An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Waterford Educate Together National School
Uimhir rolla: 20160K
Date of inspection: 3 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
A whole-school evaluation of Waterford Educate Together NS was undertaken in March 2007. The evaluation covered key aspects of the work of the school in the areas of management, teaching and learning and supports for pupils. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Visual Arts. The board of management, the staff and representatives of the parents’ association met with the reporting inspector prior to the commencement of the evaluation. During the evaluation, the inspectors interacted with the pupils, examined pupils’ work, reviewed school planning documentation, observed teaching and learning and provided feedback to individual teachers. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Waterford Educate Together NS opened in 2002 with 22 pupils in temporary accommodation at the New Millenium Building, Lisduggan. The enrolment has grown steadily in the 5 years since the school opened, with a current enrolment of 136 pupils and a projection of 176 pupils for September 2007. The school does not have a defined catchment area within Waterford city, as pupils come to the school from various parts of the city and the county. The school’s enrolment policy fully supports parental choice by means of transparent procedures that welcome pupils on a first-come first-served basis.
The parents who founded the school under the auspices of the Educate Together movement are still involved wholeheartedly in the development of the school through their work on the board of management, in the parents’ association and on the school development group. As this is a very welcoming and open school, the founding parents have been joined in recent years by other parents who share the founders’ vision and who want to support the development of that vision in a practical and tangible fashion.
In 2004, the board found new temporary accommodation in a purpose built conversion of the former Tycor jute factory. Tycor is an old established residential area that grew up around the rope factory in the eastern side of Waterford city. The factory has been converted to provide the school with a solid building that includes classrooms, a hall and ancillary rooms. The main drawback of the current location is the lack of playground space and the school’s situation in the middle of a business park. In keeping with the school’s progressive approach to difficulties, the board and the parents have converted the playground into an attractive play area with simple and safe equipment. In addition, the school has approached a neighbour and has been offered a garden which is used for practical activities in Social Environmental Scientific Education (SESE). In the future, Waterford City Council has earmarked a site for the school in a major development at Carrickphierish.
The school is very fortunate to have a dedicated and supportive board of management that meets regularly and supports the school in a number of practical ways. In the first instance, the board plays a central role in connecting the disparate groups that support the school by promoting very effective communication processes within the entire school community. The board is represented on the parents’ association and on the school development group. The board publishes a regular newsletter, “Connect”, to ensure that everyone is aware of developments in the school and also organises an annual general parents’ meeting for the same purpose. The principal provides the board with an annual report on the school year.
The one major concern of the board in its present circumstances is the amount of time that has to be devoted to raising funds in order to maintain certain basic services. This situation will be alleviated when the school moves to its own premises in a new educational complex in the future. It is unlikely, however, that the development of the complex at Carrickphierish will be completed within the next two years.
In the fields of curriculum, communication and administration, the principal plays a vital leadership and management role which is acknowledged by the board, the staff and the parents. In the course of the WSE, both the staff and members of the board paid tribute to the enormous contribution made by the principal to the life of the school. This contribution is made that much more challenging by the fact that the principal has dual class and administrative responsibilities. It was evident throughout the WSE process that the principal fulfilled all her duties in the school to the highest standards in a courteous and democratic manner. The key to the success of the principal is the emphasis she places on communication processes within the school. It was noticeable during the WSE that staff gathered in the staffroom when pupils went home to share events of the day and it was also noticeable that this sharing took place in an unhurried and pleasant atmosphere. The weekly meetings of the in-school management team as well as the principal’s weekly meetings with the teachers on probation are vital communication channels that ensure the smooth running of the school. The principal calls staff meetings twice a term and in addition she meets staff on a one-to-one basis every week to discuss responsibilities. In addition, the teachers meet outside school for social evenings conducted through the medium of Irish. The principal is involved in all these events and as a result morale and motivation are high among the staff.
The duties of the in-school management team are defined clearly and encompass a judicious mix of administrative and curricular leadership roles. The teachers perform these roles conscientiously and due to the strong emphasis on communication in the school, the results of the work of the in-school management team is disseminated through staff meetings and school planning documentation. Due to the high staff morale and high levels of motivation in the school, all members of staff are involved in extra duties on a voluntary basis.
Waterford Educate Together NS is an open and welcoming institution where contributions from parents to the life of the school are valued and where communication between the teachers and the parents is fostered in a positive atmosphere. The welcoming nature of the school is evident in the positive and friendly way visitors are greeted by everyone connected with the school – teachers, parents, secretary, ancillary staff and special needs assistants. During the WSE process, it was noted that parents were involved in helping teachers with reading activities and with organising materials for visual arts. Parents also volunteer as external tutors to organise extra-curricular classes for pupils and parents have helped out with the school garden, fundraising and school celebrations/festivals. Parental involvement at home is supported by means of the Friday challenge which encourages pupils and parents to engage in research together and to produce a tangible result in terms of an artefact, a written document or art work.
The democratic ethos of the school combined with celebrations such as multi-cultural day ensure parents are part of the whole school community. Through the newsletter, parents are made aware of the existence of policies and can ask for policies anytime. Certain key policies are given out to parents as a matter of course. The school development group has initiated a very innovative buddy system to involve new parents in the school. All the work in communication is guided by a comprehensive and innovative communication policy, a key feature of which has been the establishment of a Students’ Council. The council provides a forum for pupils that ensures their voice is heard as the school continues to develop and grow. The special needs assistants volunteer to help organise meetings of the council and the results of its deliberations are reported to staff meetings and appropriate personnel within the school community. The speed with which this school has established a Students’ Council is highly commended.
Communication within the staff has already been described elsewhere in this report. In addition, the desire to bring about a thoroughly comprehensive communication system within the school community has led to the creation of induction packs for new teachers as well as handover packs when teachers are changing classes and absence packs for replacement teachers. It is acknowledged that developing such a thorough and comprehensive system of communication for a growing school requires an enormous input of time and effort on the part of the principal, the teachers, the board, the parents association and the development group. This report acknowledges these efforts and it was evident throughout our stay in the school that communication policies were being implemented most successfully.
The democratic ethos of the school manifests itself in the Students’ Council which encourages pupils to become active participants in the life of the school. The pupils are confident, respectful and cheerful. The pupils and teachers interact in a courteous and friendly manner and there is a strong ethos of mutual care evident in the classrooms.
The school is fortunate in that it has very dedicated and enthusiastic staff members who are anxious to deliver a first-class service to the pupils. The work of the teachers is supported by a capable team of ancillary staff members. The secretary provides valuable administrative support to both the principal and staff while the housekeeper and caretaker ensure the school building is well maintained. The special needs assistants work carefully and considerately with pupils and liaise effectively with the class teachers. The school is also fortunate that the temporary accommodation which serves as the school’s base is a purpose built conversion of high quality that includes well maintained classrooms, toilet facilities, office, hall and staffroom. The classrooms are well stocked with books and suitable educational aids and are decorated in a bright and cheerful manner with visual material created by the pupils under both teacher supervision and under external tutor supervision. The pupils are encouraged to make use of IT resources for presenting work and some teachers make very good use of data projectors to develop lessons.
The school has availed of Primary Curriculum Support Service cuiditheoireacht in Irish, Mathematics, SESE, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Learning Support, English and Physical Education (PE). The school is also involved in the mentoring national pilot project for newly qualified teachers and these teachers receive further support by means of a weekly meeting with the principal. The school has built up an impressive array of resources for teaching and these are managed very conscientiously from a central base.
This school takes its duties and responsibilities for whole school planning very seriously. Over the past 5 years the school has engaged in consistent and dedicated work to generate and disseminate policies. The first policy generated soon after the school opened was the enrolment policy which was created in 2002. In 2003, a policy on data protection was developed. In 2004, policies on substance abuse, relationships and sexuality education and school attendance were sanctioned. In 2005, the school worked on and presented policies on behaviour, accident procedures, healthy eating and homework. Last year, 2006, the school completed a very comprehensive health and safety policy as well as policies on child protection, equal opportunity and internet use. The school has an action plan for 2007 to complete policies on communication, critical incidents and a review of the enrolment policy. In reviewing this latter policy, it is recommended that the board, in its revised policy, alert parents to the provisions of Section 29 of the Education Act whereby parents have the right to appeal the board’s enrolment decisions. It is also recommended in its policy on data protection that the board consider a provision whereby documentation on children would only be handed over to a third party when parents have granted their permission.
In its brief existence the board has committed laudable amounts of time and effort into creating a valuable policy resource for the school. In addition, the board has documented the brief history of the school in a portfolio of press cuttings, press releases and correspondence. This is a valuable document which will provide future generations with an insight into the efforts made by the school’s founders in establishing Waterford Educate Together NS.
For the purposes of this evaluation, the curricular plans for Irish, English, Mathematics and Visual Arts were studied carefully. Teachers have devoted considerable time and effort to ensuring that these plans are useful documents to guide their work. Their usefulness can be determined by the emphasis on concrete decisions taken at a whole school level in the subjects under evaluation. For example, in Gaeilge decisions are recorded as to when reading and spelling are introduced. In Mathematics, consistency of language for all classes has been worked out. The plan recognises the importance of a practical approach to Mathematics. The role of assessment is given due recognition and early intervention is recognised as a key feature of learning support and support for pupils with special educational needs. The English plan is tied to the ethos of the school where activities to promote confidence in oral language are listed as well as activities to promote a reading culture. The school is very aware of the contribution of Visual Arts to the development of multiple intelligences. The school has created a very interesting record of each child’s development in Visual Arts in the form of a big book that every child contributes to in their first year in school and returns to in their last year. In addition, pupil portfolios that contain samples of work at each class level are maintained. The plan also recognises the importance of utilising parental skills in art as well as curating the pupils’ work. The overall high quality of whole school planning is reflected in classroom planning. Teachers devote considerable time and energy to ensuring that pupils receive instruction in a well planned manner in line with the requirements of the Curriculum and the whole-school plan.
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 has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Tá dáiríreacht na n-oidí faoi chur chun cinn na Gaeilge le moladh. Buaileann na hoidí le chéile go rialta chun an Ghaeilge a labhairt, eagraítear seachtain na Gaeilge gach bliain agus eagraítear Déardaoin na Gaeilge ar bhonn rialta. Sna naíonáin agus sna bunranganna spreagtar na daltaí chun an teanga a úsáid le rainn agus le habairtí i suímh réalaíocha. Baintear dea-úsáid as teicneolaíocht nua chun aire a dhíriú ar an teanga atá le múineadh. Cuirtear leis an gcur chuige seo sna meánranganna leis an úsáid an-éifeachtach a bhaintear as an teicneolaíocht seo chun ceachtanna comhrá a mhúineadh. Sna hardranganna múintear an comhrá go críochnúil le múinteoireacht dhíreach agus athrá agus slua-aithris san áireamh. Múintear abairtí leanúnacha i bhfoirm scéil bunaithe ar eachtraí ag tarlú timpeall na ndaltaí. Ansan, cuirtear teanga an scéil i bhfeidhm tré dhrámaíocht. B’fhiú anois na nósanna difriúla múinteoireachta a phlé chun go roinnfí an dea-chleahtas a chonacthas i ranganna difriúla. De bharr suim na n-oidí sa teanga agus an dea-chleachtas múinteoireachta don chomhrá, tá na daltaí báúil leis an gcoincheap d’fhoghlaim na Gaeilge agus de bharr san baintear caighdeáin arda amach.
Léann agus pléann na daltaí giotaí oiriúnacha go cumasach tríd an scoil agus tá sé i gceist i roinnt ranganna tabhairt faoi úrscéalta Gaeilge anois. Moltar go mór an nós seo agus b’fhéidir go bhféadfaí úrscéalta Gaeilge a thógaint isteach sna scéimeanna léitheoireachta níos luaithe sa bhliain. B’fhiú na húrscéalta úd a iniúchadha mar bhunchloch do chleachtadh an chomhrá agus na scríbhneoireachta cruthaithí. Moltar na caighdeáin arda a bhaintear amach sa léitheoireacht sa scoil seo. Ó thaobh na scríbhneoireachta de, deintear cleachtadh rialta ar an scríbhneoireacht tríd an scoil ach i roinnt ranganna tá gá le habairtí i sraith leanúnach a chleachtadh. I roinnt ranganna chomh maith tá teorainn ag baint leis an méid atá scríofa agus le raon na dtopaicí. B’fhiú don fhoireann na poinntí seo a phlé d’fhonn córas níos leithne a chur i bhfeidhm.
(The dedication of the teachers in promoting Irish is commendable. Teachers come together regularly to practise speaking Irish, Irish Week is organised every year and Irish Thursday is organised on a regular basis. In the infants and junior classes, the pupils are encouraged to use the language by the teaching of rhymes and of phrases related to the life of the pupils. New technologies are used to focus the attention of the pupils on the language to be taught. This approach is expanded upon in the middle classes with the very effective use that is made of this technology for lessons in conversational Irish. In the senior classes, conversational Irish is taught skilfully by means of direct methodologies. In this context, sentences are taught in the form of a story based on events that are within the experience of the pupils. The language of the story is then practised in drama. In order to help teachers profit from each other’s experience, it would be worthwhile for the staff to discuss the different very positive approaches to teaching Irish conversation outlined above. Due to both the interest of the teachers in the language and the good teaching methodologies employed, pupils are sympathetic to the concept of learning Irish and overall high standards are achieved.
Pupils read and discuss suitable extracts in Irish effectively in the school and it is now proposed in some classes to introduce Irish novels. This practice is highly commended and the school should consider commencing this practice earlier in the school year. It would be worthwhile to consider such books as foundations for extended work in conversational Irish and creative writing in Irish. The high standards achieved in reading in this school are to be praised. Pupils are given opportunities for regular practice of their writing skills in Irish throughout the school. However, in some classes there is a need for more extensive practice of continuous writing. In some classes, the quantity of writing done and the range of topics addressed are limited. It is recommended that the staff discuss this matter to put a more extensive programme in place.
During the WSE process a number of key concepts emerged that epitomised the strengths of this school as regards English teaching. The pupils in this school are confident and friendly communicators. They formulate opinions with ease, they speak confidently and courteously to adults in class and they participate in group-activities in an imaginative and genuinely collaborative manner. The second concept that emerged was that there is a culture of reading in the school. This culture is not only outlined in the whole school plan for English, but is reinforced in activities such as book week, shared reading week, book and art week and Red Kettle Theatre visits. The third concept is that this school cultivates imaginative response in writing.
The development of confident speakers begins in the infant and junior classes where pupils engage in learning a rhyme every week, listen to stories and develop listening skills through big book activities. The infant teachers have devised sound techniques to develop discussion based on an integrated curriculum. In the middle and junior classes there is a laudable emphasis on language across the curriculum and in particular oral English is featured strongly in SPHE and Drama lessons. The momentum is carried through to senior classes where pupils speak with confidence and display higher order thinking skills in approaching discussion topics either in groups or as a class.
The reading culture has its roots in the infant and junior classes where pupils encounter a print rich environment and early reading is based on language experience charts and use of big books. Early in their school life pupils are introduced to class novels, discrete personal library reading time and interpersonal shared reading activities. This vein is followed in middle and senior classes where literature plays a key role in teacher planning and curriculum implementation.
The foundation skills for the cultivation of the imaginative written response are laid in the infants classes where the teachers model writing skills and develop the pupils’ fine motor skills. The cultivation of imaginative response begins in earnest in the junior classes where pupils write reviews of poems and use scaffolding techniques to write their own poems based on those reviews or on other poems read. In the middle classes pupils experience a variety of writing activities and the senior classes mark a culmination of earlier work in that pupils have written their own poems to a very high standard and in doing this demonstrate high standards in the command of language. Pupils have also written their own books which again display imaginative use of language. From an early age pupils are taught to use ICT to draft stories.
The whole school approach to teaching Mathematics is commended, in particular activities that include Science and Maths week, the integration of Mathematics with real life, especially during multi-cultural day and the visit to Waterford Institute of Technology during Mathematics Week. In its school plan, the school has identified certain components of the Mathematics curriculum for treatment on a whole school basis. These include: the development of common approaches to problem solving, an emphasis on real life contexts for lessons, the use of resources and a practical approach, the standardisation of mathematical language throughout the school, the standardisation of procedures and processes for arithmetic, an emphasis on use of equipment and early intervention for pupils with learning difficulties or special educational needs.
It was very clear during the WSE process that the emphases of the school plan in Mathematics were being implemented with great care and consideration in all classes. Positive examples observed included pupils in infants classes using a class shop for number activities and using real money, all pupils in junior classes using clocks for lessons on time, the learning support teacher giving in-class help during Mathematics time. In addition, the teachers of infants and junior classes are very aware of the need to cultivate a life-long interest in Mathematics from the beginning of the pupil’s school life and therefore learning is paced carefully and pupils come to understanding in a series of small steps thereby engendering a sense of achievement in the pupils. Teachers ensure that learning has taken place through regular assessment and the maintenance of records of progress.
There is laudable continuity of approaches for pupils when they progress to the middle and senior classes. For example, teachers in these classes have prepared Mathematics areas with resources and samples of pupils’ work. During the WSE it was observed in the middle/senior classes that resources from the Mathematics areas were used for investigations where pupils worked collaboratively, recorded findings, discussed results and reached conclusions. This is highly commendable practice. As was the case in the infants/junior section of the school, teachers in the middle/senior section valued assessment as a means of ensuring ongoing learning was taking place. As a whole school policy, assessment of progress takes place on the last Thursday of every month. This is a commendable approach to assessment.
The activities on a whole school level in Visual Arts are impressive. For example, the pupils were involved in designing the playground. The school has established a Digital Camera Club and is involved in the national Fís project aimed at introducing the study of film in primary school. The school has already won a National Media Award and teachers have attended a digital video editing course. Artists and sculptors are invited into the school regularly to help with particular art projects. In addition, the Friday Challenge, already mentioned in another context above, emphasises parent and child working together on a creative investigation. The results of these challenges can take the form of a collaborative art project between parent and child.
Throughout the school, the parents are very involved in helping with art lessons. All the art lessons observed during the WSE were aided by parents and it is accepted practice in the school. The teachers are to be commended for their openness to parental support in this area and there is no doubt that the extra help ensures lessons run smoothly and efficiently. There is also no doubt that this team approach to teaching Art contributes to the high standard of display throughout the school.
Pupils with special educational needs, including visual impairment, are given well planned support during Art lessons. In this context, the teacher, parent and the special needs assistant work as a team to ensure all pupils in a class derive a sense of achievement from the set task. Throughout the school, careful attention is paid to the development of artistic language and the integration of Art with other areas of the curriculum is undertaken in a meaningful and purposeful way. During the WSE, it was observed that Art was integrated successfully with many other areas of the curriculum.
A wide range of assessment instruments are used in the school. The school makes good use of both screening and diagnostic tests that include Bellfield, MIST, Quest, Micra T and Sigma T. During 2007-2008, the school will draw up a school plan for assessment. As part of this process, it is recommended that the school could analyse the results of standardised tests over time in order to build up a comprehensive picture of achievement in the school. Teachers keep careful records and ensure that the messages contained in test results are acted on for the benefit of pupils.
The learning support and special educational needs teachers maintain useful checklists for each pupil and a template for consultation with the class teacher. The teachers maintain folders of daily planning notes, individual plans for pupils and records of parent/teacher meetings. The teachers also maintain carefully the results of tests undertaken for both screening and diagnostic purposes. Therefore, all teachers in this section of the school approach their tasks fully prepared and fully informed as to the needs of the pupils in their care.
The school takes seriously its response to pupils with special educational needs. The teachers, special needs assistants and the parents work together in a spirit of mutual support for the benefit of the pupils. For example, in a particular case, care is taken when positioning a child with visual impairment in the classroom to ensure the optimum lighting conditions prevail. The classroom is organised carefully to assist this pupil and much of classroom visual display is at a height that enables the pupil to see it. Factors such as mobility, orientation, independence training and daily living skills are all features of the approach in this school.
The openness of communication channels in Waterford Educate Together NS is particularly beneficial in the area of special needs education. Teachers are fully briefed as to the needs of the pupils in their care and the mix of in-class and out-of-class support ensures that special needs pupils are being helped to integrate with rather than separate from their peers. The teachers in this context bring many positive attributes to the task and in one class it was observed that a teacher with particular IT skills was helping a pupil work independently by aiding the pupil make powerpoint presentations of his project research, word process and insert images into a multi-media project. This is highly commendable practice.
In this school, the special needs assistants play a valuable role in ensuring that the policy of integrating pupils with special needs into the mainstream work of the school is carried out successfully.
In developing its policy on learning support the board is reminded to consult with Departmental guidelines contained in the document, Learning Support Guidelines (DES, 2000).
The school welcomes pupils from different nationalities and language support is provided for them. The school is constantly seeking ways to ensure that the process of integration for the pupils and their parents is as smooth a process as possible. To this end the school is preparing an information booklet in Polish. In the language support programmes followed suitable emphasis is placed on phonics and vocabulary development and much emphasis is placed on the acquisition of functional words and prepositions. The teacher uses IT extensively to prepare resources and weekly meetings are held with class teacher to discuss targets. The work is inclusive of cultures and there is discernible variety in the teaching methods employed. The pupils are making good progress in the acquisition of English.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The school has very positive communications processes.
· The board, staff, parents association and development group work very effectively as a team for the good of the school.
· The school has made a commendable effort to produce effective and user-friendly policies.
· The school has reason to be proud of its results in Irish, English, Mathematics and Visual Arts.
· The cooperation of parents during reading activities and Visual Arts activities contributes to the school’s success in these areas.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· The school should ensure parents are aware of their rights under Section 29 in its enrolment policy.
· The school should review its data protection policy to ensure no documentation on an individual child is handed over to a third party without parental permission.
· The staff should look at its policy on scríbhneoireacht Gaeilge.