An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ennis Educate Together National School
Gort Road, Ennis, County Clare
Uimhir rolla: 20086B
Date of inspection: 05 October 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Ennis Educate Together NS 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 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.
Ennis Educate Together NS was founded in 1998 and had its first whole school inspection in 2001. The 2001 report articulated the expectation that the existing prefabricated classrooms would be replaced in the short term by a new school building. This hasn’t happened. In the intervening period however, prefabricated buildings have been replaced. Some are owned by the school and some are leased. The site is owned by Clare County Council. From its inception the school has drawn pupils from a wide hinterland in County Clare and in recent years has had its enrolment boosted by a significant cohort of pupils from families of many different nationalities. An initial enrolment of 19 in 1998 reached a peak of 210 in 2007-08 and currently stands at 190.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teachers on the school staff
Mainstream class teachers
Teachers working in support roles
Special needs assistants
Ennis Educate Together NS is under the patronage of and subscribes to the educational philosophy of Educate Together, the main representative organisation of Educate Together schools in the Republic of Ireland. The board of management and teaching staff are to be highly commended for their commitment to upholding the inclusive ethos and characteristic spirit of the school. This ethos is given practical substance by the manner in which all pupils, including newcomer pupils, pupils from minority and other groups and pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, are welcomed and accommodated to the greatest extent possible in the school.
The school is included in a number of the Department’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) social inclusion initiatives aimed at combating educational disadvantage. One of these initiatives, the School Completion Programme (SCP), aims to develop local strategies to ensure maximum participation levels in school. With the assistance of SCP, the school has put a number of strategies in place aimed at raising attendance levels but there is still cause for significant concern in this area. Responsibility needs to be assigned to a member of the in-school management team to work with the SCP and the relevant external agencies to monitor the success of these strategies. Individual cases of poor attendance need to be addressed and pursued through a combination of more persistent tracking and positive rewards for good attendance.
The current board was constituted in November of 2008 and faces significant challenges, in terms of its functioning as a board and in terms of meeting the needs of an expanded school community. In its meeting with the inspectorate the board dealt with the various challenges in an open and transparent manner. Many meetings have been held in recent times as the board attempts to meet its obligations under Section 15 of the Education Act, 1998. Records of meetings provided are indicative of high levels of interest on the part of all concerned in the affairs of the school. Recent work done in an effort to finalise policy on Health and Safety is commended.
The board faces a significant challenge in respect of the diversity of language and culture in the school and the knock on effect on standards of attainment. The lack of consistency in terms of evaluating and tracking progress requires urgent attention. This is particularly true of the DEIS three year plan. Action plans need to be rigorously and systematically evaluated at regular intervals. In the light of the challenges posed to attainment standards it is recommended that the board pursues additional resources to support teaching and learning in the school.
There is a need to address the manner in which records are kept and the extent to which the board follows through on decisions taken. Much discussion has taken place around policy issues and drafts of a number of policies were provided to the inspectors. Policies ratified predate the current board for the most part. There is now an urgent need to formulate a strategic plan to manage the workload of the board. This plan ought to prioritise policy issues and ensure that, once policies are ratified, such ratification is appropriately recorded and disseminated and that policies are duly implemented and evaluated. In terms of dissemination the school website offers possibilities and text-a-parent is being considered in the context of improving communication with the school community. Clearly there is a need for better communications among all stakeholders which would include the issuing of agreed reports by the board. There is also scope to develop ways of communicating with parents with minority languages and those who have literacy difficulties. There is also a need for the school to be proactive in terms of its reputational profile.
At the time of the evaluation the principal was acting in a temporary capacity as treasurer of the board and some limited detail was provided on the current status of the school accounts. Accounts now need to be certified and made available to all relevant parties without delay. In addition to managing the regular business of the school the board views the necessity to move to a new school as its greatest challenge and priority. The assistance of the patron body is being sought in this matter. The board expressed its acute disappointment at having lost a teacher and not being given DEIS band 1 status in recent developments. The board argues that its current very high percentage of pupils with language difficulties would warrant a reversal of these decisions. With a view to addressing the various challenges outlined, it is recommended that the board, together with the patron body, accesses guidance and support as a means of assisting it to perform its duties and meet its obligations more effectively.
Notwithstanding many challenges the board feels that this school has many notable strengths. Teachers are praised for their professionalism, flexibility and willingness to serve the school in an unselfish and dedicated manner. Reference was made to the happy and welcoming atmosphere in the school and the manner in which mutual respect, acceptance of difference and inclusiveness are the hallmarks of daily interactions.
The principal is highly committed to the Educate Together ethos and is at all times concerned that all pupils have high-quality learning experiences. He has given loyal service to the school since its foundation. He is courteous and professional in his dealings with visitors, staff and parents and treats all pupils in a kindly, fair and equitable manner. The recently appointed deputy principal has also given loyal service to the school since its foundation and shares the principal’s desire to further the educational goals of the stakeholders. Special duties posts have been assigned to five other members of staff.
The principal experiences significant difficulties in carrying out his leadership role at Ennis Educate Together NS. Insufficient emphasis on teaching and learning as the central focus of the school, monitoring of attainment standards, deficiencies in the planning process, distribution of leadership and clear definition of leadership roles and responsibilities are areas in need of attention. There is a lack of cohesion at the senior leadership level in the school. In the interests of the future of the school, all avenues which might bring about more productive work practices at this level should be investigated as a matter of priority. The Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) programme should be of assistance in this regard.
Post holders, for the most part, carry out duties with admirable commitment. Duties have evolved in a somewhat random fashion and have been assigned in a manner which doesn’t ensure that these duties focus on school improvement and reflect current priorities. Post holders do not function as an in-school management team. In a meeting with the evaluation team post-holders indicated their willingness to assume new duties which would reflect the changing needs of the school. It is now recommended that the duties attaching to posts be reviewed in accordance with Circular 17/2000. Duties should be communicated to all staff members, and post holders should formally report to the board on their stewardship in accordance with best practice. Duties should have a strong focus on curriculum development and it is essential that the performance of tasks does not adversely affect teaching duties. It is also advised that regular meetings of the in-school management team be held so that the team may advance the stated objectives of the school in a cohesive manner.
While a collegial and supportive atmosphere is evident among the staff, the school doesn’t have a formally agreed policy on staff rotation. Such a policy would lead to greater transparency in the manner in which staff are deployed and lead to a broadening and sharing of teaching expertise. Teachers display a commendable commitment to professional development and might now consider whole school priorities when choosing courses. Three special needs assistants co-operate effectively in the classes to which they are assigned. A part-time secretary and part-time caretaker, together with contract cleaning staff, also contribute in a worthwhile way to the effective running of the school.
Allowing for the prefabricated nature of current buildings, the board and staff are to be commended for their efforts in providing a comfortable learning environment for pupils. The floors of some of the prefabricated buildings need to be assessed for defects at this point, however. Pupils play in the tarmacadam area in front of the school when the weather is favourable. Basketball rings have been added recently and a supply of play equipment is available. The hall in nearby Cois Na hAbhna is hired to provide after school dance classes for pupils. Playing pitches are hired as necessary and pupils walk to the local swimming pool for lessons.
Classrooms, corridors and special education settings are very attractively decorated with pupils’ work. Some of this work aptly reflects the broad and rich cultural diversity of the pupils. Displays also provide key visual cues to enhance the learning of pupils with language deficits. Judicious use has been made of school funds to supply teachers with appropriate teaching aids and these aids are carefully stored and well used. Class libraries feature attractive selections of suitably graded books. The school garden is an exciting resource and has been productively used by teachers and pupils to create exciting learning experiences.
Well-established practices are in place to facilitate formal and informal parent teacher meetings and reporting to parents. A new parent teacher association was formed earlier this year and this organisation has the potential to address the absence of structures aimed at supporting and encouraging the active participation of parents, pupils and other members of the school community in various activities, including whole-school planning. The assignment of a home school community liaison teacher (HSCL) has the potential to bring about considerable improvements in this area also.
Parents’ representatives met with members of the evaluation team. Having held a meeting of parents, they had prepared agenda which included concerns with regard to health and safety, communications, management, the future of the school, educational standards, extra curricular activities, integration, special needs, ethos and fundraising. They intimated their satisfaction with the convivial and welcoming atmosphere that permeates the school, the manner in which the teachers carry out their work and the degree to which pupils are very happy in school.
During the evaluation a parent was observed helping with reading in the infant class and further development of such practices is recommended. Parents are proud of their involvement in graduation, sports day, International Day and hosting a coffee morning for new parents. Very good relationships have developed between the school and Ennis Community College and the SCP has been instrumental in this development.
Pupils and teachers interact in a mutually respectful and positive manner. The school code of behaviour is implemented fairly and various routines are organised in a consistent manner. During the evaluation, pupils were well-behaved and they engaged enthusiastically with the various learning tasks organised for them. The school has a number of supports in place to assist with the management of individual pupils. Three special needs assistant posts have been assigned to the school to assist with individual pupils’ mobility and care needs. Access to counselling services is provided through the SCP. A psychologist from the National Educational Psychological Service is currently working on a pilot basis with class teachers on developing strategies for managing incidents of challenging behaviour. A number of teachers are members of a school Care Team. The role and functions of this team need to be clarified to ensure that these supports are managed efficiently and integrated effectively into the school’s overall aims and objectives.
The quality of whole school planning is poor. Historical difficulties to do with management and patronage have been cited as reasons for lack of progress in this area. It is reported that a sub committee of parents and teachers has recently been formed to review existing organisational policies and draft new policies. In tandem with this work the school is advised to clarify its procedures for consultation with the partners and agree protocols for finalising documents. The school might also consider taking steps to provide core details of key policies in relevant languages.
With the assistance of a DEIS advisor from the Primary Professional Development Service (PPDS), the school has devised a three year whole-school action plan (2007-2010) which includes specific targets for improvements in literacy, numeracy, attendance and parental involvement. Monitoring and review of the implementation of this plan and the extent to which targets have been met needs to be managed and documented more systematically. Responsibility for leading the monitoring and review process should be assigned to a member of the in-school management team.
Curriculum planning at whole school level requires immediate attention. Draft policies for English and Visual Arts have been formulated for consideration. The draft policy for English needs further work so that literacy deficits throughout the school can be addressed as a matter of urgency. A similar priority needs to be accorded to a whole school policy for numeracy. It is important that policies on literacy and numeracy, in combination with a policy for special needs, should be given urgent attention and that clear strategies are included to monitor their implementation.
Most teachers plan diligently for their work and display admirable understanding of the content, principles and methodologies of the 1999 Curriculum. Teachers have commendably agreed templates for short-term plans and for the recording of monthly progress.
The board of management has yet to comply with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, by formally adopting the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001).
In general, the quality of teaching to meet the learning needs of pupils in English is satisfactory and stimulating lessons were observed in most classes. Teaching is very good in the early years where there is exemplary practice in planning, delivering and evaluating age-appropriate approaches. The school plan outlines the content objectives and lists the range of methodologies suitable for all levels within the school. The extent to which this plan impacts on classroom practice is limited. The plan needs to be reviewed and further developed in the light of the very significant challenges posed when planning and implementing a language programme for pupils with a very diverse range of abilities. Some pupils have very high levels of literacy while pupils in the same class have exceptionally low levels of literacy. Pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL) need to acquire the cognitive language necessary to access the curriculum in addition to becoming proficient in using social language. To ensure further enhancement of their cognitive and linguistic development, it is advised that sustained support would continue to be given by mainstream teachers to pupils for whom English language support has been discontinued
Discrete oral language lessons were observed at all levels. In the infant classes the development of oral language is facilitated through the use of story, structured play, high quality illustrative materials and a wide range of appropriate strategies including pair-work and group-work. A more focused approach to oral language development is required on a whole school basis.
The teaching of reading ranges from satisfactory to very good. In the infant classes in particular emergent reading was very well supported. As pupils’ reading skills develop, strategies for reading are carefully taught. These strategies are aimed at developing word-attack skills and phonological awareness and various reading genres are explored. In some classes pupils were divided into ability groups and differentiated reading materials were provided to support their learning. This approach merits wider application. The predominance of teacher-directed tasks should be avoided through the provision of more opportunities for independent work.
Pupils’ written work is celebrated throughout the school. There are writing corners in some rooms and samples of written work are presented in various formats. Teachers encourage pupils to draft, edit and re-draft their work and to write for a variety of audiences in a variety of genres. There is now a need to ensure that the practice of developing learning environments which include appropriate levels of print and dedicated areas for reading and writing in English is extended to all classrooms.
Mathematics is taught with commendable skill and enthusiasm by the teachers in this school. Pupils who have a reasonable to good command of English display a proficient knowledge of a range of concepts. Those whose knowledge of English is less advanced are well supported in their efforts to make suitable progress. Carefully analysed outcomes of standardised testing indicate significant challenges to be addressed in Mathematics on a whole school basis. These challenges need to be addressed immediately in the context of the formulation of a policy for Mathematics. A plan for Mathematics needs to set down short to medium term goals for the raising of numeracy levels throughout the school.
Teachers are commended for their efforts to provide and to maximise the use of concrete materials in their teaching and for the creation, in some classes, of areas where mathematical equipment can be explored and manipulated. Displays of mathematical terms complement teachers’ efforts to ensure that the teaching of mathematical language is prioritised in each lesson. Mental Mathematics is suitably emphasised by teachers, particularly in introductory parts of lessons. Lessons are well paced and generally well structured. Suitably differentiated activities are used effectively in the majority of classes to attempt to address the needs of the broad span of abilities presenting in each class group. Pupils’ written work is regularly monitored and their efforts duly affirmed.
The teaching of Geography exhibits many positive aspects throughout the school. Classes observed indicate clear understanding on the part of teachers of the content, skills and methodologies that are fundamental to teaching a broad and interesting Geography programme. There is an acute awareness of the necessity to teach Geography-specific cognitive language and to support this teaching with key visuals. Approaches to teaching provide for the active exploration of ideas and of the environment. Graphical skills are nurtured in the junior classes using classrooms, the school and school journeys as the basis for development. Maps and atlases are used extensively. The school garden provides opportunities for valuable fieldwork in both Geography and Science and this work has been well documented and recorded. Pupils have explored Ennis through both geographical and historical lenses and the local River Fergus features on an interesting PowerPoint presentation. Other productive use of information and communications technology involved senior pupils using the internet to complete assigned tasks on the planets. Pupils’ knowledge of other countries is developed through project work and both parents and teachers report that International Day was a very successful celebration of this work in the previous school year. The many countries of origin of pupils in the school provide further useful starting points for the study of people and places around the world. Exploration of issues such as fair trade and support for third world countries increases understanding of human interdependence.
An increasing variety of assessment tools and methods is used to assess pupils’ progress in the school. In individual classrooms teacher observation, questioning and the evaluation of various tasks and tests are most commonly used. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered on a whole school basis in October each year. Results are analysed and consequent decisions are made with regard to the provision of additional support for those pupils in greatest need.
The approach to assessing EAL pupils, which was adopted in 2008, is broadly in line with Integrate Ireland Language Training (IILT) as recommended by the Department of Education and Science. Currently, all EAL pupils undergo an initial placement test to benchmark their language proficiency. Assessment with further tests from the Primary School Assessment Kit (PSAK) will be very useful in identifying the progress these pupils are making thus enabling the school to target resources towards those pupils with the greatest needs.
The approaches to assessing the progress being made by pupils in receipt of supplementary teaching support varies greatly across the settings in which support is provided. A uniform policy on assessment needs to be implemented so that pupil progress can be identified and documented, thus ensuring that supplementary teaching time is targeted where need is greatest. An individual tracking system to monitor pupil progress would be helpful in this regard.
The quality of support for pupils with special educational needs is generally good but with some scope for development. A draft policy outlining the school’s provision in this area was made available during the evaluation. This policy needs to be customised to document the school’s current practice and when agreed by mainstream and support teachers, the policy needs to be ratified by the board of management.
Supplementary teaching is provided by two fulltime learning support/resource teachers (LS/RTs) and one part-time LS/RT who is based in a nearby school. The overall approach is generally consistent with department guidelines. Whole-school measures aimed at preventing the onset of learning difficulties in literacy and numeracy have been put in place. These involve the weekly withdrawal of junior and senior infant pupils in single class groupings for 4.5 hours of supplementary teaching of early literacy and numeracy skills. The development of phonological awareness is successfully targeted in literacy with the junior infant pupils, and the development of mathematical language is targeted with senior infants through early mathematical activities involving concrete materials. This approach is complemented by a very focused and intensive early intervention programme consisting of three hours of weekly reading in small focus groups for all pupils in first class. This intervention is provided by a team of five teachers. While the school is to be commended for introducing these initiatives, more rigorous testing of pupil progress at this level is required to ascertain whether the commitment of supplementary teaching time is justified at the expense of pupils in the middle and senior classes with school support learning needs in literacy and numeracy. Where supplementary teaching is provided in literacy to pupils in the middle classes, provision would benefit from greater emphasis on diagnostic testing to inform individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) and address the specific nature of the learning difficulties identified. Case loads need to be reviewed with greater attention focused on pupils’ stage two learning needs in numeracy.
Good individual provision is made for pupils with special educational needs. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are developed collaboratively by an LS/RT in consultation with class teachers and parents and in some instances, where appropriate, with input from pupils and professionals from external agencies. Pupils are withdrawn individually and in small social groups for supplementary teaching which is closely linked to individual pupils’ identified strengths and assessed priority learning needs. Some instances of very good practice were observed, where learning activities were specifically tailored to match pupils’ learning styles and preferences, with specific learning targets associated with priority learning needs.
The Department has granted a number of supplementary teaching posts to the school to enable it to cater for the diverse learning needs of this range of pupils. Two teaching posts have been assigned to the school to support EAL pupils. The quality of supplementary teaching for EAL pupils is good with some instances of very good practice observed. A well-structured learning programme is implemented which is aimed at developing pupils’ skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Pupils are mainly withdrawn from the mainstream classrooms for structured group work. Opportunities for peer interaction are provided along with song, action rhymes, use of key words and visual cues as a means of accelerating the pupil’s acquisition of social language. Some instances of very good practice were observed, where the subject specific cognitive language required for lessons on Geography topics in the mainstream setting were introduced to EAL pupils and rehearsed beforehand by the language-support teacher.
The school has also been allocated a Resource Teacher for Traveller (RTT) post to cater for the needs of a number of pupils from the Traveller community. This post is used to promote good home-school links and positive attitudes towards school, pupil attendance, and participation and attainment levels. The recent assignment of a part-time home school community liaison (HSCL) post to the school will facilitate greater emphasis on the teaching, learning and assessment functions of the RTT post.
Overall, the caseloads and deployment of the six supplementary teaching posts (i.e. one RTT, two EAL and three LS/RT posts) need to be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Although some individual examples of very good practice in supplementary teaching and learning were observed, the current model of organising and timetabling these posts needs to be less fragmented and programme driven and more integrated, flexible and curriculum centred. Greater attention needs to be focused on pupils in the middle and senior classes with stage two learning needs in literacy and numeracy, and the possibility of providing more in-class support should be explored.
The school has also been able to introduce a range of additional worthy measures through the SCP to support pupils at risk of educational disadvantage. These measures include free lunches, homework club, dance classes and summer camp programmes and adult language and literacy classes. The HSCL scheme now provides a framework through which these measures can be linked together more cohesively and integrated more effectively into the school’s overall aims and objectives.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
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, March 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management wishes to thank the Department of Education and Science Inspectors for their professional approach in their inspection of Ennis Educate Together NS.
The Board appreciates the recognition that the school ‘…has many notable strengths. Teachers are praised for their professionalism…’ and the reference made to the ‘happy and welcoming atmosphere in the school.’
We would like a point of clarification to be included in respect of the line in Section 3.1 reading “Some pupils have very high levels of literacy while pupils in the same class have exceptionally low levels of literacy” to reflect the fact that their low levels of literacy are, to some extent, as a result of their recent arrival in this country.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
A number of initiatives have been carried out since the inspection in line with the WSE recommendations. The school plan has been completely revised to comprehensively incorporate all of these issues and recommendations and to implement them within outlined time frames.
Three DEIS teams have been set up with the assistance of the DEIS advisor: a Literacy team, Numeracy team and an ‘Attendance/Parental Involvement and Partnership with Outside Agencies’ team.
A number of initiatives are currently taking place as a result of this, including team teaching for literacy in First Class, early intervention for Literacy and Numeracy in Junior and Senior Infants and Maths for Fun in Third Class. Responsibility for leading the monitoring and review process of the DEIS three year action plan has been assigned to individual post holders, also in line with WSE recommendations.
A full review of posts has been carried out and is currently in the process of reaching agreement on the new assignments.
Together with our patron, Educate Together, a Whole School Meeting has been organized to inform the school community of the issues raised, we are exploring an avenue for a new school premises, and a new communication policy will formalise the nature and frequency of the interaction between the Board of Management, the Principal and the PTA. The new Board of Management will seek to access appropriate support and training to enable the board to meet its responsibilities in a more effective manner.
The school has been in contact with the SESS to aid in a reorganization of the resource teaching area.
The addition of a shared HSCL teacher has resulted in a number of measures to increase parental involvement.
The school has invested in a number of assessment tools, and an individual tracking system to monitor pupil progress is being set up.
An agreed system for the drafting and ratification of school policies has been set up and is being implemented.