordination, dissemination and implementation of the various curriculum plans has been delegated to individual members of the middle management team in the school. The quality of the plans is testament to the professional commitment and assiduousness of all involved.
The school plan is methodically indexed for easy access and a copy is stored in the office of each building. Effective structures are in place to ensure that content of policies is disseminated to relevant parties. Each teacher is issued with a personal copy of the relevant section of each curricular plan. All parents are furnished with a comprehensive information brochure, which summarises salient content of administrative policies, when enrolling new children. A concise and very useful information document is provided for newly appointed members of staff or substitute teachers. This outlines essential information on issues such as staff details, board of management contacts, special duties, routine school schedules, access to resources and contingency measures.
Routines and practice observed during evaluation demonstrated appropriate familiarity and compliance with the school plan by all staff. Individual teachers’ long and short-term planning for all curriculum areas adheres closely to the policies in the school plan and to the principles of the revised curriculum. Practice with regard to written preparation of schemes of work, maintaining progress records and reporting is of a high quality throughout the school and teachers are commended for the dedication and professionalism manifest in the focused, systematic preparation observed. The coordinated planning evidenced in the school plan is reflected in the continuity and sequence apparent in planning and delivery of the curriculum in classrooms. The board of management, staff and parent body of Scoil Bhríde are committed to an ongoing policy of continuous professional development (CPD) of teaching and non-teaching staff. Teachers are encouraged to avail of approved courses perceived to enhance their personal professional development or fill an identified need within the school. Recent courses availed of by members of teaching staff include curricular training days under the auspices of PCSP and SDPS, and a variety of courses in games, music and choral training, child abuse prevention, special-education and school management. The secretary and caretaker have also been facilitated by board of management to attend relevant courses to enhance their work related skills. These have included areas such as information technology, office management, data storage, European Computer Driving Licence, and locally run FÁS courses on topics such as carpentry and electrics.
Is léir go ndéantar dea-iarracht dearcadh dearfach a chothú i leith na Gaeilge ar fud na scoile. Tá plean críochnúil leagtha amach le haghaidh mhúineadh na Gaeilge sa phlean scoile. Cloíonn scéimeanna aonair na n-oidí go cruinn leis an bplean sin agus le haidhmeanna agus le bunphrionsabail churaclam na bunscoile. Tá leanúnachas le feiscint in ábhar na gceachtanna ó sheomra go seomra agus is léir ón éagsúlacht sna modhanna teagaisc go mbaintear úsáid bhuntáisteach as treoracha an churaclaim i bhforbairt na gceachtanna. Bunaítear na ceachtanna comhrá ar thimpeallacht na bpáistí agus roghnaítear téamaí in oiriúint d’aois agus do chumas na ndaltaí sna ranganna áirithe. Músclaítear suim na ndaltaí trí úsáid a bhaint as acmhainní cruthaitheacha i múineadh na gceachtanna agus spreagtar rannpháirtíocht le cluichí teanga agus drámaíocht. Tá cumas labhartha agus tuisceana forbartha go hoiriúnach i ngach rang. I gcoitinne, tá foclóir saibhir ag na daltaí agus cruthaítear seansanna dóibh an teanga a chleachtadh ar bhealach taitneamhach i gcomhthéacsanna cumarsáideacha. Tá cnuasach rann, dánta agus amhrán Gaeilge ar eolas ag na daltaí i ngach rang agus aithrisítear iad siúd le fuinneamh le linn na gceachtanna Gaeilge agus ag amanna éagsúla i rith an lae. Baintear úsáid as Gaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil go héifeachtach i mionchaint an lae i ngach seomra agus moltar go mór an méid Gaeilge a úsáidtear i gceachtanna eile i ranganna áirithe.
Tá cumas léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta na bpáistí curtha chun cinn go cuí ó na meánranganna ar aghaidh. Cé go n-úsáidtear scéimeanna foilsithe sa léitheoireacht níl iomarca béime leagtha orthu agus tá daltaí sna hardranganna in ann ábhar na léitheoireachta a phlé ar bhealach sásúil. Cuireann an timpeallacht shaibhir litearthachta atá cruthaithe sna seomraí ranga go mór le suim sa léitheoireacht a chothú agus scríbhneoireacht neamhspleách a fhorbairt.
All strands of the English curriculum are comprehensively covered and creatively linked in all classrooms. Oral language is central to teaching and learning across all curriculum areas and the pupils’ confident self-expression and well-extended vocabulary are laudable features of lessons throughout the school. Children’s phonological and phonemic awareness is well developed in the infant classes through an extensive range of reading readiness activities. Pictures, stories, rhymes and word-games are innovatively used to stimulate children’s awareness of letter-sound relationships. The attractive print-rich environment throughout the school ensures that children become familiar with print and build up a sight vocabulary of familiar words from junior infants. Appropriate auditory and visual exercises are effectively used to extend pupils’ word recognition and word attack skills and develop independent reading as they progress through middle and senior classes. As pupils’ reading skills expand, class readers, parallel readers, novels, library books, poetry books, reference books, newspapers, menus and timetables are resourcefully utilised in classrooms to ensure that children are introduced to an extensive range of fiction, factual and functional reading material and are encouraged to read for purpose and pleasure. In general the standard of accuracy, fluency, expression and comprehension of reading is high and pupils display commendable ability to discuss, summarise, analyse and critique the content. Standardised reading tests are administered from first to sixth class twice annually. The results of these tests are central to decisions regarding allocation of additional support in literacy.
Children are introduced to a suitable range of activities in junior infants to enhance manual dexterity, focus attention on left-right and top-bottom orientation and gradually develop letter and word formation. Pupils’ ability to write sentences and stories is sequentially developed at an appropriate rate in each classroom. Work observed in pupils’ copybooks and on display in classrooms shows careful attention to functional and creative writing through a variety of genres and for diverse audiences. Pupils’ personal experiences, stories, poems, letters, books, diaries and topics from other curriculum areas are all used to stimulate children’s writing. There is evidence of consistent monitoring and correction of written work throughout the school and the quality of penmanship in some samples observed was particularly praiseworthy. Appreciation of poetry is fostered at an age-appropriate level in all classes. All pupils have a repertoire of poems memorised and samples of children’s personal compositions show that they are encouraged to write poems using a variety of formats.
Modern Languages Pilot Initiative
The school has participated in the pilot project of modern languages initiative for three years. Pupils in fourth, fifth and sixth classes are in receipt of French lessons for one hour weekly from a native French teacher. The emphasis in these classes is on provision of fundamental vocabulary to enable basic communication and also to introduce the pupils to simple songs, poems and aspects of French culture. The children engage in an enthusiastic and willing manner with the activities provided and derive a high level of benefit and satisfaction from the approaches that are utilised.
Focused planning and availability of an appropriate supply of concrete materials enable very effective delivery of a balanced Mathematics programme, in line with the principles of the revised curriculum, in each classroom. In accordance with best practice, oral language and discovery learning are central to teaching and learning in Mathematics lessons. Topics are linked meaningfully to everyday experiences, and pupils’ curiosity and assimilation of concepts are invigorated through purposeful hands-on interaction with concrete materials. Early mathematical activities such as matching, classifying, ordering, sequencing and partitioning are comprehensively covered in the infant classes.
Understanding of number operations is progressively extended, at a pace to suit pupils’ ability, as they progress through the school. At all levels, pupils present age-appropriate ability to perform computation and solve problems mentally and in written format. Awareness of shape, measure, data and sequence is sequentially developed from class to class and, in general, pupils’ accurate and confident use of correct vocabulary and terminology when discussing mathematical topics and explaining processes is commendable. Standardised tests in Mathematics are administered twice a year to pupils from first to sixth class. Test results are analysed in detail and specific targeted teaching and learning activities are put in place to address weaknesses identified in pupil performances. This practice is highly commended.
Provision made for Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) and the quality of teaching and learning is highly commended. DES grants are used to provide an extensive range of resources that are utilised effectively. The school plan accommodates balanced coverage of all curriculum strands and individual teachers’ planning provides for very appropriate integration and linkage.
Pictorial resources, stories, personal experiences, family events and familiar surroundings are used creatively in infant and junior classes to establish children’s sense of time, place, chronology, continuity and change. Progressively, pupils’ appreciation of local heritage and folklore, national and international cultures, and conflict and change throughout the ages is developed, as they advance through the school. Displays of children’s work in middle and senior classes indicate purposeful use of project work to encourage independent investigation and recording of information. Pupils display a commendable knowledge of topics covered when discussing their individual and group projects.
Content of teachers’ schemes and evidence from lessons observed show that, in accordance with recommended practice, Geography lessons in infant and junior classes concentrate predominantly on the child’s immediate environment. Suitable content and methodologies are selected to stimulate pupils’ awareness of the local environment and its community. The focus is broadened systematically throughout middle and senior classes to motivate pupils’ curiosity and interest in human and physical Geography of Ireland and a selection of countries throughout Europe and worldwide. Well-chosen resources are used effectively to broaden pupils’ understanding of communities, cultures and experiences in diverse countries and some topics are integrated very successfully with strands of the English curriculum. Innovative use of ICT to bring the outside environment into the classroom was observed in some SESE lessons. Children discuss geographic topics with competence.
A wide range of science equipment accommodates very purposeful scientific experiments and discovery learning in science lessons. Pupils engaged with great enthusiasm in experiments undertaken during lessons observed and display very well-developed skills of prediction, investigation, discussion and application of knowledge. All pupils are involved at some level in the school garden project, which spans both campuses and focuses predominantly on having the children actively engaged. Seedlings are planted in the polydome and a variety of vegetables and flowers are grown in the outdoor plots. The garden also contains wormeries and composting units. The school participates and has enjoyed a notable level of success in the ESB garden competition. Great focus is placed on care of the environment throughout the school. The senior school has already acquired Green Flag status and the junior school hopes to replicate this shortly.
A well-designed school plan for Visual Arts accommodates comprehensive coverage of the Visual Arts curriculum in a developmental sequence throughout the school. All strands of the curriculum are covered at an appropriate level in each classroom and impressive displays of children’s work from each strand are displayed in classrooms and corridors. Pupils are very willing to discuss the work on display and explain the process involved. In Visual Arts lessons observed, discussion, clear instructions and creative visual and tactile stimulation helped concentrate children’s attention to detail and motivate enthusiastic and industrious involvement. The ‘art gallery’ set up adjacent to the junior infant room is a particularly attractive feature and helps inspire a pride in their work. The large friezes designed from children’s French knitting and displayed in the hall and corridor of the senior building are particularly impressive. This work is representative of the high level of artistic creativity that features widely throughout the school.
The Music curriculum is very well covered and sequenced throughout the school. A comprehensive programme, encompassing age-appropriate activities from each strand, is presented in each classroom with balanced focus on development of concepts and skills and pupil enjoyment. Commercially designed and pupil-made percussion instruments and body percussion are used imaginatively to foster children’s sense of pulse, rhythm and tempo from junior infants upwards. Pupils in all classrooms have a wide repertoire of songs in both Irish and English, which they perform with obvious enjoyment. Appropriate attention is focused on vocal technique, breath control and pitch. There is also much evidence of resourceful integration of Music with other curriculum areas. All classes in the senior school are taught the tin whistle and perform a wide selection of tunes proficiently. The school orchestra, which includes wind, string and percussion instruments, is particularly impressive. The quality of the performance observed was excellent and pupils clearly get a huge sense of satisfaction, fulfilment and enjoyment from participation. All senior classes are involved in the school choir, which participates annually in the Hallelujah Christmas concert in The Point Depot. Both the orchestra and the choir perform publicly at concerts, Christmas carol services, school Masses and recitals for visiting dignitaries to the school.
Drama is used extensively as a pedagogical tool throughout the school. Discrete drama lessons are well planned and structured to cultivate children’s self-confidence, creativity and social skills. Carefully selected content and methodology used in lessons observed led to a high level of enthusiastic, self-assured pupil participation. Effective integration of drama into a range of other curriculum areas enables children to expand their creativity and transfer the skills developed during drama lessons to other contexts. Pupils are clearly very familiar and comfortable with the experience of drama and enjoy participating in role-play and improvisation with no inhibition. They are also very willing to discuss one another’s performance constructively.
The high quality of planning, the well-maintained indoor and outdoor facilities and the availability of suitable equipment all contribute to the comprehensive coverage of the Physical Education (PE) curriculum. A balanced variety of age-appropriate activities, spanning all curriculum strands, is introduced in each classroom. Lessons observed were planned, sequenced and structured to accommodate an appropriate range of learning experiences and fun-filled activities for the pupils. Children are encouraged to participate in activities at a level at which each feels comfortable and a balanced emphasis is placed on skill development, participation and enjoyment. Opportunities to integrate other curriculum areas, such as drama, SPHE and counting, into PE lessons are used very productively with infants. Extensive use of Irish in teaching of PE was noted and commended during some lessons. The school participates competitively in hurling and camogie and an eight-week swimming course is provided in the first term of each year for pupils of senior infants, first, third and fourth classes.
Evidence during school observation indicates that the social and personal well-being of the child is central to all activities in Scoil Bhríde. The curriculum plan for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) outlines a suitably balanced, coordinated programme. Topics from all strands of the curriculum are selected to meet the needs of each class. These are integrated across the entire curriculum and the routine daily practices in each classroom. Attention is focused continuously on the promotion of self-confidence and self-esteem, socially acceptable behaviour, good manners, respect for others and care of the environment. In discrete SPHE lessons topics, activities and methodologies are chosen prudently and presented creatively. In junior classes circle-time is used proficiently to stimulate skills such as respectful listening, turn-taking, consideration for others and appreciation of friendship and support. In senior classes, suitable resources and group-tasks are organised to concentrate children’s awareness on the influence and power of media, the importance of informed decision-making and development of skills of negotiation, arbitration and compromise. The whole-school focus on healthy eating, recycling, and care of the environment ensures that all children develop an informed awareness of health issues. Involvement in sporting and social extra-curricular activities also enhances pupils’ social skills and sense of team spirit. Eagerly contested chess competitions are a daily feature of lunch breaks in the senior school and pupils participate annually, and with a notable level of success, in the ESB national chess league. The overall deportment and demeanour of the pupils is evidence of the success of formal and informal implementation of the SPHE curriculum.
An appropriate range of assessment strategies is employed throughout the school to monitor and record children’s achievement. Evidence from pupils’ copies shows that homework and schoolwork are methodically monitored and corrected. A variety of techniques, including checklists, narrative accounts and work profiles, is used to document pupils’ progress on an ongoing basis. It is evident from teachers’ preparation and practice that these records are purposefully utilised to inform future planning. Regular teacher-designed tests are a standard feature of ongoing assessment in many curricular areas and standardised tests are administered to all classes at least once a year. Each child has an individual personal profile folder, which contains records of relevant personal details, social and academic progress, attendance, results of standardised testing and documentation of significant communication with parents and outside agencies. All parents receive a verbal account of their children’s progress at the annual parent-teacher meeting and a written end-of-year report is furnished annually to parents of pupils from first to sixth class. In addition to that, school policy, as outlined in the school plan and reiterated by parents encountered during the whole school evaluation process, advocates an open door policy where parents are welcome to discuss their children’s progress by appointment at any time.
Planning and practice observed in mainstream classrooms shows appropriate attention to differentiation and sensitive provision of additional support to children experiencing difficulty. Pupils experiencing serious, sustained difficulty in literacy, numeracy, speech, social skills or motor skills are provided with supplementary support by the special-education team. There are three special-education posts based in the school: one is full-time in Scoil Bhríde; one is shared with Rathdowney NS; and one is shared with St. Colmcille’s NS. Two members of the special-education team share joint responsibility for co-ordination of special education in the school, to accommodate the required collaboration across both campuses.
Procedures governing entitlement to and allocation of learning support and deployment of special-education personnel are clearly defined in the school’s special-education policy. Scheduling of shared special-education teachers (SETs) is encumbered by the diversity in opening times, closing times and break times across the cluster of schools involved but proficient planning and timetabling ensures that the maximum number of children is included in support programmes. Decisions regarding selection are governed by recommendations from classroom teachers, results of standardised tests, consultation with parents and with the special education needs organiser (SENO) and, where relevant, reports and advice from psychologists or other relevant health agencies. The learning support routine is largely operated on a withdrawal system, whereby children attend one of the special-education rooms in groups of two to five. In a small number of cases, due to the specific nature of the child’s needs, it is deemed more beneficial for a pupil to attend individually and receive one-to-one help. Some in-class support is also organised for group activities in junior infants and for special assistance for pupils with low-incidence special needs.
SETs meet monthly to co-ordinate planning and progress. High quality, comprehensive written preparation and planning ensure that support provided for each pupil with special needs is appropriately and effectively targeted to address individual needs. Well-structured pupil profiles and individual education plans (IEPs) are prepared for each pupil. SETs, class teachers, principal, parents, relevant professional agencies and, in the case of pupils in senior classes, pupils all contribute to the initial compilation of IEPs and to their subsequent review in September and February each year. In the case of some pupils with low-incidence special needs, joint case conferences involving relevant school staff and external professional agencies have been organised to inform the planning or review of suitable work programmes.
Learning support classrooms, although small, are very attractively laid out to provide a stimulating, colourful and print-rich environment. Each SET has a lap-top computer and an excellent supply of appropriate technological, literary and concrete resources has been acquired to enable discovery learning, reinforcement of concepts and development of motor skills. Activities are judiciously chosen and tailored to meet pupils’ needs and are very well structured and paced. Each teacher has a pleasant, reassuring manner with the pupils and generates a relaxed, non-threatening environment where children undertake tasks willingly and enthusiastically. Constructive use of praise and encouragement continuously bolsters pupils’ self-confidence and concrete and IT resources are used to very good effect.
In conjunction with the occupational therapist, a comprehensive and effective programme for development of gross motor skills has been devised for five children with dyspraxia and autistic spectrum disorder. Parents are familiarised with the activities to accommodate synchronised implementation at home. A similar programme for development of fine motor skills is planned for the coming term. Overall, the quality of support for pupils with special educational needs is of a very high standard.
The provision of a happy, secure environment for all pupils, regardless of background, is a general tenet underpinning all school policies and procedures. Access to the curriculum and participation in the life of the school by pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds is enhanced through a variety of schemes such as schoolbook rental scheme and funding for extra-curricular activities. The sensitive organisation and application of procedures to cater for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds show that the school philosophy of equality and inclusiveness is effectively applied in practice.
School policy in relation to equality of access and participation of pupils from minority groups adheres closely to The Anti Racism Charter, as published in Intercultural Guidelines for Schools. The school advocates an inclusive ethos, which affirms the positive attributes and recognises the special needs of each pupil regardless of race, creed and culture. Pupils from minority groups are very successfully integrated in mainstream classes. International children receive additional support, where required, from the language teacher to develop their competence in English. Children from the travelling community receive relevant supplementary support with literacy, numeracy and social skills where need is identified. The practice observed in some classrooms of frequently inviting pupils from minority groups to share some of their culture and language with classmates is praiseworthy. Textbooks, materials and topics chosen for lessons are sensitive to promoting equality and respect for diversity and pupils’ demeanour observed throughout the school clearly signifies a commendable attitude of universal inclusiveness and support.
Procedures and practice in Scoil Bhríde encourage and promote productive home-school partnership. The school policy on parental involvement, which is issued to all parents when children are enrolled, outlines the benefits of constructive parental involvement in building communication, trust and respect between teachers and parents and fostering the concept of the ‘school family’ for pupils. The school has an active, supportive parents’ association, which makes appropriate and useful contribution to development and dissemination of school policies and recognises its shared responsibility for ensuring a proper consultation process with the teachers, principal and board of management. Parents are involved in a number of curricular, social and fund-raising projects such as: the establishment and administration of the library in the senior school; paired reading; field-trips; tours; concerts; raffles; the organisation of language classes for parents of international pupils; assistance with preparation of school teams; and assistance with training and supervision of school choir. The parents’ association is currently in consultation with Laois County Child-care with a view to becoming involved in the School-aged Children’s Initiative, recently re-launched by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Appropriate structures have been established to keep parents suitably informed on school procedures and pupils’ progress. Two formal parent-teacher meetings are held annually for parents of junior infants and one for all other parents. A comprehensive verbal report is given on all aspects of each child’s progress. Parents of children from first to sixth class are also furnished with a written report at the end of each school year. Parents of infants are strongly encouraged to maintain regular, informal communication with the teacher during the child’s early schooldays. Thereafter, parents are encouraged to call by appointment to discuss any issue of concern with their child’s teacher or principal. Parents’ representatives on board of management and members of parents’ association encountered during the evaluation expressed a very high level of satisfaction with the degree of co-operation, consultation and transparency between parents, teachers, principal and board of management.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· The school is managed by a pro-active, well-informed board of management and supported by a positive, affirmative body of parents.
· The principal presents a high level of proficiency and professionalism in all aspects of his duties and is ably assisted by a competent, committed middle-management team.
· The quality of whole-school and individual teachers’ planning is highly commendable and is reflected in the sequenced delivery of a suitably balanced curriculum and in the consistently high standard of teaching and learning.
· The quality and quantity of illustrative and concrete resources in each classroom create an alluring and stimulating environment and enhance teaching and learning.
· The co-operation and collaboration evident between all members of teaching and non-teaching staff constitute a very pleasant atmosphere in the school.
· Procedures for assisting pupils with special educational needs are very well organised and implemented.
· Purposeful, pro-active interaction exists between the school and relevant external agencies in addressing pupils’ special needs.
· ICT is used effectively as a pedagogical tool in mainstream classrooms and in special-education activities.
· A wide range of extra-curricular activities is organised to foster children’s social skills.
· All areas of both campuses are maintained and presented attractively and it is obvious that awareness of and pride in their environment is instilled in the pupils.
· The children present as congenial, confident, well behaved and happy and the level of pleasant pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil interaction is praiseworthy.
· Minutes of staff meetings are not officially documented.
· Policies in the school plan are not signed by board of management to signify endorsement.
· Procedures to be followed in the case of unsatisfactory attendance are not documented in the school attendance policy.
· Official contracts have not been affected with post-holders
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· Procedures to be followed in the case of unsatisfactory attendance should be included in the school attendance policy.
· An official contract should be affected with each post-holder.
· Official minutes of staff meetings should be recorded and maintained.
· The chairperson should sign school policies at time of endorsement by the board.
Post evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted 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, in consultation with the Principal & staff, has taken the necessary steps to implement the recommendations as outlined in the report.