An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 Swords Educate Together National School

Applewood, Swords, County Dublin

Uimhir rolla:  20145O

 

Date of inspection:  29 February, 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Swords Educate Together National School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parent-teacher association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management 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.

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

Swords Educate Together National School was founded in 2001. It is currently located in temporary prefabricated accommodation in Applewood, Swords, Co. Dublin. The school is under the patronage of Educate Together. Plans are in place to complete a new school close to the current site in the near future. The school has an administrative principal, twelve classroom teachers, three learning support teachers, one resource teacher, two English as an additional language teachers (EALs) and five special needs assistants (SNAs). In addition to this, the school has two school secretaries, a caretaking team and a school cleaning team. Since its foundation, the school has expanded very rapidly, growing from two teachers in 2001 to its present size. The school staff and community are commended for the strategic and committed manner in which this rapid development has been managed. Pupil enrolment now stands at 333 pupils. It is anticipated that enrolment figures will continue to grow into the near future. Pupil attendance is at a very satisfactory level. Pupil attendance and punctuality are diligently monitored.

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

The school is managed by a very committed board of management. Meetings are held regularly, typically on a monthly basis. Board members have received training made available by Educate Together. Minutes are furnished for all board meetings. The school’s accounts are certified on a yearly basis and financial reports are tabled at board meetings on a regular basis. The board gives each post holder a financial grant for expenditure on the organisation, pastoral and curricular dimensions pertaining to the particular post of responsibility. The school board of management has been involved in the ratification of all school plans and has had significant input into organisational policies. The board endeavours to involve parents as much as possible in the life of the school. In its endeavours to promote this involvement, the board works closely with the school’s parent-teacher association. The board stated that it was satisfied with the way the curriculum is taught and with the standards of achievement of pupils. It also noted that there was a strong sense of community in the school, where pupils were given an opportunity to be themselves and realise their own potential. In particular, the board specifically commended the work of the teachers in the domain of catering for pupils with special educational needs. The board cites as its priorities: the provision for the current and future accommodation needs of the school; the maintenance of the school and attendance to health and safety matters concerned therein; communication with the parent body and general school community; maintenance of the school’s ethos; listening to pupil voices and supporting teaching and learning in the school.

 

2.2 In-school management

The school is managed by a dynamic and enthusiastic in-school management team. This team comprises the school principal, a deputy principal, an assistant principal and five special duties teachers. The duties for each post are decided at staff meetings and are based on the needs of the school at that point in time. In deciding on curricular and organisational responsibilities, every effort is made to tailor these responsibilities to the specific talents and expertise of the post holder. The duties of each post holder are distributed across pastoral, curricular and organisational responsibilities. In executing its curriculum leadership functions, the team endeavours to address resource provision, training needs, methodological approaches, parental involvement and planning requirements as important factors in the successful implementation of each curriculum area. In this regard, the team is commended for the reflective and self-evaluatory approach it takes to assessing the success of its work. To this end, particular practices and initiatives as undertaken by the team, are regularly reviewed and examined at staff meetings. The in-school management team meets formally once per month and very regularly on an informal basis. The team provides a report on its work at each staff meeting and through a nominee at each board of management meeting. This team is also supported by the very capable and enthusiastic work of the school secretaries. A strong spirit of teamwork and collaboration characterises the operation of the in-school management team.

 

The school principal plays a very important role in promoting collaboration both within and beyond the in-school management team. In so doing, the principal provides very strong leadership for pupils and teachers alike, carefully monitoring the efficacy of the school in reaching its aims, while simultaneously setting high standards for pupils and teachers alike. As such, this dynamic and diligent leadership serves to promote a very positive, affirming and empowering school climate where all are encouraged, challenged and motivated to reach high standards. The school principal is highly commended for fostering and encouraging reflective practice among the school staff and for providing dedicated and committed leadership.

 

2.3 Management of resources

The school is presented in a very stimulating, neat and tidy manner. School staff and pupils alike are commended for the careful and respectful manner in which the school environment is maintained. The school received a ‘Clean School Award’ in both 2006 and 2007 from Fingal County Council. Corridors showcase samples of the pupils’ work and well known pieces of artwork. There are also centres of interest with a commendably multi-cultural flavour. Such displays and centres of interest are praiseworthy as the school has a wide multi-cultural base, catering for pupils from forty-four different nationalities. The school building comprises twelve mainstream classrooms, three special education rooms, a general purpose room, outdoor and indoor storage areas, a principal’s office, a utility room, a secretary’s office and a staff room.

 

The school policy on class allocation seeks to expose teachers to a variety of class levels and teaching contexts. To support and develop these teaching duties, teachers are encouraged to undertake professional development courses in a wide variety of areas. The school is also involved in the ‘Partnership in Teaching Practice’ research project run by St Patrick’s College. Involvement in this project coupled with the school’s focus on mentoring and induction serves to promote and develop teacher professionalism. Teachers also undertake a number of after-school activities, such as football coaching and athletics. Other after-school activities such as guitar lessons, visual art classes, speech and drama classes, swimming and homework clubs are on offer to pupils for a fee.

 

The resourcing of all classroom and curricular subjects is prioritised by the school’s board of management on a yearly basis. Post holders oversee the purchasing of these resources and as a result have collected a comprehensive selection of them. These resources are stimulating and interactive, with very good provision for both pupil and teacher needs. The school is specifically commended for the careful and detailed manner in which resources are catalogued and managed. All classrooms have a computer. The school has purchased a wide range of software.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The school communicates very regularly with the school community and other relevant stakeholders on a number of fronts. Each Friday, a school newsletter is sent to parents which provides an account of some of the highlights of the school’s activities for the week and gives suggestions for parents on how to assist and support their children’s learning. On occasion, this newsletter also contains features and sections written by the school’s pupils. Such practice is encouraged and commended. The parent-teacher association also publishes a newsletter on a regular basis which details its activities and practices. The board of management publishes a newsletter for the school community each term which provides information on its functions and operations. Finally, the school’s student council publishes a newsletter on a termly basis which describes its activities and plans. These various newsletters are also supplemented by school fliers and memos sent to the school community at various times throughout the school year. These newsletters and fliers are colour-coded to facilitate ease of recognition. The school is highly commended for the consistent and various methods by which it communicates with the school community. In addition to receiving these regular newsletters and fliers, the school’s website is also regularly updated, most notably in relation to school policies and plans. Here, parents can access a wide range of policies and procedures which are relevant to their child’s education. Parents are also invited to an open week each year where samples of the pupils’ work in Visual Arts, Music, Geography, History and dance are displayed and celebrated.

 

The school has written a school policy on communication. This policy details the various modes by which communication is conducted among the school’s staff, pupils and the wider school community. In managing such communication, it is evident that the school strives to establish positive and affirming relations with its relevant partners and in so doing seeks to create and promote a positive and affirming school atmosphere.

 

One of the school’s most important strengths relates to the manner in which pupils and staff are treated with respect and affirmation. Throughout the inspection, it was noted that the school’s staff interacted with pupils in a very positive and affirming manner. Such interaction was also replicated by the very courteous, polite and respectful manner in which pupils related to their peers and to adults in the school. The school’s student council plays an important part in listening to and representing student voices across all class levels. This council meets regularly and serves to inform and enlighten all partners on forthcoming challenges and opportunities in terms of pupil learning and development. The sense of democracy which this council fosters in the school, combined with its focus on fairness and equality, serves to promote a very positive and autonomous school learning environment.

 

The school has a very active and vibrant parent-teacher association. Typically, it meets on a monthly basis. With its own notice board and newsletter, this association regularly communicates with the entire school community. It provides very good support for the school on a number of fronts. Through the extensive and varied range of fundraising activities which it engages in, the parent-teacher association provides strong financial assistance for the school. Such assistance is typically used to augment resource stocks, to organise school evenings such as that for newly enrolled junior infants and to support various school activities. The association also seeks to involve parents in the life of the school by organising ‘Open Evenings’ and ‘Fun Days’ for all parents. Such activities are strongly commended as they serve to promote the parents’ involvement in their children’s education and they create a sense of identity with the school. The association also seeks to keep parents informed of ways they can help their children’s education by issuing information fliers and by organising for speakers to visit the school to give talks on topics such as parenting courses. The association cites as one of its priorities the promotion of the involvement of parents of newcomer pupils in the life and activities of the school. It also seeks to further develop its fundraising activities and after school activities.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

The school has developed many effective organisational and procedural practices which serve to create a climate of structure, order and efficiency. Pupils are very content in this school environment and displayed exemplary behaviour and courtesy throughout the inspection. The school’s emphasis on ‘Golden Rules’ and the promotion of positive behaviour serve to create a nurturing and affirming environment for the pupils. The recent creation of a student council also serves to give a voice to the pupils in the school and creates a feeling of ownership and empowerment among the pupil body.

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

The whole school plan is very well constructed providing clear guidelines on the organisational and curricular strategies necessary for the implementation of the curriculum within the unique setting of this school. The plan itself is divided into two parts. The first part contains a very comprehensive and wide ranging selection of school policies relating to organisational matters, such as the mobile phone policy and the staff development policy. Numbering in excess of thirty-eight policies, this part of the plan provides clear and detailed guidelines for all teachers and staff members on a variety of school-related matters. The school is lauded for the thorough and careful manner in which each of these plans was constructed. The second part of the plan contains the school’s curricular plans. The school has written a curricular plan for each subject on the curriculum, with the exception of Drama. The drama plan is at an advanced stage of construction. In creating these plans, the school is highly commended for the detailed manner in which curricular content is laid out. This content shows progression and continuity in its selection. Furthermore, these curricular plans are also very specific on activities and methodological approaches. It is recommended that in developing these plans further, greater consideration be given to opportunities for integration and differentiation and on occasion to involvement of the local community. In so doing, consideration should also be given to providing greater detail on the roles and responsibilities of curriculum leaders.  

 

In designing these plans, Facilitators from the School Development Planning Service (SDPS) and cuiditheoirí from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PSCP) were consulted. School staff discussed each plan at staff meetings with expert committees and sub-groups being established to propel and manage the development of each plan. Each plan is considered a living document. The school takes a very proactive approach to updating and reviewing its curricular and organisational plans. At the commencement of each year, a school action plan is established which selects three areas for analysis. One of the areas is a specific project while the two other areas are chosen from the school’s organisational and curricular plans. For example, for this academic year, the school’s assessment policy, drama policy and Green Schools project have been selected. This very organised approach to planning is highly commended as it creates an environment of self-review, challenge and opportunity.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

An examination of the planning of individual teachers reveals a consistent and purposeful approach to planning. All teachers write long and short term plans to guide the teaching and learning in their classrooms. Long term plans provide a very detailed, progressive and comprehensive outline of the lesson content to be covered. Teachers also complete short term plans. All teachers are commended for the detailed and explicit manner in which lesson content is laid out in these plans and for the attention given to continuity and progression. In a number of cases, class teachers work collaboratively to design and develop lesson content appropriate for their class levels. Such practice is lauded. It is recommended that in some cases, teachers’ planning should make more definitive references to differentiation, integration and linkage. All teachers complete detailed and informative reports on the work completed at the end of each month.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The quality of teaching and learning is of a very high standard. Teachers adopt a wide variety of methodologies and strategies, approaching their work in a creative manner. In so doing pupils are challenged and motivated to reach high standards. Lessons are very well structured and paced, offering pupils a wide variety of opportunities and contexts to consolidate and develop lesson content. Resources are used very effectively and are complemented by the judicious use of collaborative and pair work. Pupils are active and self-directed in their learning, showing pride and interest in their work.

 

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Is suimiúil agus is tairbheach mar a dhéanann an plean scoile tagairt don tábhacht a bhaineas le teagasc agus le foghlaim na Gaeilge. Is léir ón obair a dhéanann an príomhoide agus na hoidí eile ar an bhfoireann go ndéanann siad a ndícheall an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn sa scoil. Tá ag éirí go geal leo. Leagann na hoidí i gcoitinne an-bhéim ar an Ghaeilge mar theanga chaidrimh i rith an lae. Is inmholta go háirithe an chaoi ina mbaineann oidí úsáid as an Ghaeilge mar mheán teagaisc i múineadh na Matamaitice agus i múineadh an Chorpoideachais.  

 

Tá na daltaí tríd an scoil i gcoitinne ag baint an-taitneamh agus an-tairbhe as bheith ag foghlaim na Gaeilge. Ins na ranganna naíonán agus sna ranganna sóisearacha gabhann bríomhaireacht agus cinnteacht le múineadh na teanga agus tá ionchur cuí teanga ó na hoidí. Baineann na daltaí tairbhe as na tascanna éisteachta agus téann an obair a dhéantar le rólghlacadh, cluichí, amhráin, filíocht agus scéalta i gcion ar na daltaí. Baineann oidí áirthe feidhm bhreá as líníocht agus as obair bheirte sa teagasc agus b’fhiú na cleachtais seo a leathnú. Ni bhaintear ach feidhm bheag as modh an aistriúcháin agus moltar seo go mór. Canann na daltaí na hamhráin Ghaeilge go spraíúil. Tá dul ar aghaidh maith á dhéanamh ag na daltaí ins na meánranganna agus ins na hardranganna leis an léitheoireacht agus an scríbhneoireacht Ghaeilge agus déanann na hoidí ceangal cuí idir príomhghnéithe na teanga. Déanann na daltaí an obair scríofa atá bunaithe cuid mhór ar na téacsleabhair go néata, cruinn. Tá aimsirí na bpríomhbhriathra, na briathra neamhrialta ina measc, ar chairteacha ar na ballaí ins na seomraí ranga. Is cabhair an-mhór é seo do na daltaí maidir le sealbhú na mbriathra céanna. Moltar do na hoidí dul siar arís agus arís eile ar na briathra céanna leis na daltaí. Is an-inmholta an caighdeán atá á bhaint amach ag na daltaí sna sceitsí Gaeilge a léiríonn siad. Is léir go mbaineann said an-taitneamh ar fad as an obair.

 

Irish

The reference in the school plan to the importance of the teaching and learning of Irish is both interesting and helpful. It is obvious from the work of the principal and the other staff members that they strive earnestly to promote Irish in the school. They are succeeding admirably. The teachers generally place much emphasis on Irish as a means of communication during the day. It is especially praiseworthy that teachers make use of Irish as a means of instruction in the teaching of Mathematics and Physical Education.

 

The pupils throughout the school generally are deriving much satisfaction and benefit from their learning of Irish. In the infants and junior classes the lively, positive nature of the teaching is noted with suitable language input from the teachers. The pupils benefit from their listening tasks and the work on role play, games, songs, poetry and story is of assistance to them. Certain teachers make good use of drawing and pair work and these practices should be extended further. Only very limited use is made of translation methods and this is particularly commendable. The pupils sing their songs heartily. Good progress is being made by the pupils in the middle and senior classes in Irish reading and writing and the teachers link the main aspects of language suitably. Pupils’ written work is based primarily on their textbooks and is completed in a neat and accurate manner. The tenses of the principal verbs, including the irregular verbs, are listed on charts which are displayed on the classroom walls. These listings are of great assistance to the pupils in their verbal acquisition. It is recommended that these verbs are revised again and again with the pupils. The pupils are achieving a very high standard in their presentation of Irish sketches. They obviously derive much enjoyment from their work.

 

English

The standard of teaching and learning in English is very good. Implementation of the curriculum is guided by a very comprehensive school plan which provides clear and detailed guidelines on the progressive and continuous development of lesson content. Teachers plan for the implementation of the curriculum in a careful manner, making very good provision for the development of the pupils’ oral skills, reading skills, phonological development and writing skills. All lessons observed made very good provision for the development of the pupils’ oral language skills. Pupils are encouraged to contribute during these lessons and show competence in discussing and debating particular topics. Teachers make very creative provision for an integrated approach to the development of pupils’ language skills, with the subject being integrated most notably with Drama, Social Personal and Health Education and Social, Environmental and Scientific Education. Throughout the school, teachers employ a co-ordinated approach to language development using a wide range of stimuli such as pictures, photographs, toys, puppets, pupils’ work, music and art to prompt and develop specific language development objectives.

 

This approach to language development is complemented by the school’s approach to the pupils’ phonological development. The school has recently developed its whole school strategy for phonological development by adopting a combined approach using both the Jolly Phonics Programme and the Newell Literacy Programme. Teachers throughout the school augment these approaches with spellings from the Sunny Streets reading programme and from the Dolch list. In so doing, lessons make very good provision for the development of the pupils’ word attack skills. This multi-pronged approach to developing pupils’ language awareness and phonological skills is evident in the style and manner by which pupils read. The standards of reading in the school are very good. Pupils read with fluency and confidence. Teachers expose the pupils to a wide variety of comprehension tasks. In addition to using their class reader, pupils are also exposed to a wide range of reading material. In a number of classrooms, teachers use grouping to provide additional reading material for the pupils according to their specific needs and abilities. Such practice is highly commended. Furthermore, in the middle and senior classes, pupils read novels. Teachers make very good provision for the development of the pupils’ reading and comprehension skills through the use of these novels. Such endeavours also serve to underline the importance of reading for pleasure and promote pupils’ interests in reading as a pastime. The adoption of shared reading among different class levels is commended as it serves to celebrate and nurture interest in reading. Furthermore, the high importance given to the school’s annual book fair and its annual book day further supports this approach to celebrating reading for pleasure. It is recommended that the school investigates further opportunities for extending the rubrics of the shared reading programme which involves pupils only, to the development of a programme for paired reading which would involve parents. All class libraries are very well stocked, with a variety of fact and fiction books in stock. Infant classes have a very good selection of big books, real books and experience charts. The school also has a reference library with a wide selection of fact books. The school is specifically commended for the organised manner in which library books are audited and managed. It is recommended that in reviewing the distribution of library stocks in the future, greater provision be made for placing fact books in classroom libraries. The school is highly commended for the very neat and purposeful way in which pupils are exposed to a print-rich environment both within individual classrooms and also in the general school environment.

 

Teachers make very good connections between reading material and writing exercises. Pupils write in a variety of genres such as letter writing, diary entries, poems, stories and articles. In particular, very effective use is made of the writing process, with pupils being encouraged to write for a variety of audiences. Teachers make very good provision for the development of the pupils’ punctuation and grammar skills in so doing. The school’s participation in the Pushkin Creative Writing project deserves specific commendation. At the school’s weekly assembly, samples of the pupils’ writing are celebrated. Such practice is laudable. It is recommended that the school should build on such endeavours by investigating further opportunities for sharing and celebrating samples of the pupils’ creative writing both among different classes and also with the wider school community. Pupils show a keen appreciation of poetry which is effectively and creatively integrated with a number of other curriculum areas. Pupils recite poems with confidence. Pupils’ handwriting is of a very good standard. In recent years, pupils have been awarded prizes for their handwriting in the INTO/EBS handwriting competition. Teachers maintain continuous records of pupil progress using a variety of techniques.

 

4.3 Mathematics

The whole school plan for Mathematics provides comprehensive guidelines on approaches and strategies for delivering the Mathematics curriculum. In particular, the plan makes very good provision for the use of resources, the use of language, themed approaches and mental arithmetic. The plan is lauded for its references to the use of the environment and pupil experience in presenting and developing concepts. It is recommended that in reviewing the plan, more specific reference be made to mathematics trails and differentiation practices. The school is commended for its endeavours to promote the subject by designating a room as a ‘Maths room’ and for its efforts to empower parental involvement by sending a ‘Maths Tips for Parents’ memo to all parents/guardians. Teachers’ planning for Mathematics makes a very clear outline of the lesson content to be covered, in a progressional and continuous manner. The school is commended for the provision made on a yearly basis for a Mathematics Week.

 

Overall, the standard of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good. Lessons have very good pace and structure and serve to involve and promote pupil interest in the subject. Pupils clearly enjoy these lessons and participate enthusiastically in same. Resources are used very effectively, with pupils being given a variety of opportunities to use concrete resources. In so doing, teachers make very effective use of group and pair work which serves to develop the pupils’ reasoning and problem-solving strategies, while also providing opportunities for the use of mathematical language. Teachers make very good provision for mental arithmetic and the development of the pupil’s estimation skills. Concepts are connected to the life experience and environment of the pupils. Suitable provision is made for the development of the pupil’s problem solving skills, with some excellent practices being observed in some classes. It is recommended that the school builds further on such endeavours with a view to developing approaches to the creation of problems. Pupils are encouraged to ask questions in lessons and to establish patterns across concepts. Teachers are highly commended for the manner in which classrooms are presented as maths-rich environments. Pupils’ written work is of a very high standard and is carefully monitored. In-class support is effectively organised to complement and support the work of the class teacher.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

The aims and objectives of the school’s history programme are outlined clearly in the school plan. In particular, the school plan makes very good provision for history trails in the Swords area. History lessons, where observed, were very well presented and the manner in which the pupils engaged meaningfully in discussion and exploration was impressive. Good use is made of resources, artefacts and most particularly photographs to stimulate the pupils’ interest in times past. The collection of artefacts noted in a large number of classrooms, could be displayed in a school museum, which should be considered as the school grows and expands. Under the strands of Myself and My Family and Continuity and Change over Time the pupils in the infants and junior classes are given an understanding of time and chronology and are introduced to a simple version of the timeline concept. The teachers engaged very commendably in higher-order questioning to enable the pupils to develop their powers of discrimination and to use evidence made available to them. The pupils in the senior end of the school considered the matter of the 1916 Rising. They indicated a very good knowledge of the work covered and displayed a very good level of sophistication and openness in their discussion of this important aspect of Irish history.

 

Geography

The school’s plan for Geography is of a high standard. In particular it provides a very detailed outline of the concepts and investigation skills to be developed throughout the entire school. In so doing, the plan also provides a very clear, progressional and seasonal outline of the content to be covered at the different class levels. Teachers’ planning for the subject is also very good, with appropriate provision for all strands of the geography curriculum. The school environment itself is very well presented in terms of curriculum strands dealing with human and natural environments. The school has a very good selection of resources for Geography. Teachers make good use of resources, particularly information and communication technology (ICT) in delivering lessons which serve to develop and promote pupil curiosity. The local environment is used effectively with differing investigations occurring throughout the school year, depending on seasonal changes. Students are involved in analysing and recording data on weather systems and associated geographical concepts on a regular basis. Teaching approaches incorporate both whole class teaching and also group and pair methods. Pupils participate readily in these lessons and show good knowledge of geographical concepts and phenomena. They reveal a sense of place and space and display a keen interest in maps, globes and planet earth in space. The creative manner in which the school celebrates its geography week each year deserves specific mention.

 

The school is very active in promoting environmental awareness and care. It is part of the Green Schools project and is taking steps this year to qualify for the award of the green flag. The school has elected its own green school committee. Comprising pupil representatives, this committee seeks to promote environmental awareness in the school community with a particular emphasis on recycling. Such practice is commended.

 

Science

The school plan for Science provides a very detailed and wide-ranging outline of the lesson content to be covered at the different class levels. Its content is closely aligned to the strand units of the curriculum and attention is given to seasonal factors in organising the progressional delivery of this content. It is recommended that in reviewing this plan further, greater emphasis be given to strand units dealing with Materials and activities associated with designing and making. The school has acquired a wide range of resources for the implementation of the science curriculum. In particular, strand units dealing with Living Things and Energy and Forces are particularly well catered for. The school is lauded for its celebration of Science during its annual science week. Similarly, its emphasis on strand units dealing with Living Things is emphasised through its celebration of National Tree Week.

 

The quality of teaching and learning in Science is of a high standard. Lessons make very good use of the pupils’ ideas as starting points. A variety of resources is used to promote and develop pupil curiosity, with effective use of concrete, hands-on resources being noted. Lessons make very good provision for scientific investigations and experimentation. Pupils’ skills as scientists and in particular, their abilities to observe predict, experiment, analyse and record were suitably developed. In some cases, pupils also engaged in discussions on fair testing. It is recommended that lessons make greater provision for discussions on fair testing. Throughout the school, there was evidence of ongoing experiments, particularly in relation to strand units dealing with Living Things. It is recommended that with the future development of the school and the possibility of moving to a larger site, the school should consider the development of a school garden. All classrooms have science tables. The school plans to become involved in the Discover Science Programme this year. In addition, other creative and commendable endeavours were noted during the inspection such as the adoption of an Orang-Utan baby in Borneo.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The whole school plan makes very good provision for all strands of the visual arts curriculum, with commendable emphasis on integration and linkage. Teachers’ planning for the subject also makes very good provision for all strand units in an integrated manner. In particular, praiseworthy integration with Mathematics, Science, Geography and Music was noted. The school has a very good selection of art resources. A variety of art pieces by well known artists is on display throughout the school environment. The standard of teaching and learning in Visual Arts is very high. A wide range of the pupils’ work is on display both within individual classrooms and on school corridors. Various samples of the pupils’ work are also placed on display for open evenings. These samples indicate balanced provision for all strands of the curriculum, with some very commendable work being noted in relation to strand units dealing with Paint and Colour, Drawing, Clay and Construction. Teachers employ a range of strategies and approaches to stimulate the pupils’ imaginations and creativity during visual art lessons. Stimuli such as musical pieces, the pupils’ own experiences, the local environment and topics from other curricular areas are used very effectively to cultivate the pupils’ creativity. Pupils engage in these lessons with enthusiasm and enjoyed the activities. Teachers make very good provision for the discussion of specific art processes and for looking and responding to specific art genres and pieces. All lessons observed provided the pupils with opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves through art.

 

Music

A comprehensive school plan for Music informs teachers’ long-term and short-term planning for the subject. The school is very well-equipped with musical resources. It is noted in particular that there are three pianos and two keyboards in the school and that very good use is made of ICT in the teaching of the subject. The school has a number of accomplished musicians on the staff who ensure that the pupils are afforded a variety of musical experiences. Listening and responding to Music is very attractively addressed with very good participation by the pupils. Very good emphasis is placed on the fundamentals, such as developing in pupils a sense of pulse, rhythm, pitch and dynamics and a good range of percussion instruments are available to the pupils. Vocal and body sounds are also used very effectively to develop the pupils’ musical awareness and to give them the opportunity to explore, improvise and create simple musical compositions. Music literacy is also given due attention by the teachers. The pupils achieve a very good standard in singing. They sing songs in both Irish and English very tunefully, rhythmically and sensitively, very often to the accompaniment of the teacher on the piano or the violin. There is very admirable integration with other areas of the curriculum and song and rhythmical exercises are used very effectively to convey story. The school is congratulated on its school anthem which was composed by a member of the school staff and is sung very attractively by the children. The recent composition of a song on recycling also deserves specific commendation. In addition, the school’s annual talent contest serves to unite other aspects of the curriculum with Music in a fun manner.

 

The school encourages and promotes instrumental music to very good effect. It is noted that Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and a commercial piano company offer one-to-one piano lessons to pupils after school hours.

 

Drama

The quality of teaching and learning in Drama is very good. Teachers plan creatively for its use, most especially in an integrated context. As such it is used effectively as a methodological approach and strategy in a number of subject areas, most especially in relation to English, Gaeilge, Social, Personal and Health Education and History. Lessons observed made very good provision for talk and discussion, with pupils being encouraged to examine role and character, action, place, time and tension. Pupils clearly enjoyed these lessons and showed very considerable competence in entering physically, intellectually and emotionally into the world of drama. In this regard teachers made very suitable provision for the exploration of feelings, knowledge and ideas through drama. Pupils also showed competence and confidence in co-operating with others both “in role” and “out of role”. Lessons observed made very good provision for making drama and for post-drama discussions and conclusions. Teachers use a variety of stimuli and resources to stimulate the pupils’ imaginations and creativity. In many instances, very good use of group work and pair work was observed. In collaboration with Fingal County Council, the school commenced a six year project in 2003 entitled ‘Wisdom of Age and Youth’. This project involves collaborative work between senior citizens of the area and the school’s pupils. One class participates in the project over the six years. It involves excursions and class work which focuses, in a thematic way, on visual arts, drama and music projects. The school is commended for the creative and purposeful manner in which it undertakes this project.

 

4.6 Physical Education

An attractive outdoor play area has been marked out for games and provides the venue for many of the physical education lessons which are taught in the school. The teachers plan their lessons carefully and ensure that lessons are conducted in an orderly and safe manner. The lessons observed related to the development of the pupils’ skills in athletics, games and gymnastics. A variety of appropriate teaching methods were employed by the teachers, including whole-group, pair, and individual work and station teaching. The work of the special needs assistants in supporting the class teacher to ensure that special needs pupils engage in physical education activities is commended. The physical education activities help to ensure that the pupils are developing commendable skill levels across the strands of the curriculum and that they are made aware through discussion of the benefits of exercise for their health. The school’s involvement to date in inter-school events has related to cross country running but very recently it has fielded a Gaelic football team for the first time. The school avails of the services of a GAA coach every week. The strands of Dance and Outdoor and Adventure Activities are addressed at appropriate times during the year. The teachers are highly commended for their use of Irish as a means of communication during the course of the physical education lessons.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

The quality of teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education is of a very high standard. The school plan makes good provision for programmes such as ‘Lift Off’, ‘Walk Tall’, and ‘Stay Safe’. Teachers creatively integrate the subject into the entire school day and also with specific other subjects such as English, Music and Visual Arts. Group work, pair work and circle time are used to good effect to encourage pupils to discuss and analyse particular topics. Pupils engage in these lesson enthusiastically showing interest and curiosity in lesson content. Story and drama are used very effectively to encourage pupils to empathise and to present strand units dealing with Myself and Myself and Others. The quality of the pupils’ written work and artwork is of a very high standard. The school hosts a number of annual themed events and activities which promote Social Personal and Health Education, particularly, in relation to strand units dealing with Myself and the Wider World. Examples of such themed activities and events are the anti-racism week, the European Day against Racism, the Friendship Day, safety week, Universal Children’s Day and Holocaust Memorial Day. In addition, the school prepares a festivals and celebrations calendar for every month of the year to celebrate the diverse cultural and religious backgrounds of its pupils.

 

4.8 Assessment

The school policy for assessment is comprehensive. It details the manner and modes by which testing is to be carried out and the formative use of test results. The school uses a wide variety of testing procedures to very good effect. These are used both at a whole school level and also for specific pupils. In particular, the school is highly commended for the manner in which test results are cross referenced with each other, over specific time periods and with reference to the Non Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT). Such use of testing serves both formative and summative purposes. At whole school level, all pupils from first to sixth classes are tested on a yearly basis in English and Mathematics using the Micra-T and Sigma-T tests. All pupils in second class are tested using the Non Reading Intelligence Test and the Quest Test for literacy and numeracy. Mathematics tests from the Busy at Maths programme and from the Mathemagic programmes are also used at different class levels throughout the school. All pupils in junior infants are tested using school designed tests to ascertain their competencies in naming and recognising letters. In senior infants, pupils are tested using the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST). These whole school tests are complemented by specific diagnostic tests such as the Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) and, the Quest diagnostic literacy and numeracy tests. In addition, at individual class levels, teachers design and administer their own tests, particularly in the areas of Mathematics, Irish and English. At individual class levels, there is some variance among teachers on some of the assessment techniques they use across different curriculum areas. Teachers’ main assessment techniques are based on teacher observation, questioning, and an examination of pupils’ work. Teachers maintain detailed and continuous records of pupil progress.

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

A policy on special educational needs was drawn up in November 2006. It is reviewed in February of each year. The policy statement outlines the roles and responsibilities of the board of management, the principal, the Special Education Needs (SEN) co-ordinator, the class teacher, the learning support/resource teachers, the resource teacher, the English as an additional language (EAL) teachers and the special needs assistants. Parental involvement and early intervention strategies are also well emphasised in the document. For the school year 2007-2008 the general allocation and provision for low incidence pupils’ allowances ensure the equivalence of four full time posts for supplementary teaching in the school. These four teachers and the two EAL teachers in conjunction with the principal and the class teachers plan their work very carefully and keep accurate progress records of the pupils with whom they work. Five special needs assistants provide care support to named pupils in mainstream classes for whom support has been sanctioned. The special needs assistants discharge their duties conscientiously with a very good sense of care for their pupils.

 

Supplementary support is provided for pupils with special educational needs both by withdrawing pupils from the mainstream setting and working in-class alongside mainstream teachers. There is also effective early intervention in-class support at infant level. Both English and Mathematics are given due attention with the former area being prioritised in certain instances. There are, however, more pupils technically qualifying for support in Mathematics than in English. So, the level of supplementary support for pupils in each subject should be kept continually under review by the support team. The number of pupils with learning needs in English from second class upwards is relatively small, due to effective classroom teaching and early intervention strategies.

 

The support team in conjunction with the class teachers uses a variety of tests to select pupils for additional support. Standardised tests such as the Micra-T and Sigma-T are administered from first class upwards. The BIAP and the MIST are used in the infant classes to indicate pupils who may have difficulty with their general learning.  The NRIT, Quest, Bangor Dyslexia Test, Neale Analysis and Maths Tracker are included in the diagnostic tests used by the support teachers. The work of the support team for pupils with significant learning needs is characterised by a high level of care and a very considerable level of expertise in their conduct of lessons in one-to-one, small group and large class group situations. The support teachers employ a variety of teaching methods, provide suitable additional reading materials and schemes and generally provide attractive learning environments for the pupils. The teachers use the Phonological Awareness Training (PAT) scheme astutely to supplement the other phonics schemes, such as Jolly Phonics and Newell Literacy used by the classroom teachers. Very good use is made of the Dolch Primer List and of the Fuzz Buzz reading scheme to enhance the pupils’ reading abilities. The supplementary work in Mathematics is impressive both within the classroom and on withdrawal. The emphasis on teaching a specific mathematical vocabulary and on accommodating linkage across the mathematics curriculum is good. The support teachers in consultation with the staff and with the parents, using diagnostic windows and information gathering sheets, draw up meaningful individual education plans (IEPs), individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) or general pupil learning profiles (GPLPs) as appropriate. Timely review of the targets set in these profiles ensures that support teaching is continued or discontinued as deemed necessary.

 

The accommodation for special needs work is somewhat restricted. Although there are three learning-support rooms they are very small and sometimes support teachers when withdrawing pupils from class have to either share a room or work at the end of a corridor.

 

The co-ordination of the special educational needs programme in this school is of a very high standard.

 

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

The school is not involved in any of the Department’s programmes designed to combat educational disadvantage. Teachers are sensitive to any instances of disadvantage and they endeavour to be as supportive as possible of specific family situations. A very caring atmosphere is promoted in the school and an attitude of mutual respect is encouraged.

 

The school has been allocated two teaching posts on the basis that it caters for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL). It is reported that forty-one pupils require additional language support, ten of whom are in the first year of the programme. The supplementary teaching afforded to these pupils is very good utilising support materials from Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT). Pupils’ self-confidence and self-esteem are promoted during suitable interactive activities. Both in-class support and withdrawal of pupils from their mainstream classrooms are employed as appropriate. Teaching and learning is well planned and records are carefully maintained. Proficiency benchmarks are being reached very impressively by the pupils in general. 

 

A whole-school policy on supporting pupils with EAL and promoting an intercultural school has been drawn up. This school celebrates very especially the diversity of its pupils’ backgrounds and the school building itself is a manifestation of the fact that so many different nationalities are represented. The school lobby with its display of posters, flags of different countries and simple phrases of welcome in a plethora of languages indicates a school that clearly embraces all comers. The school also organises an annual intercultural event.

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         The teachers present the curriculum in a creative, stimulating and challenging manner.

·         Pupils are challenged and motivated to reach high standards.

·         Lessons make very good provision for high levels of pupil involvement.

·         A nurturing climate exists in the school, characterised by mutual respect among pupils and teachers alike.

·         Pupil progress is closely monitored both to indicate progress and to inform teaching strategies.

·         Pupils are keenly interested in their work, showing pride in their achievements.

·         Lesson content is presented in a varied manner making very good provision for hands-on activities.

·         Overall the standard of teaching and learning in the school is very good.

·         There is good emphasis on self-evaluation and reflective practice in this school.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

·         In some cases, teachers’ planning needs to make a more definitive reference to differentiation and integration practices. 

·         Planning and lessons in Science need to make more specific provision for designing and making activities and for discussions on fair testing.  

·         Greater emphasis should be placed on the revision of verbs and their tenses in Irish where appropriate.

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.

 

 

 

 

Published September 2008

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management of Swords Educate Together National School fully embraces the findings and recommendations of our Whole School Evaluation. Mindful of the general absence of external affirmation for teachers and all contributors to the teaching and learning process, the Board finds the report to be affirming of the work already taking place in the school and encouraging of further positive developments. The Board wishes to acknowledge and compliment the professional and supportive presence of the two Department inspectors who administered the WSE. From the beginning, the teaching staff found the process to be wholly positive.

 

The Board of Management would like to emphasise that Swords Educate Together National School is a Developing school. Since opening in 2001, a hugely disproportionate amount of time, energy and resources have gone into the provision of temporary accommodation and to securing a permanent home for the school. The school is still housed in temporary accommodation, having occupied four different sites/school buildings since September 2001. The positive findings of our WSE help strengthen our resolve to end the annual temporary buildings’ process and bring to fruition a permanent school building.

 

 

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 key recommendations of our WSE are already being acted upon. Progress will be monitored as part of our Yearly Action Plan for 2008-2009 and subsequently.