Independent External School Evaluation



School name

Willow Park

Junior School

School address

Rock Road


County Dublin

Date of evaluation: 11 October 2019

Date of issue of report: 04 November 2019

INDEPENDENT EXTERNAL SCHOOL EVALUATION reports on the quality of teaching and learning and on the quality of management and leadership in the school. It affirms good practice and makes recommendations to aid the further development of educational provision in the school.


During this inspection, the inspectors evaluated and reported under the following headings or areas of enquiry:

  1. The quality of pupils’ learning
  2. The quality of teaching
  3. The quality of support for pupils’ well-being
  4. The quality of leadership and management
  5. The quality of school self-evaluation


During the inspection visit, the following checks in relation to the school’s child protection procedures were conducted:

  1. The name of the DLP and the Child Safeguarding Statement are prominently displayed near the main entrance to the school.
  2. The Child Safeguarding Statement has been ratified by the board and includes an annual review and a risk assessment.
  3. All teachers visited reported that they have read the Child Safeguarding Statement and that they are aware of their responsibilities as mandated persons.
  4. The Child Safeguarding Statement meets the requirements of the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools 2017.
  5. The records of the last three board of management meetings record a child protection oversight report that meet the requirements of the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary schools 2017.
  6. The board of management has ensured that arrangements are in place to provide information to all school personnel on the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools, 2017
  7. School planning documentation indicates that the school is making full provision for the relevant aspects of the curriculum (SPHE, Stay Safe, RSE, Wellbeing).
  8. Child protection records are maintained in a secure location.

The school met the requirements in relation to each of the checks above.


Date of inspection

11 October 2019

Inspection activities undertaken

  • Meetings with principal, deputy principal and in-school leadership team
  • Meeting with chairperson of the board of management
  • Meeting with teachers
  • Meeting with parents’ association representatives
  • Observation of teaching and learning
  • Examination of pupils’ work
  • Interaction with pupils
  • Feedback to principal, deputy principal and teachers, and to chairperson of the board of management
  • Review of relevant documents


Willow Park Junior School operates under the trusteeship of the Spiritan Congregation and the overall patronage of the Spiritan Education Trust (SET). This private, fee-paying Catholic school caters for boys from junior infants to sixth form and is located adjacent to Willow Park Senior School on the grounds of Blackrock College in County Dublin. The teaching staff comprises an administrative principal, an administrative deputy principal, twenty-five mainstream class teachers, and four and a half teaching posts for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). There are two furtherposts in Physical Education, one and a half in Music, one in French, and one in Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The current enrolment is 625 boys. Overall patterns of pupil attendance are very good.



  • The quality of pupils’ learning experiences is very good. Pupils demonstrate very high levels of interest and participation. Learner experiences are significantly enhanced through the respectful and nurturing relationships cultivated by all teachers and through the wide range of sporting and other extra-curricular activities provided.
  • The quality of teaching overall is effective, with exemplary pedagogical practice evident in some contexts; there is scope to enhance aspects of individual teachers’ short-term planning, recording of progress, and collaborative teaching approaches.
  • Learning outcomes in numeracy and English literacy are very good and pupil attainment in these areas is in line with or exceeds expectations; there is scope to improve learning outcomes in Irish literacy.
  • Provision for pupils with SEN is satisfactory; the prominence of the withdrawal model of support and the deployment of supplementary teaching staff require revision.
  • The quality of assessment is good, and formative and summative assessment data is compiled across all form levels; available data could be utilised in a more focused way and assessment for learning (AfL) approaches are not yet embedded.
  • The overall quality of care and support for pupils’ well-being is exceptionally high and pupil behaviour is exemplary. The holistic development of all pupils is central to the work of the school.
  • The quality of leadership and management is good overall with strong governance provided by the board of management and there are empowering in-school leadership and management structures in place; aspects of strategic planning, curriculum development, teacher deployment, and leadership within whole-school provision for SEN require review.
  • The school has very good capacity for improvement and development; the potential of the formal school self-evaluation (SSE) process is not yet fully realised.


  • Whole-school provision for the teaching and learning of Irish literacy should be reviewed. Teachers should plan for and target the specific language objectives for Irish, teach them explicitly and provide further opportunities for the pupils to practice and consolidate the language in a variety of contexts. A developmental programme should be taught in oral language, reading and writing. Consideration should be given to the use of standardised assessment tools which would yield useful baseline data on pupil attainment.
  • Individual teachers’ short-term planning should clearly articulate specific curriculum objectives and related content, expected learning outcomes and skills development, and differentiated teaching strategies. Such plans should take close cognisance of the quality of pupil achievement and learning outcomes in previously completed work. Monthly progress reports should record retrospectively the portion of the programme covered across the strands and strand units of the curriculum.
  • Teachers in all settings should methodically analyse assessment data and pupil progress records to inform teaching and learning and identify opportunities for differentiation. Greater use should also be made of AfL approaches.
  • A review of the integrity of classroom timetables should be undertaken to ensure that, in line with best practice, teaching, learning and teacher-pupil contact time is maximised, and balanced time is allocated to all eleven areas of the Primary School Curriculum.
  • The current provision for SEN support should be reviewed, and the National Educational Psychological Support Service (NEPS) Continuum of Support model should be embedded, to optimise in-class support and collaborative station teaching, and ensure maximum impact on pupil learning outcomes, including pupils of high ability. The school should consider how leadership across SEN could be enhanced through the current middle management structure.



    • The learning achievements of pupils overall are very good. The student council gives a useful voice to pupils across the school and many opportunities are afforded them to engage in leadership roles to enhance their learning.
    • Pupils participate eagerly and make valued contributions to lessons. The opportunities provided for pupils in some settings to engage with key skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and decision making in collaborative groups are highly commendable. Where high quality learning outcomes were evident, the learning objective of the lesson was clearly explained to pupils and they were enabled to engage in challenging, suitably differentiated tasks.
    • Learning outcomes in numeracy are very good and pupils can articulate their learning and understanding of mathematical concepts and operations using an appropriate vocabulary. To further support engagement with real life mathematical problems, further use should be made of suitable concrete materials and resources.
    • Pupils use their oral language abilities very well in English and their oral proficiency is generally of an exceptionally high standard. Pupils demonstrate very positive attitudes to reading and they read fluently and with expression. The use of the SEN team in collaborative, in-class teaching roles, such as during Aistear framework, would enhance the development of explicit early literacy skills. There is scope to extend more widely across the school the high-quality output achieved by some pupils in terms of the content, style, presentation and range of genres in their writing tasks.
  • Tá scóip chun torthaí foghlama sa Ghaeilge litearthachta a fheabhsú ar bhonn uile scoile. Léiríonn formhór na ndaltaí dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge agus tá tuiscint mhaith ag roinnt acu ar an dteanga. Cuirtear béim chuíosach ar úsáid na teanga go neamhfhoirmiúil i ranganna áirithe. Tá an-chuid dalta ábalta ceisteanna a chur agus a fhreagairt go muiníneach. Tá stór maith focal aonair ag an-chuid dalta ach tá easpa líofachta agus easpa rann, dánta agus amhrán le feiscint trasna na scoile. Chun líofacht teanga na ndaltaí a fhorbairt a thuilleadh, b’fhiú deiseanna a thabhairt dóibh an Ghaeilge a chleachtadh i dtascanna fíorchumarsáideacha agus an teanga a úsáid i ngnéithe d’ábhair eile.
  • There is scope to enhance learning outcomes across the school in Irish literacy. The majority of pupils demonstrate a positive attitude to Irish and some have a good understanding of the language. An adequate emphasis is placed on using the language informally in a number of classrooms. A lot of pupils are able to pose and answer simple questions confidently. Many pupils have a good vocabulary of individual words but there is insufficient fluency and an inadequacy of rhymes, poems and songs across the school. To further develop pupils’ fluency, opportunities should be provided for them to use the language in authentic communicative tasks and in aspects of other subjects, where possible.
  • In the lessons observed in Physical Education, Visual Arts, and Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE), there was an appropriate balance between effective skill development, knowledge of content, and pupil participation in the learning experiences provided. It is commendable that pupils have opportunities to enrich their experience of Music through participation in school choirs and concerts. While performance in Music is a regular feature of school life, pupil progress across the strands Listening and Responding and Composing could be monitored more systematically across the school. The integrity of Drama as a curricular area should be strengthened across the school.


    • The overall quality of teaching is good with elements of highly effective, pupil-centred methodologies evident in a number of mainstream and SEN settings. Classroom management is generally of a very high standard. The school’s print-rich learning environments celebrate pupil endeavour and support teaching very effectively.
    • All teachers provide short-term plans, with varying degrees of detail. Recent changes to planning templates were made at whole-school level and the willingness of teachers to review their practice and plan collaboratively is noteworthy. However, there remains a need in short-term plans to clearly articulate expected learning outcomes and skills development linked with curriculum objectives, and to differentiate content and teaching strategies. Meaningful short-term planning should take close cognisance of the quality of pupil attainment and learning outcomes in previous work done thus ensuring appropriate continuity and progression. Monthly progress reports should record retrospectively the portion of the programme covered across the strands and strand units of the curriculum.
    • Where highly effective teaching was observed, teachers benchmarked curriculum objectives and taught well-structured, differentiated lessons using a range of methodologies and collaborative group-work to support pupil engagement. In such lessons, information and communications technology (ICT) was among a range of resources used to enable pupil research. Elsewhere, an over-reliance on textbooks and the completion of exercises in workbooks limited the effectiveness of teaching. It is advised that the use of such materials be reviewed.
    • Planning for pupils with SEN should identify specific, measurable, time-bound (SMART) targets where appropriate and pupil records should clearly indicate their progress through these SMART targets. Teaching methodologies should reflect key areas for development in pupil learning, in line with professional reports, where available, and with teacher and parent observations.
    • The overall quality of teaching in English literacy is very high. Comprehensive, whole-school planning for English guides the very effective practice noted in many of the lessons observed in both mainstream and SEN settings. Pupils are exposed to a very valuable range of English reading experiences and the school libraries are very well stocked.
  • Tá scóip chun múineadh na Gaeilge a fhorbairt agus modhanna múinte níos éifeachtaí a chur i bhfeidhm ar bhonn uile scoile mar tá neamhréireanna le feiscint. Soláthríodh tionscnaimh úsáideacha le déanaí agus tá iarrachtaí múinteoirí áirithe chun athbhreithniú agus caighdeáin a fheabhsú le moladh. Ba cheart struchtúr, luas agus ábhar gach cheacht a
    thástáil agus tús áite a thabhairt do dhaingniú scileanna cainte sa Ghaeilge. Tá scóip ann freisin chun modhanna múinte níos éifeachtaí a thabhairt isteach chun léitheoireacht agus chun obair scríofa na ndaltaí a fheabhsú. Moltar aistriúchán díreach a sheachaint de réir dea-chleachtais i múineadh teanga.
  • The teaching of Irish requires development as there are inconsistencies across the school regarding methodologies. Some useful initiatives have been introduced recently and the efforts made by some teachers to review and improve standards are highly commendable. The structure, pace and content of all lessons should now be examined, and teaching should allow for greater consolidation of oral Irish. There is also scope to introduce more effective teaching methodologies to develop pupils’ reading ability and written work in Irish. In keeping with best practice in language teaching, the use of direct translation should be largely avoided.
  • Further curriculum reform in both Irish and English language teaching will be strengthened through the provision of continuing professional development in the Primary Language Curriculum (PLC) which the school has planned for the 2019-2020 school year.
  • The teaching of numeracy is very effective and is characterised by clear explanation of mathematical concepts, the structured teaching of appropriate strategies and regular consolidation activities and revision.
  • The current piloting of stand-alone STEM lessons has resulted in a very valuable focus on problem solving and activity-based learning. However, in keeping with best practice, STEM teaching should be underpinned by an inter-disciplinary, cross-curricular approach to planning and curriculum implementation in collaborative mainstream settings.
  • Overall, the quality of assessment is good. A range of strategies is used to track and evaluate pupils’ learning, including standardised testing, teacher-designed tests, and correction of written work in copybooks. Available data could be utilised in a more focused way and, while there is some use of concept checklists and peer assessment, these and other AfL approaches could be extended to support pupils in reflecting on their learning. Comprehensive feedback on how to improve should be provided to all pupils.


  • The overall quality of support for pupils’ well-being is excellent. Pupil behaviour is exemplary. Relationships between all staff and pupils are characterised by empathy, understanding and mutual respect. Well-embedded supports are in place to enable teachers respond to pupils’ needs and foster positive personal and social development. The school’s team of classroom assistants fulfils an important role in supporting the pupils to develop independence. Pupils are involved in decision-making through a wide variety of activities and the pupil voice is very well encouraged through the student council that has representatives from junior infants to sixth form. Very positive home-school links are facilitated by school management, staff and the parents’ association.


  • The overall quality of leadership and management is good.
  • The board of management provides very effective governance to the school. Formal meetings are convened regularly, and items discussed on the agenda, including the review and ratification of policies, support the work of the school. The board ensures that the school is provided with high quality facilities and a plentiful supply of resources and materials to support teaching and learning. The chairperson maintains an appropriate working relationship with the principal. As the board employs all teaching staff, it is advised to review the roles and responsibilities of mainstream teachers while pupils are being taught by extra tutors. Consideration should also be given to the inclusion of the parent voice in policy formulation and review.
  • The principal and deputy principal collaboratively oversee a programme of change management while ensuring the highly efficient and effective day-to-day running of the school. Their work is strongly and positively influenced by their shared vision for the future of the school.
  • The school’ distributed leadership model enables collaborative teamwork through a system of deanships that have a range of administrative, curricular and pastoral responsibilities. The deans’ roles are carried out in a manner that strongly supports senior management and are reviewed on a regular basis as the needs of the school change. The curriculum leadership roles should now be enhanced to facilitate curriculum development and the dissemination of effective pedagogical approaches. The work of the many individual teachers who take on leadership roles on a voluntary basis is also very commendable.
  • Leadership and management of SEN should be reviewed in line with best practice. There is a need for more appropriate teacher deployment and for collaborative models of support. To this end, consideration should be given to including the leadership of SEN in the deanships. The current provision for SEN support should be reviewed to optimise in-class support and collaborative station teaching, and ensure maximum impact on pupil learning outcomes, including pupils of high ability.


  • The SSE process is at an early stage of development and implementation. However, across the school there is very evident commitment to reflection on practice. Initial work has commenced on the setting of clear targets for improvement in priority areas and the promotion of professional responsibility underpins the work of the whole school. The school is now in a firm position to undertake meaningful self-evaluation and review. In this regard, the publication Looking at our School – An aid to self-evaluation in primary schools (Inspectorate, 2003), may be helpful to promote this work.



Submitted by the Board of Management, Willow Park Junior School


Area 1:

Observations on the content of the inspection report

  • The Board of Management of Willow Park School thank the Independent External School Evaluation team for their recent professional, incisive and supportive report. The Board recognises the inevitable parameters of such a report (focussing on five areas of enquiry) in such a large and vibrant school as Willow Park Junior. However, the Board appreciates many of the observations and subsequent recommendations therein.

  • The Board was pleased to note the report was affirming of the quality of pupils’ learning through the nurturing and respectful relationships cultivated by all staff within the Junior school. The Board also welcomed the exceptionally high quality of care for the boys’ well-being and that pupil behaviour is exemplary. However, the Board would like to note that the creation of a school culture does not happen by chance and requires total support from every member of staff in nurturing and cultivating the holistic education of all boys in the Junior school. The respect between pupils, teachers and parents is forged over time and the staff in school get to know and understand the children in their care before, during and after the prescribed school day ends.

  • The Board along with the Senior Management team will review the daily timetables of all teachers within the Junior school to ensure time is allocated to all eleven areas of the curriculum. However, the Board also recognises that the well-being and exemplary behaviour of the boys can be traced to the time teachers have to forge relationships and build trust with their pupils. The pupils have time to talk to their teacher and any behavioural issues can be handled with care and thoughtfulness.

  • Finally, the Board welcome and affirm the inspectors’ finding that the school has very good capacity for improvement and development and sincerely thank the IESE team for providing the Junior school with follow-up actions that are expressed in the next area.

Area 2:

Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the evaluation

  • The Board commend the Senior Management team for already providing 15 teachers in the Junior school with a one-day CPD on the teaching of the new Language Curriculum (Irish and English). The next CPD will be in term two for the remaining teachers in the Junior school and this is to be welcomed. The Board will conduct a full review of the teaching of all languages within the Junior school – Irish, English and French in the coming months.

  • The Board have welcomed a review of the middle management structures within the Junior school and have now agreed to appoint a middle management position for the SEN department in school for September 2020. More importantly the SEN team will present all staff with a CPD on the NEPS Continuum of Support document to ensure that the structures, support and team-teaching approaches are embedded going forward into term two.

  • Suitable templates for monthly progress records are being considered by the Deputy Principal and Deans for use in September 2020, whilst a review of present planning models is taking place- to ensure suitable ‘road-maps’ in all areas and enhance pedagogy (assuring the primacy of a vibrant delivery of the curriculum over an administrative paper-trail).

  • The Board notes the recommended changes suggested in the delivery of the Irish curriculum whilst maintaining ‘the positive disposition’ to the language within the school. However, the Board appreciates that an emphasis on oral and aural Irish is required within the classroom and should have a more living presence throughout the school day. It has been welcomed that a whole school reading programme ‘as Gaeilge’ has been sourced and it will be implemented in January 2020. Staff will also undertake CPD on how to plan, deliver and assess a successful Irish lesson using the Linking the Year Groups document.

  • The Board will review all assessment data and will benchmark Drumcondra results nationally as well as benchmarking previous years Drumcondra results. It has been noted by the Board that the school has shifted from a culture of testing to as culture of assessment throughout each Form group and commend the Senior/Middle management teams for implementing change. The Board also welcome and support on-going CPD on Assessment for Learning practices focussing on qualitative reporting and criteria along with quantitative data being used.

  • The Board was interested in the Report’s value of STEM lessons and will immediately review the inter-disciplinary, cross-curricular approach to planning and curriculum implementation in collaborative mainstream settings. It will also implement outcomes from pillar 1 from the document STEM Education Policy Development 2017-2026 in which it states that all early year settings, school, leaders, parents, teachers and learners will have a high awareness and importance of STEM education. A structured approach, which incorporates monitoring and review, will allow actions to be revised and developed in line with identified needs.

  • In responding to the various recommendations in the Report, the Board wishes to also affirm and maintain the huge co-curricular and extra-curricular programmes that exist in Willow Park Junior School. Thus, whilst some of the Report’s recommendations may be implemented with alacrity, educational change is incremental, especially change that is profound and lasting.

Willow Park Junior school,
Co. Dublin,

01 288 1651

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