Department of Education and Science
An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Whole School Evaluation
Bóthar na hAbhann Móire, Tamhlacht,
Baile Átha Cliath 24
Roll Number: 19646G
Date of inspection: 11 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Santain. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school work as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a period of a number of days during which the inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, evaluated the pupils’ work and interacted with class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met 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; a response was not received from the board.
Scoil Santain is a Catholic Gaelscoil located in Tallaght in County Dublin. The school is under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin and An Cumann Gaelach, Tamhlacht. The school was established in 1979 when An Cumann Gaelach developed an action plan to provide all-Irish education locally. Since then, education through the medium of Irish is provided to boys and girls from the area from infants to sixth class. The last school report was furnished in 1993.
The school has designated disadvantaged status since 1994 and accordingly receives additional services and resources. The school is supported by the Giving Children an Even Break initiative and benefits from the additional teachers employed to implement the scheme’s guidelines. The school participates in The Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative and German is taught to pupils in fifth and sixth class.
The school’s vision is to promote an Irish-speaking learning environment which is happy, pleasant and stimulating for every child. The school has a Catholic ethos but it welcomes children from all religions. According to its mission statement, the school nurtures the self-confidence of the children and they are encouraged to show respect for others. The Irish language is recognised as an integral part of the country’s cultural heritage and the school aims to develop the children’s spoken ability in Irish and English so that they will be bilingual.
There are 306 children enrolled in the school at present. The teaching staff consists of 18 full-time teachers, including the principal, and two shared teachers based in other schools in the area. Pupil enrolment has increased significantly since the school was established in 1979. More than 500 children were enrolled at one stage. Although enrolment has now decreased, it is expected that an enrolment of 300 will remain steady for some time. School attendance is satisfactory for the majority of pupils. When attendance problems occur, the school contacts parents, but additional strategies to encourage daily attendance should now be developed.
The board of management undertakes its work effectively and board members provide ongoing support to the teaching staff for the benefit of the children. Meetings are held about once a month and the chairperson of the board maintains regular contact with the school. Members of the board undertake various duties as appropriate. They have attended a training course organised by the Catholic Primary School Managers’ Association (CPSMA) but they would now welcome additional training as the board’s membership has changed. The board of management conducts its business through Irish and English depending on the linguistic ability of the members. They maintain accurate minutes of meetings and school accounts are certified annually.
The board ensures that Departmental regulations regarding the length of the school day and the school year are observed. With regard to class size, however, the maximum number of children has been exceeded in some classes. This practice should be reviewed to ensure that the school is complying with the guidelines of the Giving Children an Even Break initiative systematically.
Board members participate in whole-school planning activities. In compliance with its duty under the Education Act 1998, the board of management ensures that statutory policies are contained in the school plan. Draft curriculum policies are submitted to the board. The board of management regularly reviews policies and these are displayed in the school hall. Other policies are recorded in an information booklet which is circulated regularly to parents. It is recommended that the board of management approve and sign all school policies as they are ratified. The board’s current priority is the refurbishment of the building and they are to be highly praised for their success in this work. The board of management is concerned about the amount of damage caused to the school building and surroundings through vandalism. It is hoped that this will improve when the school refurbishment is completed.
Members of the board of management express their satisfaction with the teachers’ work. The board supports teachers in their work through the provision of resources and assistance in their professional development. The principal praises the interest of the board in all school activities and she highly commends them for their continuing support.
The in-school management team consists of the principal, deputy principal, assistant principal and six teachers with special duties posts. The principal succeeds in fostering a welcoming atmosphere in the school and on the whole the staff work co-operatively. The principal displays an accurate understanding of the educational standard reached by the children in the various classes. She commends the work of the teaching staff in managing pupil behaviour recently and reports that this has led to improvement in discipline and behaviour in the school in general. The principal recognises that the challenge now is to raise the level of achievement of the children in various aspects of the curriculum.
The duties associated with the various posts of responsibility are clearly recorded in the school plan and they are consistent with the guidelines outlined in Circular 07/03 regarding curricular, administrative and pastoral duties. The in-school management team work conscientiously to ensure the school’s progress. Meetings are convened before each staff meeting to discuss agendas for meetings. The team works effectively to provide learning resources, to organise the school plan and to foster good behaviour. A review of the duties attached to posts of responsibility is now recommended to ensure that the whole staff benefits from specific curriculum leadership identified as a central part of each post of responsibility.
Teaching duties are allocated carefully and teachers are given the opportunity to gain experience of teaching different classes from year to year. Three full-time resource teachers and one part-time resource teacher work as a special needs team and the home/school/community liaison coordinator provides support to various families in the school three days a week. The professional development of teachers is advanced through the School Development Planning Initiative and the Primary Curriculum Support Programme. Two special needs assistants, one full-time and one part-time, provide support for children with special education needs. The effective support of the secretary and caretaker is apparent in the order and organisation which is observed in the school. Three cleaners employed by the board of management clean the school building on a daily basis. Three external tutors are employed to teach dancing, German and chess.
Usually staff meetings are held monthly. The leadership ability of teachers is developed by rotating the duty of chairperson regularly. It is clear from the minutes that were available during the evaluation that curricular and educational matters and administrative issues are discussed during staff meetings.
The school building, which has accommodated Scoil Santain since 1988, was constructed about 40 years ago. The board of management makes every effort to provide an appropriate learning environment for the school’s pupils. In recent years the school building has been refurbished and repaired. Large-scale refurbishment and building work is ongoing at the moment and this work will continue until April 2007. During the evaluation six prefabs as well as eight permanent classrooms were being used for class teaching. There were also two administrative offices and one prefab in use as a Naíonra (playgroup) in the school. The support teachers worked in small rooms and in offices throughout the school. A fine hall is available for the teaching of physical education and dancing and a suitable yard is available at the rear of the school. Despite the ongoing refurbishment work, a clean, neat environment is provided, and stimulating visual arts work is displayed throughout the school. An attractive learning environment is created in some classrooms but this good practice should be extended throughout the school.
A wide range of Arts, Science and Music resources and Mathematics and Physical Education equipment is provided. A significant range of resources is availalbe in the infants’ classrooms and these are used productively. In some of the middle and senior classes, resources are used on a regular basis to reinforce teaching. A library is provided in some classrooms with suitable books in both languages and senior classes make regular use of the public library. The entire school library was burned in 2003. It is now timely to complete a comprehensive audit of all the resources available in the school and to make greater use of the various resources throughout the school. The range of library books in the classes should also be extended so that all pupils will have access to interesting books appropriate to their ability.
Responsibility for information and communications technology (ICT) has been assigned to a member of the in-school management team. At present 30 computers are available and a computer room was in use until refurbishment work commenced. At present, there is one computer in some classes and computers are also used to support the learning of children with special education needs. It is recommended that greater use be made of computers in the classrooms to enhance teaching and to support children with learning difficulties.
The school has an active parents’ association and they display interest in all the school’s activities. The business of the association is conducted through English. The inspectors met with representatives of the association during the evaluation. They expressed satisfaction with the management of the school, the teaching, the broad curriculum provided and the communication between the school and the parents. They value the open atmosphere of the school and they report that they can arrange meetings with teachers or the principal by appointment. Although a formal newsletter is not issued, parents are kept informed through notices and notes which are sent home. Members of the parents’ association participated in school planning committees when a code of behaviour and bullying was compiled. During discussion, the parents mentioned their concern about vandalism in the school’s vicinity. They support the school in financial matters. They play an active role in school activities and they attend activities organised by the home/school/community liaison coordinator. The training and opportunities offered to parents to take part in the education of their children during their school life is commended. Effective use is made of the Forward Together programme to develop the children’s literacy skills with the parents’ assistance. Through this work, a positive attitude is fostered towards schooling and towards reading. A high level of collaboration is evident amongst teachers, parents and children, and the work is undertaken with enthusiasm and diligence. Although this early intervention programme has only just commenced, the teachers believe that the work will be successful, especially for children who are marginal in their learning. The diligence and effort expended on the establishment of this helpful programme is commended. The parents provide effective support to their children in the middle and senior classes also by engaging in shared mathematical activities with them in the classrooms. Various courses and talks are organised regularly for parents and home visits are organised from time to time. Prior to the refurbishment, the school building was used after school hours to organise dancing, music and drama classes as well as a table tennis club and Santain Fun Club and it is hoped that these will resume on completion of the work. Annual parent teacher meetings are held to inform parents of their children’s progress and written reports are sent to them at the end of the school year.
A positive relationship exists between teachers and children and teachers succeed in creating a calm learning atmosphere in the classrooms. The school’s code of behaviour and bullying is implemented effectively in the various classes. Commendable emphasis is placed on the children’s good behaviour and as a result the children are to be praised for their good manners and their efforts to learn.
It is apparent that the teaching staff, members of the board of management and parents participate in the whole-school planning process and that this has been the practice since 1999 when the school received support from the School Development Planning Initiative. It is mainly the teachers who undertake curriculum planning work but parents and members of the board participate in the development of organisational policies when appropriate. Creditable progress has been made on organisational policies and they are laid out clearly and available in one folder. An enrolment policy, behaviour and discipline code, anti-bullying policy, health and safety policy and equality policy (Equal Status Act 2000) are available, together with draft policies on management and staff development, health education, and school attendance. The effectiveness of the planning process is evident in the manner in which the safety statement was amended while the school refurbishment is taking place. A policy on support for children with special needs was developed recently. It is recommended that the board of management review the school’s enrolment policy in order to clarify the procedures for selection of children for the infant classes. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions of Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection: Guidelines and Procedures (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Teachers in posts of responsibility have developed policies in nearly all aspects of the curriculum. A folder of curriculum policies, available in the principal’s office, confirms that the approaches and methodologies section of the curriculum have been examined and that work has commenced on the provision of a resource list. In these policies general guidelines are provided in relation to storytelling, poetry and the start of reading in Irish and English and in relation to teaching methods, progress and the use of language in Mathematics. However, the guidance provided in some policies lacks clarity and the policies are not being implemented during teaching. It is recommended that the various policies should now be developed and a continuous learning programme laid out which includes the skills and concepts to be developed at the various class levels and the resources available for each class. It is recommended that curriculum committees be established to undertake this work so that each teacher will participate and so that the implementation phase will be regularly monitored and assessed.
The majority of the teachers engage in long-term and short-term planning to support teaching. In general, the content of lessons is based on curriculum strands but the learning objectives and new material to be taught should be clarified. Monthly progress reports indicate that a balanced curriculum is provided in some classes. When curriculum committees are established and a continuous learning programme is set out for the various curriculum areas, it is recommended that the teachers’ individual planning be based on the policies in the whole-school plan. Inidividual education programmes are prepared for the children attending the learning support/resource teachers. These teachers consult informally with the class teachers regarding the children’s learning needs.
A school plan is available for the teaching of Irish and it is clear that the teachers have spent a good deal of time acquiring resources for the plan. These resources should now be utilised to develop a step-by-step programme of work from class to class. It is recommended that the material to be taught in each class be clarified to ensure that learning in every aspect of the language is developmental.
The children display a very good understanding of the language and in general the teachers succeed in fosterng a positive attitude to it. The children are afforded a great many opportunities to hear and acquire the language as this is a Gaelscoil. In the junior classes, progress is evident regarding the spoken ability of the children. During the evaluation, effective practice was observed in relation to the graded development of language and this practice should now be extended throughout the school. To this end, further reflection on a whole staff basis on teaching methods and on the setting out of teaching content in a graded manner is necessary. Opportunities to speak are regularly created in the middle and senior classes during the Irish lessons but there is a need to extend the children’s vocabulary and to nurture their linguistic richness during discrete language lessons. An appropriate emphasis is placed on vocabulary development in the other areas of the curriculum.
Children’s pre-reading skills are effectively developed in the infant classes and resources are appropriately used for this purpose. This good practice should now be built on and extended throughout the school. The school is to be highly commended for involving parents in the development of their children’s reading. A range of texts and novels is used in some of the other classes and appropriate discussion of the reading material is undertaken. However the reading skills of the children should be further developed by teaching phonological skills, reading for knowledge, practising silent reading and using a wider range of reading material.
Appropriate emphasis is placed on teaching basic writing skills in the infant classes. A high standard of handwriting is available in some of these classes with children writing simple sentences with guidance. A variety of functional written tasks are practised throughout the school and this helps to develop the children’s writing skills. It is clear from examples of creative work observed that progress is made in writing ability from class to class. This work would have even better results if the children were provided with opportunities to practice personal writing in different styles depending on their reading ability. Additional emphasis should be placed on the presentation of material with regard to handwriting, punctuation and spelling, and it is recommended that examples of the children’s work be displayed throughout the school. Emphasis should be placed on a whole-school approach to the writing process.
Children in some classes perform a fine repertoire of verses and poems in a pleasant and spirited manner. However clarification should be made in the school plan on a whole-school approach to the learning of poetry and an anthology of poetry should be provided for each class level. The children are given regular spelling tests and in general appropriate monitoring of written work occurs. The staff should now investigate the availability and use of additional evaluation resources in Irish, to inform the whole-school planning process.
In general the development of English language skills is confined to discrete English lessons. Teaching is guided by the principles underpinning the Primary School Curriculum 1999 but a whole-school approach to the implementation of the curriculum has not yet been developed. Practice in relation to delivery of the various strands of the curriculum varies.
Formal structures effectively used to enhance children’s oral language skills need to be extended throughout the school to ensure that the skills are developed progressively from year to year. Where good practice was observed, suitable stimuli were used to enrich expressive language skills, and confident ability in using age appropriate language was apparent. Formal programmes such as Twenty Steps to Language Development were a basis for lessons in a small number of classes. Attention now needs to be given to designing a discrete oral language programme to ensure continuity and progression throughout the school. The sharing of good practice regarding the use of formal programmes should be included in this programme.
The teaching of word recognition skills is a feature of practice in teaching reading in infant and junior classes. Structured programmes such as Letterland and Phonological Awareness Training (PAT) and various strategies support the teaching of phonics to some extent. In general, good practice was observed and children displayed initial phonological awareness. It is important that the teaching of reading and of pre-reading skills take account of the principles of language teaching whereby the teaching of reading in each language is introduced discretely. The engagement of children from the infant classes in shared reading and the wide range of books available to support this are praiseworthy. The provision of a variety of reading texts such as newspaper articles, poems, novels and extracts for children in middle classes is noteworthy. In junior and middle classes children generally read with acceptable fluency and accuracy. The use of class novels to enhance interest and ability in reading is to be commended. It is important that this good practice is embedded in the school plan and becomes a central feature of practice in all classes throughout the year. Effective exploration of new vocabulary in reading was observed in a few classes. However, further probing of the content of reading with emphasis on skill development such as retelling, sequencing, comprehension and predicting should now be addressed. A number of children in senior classes experience difficulty in reading class text. It is important in this context to match tasks to children’s ability and to engage in differentiated practice. The use of dictionaries as a core resource for all children in middle and senior classes is advisable. The practice of displaying library books attractively and of visiting the local library is commendable.
A print rich environment in infant classes supports the development of early writing skills. The teaching of letter formation is well undertaken in infant and in junior classes and opportunities for personal writing are in evidence. In middle and senior classes children engage in a range of functional writing tasks and some opportunities are provided to develop personal and creative writing ability. Presentation of written tasks in many classes is of a high standard and work is regularly monitored. Focus on the writing process and on the use of ICT to further develop children’s writing skills, both personal and independent, is now recommended.
Poetry is used conscientiously as a stimulus and to reinforce learning in many classes. A list of core poems for each class should now be compiled so that children will access and experience a collection of suitable poetry during their years in school.
German is taught to children in fifth and sixth class. The learning programme is adapted to suit the age and interests of the children and the lessons are based on stimulating themes. On the whole the children enjoy the activities and it is clear that their understanding of the language is being developed. Their vocabulary is also improving and it is reported that this basic work helps the children to develop a positive attitude in preparation for learning the language in secondary school.
Active methodologies are successfully used in some junior classes during the Mathematics lessons. In these classes, concrete materials are used to enhance understanding of concepts, mathematical vocabulary is taught and the children display understanding of the appropriate use of the language. All strands of the curriculum are taught and written work, which is recorded neatly in copybooks and workbooks, is regularly monitored. When questioned, the majority of children displayed suitable understanding of the concepts and were able to solve simple oral problems.
In general, lessons and teaching in the senior classes are based on the textbooks. The school has identified the fact that some children in senior classes have difficulties in learning Mathematics and therefore learning support teachers take a group of children for the teaching of Mathematics. Good practice was observed regarding oral work at the start of lessons in certain classes and it is recommended that this best practice be extended throughout the school. It is evident however, that many children have significant difficulties in answering questions related to basic concepts in various strands of the curriculum, especially in solving oral problems. The learning programmes need to be adapted to the abilities of the children and group teaching should be practised to implement the programme. To this end it is recommended that all class teachers take full responsibility for the teaching of Mathematics for their class and that help should be available from the learning support/resource teachers within the children’s classroom. The school is to be praised for the organisation of mathematical games with the parents and the children in the classrooms to provide additional support to enable pupils to internalise mathematical concepts. Standardised tests are used annually in Mathematics and it is recommended that the results of these tests be used as a basis for the provision of a differentiated approach to teaching.
The teachers succeed in fostering a positive attitude towards History. They make appropriate use of various methodologies to improve the children’s understanding and to develop their skills as historians. Teaching is prudently based on the children’s environment and visits are made to historical sites. Clever integration is made with other curriculum areas and projects are used to expand the learning experience of the children.
The teachers are to be praised for the effective teaching of Geography which was observed in a number of classes during the evaluation. A wide range of equipment and display materials is provided to strengthen the development of skills. Productive use is made of group work and projects to foster the children’s participation. Teaching content is adapted to the children’s interests and is appropriately integrated with other areas of the curriculum.
There was a good structure to the Science lessons observed during the evaluation. Lesson content suited the age of the pupils and they demonstrated good understanding of the concepts being developed. It is evident from teachers’ individual planning that the investigative skills of the children are fostered during the activities and that they are encouraged to predict, to test and to record. The children’s participation is encouraged through group work and pair work. A nature table is provided in certain classes to encourage interest in the plant environment.
It is clear from the evidence available in the children’s art folders and through samples of art work on display throughout the school that the children are afforded the opportunity to learn and practice various art techniques. The teachers are to be praised for the manner in which children’s individuality and creativity is nurtured during the learning activities in the various strands of the curriculum. The environment is used as a stimulus for some of the lessons and aspects of the Visual Arts are used to enhance learning in other curriculum areas.
The children enjoy singing a pleasant repertoire of songs and music is used to enhance learning in various aspects of the curriculum. It is commendable that children are given the opportunity to participate in the school choir to celebrate at public events. Children in the middle and senior classes play a wide range of tunes on the tin whistle. Consideration should now be given to using the playing of the tin whistle to develop the children’s music literacy skills. Children’s rhythmic abilities are extended through the use of percussion instruments and body percussion. The listening strand of the music curriculum is cleverly integrated with other curriculum areas. Teachers’ monthly progress records suggest delivery of the various strands of the music curriculum.
Effective use is made of drama as a teaching methodology during lessons in various aspects of the curriculum. In the teaching of drama itself, productive use is made of a range of supports to stimulate the children’s imagination and creativity. Children’s co-operative skills and self-confidence are systematically developed during the work. The teachers are to be commended for the opportunities provided for the children to visit the local theatre regularly. A valuable start has been made in developing the children’s dramatic skills and the teachers should benefit from the training which will be available in this area during in-service next year.
The various strands of the Physical Education curriculum are implemented. Lessons are well-structured and organised in an orderly manner, and the children enjoy what they learn. External coaches provide support for the teaching of football and swimming and a external tutor teaches Irish dancing. School teams take part in sports leagues in football, hurling, soccer and camogie. Available resources are appropriately used to support the implementation of the programme.
The teachers in this school cultivate pleasant relationships with the children and a positive atmosphere is evident in the classes. Respect and esteem for themselves and for others is nurtured and the total development of the child is fostered. Throughout the learning activities during the day, their listening and communication skills are improved. Well-structured discrete lessons are based on the child’s environment and their self-confidence is conscientiously developed. Aspects of formal programmes such as Stay Safe and Misneach are taught.
The teachers are to be praised for the wide range of evaluation tools used in the school to monitor children’s achievement in reading and Mathematics and to identify children with learning difficulties. Amongst the instruments are the teacher’s own observations, pupil profiling, checklists, tests and tasks compiled by teachers, standardised tests, and tests from the textbooks. In the junior classes the Middle Infants Screening Test (MIST) is used to select children for the Forward Together programme and in the middle and senior classes the Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT), Drumcondra Primary Reading Test (DPRT) and Drumcondra Primary Mathematics Test (DPMT) are used to assess the children’s achievement in Mathematics and English reading. In the junior classes the child’s progress is recorded regarding certain skills in Mathematics and word recognition and the formation of letters in reading and writing. In the senior classes regular tests in spelling and Mathematics are used and recording has commenced of individual children’s progress in aspects of the curriculum. It is recommended that additional use be made of the assessment results to adapt learning tasks for the different abilities of the children in each aspect of the curriculum.
In general the children engage actively in their own learning and the school has made significant progress in developing good behaviour in the children. There is a need now to pay additional attention to the attainment of a high standard of learning by each child. To this end, greater challenge must be created in the teaching so that all children will attain their full learning potential during their primary education period.
The special education team has devised a policy which guides practice regarding support for pupils with special educational needs throughout the school. The team consults informally with class teachers and the pupils’ achievement and progress are examined before children are selected for additional teaching. A range of standardised tests such as MIST, Quest, MICRA-T, DPRT and DPMT are used to diagnose pupils’ achievements. The team meets formally at the beginning of the year and in February and the teaching groups are changed if necessary. The board of management provides money to purchase resources and to pay for in-service courses for teachers providing support to pupils with special education needs. This practice is commendable and it is reported that teachers have recently availed of opportunities to attend courses. Effective use is made of computers and a range of learning resources during activities in some of the teaching.
Support in reading and in Mathematics is provided for children from senior infants to sixth class. This additional support is provided outside of the classroom. The teachers prepare learning programmes for the children attending the support service in consultation with the class teachers. In some of the programmes the learning objectives are clarified. In others, however, the objectives are very generalised. The approach to preparing learning programmes should be reviewed in order that the children themselves, their parents and the appropriate teachers participate in the development of the programmes. It is also recommended that specific objectives be recorded in the context of a definite period of time and that teaching strategies be identified and recorded to achieve the objectives. Effective practice was noted regarding teaching during the evaluation and these effective strategies should now be extended. In keeping with the recommendations in the Learning Support Guidelines it is recommended that further emphasis be placed on providing support within the classrooms.
The school welcomes children from all backgrounds and has as its aim that every child should enjoy and benefit from school life. Each child is provided with opportunities to take part in school activities and in additional curricular activities. As it is a Gaelscoil, attention is paid to developing each child’s communication ability in Irish.
Due to the additional teachers on the staff, the number of children in the junior classes is reduced and therefore teachers are given opportunities to organise active work and to nurture an interest in and positive attitude towards education. Healthy eating is encouraged in the school through the provision of healthy meals for each child at break time every day. The meals are provided with grant aid from the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive.
The school deserves great praise for the manner in which parents are welcome to participate in reading activities, mathematical games and the use of the Forward Together programme to support their children. The teachers are to be commended also for the liaison made with parents during the home visits and the formal and informal contacts during the year.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.