An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil Náisiúnta Mhuire Fatima
North Monastery Road, Cork
Roll number: 20140E
Date of inspection: 15 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Mhuire Fatima, An Mhainistir Thuaidh, Cork. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for its further development. During the evaluation, the inspector 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 the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. He interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. He reviewed school planning records and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management 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.
SN Mhuire Fatima is a nineteen teacher boys’ school under the patronage of the Catholic bishop of Cork, and is situated in the north of Cork City. Established in 2001 as a result of an amalgamation with the adjoining primary school, it is located in a two-storey building that is part of the large North Monastery Christian Brothers complex of note that dates from the early nineteenth century. It shares a large sloping site with two post-primary schools and enjoys a variety of benefits arising from its proximity to these institutions. These include access to a language laboratory and well-appointed playing fields. The catchment area consists of the surrounding parish and its environs, and there is an enrolment of 257 from second to sixth class. However, this figure is set to fall in accordance with a pattern of decrease shared by inner city schools. Attendance levels are monitored consistently and absenteeism is very low. A total of twenty-six international pupils are enrolled and there is a teacher dedicated to supporting their acquisition of English. The school receives additional resources under the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) and other Department of Education and Science (DES) initiatives such as the School Completion Programme which are designed to address educational disadvantage. Notably, this is reflected in a higher than average number of non-mainstream teachers. The school works closely with the local community in a continuing endeavor to raise educational aspirations and to provide a high quality educational experience that reflects the long tradition of service that has been the hallmark of the Christian Brothers community of the North Monastery for many decades. The school has created a safe and stimulating environment for its children who clearly treat the building and surrounds with due care and respect. The decorative order and overall maintenance, both within and without, are good and the general appearance reflects the continuing and laudable concern of the board of management working in co-operation with school staff. In this regard, the school’s commendable level of success in winning four times in the last five years in the Corporation-sponsored Tidy Schools competition is acknowledged.
The board of management meets on a regular basis, generally up to five times per year, and is always agreeable to convene at short notice when urgent matters rise. It demonstrates a clear and shared understanding of the school’s organisational structures, and its commitment to the best interests of the pupils and community is acknowledged. It manages finances carefully and in this regard acknowledges the professional support provided by the Christian Brothers’ central organisation. Intent on promoting the welfare of the school, it exhibits an impressive willingness to discharge its evolving role in a diligent manner. To this end, for example, it oversees school policy at draft stage and gives assurance that the various documents comply with legislation and Department regulations. It acknowledges readily the crucial role of parents in the promotion of the high standards inherent in the schools’ vision and mission statements and it plays a valuable part in encouraging positive interaction with the children’s families.
The in-school management team is composed of the principal, his deputy, an assistant principal and five special duties teachers. The principal has been a member of staff for fifteen years and hence is well acquainted with the pupils, their families and the needs of the area. He was appointed to his current position five years ago when amalgamation with adjoining school on the site took place. He is dedicated to the maintenance of high academic standards coupled with sensitive interaction between teachers and pupils. Also, he enjoys the support of an industrious staff in conjunction with whom he promotes a safe and secure environment where appropriate standards of discipline are clearly evident. His leadership style is characterised by friendliness allied to an admirable sense of purpose and this leads to a praiseworthy level of co-operation between colleagues and to the clear commitment to continuous improvement evident in all classrooms. His relationship with board of management and parents is no less constructive and this leads to a warm and effective collaboration centred on positive action. Each post-holder has been assigned a set of duties that includes responsibility for supervision, games, ICT, communication with parents and elements of curriculum. While there is a constant level of informal communication and collaboration between principal and post-holders, meetings more formal in nature are also convened: a meeting with the deputy principal takes place on a weekly basis and a formal meeting with staff is scheduled at an interval of six weeks. These meetings serve in no small way to promote a useful level of school review and are pivotal to the promotion of good organisation within the school. Appropriately, post-holders acknowledge that their duties are subject to amendment, and within this context it is recommended that in all cases a curricular area in whole or part should form one element of each post holder’s set of duties.
A high degree of success is evident in the deployment of the school’s resources, both personnel and material. The teaching staff comprises the administrative principal, twelve mainstream teachers and six teachers who serve in a support capacity. Of this latter group, one is dedicated to supporting international pupils, a total of twenty-six, and another serves as an effective and highly motivated home school community liaison teacher. Classes are organized so that no teacher has charge of more than one class grouping and sizes range from seventeen to twenty-seven pupils. Generally, this arrangement usefully facilitates a vibrant interaction between teacher and pupil and, further, facilitates the useful direction of the school’s three full-time and one part-time special needs assistants. In the course of the reorganization of staff that followed retirements last summer, five teachers who were previously in mainstream assumed responsibility for the range of special needs that presented in the school and there is solid evidence that they have been usefully deployed into what is yet a learning situation for them. In addition to teaching staff, there are two job-sharing secretaries who are managed effectively in their enthusiastic discharge of a wide rang of staff-support duties. Also, there is a caretaker who is seen as a vital member of the school community and whose dedication and initiative are much appreciated.
The school is well resourced In respect of equipment and support materials. In each classroom there is a collection of library books that is augmented regularly by newly-published materials. In addition, in each classroom there is a generous supply of attractive commercial and teacher-made visual aids and these are used to considerable effect across the curriculum. The photocopier is used to considerable effect in the production of support materials and also at teachers’ disposal there is an overhead projector, TVs, VCRs, a laminator and a number of tape recorders/music players. Computer technology features strongly and one classroom, with more than twenty computers, serves as a computer centre that is under the able direction of a post-holder who has an impressive interest and competence in computer technology. In addition, children of the middle standards have weekly access to a language laboratory located in the adjacent post- primary school. (The senior classes are taught by an external tutor as part of the French pilot scheme and do not have access to this facility).
The relationship between board and teachers, teachers with each other and teachers with parents is characterised by high standards of respect and courtesy. The pupils in general are polite and confident and are eager to display their competence across the curriculum. To a significant degree, the quality of the relationships can be attributed to the instructional leadership of a highly motivated and personable principal who welcomes initiative and embraces reasonable challenge.
The parents’ association expresses a high level of satisfaction with the school and is particularly appreciative of the efforts of staff in making SN Mhuire Fatima a forward-thinking, welcoming institution. Parents meet with teachers on a formal basis once per year and feel free to consult with them on an individual basis whenever they deem it necessary; and they regularly do so. Parental support is seen at its most evident in the area of fundraising and in recent years parents have made a significant contribution to the school’s finances. In addition, and appropriately, their contribution is not limited to providing financial support and this is reflected in their enthusiastic support of literacy and numeracy initiatives. This is particularly evident in their twice-weekly operations as teacher aides in the second class as part of the innovatory Maths for Fun and Reading for Fun programmes. The teachers and pupils welcome them warmly and give testimony to the efficacy of their efforts, while the parents themselves exhibit a high measure of enthusiasm and satisfaction that their efforts are appreciated and are clearly bearing fruit in terms of motivating the young learners. Clearly, the potential for development of this scheme has yet to be realized fully and it is hoped that in due course the initiative will be extended to other classes on a systematic but measured basis. Further testimony to the positive, supportive role played by parents is seen in their management of the school book rental scheme and it is also noted that, in conjunction with a teacher, they are active in supervising the homework club that is funded by the school from its own resources. For the creation and maintenance of this admirable interaction between school and home, the board, teachers and parents are worthy of high commendation and their collaboration truly reflects the school’s motto ‘Team work-meanman na Mainistreach’.
The management of pupils is praiseworthy. In consultation with the parents, the board of management and the teaching staff, have developed a code of behaviour that underpins a caring learning environment that has at its heart the development of each child’s potential. There is a busy atmosphere about the school and the children are enthusiastic, well-mannered and generally eager for challenge. All this is reflected in high attendance levels and a courteous interaction between teacher and pupil in all classrooms.
The school has prepared a school plan that is comprehensive in nature and is presented in the form of a number of bound volumes. Essentially, the plan is the result of a collaborative operation on the part of principal, staff and board of management and it proves useful in establishing the range and direction of the school’s policy in respect of a variety of non-curricular issue as well as teaching and learning across the curriculum. Parents have contributed too but only to a limited degree, such as in the non-curricular areas of code of discipline and health. Appropriately, the plan is seen as an evolving entity and to this end the board of management in collaboration with staff has determined to review the various policies in a systematic way on a two to three year cycle. In the meantime, the staff has resolved to identify certain areas for improvement as part of a useful development plan and the priorities identified lie in the literacy, numeracy and drama domains. This is appropriate, and success will be largely determined by the levels of precision outlined in the proposed accompanying document and in the school’s level of determination to follow through on sharply focused priorities.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person, the principal, has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Teachers prepare long- and short-term schemes of work for each curricular area, together with useful support documentation. Generally, the planning is characterised by high standards of relevance and in most classrooms there is evidence of consistent effort to provide a measure of differentiation that has regard for variance in aptitude and ability. In addition, Individual Education Plans are prepared for all children who have special needs and these too, with their finely executed listing of learning objectives, give witness to a determination to address individual needs. At the end of each month teachers maintain a progress record of lesson topics covered, together with records in respect of some individual pupils. Appropriately, this is copied for the principal to facilitate him in promoting continuity and progression. It is noted with some satisfaction that in framing the lesson plans a creditable attempt is made to reference the work to the Primary Curriculum (1999) with its strands, strand units and objectives.
The quality of teaching observed was good. In general, teachers employ a practical blend of the traditional and the modern as their preferred approach. This is reflected in a substantially greater emphasis on whole class teaching but, appropriately, in each classroom there is evidence of group and individual approaches also. Also, in an admirable collaborative effort to utilize available talent to maximum benefit, teachers exchange with each other in areas such as Physical Education, Music and Art. The children exhibit a very positive attitude to learning and demonstrate high levels of enthusiasm and engagement throughout the lessons. In broad outline, standards of achievement are creditable, and the children are making systematic progress from class to class.
Ta sé mar aidhm inmholta ag na hoidí i gcoitinne an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn mar theanga bheo sa scoil, ní nach ionadh go sonrach nuair a chuirtear san áireamh go bhfuil céatadán ard den fhoireann ardinniúil ar an nGaeilge agus bróduil as traidisiún clúiteach na Mainistreach Thuaidh i dtaca le cothú na Gaeilge. Caitear dua le teagasc na Gaeilge tríd an scoil, saothraítear struchtúr na teanga go tairbheach le linn ceachta agus tá greim so-ghlactha ag cuid mhaith de na daltaí ar na múnlaí atá riachtanach sa ghnáthchaint. Baintear úsáid as miondrámaíocht anois is arís, díritear aire ar an léitheoireacht go sistéamach agus i ranganna áirithe aithrisítear filíocht go tráthrialta. Tríd is tríd, sroichtear caighdeán chreidiúnach san obair i gcoitinne. Meastar gurb é an dúshlán is mó faoin fhoireann chun an caighdeán a ardú a thuilleadh ná aidhmeanna agus cuspóirí úsáid na Gaeilge a shainniú le níos mó cruinnis agus a chur chun cinn ar bhealach sistéamach amach anseo.
The teachers in general hold as an admirable aim the promotion of Irish as a living language. This is hardly surprising when regard is had for the fact that a high proportion of the staff is highly competent in Irish and proud of the illustrious tradition of North Monastery in respect of supporting the Irish language. Considerable effort is expended on the teaching of Irish throughout the school, the structures of the language are imparted successfully during lessons and a high proportion of pupils have acquired a most acceptable grasp of language moulds that are fundamental to ordinary speech. Drama is used on occasion, reading is attended to on a systematic basis and in certain classes poetry is recited on a frequent basis. Overall, a creditable standard is being achieved. In its efforts to raise standards further, it is felt that the greatest challenge confronting staff will lie in an attempt to specify aims and objectives with greater precision and in efforts to promote these targets in a systematic way.
Lively sessions of oral interaction in English form a regular feature in every classroom and the children are led to engage in lively discussion on a variety of topics drawn from the different curricular areas. The development of reading throughout the school is seen as a central aim and, accordingly, teachers ensure that from their entry to the school children are assisted in expanding their sight vocabulary and in further developing their phonic competence. Graded books from a published scheme form the core of the reading material and, appropriately, this is supplemented by a systematic promotion of the novel and library book reading. In this regard, the regular practice of uninterrupted silent, sustained reading (USSR) is proving useful and the contribution of visiting parents as part of the Reading for Fun initiative plays a crucial part in raising motivational levels. When reading scores attained in standardized tests are scrutinised the evidence that emerges gives testimony to a creditable level of achievement in all classes and it is pleasing to note that teachers are generous in their efforts to support those children who are encountering a measure of difficulty in gaining a level of competence that is in accord with their age group. Further, in all classes there is a sizeable collection of written exercises drawn from different areas of the curriculum and in many cases the work is advantageously correlated with Visual Arts. In terms of variety, the evidence emerging suggests that a greater emphasis could be placed on children writing for different purposes and with a keener sense of audience. This is an area that might gainfully be extended within the context of the evolving school plan. Whereas some children exhibit impressive work, for example in respect of written work produced with the computer, standards of presentation and legibility vary, especially in the lower classes. This might usefully constitute another area for attention as part of the school’s action plan in the coming months. An examination of reading scores attained in standardized tests demonstrates that on the whole the children are growing systematically in competence and in accordance with ability.
The school participates in the official pilot scheme for the teaching of modern languages. Pupils of fifth and sixth classes are taught French by an external tutor for three hours per week and those in fourth class take one informal lesson, free of cost, each week in the adjacent privately-funded and well-appointed language laboratory. The children in these classes exhibit an impressive enthusiasm for the work and it is likely that they will be well positioned to undertake modern language acquisition on a more formal basis when they transfer to post-primary education.
Standards in Mathematics are generally sound and a significant proportion of the children respond with confidence and accuracy when challenged to engage in computation. Throughout the school teachers tend to follow the content and sequence outlined in a commercially produced scheme and this helps to ensure there is a systematic treatment of the various topics prescribed in the curriculum. Further, the work is supplemented regularly by a range of worksheets and materials produced by staff. When challenged on topics drawn from specific areas of the prescribed programmes the children in general responded with accuracy and confidence. At senior level in particular the competence and enthusiasm exhibited by a significant proportion of the class in the area of problem solving was commendable. Whereas in the senior classes the work in general is recorded in a fairly neat and ordered manner in the copybooks, this is less so in the lower classes and staff might gainfully address standards of presentation at his level.
In each classroom there is evidence that the staff is making a purposeful effort to develop an interest in and a curiosity about the past. To this end teachers follow a programme that is grounded in principles incorporated in Primary School Curriculum (1999) that promote the use of imagination and evidence in reconstructing elements of the past. Lively discussion on selected topics features regularly and frequently the impact of the learning is enhanced by integration with Visual Arts. The focus of the work is centered on topics featured in the class textbook but, appropriately, there is evidence that some teachers depart from this source to introduce themes with a local dimension. This practice ought to be viewed as an important focus for further attention in a process of development planning that would also include a greater emphasis on local studies and the project method.
In Geography, pupils follow a wide-ranging programme that seeks to develop an appreciation of natural and human environments in Ireland and abroad. As in History, the textbook features as a primary source of information and a means of ensuring a useful continuity from class to class but there is solid evidence also that teachers supplement the learning with material of their own choosing. Of particular note is the school garden and the emphasis teachers place on horticulture. Under the guidance of a member of staff who has an expertise in the area, pupils are led to engage in sowing and collecting seed and in nurturing a wide variety of vegetables and flowers. The photographs on display give eloquent testimony to high levels of enthusiasm combined with valuable learning. The school is highly commended for the impressive measure of commitment and enterprise exhibited by staff members in promoting this worthy enterprise.
Teachers have prepared a detailed science programme that is grounded in the activity and child-centred principles that are embodied in the revised curriculum. A variety of materials has been collected, and there is evidence that throughout the school the children are making significant progress in learning to work scientifically. The high levels of enthusiasm shown during the scientific activities is impressive and this is particularly evident with regard to processes of speculation and prediction. Further, a day devoted to science activities is organized each year and both parents and post primary pupils are invited to view the children in action demonstrating their various projects.
Visual Arts constitute an important element of the work of the school and this is evident in attractive displays on corridor and classroom walls. Overall, pupils are exposed to a wide range of media and techniques and as a matter of course teachers regularly seek out opportunities to integrate the artwork with other curricular areas. Their efforts bear eloquent testimony to a determination to develop the aesthetic sense and to promote pupils’ creative impulse. This is evidenced particularly in the attractive murals that form a central and striking feature of the playground walls.
Music and song feature strongly on the schools’ programme and the curricular strands of performance, listening and responding feature in all classrooms. Teachers have devised a programme that enables all pupils participate in a wide range of enjoyable music-making activities, such as performing, listening, responding and identification of rhythmic patterns. In addition, there is an annual Christmas pageant and a summer concert. Much of the schools’ success in Music can be attributed to the initiative of the resourceful principal who with the generous support of staff members has succeeded admirably in securing a large measure of outside support for the promotion of music in the school. In practice, he has exploited the university’s Bridging the Gap scheme to secure a measure of funding that has enabled him assemble an impressive range of musical instruments and establish an orchestra trained by university students. In tandem with this, Cork Academy of Music has been facilitated in establishing a base in two empty classrooms and in reciprocation the Academy teaches guitar to pupils. Crucially, the music tuition is open to all pupils and the costs are discharged by the school. Pupils’ success in mastering the various instruments that form part of the orchestra is acknowledged and the recital proved to be most pleasing. It is worthy of note that the success and pleasure evidenced is due in no small way to the generous efforts of a teacher-director who, in accordance with the proud tradition of North Monastery, gives freely of his time after school hours.
Drama features on the school programme and the Christmas pageant is seen as a highlight of the school year. There is some evidence that Drama also features in the classrooms, but only to a limited degree. This is an area that is worthy of development and, appropriately, it will form part of the school’s development plan in the coming months.
Physical Education is seen as a vital element of the school’s programme and the staff is very much aware of the proud tradition of sporting success that they have inherited. Teachers introduce the children to a range of activities but the emphasis is firmly placed on field sports. In this it is fortunate that the school has a spacious hall and, in addition, has the use of the monastery playing fields. This, coupled with a commendable measure of voluntary tuition by certain generous members of school staff including the principal, has meant that the school continues to be seen as a significant force in field sports in the city and county. Also notable is the school’s determination to avoid confining itself to Gaelic football and hurling: tag rugby, soccer, volleyball and basketball also feature. As a development point, the staff ought to consider how they might further develop PE in keeping with the wide-ranging nature of the revised curriculum, and to this end teachers might consider, for example, how they might usefully place a greater emphasis on dance and gymnastics.
The school’s Social Personal and Health Education programme, including the RSE elements, offers a useful opportunity to promote the health of pupils. Generally, the learning is integrated with other areas of the curriculum and throughout the school day and the teaching is characterised by an impressive concern for inculcating a sense of social responsibility and respect for all.
Each teacher engages in a process of continuous assessment as lessons unfold and this is particularly evident in the constant deployment of lively and purposeful questioning across the curriculum to determine levels of understanding and to motivate pupils towards greater effort. It is also manifest in observational procedures, in monitoring of pupils’ written work and in the administration of teacher-devised tests. In addition, teachers maintain records of individual achievement on class tests and results are communicated to parents either at the annual meeting or on less formal occasions. A more formal process of testing takes place at end of term and the documentation reviewed indicates that a considerable effort is made to ensure the tasks presented, while challenging, are rooted in relevant elements of the revised curriculum.
The work is complemented by the administration of standardized tests, such as the MICRA-T, Young , Marino and RAIN. In addition, the battery of Daniels and Diack tests is employed to facilitate diagnosis of specific difficulty. All these pertain to reading ability but it is noted that mathematics tests are also administered, although to a lesser degree. Appropriately, this will be rectified in the near future with the introduction of recently revised and normed standardized mathematics tests. When the school addresses the further development of its assessment procedures, it should have regard to the value of amending its recording arrangements so that the scores of each class over a period are available in one easily accessible document. This would serve to identify achievement trends and would facilitate the growth of a useful whole school perspective on mathematical learning.
The provision made for pupils with special educational needs has the clear potential to make a substantial contribution to the development of those children who are served by the learning support resource teachers. The team provides support for a total of seventy-one pupils and each teacher takes children across the spectrum of achievement, that is ‘high incidence’ and ‘low incidence’ pupils. Each teacher’s work is underpinned by careful and detailed planning outlined in the form of practical Individual Education Plans and the thrust of the support is centred on achievement in both reading and mathematics; and it is regularly complemented by the imaginative use of computer technology. Usually the support teacher withdraws the pupil from class for concentrated attention on identified weaknesses and then returns him to class where the mainstream teacher makes a conscientious effort, within the circumstances, to build on the work of his or her colleague. The learning support teachers are growing in competence since moving into this area of operations at the beginning of the school year and, in conjunction with parents with whom they liaise at frequent intervals, they are intent on developing their skills and strategies further. In this regard their attention is drawn to the rich potential for achievement and self-esteem development that would emanate from a re-orientating of strategy to embrace a process of regular, but not exclusive, within-class support.
The school has a total of twenty-six international children on roll and a teacher dedicated to their support was appointed at the beginning of the school year. This teacher withdraws children in small groups from mainstream class on a scheduled basis and engages with them in short, lively oral language sessions. In addition, this teacher liaises methodically with their class teacher in a deliberate effort to facilitate a measure of continuity. The children co-operate willingly and it is a matter of no little satisfaction that many of them have acquired an impressive level of fluency in a short period of time.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The B. O. M of Scoil Mhuire Fatima welcomes the WSE report as it affirms the excellent work being done by the staff and school community.