St Dympna’s Primary School in Dromore has achieved Flagship School status for the second time.
Safe and Supportive Environment
St Dympna’s Primary School continues to be a happy and welcoming school providing a safe and supportive environment that enables pupils to flourish and reach their potential. St Dympna’s Primary School is a Catholic Primary School located in the village of Dromore in County Tyrone. This is a small town in a largely rural area. The school is very much at the heart of the community and even during this period of COVID-19 restrictions, the community clearly remains as the heartbeat of the school. The move to remote and blended learning did not daunt or phase the team. They rose to the challenge and their performance should be held up as a case study for other schools to emulate and follow should we all have to revert back to the same systems in the future.
Hard-Working, Charismatic and Enthusiastic Principal
In St. Dympna’s, pastoral care permeates all aspects of school life. It reflects the attitudes, beliefs and practices of their Catholic faith and involves all members of their school community – children, parents and all other adults who contribute to the wellbeing of each child. St Dympna’s Primary School is a single-form entry, mainstream primary school with 210 pupils on roll. The school has seven classes, one for each year group and is led by a hard-working, charismatic and enthusiastic Principal, who is extremely proud of her staff and pupils. All staff are directed by, and supported by, an experienced Senior Leadership Team, who are affecting rapid change and continuing to drive everyone involved towards excellence and all the while ensuring that the school is a superbly inclusive, enjoyable and friendly place for all to come to work and learn.
Drive to Improve Standards
Positive relationships in schools are central to the wellbeing of both students and teachers and underpin an effective learning environment. There is a wealth of evidence from St. Dympna’s that the focus the Principal places upon inter-relationships at all levels in her school and how she elevates on the importance of connectedness in the workplace promotes and ensures effective education. Governors and staff share her drive to improve standards in the school quickly and raise expectations of what pupils can achieve. This superbly caring, inclusive environment ensures each pupil receives the best education possible, delivered by highly dedicated staff. Inclusion is a natural part of the very fabric of the school and a place where superb levels of care, nurture and support seem to naturally occur but is the result of the continued and ongoing high levels of hard work and dedication of the staff and governors.
Participation, Empowerment and a Sense of Connection
The Principal has worked collegially with teaching staff to ensure that they all have a time budget for the academic year 2020-21. Directed time budgets have enabled SLT to take an important additional step towards further ensuring that the health and wellbeing of their teachers is achieved as well as a more effective functioning of the school. Participation, empowerment and a sense of connection are central to a high level of social capital found in St. Dympna’s.
A Safe, Welcoming and Caring Environment
This was my third assessment of the school but for the first time it was completed virtually, yet the welcome I received was first class. The truth and reason for my comfort and that of all stakeholders is that St. Dympna’s is a well-established Flagship School for inclusion and over a sustained period of time has shown a high capacity for creating a safe, welcoming and caring environment, where ALL are respectful and work together as a community, for the children their families, the staff and visitors. Visitors to St. Dympna’s (virtual or real) experience the same calm, yet stimulating, vibrant learning environment that the staff and pupils experience on a daily basis. It is contained but not bounded by its superb learning environment that focuses on helping children to develop the skills they need to be active participants in their community and in society. The school environment is superb and is full of vibrant carefully thought out and prepared displays that celebrates what the school does best, valuing everyone and including all children in the life of the school. The school’s learning environment is simply outstanding. Every aspect of the interior, every nook and cranny, is seen as a valuable space to aid the learning process, with a considered purpose.
A Very Effective School
I have spent time in the company of the staff in St. Dympna’s both physically and virtually and each time am just blown away by how kind the teachers are to students, but I think that it is just a follow-on of the whole culture. You sit in the dining room and you never have to be mindful of what you’re saying, because everyone’s on the same side, the staff are supportive of each other and I think that carries across into the classroom. St. Dympna’s is a very effective school and makes outstanding provision for its diverse community. Pupils achieve very high standards as the teaching is very good or outstanding and the work they do is demanding yet perfectly pitched to ensure challenge is appropriate. St. Dympna’s staff take full account of their pupils’ varied life experiences and needs and then they get to work.
Pioneering Nurture Flagship Project
Whilst on assessment there were opportunities for me to learn more about the pioneering Nurture Flagship Project, the school’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how they have moved mountains in such a short space of time. Indeed, from listening to the first-hand accounts of appreciative parents it was refreshing and reassuring to see just how life is continuing as normal in the classrooms and that the needs of the children are still coming first. It was clearly evident that mutually respectful relationships exist which reflect the Catholic and inclusive ethos, which the school is very proud of. The school is embarking on the use of ‘Seesaw’ to enhance home/school links and prepare for any potential period of isolation or remote learning should the need arise. This platform allows for the teacher presence to be maintained, it will enable the school to monitor participation and provide feedback and guidance.
Outstanding Commitment to Inclusion
The school aims to give their pupils the best education possible and a superb level of pastoral care, so that they learn well and are happy in school, through its outstanding commitment to providing a highly inclusive teaching and learning environment for all pupils and staff. It is a superbly inclusive, enjoyable and friendly place for all to come to work and learn. Everyone involved with the school believes in and works hard on a daily basis with the pupils to ensure it happens. This is truly a school where every pupil really does matter and is valued for who they are and who they will become. Everyone involved with St. Dympna’s Primary School is committed to providing the very highest standard of teaching and learning experiences which not only develop the pupils’ knowledge and skills, but an enjoyment of learning as well.
Every Child Matters
At St. Dympna’s the SLT does not work in isolation, this is a school that firmly believes that every child matters. The Primary 2 teacher when discussing DENI’s Re-engagement Programme stated very clearly, ‘’…it is our aim to raise standards and catch-up by promoting a school ethos which is underpinned by our core values. These values support the development of the whole child as a reflective learner within a calm, caring, happy and purposeful atmosphere. It is our mission as educators to create opportunities which enable each person to recognise a sense of their own worth and that of others.’’ Everyone involved at St. Dympna’s should be extremely proud of what they achieve on a daily basis and the emphasis placed on ensuring everyone is nurtured and included.
Inclusion is Who They Are
The creation of a distributed leadership style has allowed many staff to develop across the school to the benefit of the organisation as a whole. The involvement and commitment of the whole staff are significant reasons for the school’s success. Inclusion is not just another initiative at St. Dympna’s, it is who they are. The newly formed school Wellness Committee is an action-oriented advisory group that focuses on the health and wellbeing of students, staff, and families in a school community. They have thought carefully about ways that staff can feel valued and receive recognition for their work. Never has it been more-timely and it has been well-received by all.
Communication with Families is Strong
Another key to this success is the staff’s detailed knowledge of the needs of its community and their ever-changing social demographics. Staff consult parents and carers fully and they take steps to ensure the pupils are able to thrive and achieve as well as they can. This involves a high level of tolerance, empathy and support. Communication with families is strong, frequent and effective. The school ensures that all its communications convey respect and value to all types of family. All stakeholders have a sense of belonging to the school and inclusion is well embraced so that each pupil is valued for their individuality and can develop their enquiring minds and spirit of curiosity through participating in a range of challenging, fulfilling and happy educational experiences in order to reach their full potential.
Superb Care and Nurture
As with the previous IQM reviews it is clear to see that the school’s actions to care for and nurture pupils in my judgement is superb. The staff at the school are clearly dedicated and aspirational for all who are lucky enough to be educated at the school. The staff ‘know their pupils’ exceedingly well. Every member of staff has a fantastic depth of understanding and knowledge of the pupils in their care and the pride they show in their pupils and their achievements shone out in every conversation and in the way they spoke about them during the review. Individualised personal support continues to be a strength of the school. Children with high needs fully take part in their lessons and are included in everything. Teachers plan carefully to meet the full range of needs in their classroom. It was very humbling and inspirational to hear them talking about their school and their pupils and this often extends to pupils who have left the school and moved on who may still need their support.
Integrity of Purpose
In summary, St. Dympna’s is an excellent example of inclusive practice, energy and aspiration for all members of the school community. The Principal leads inclusion with the courageous and forward thinking belief that complacency or lack of funding can never influence the integrity of purpose in striving for continuous improvement for the learning community within St. Dympna’s Primary School. There is a strong dissemination of skills and knowledge between everyone and resources are deployed well to support the needs of all. St Mary’s University College, Belfast worked alongside the school over the last year through a series of interviews, videos and questionnaires and have used the school as their case study and best practice example of leadership in a Catholic school for their new Masters in Catholic Education.
Committed to the Inclusive Ethos
There is a wide range of expertise on the Governing Body, they are well led and their commitment to the inclusive ethos is evident. They attend the school regularly and have a very good understanding of the ongoing work in the school. They are a supportive body who hold the school to account to ensure that pupils remain the focus of all school developments. They question and challenge all new initiatives and are aware of how to keep children at the heart of all decision making. Under the direction of the Board of Governors, I am in no doubt that the school is supported and challenged in equal measure and that the success of the school means that the Headteacher has the ratio between the two elements in the correct proportion.
Professionalism is Valued
Parents in the school greatly appreciated the empathetic side of the staff and viewed the school’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively to family and children’s needs as an undoubted strength. During the review process I talked to a variety of staff and parents frankly about their school and what was offered to support pupils and their families. Everyone without exception was extremely positive about the school and they highlighted the fact that in their opinion the school was naturally a very inclusive setting. During the review, staff were seen to be proactive in finding solutions and knew that their professionalism was valued and appreciated by the community. This is a school that is constantly looking at ways to develop for the benefit of the pupils and families that it serves.
No Barriers and No Outsiders
It was very clear from what was said and what was seen during the review that there are no barriers and no outsiders at St. Dympna’s, everyone is included and looked after to the best of their ability demonstrating the school’s superb level of inclusivity. There is an exceptional work ethic and ethos at St. Dympna’s that drives everything the school and staff are doing for their pupils and families, coupled with a ferocious drive to improve what is offered and extremely high aspirations for their pupils to succeed. Teachers are skilled in planning a creative curriculum that stretches and challenges in a supportive way. A range of assessment techniques are used to ensure that pupils’ learning is tracked and analysed so that targets set for pupils are rigorous, relevant and linked to life skills. Refresher training has taken place for all teaching staff on the use of Interactive Read Alouds throughout the school and Active Comprehension. A detailed, consultative School Development Plan outlines both the school’s priorities and those identified by Minister Weir back in August 2020.
IQM Cluster Group
St Dympna’s are an active member of the Inclusion Cluster Network of schools who have attained Centre of Excellence and Flagships School status. In February 2020, St Dympna’s hosted a Cluster Meeting, where they shared their provision for nurture and their whole school literacy and reading priority actions and development. Pupil wellbeing is a priority and much development in this area has taken place since the last review. They have extended fitness opportunities for the children, not only at lunchtime but also across the school week. Art therapy provision has also evolved since the last review visit and is much spoken about: “Absolutely amazing, the children are confident and love attending. The Art Therapist is such a good practitioner.”
Fantastic Care, Nurture and Support
It was a real pleasure to revisit St. Dympna’s Primary School and see the progress that they had made since their last review and follow their ongoing inclusion journey. This is a superb setting committed to providing the very highest standard of teaching and learning experiences for all involved. Fantastic care, nurture and support that are the foundations of inclusive practice and are a natural part of the school’s fabric and that are enshrined in all elements of the IQM Flagship Award are at the heart of everything that happens at the school and this is what makes St. Dympna’s such a special place and everyone involved should be commended for their superb efforts in this respect.
Harmonious and Purposeful Learning Environment
The school has shown a wide range of inclusive developments over a period of time which demonstrates its ability to sustain and further develop inclusive practice. This is a place where inclusion can be seen to be a natural action, all are welcome to be partners in education and develop the school. While achievement of high standards in the basic skills is the school’s priority, enriching pupils’ daily learning through a wide variety of creative experiences has helped to engender their love for learning. Pupils speak highly of their outdoor learning work. The school’s strong emphasis on personal development and sound values has created a harmonious and purposeful learning environment. Evidence was seen throughout the review supporting the belief that every pupil is entitled to experience as many opportunities as possible in order to broaden life experience, develop confidence and self-esteem, allowing each pupil to find what is unique about them and to capitalise upon it, whilst easing through areas of challenge.
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