St Ronan’s Primary School, Newry in County Down achieves the Inclusive School Award with Flagship School status.
St Ronan’s Primary School, Newry in County Down is a bright and vibrant Catholic Maintained Primary School, with 428 pupils on roll. It was established in 1994 to meet the demands of the growing population in the north-east of Newry. Since that time, it has become ‘a caring educational community, placing strong emphasis on the very close links between school, home and community.’
Meeting the Challenges of COVID
The previous IQM review took place in the middle of the first COVID 19 lockdown in Northern Ireland. Since that review it has been a challenging time for schools to navigate through, but St Ronan’s refocussed from a physical school to a virtual school and managed to do this despite the various difficulties posed by a variety of barriers such as outdated central Government infrastructure, an old network and connectivity issues posed by teachers living in more rural areas. St Ronan’s found itself
“ahead of the curve”
in terms of the transition to remote learning and had already trained some young people and staff in areas such as Google Drive and could capitalise on this advantage during the lockdowns.
In the first lockdown St Ronan’s offered care to children of Key Workers and vulnerable young people but found that this was not particularly well taken up. This further cemented the school’s drive towards a virtual offer: Class DoJo was used as the main communication tool, and this was effective. Despite the uncertain landscape of that first lockdown, St Ronan’s managed extremely well, although it did have an obvious effect on the timeline for proposed milestones on the IQM action plan. In addition, changing and evolving guidance and messaging from NI DoE could contribute to the challenges faced by the school, not least because it made for difficulties in planning e.g., induction for new starters.
Reopening of Schools
When the schools did reopen in NI after that first lockdown, the focus for St Ronan’s, quite naturally, became bubbling, routines for lunches and breaks, PPE etc. rather than the IQM targets. The priority for the school shifted towards staying open for as long as possible – as safely as possible – and superseded the priorities of the existing SIP and IQM action planning.
Inclusive Provision During Second Lockdown
Christmas came and went and almost immediately post-Christmas a second lockdown was imposed. In this second lockdown the school deployed its new “Remote Learning Policy” which it had developed in the interim, between the lockdown periods. In devising this policy, the school had tested parental feedback and considered published research which led to a mixed “paper/virtual” approach, the school ensured that printed paper tasks were available to all pupils alongside technology. Recorded lessons were uploaded to the class DoJo. Whilst ensuring education was still accessible to all, the school worked extremely hard to ensure that pastoral care remained a priority.
Second Return to School
Since March of this year the focus has shifted to returning pupils. Establishing individual pupils’ progress through the paper/virtual provision of lockdown, planning to support pupils to achieve positive learning experiences and to ensure that there is a focus on any areas identified for improvement. Crucially, St Ronan’s has been successful in pushing through some of the pre-planned IQM targets: successfully utilising Google Classroom and getting the libraries’ scheme up-and-running. The Global School Partnership has re-opened with virtual conferencing. All required co-ordinators have been appointed.
The progress made by St Ronan’s towards it IQM targets is very impressive given the political context and complexities of the COVID 19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. As Principal Kevin Donaghy stated:
“You do it for the children, despite the politics.”
Supportive and Proud Governing Body
The Chair of the Board of Governors spoke with the Assessor as part of the review and confirmed that St Ronan’s has a very good special needs’ offer. SEN is catered for very well in the classroom and is overseen by a highly effective SENCO but talented children are also very well catered for in the classroom.
St Ronan’s is a Catholic School, but it is inclusive and, as such, does have some pupils from other faiths. The Catholic ethos runs through the school, but all children are welcome.
“In that respect we are an integrated school in everything but name.”
St Ronan’s runs a comprehensive after school club offer and this caters for children of all abilities, this includes a popular breakfast club.
The governors are very positive about the Shared Education Partnership. Governors from St Ronan’s have had opportunity to meet and work with those at the Bridge Integrated School though the pandemic has slowed this development.
The governors of St Ronan’s continued to meet through the lockdowns via Zoom, embracing the remote technology. The governors hope to resume face-to-face meetings from September.
Appreciative and Collaborative Parents
The Assessor met remotely with representation of the parent community of St Ronan’s as part of the IQM review. This confirmed St Ronan’s is good at outward communication with effective email updates and a comprehensive social media presence.
Informal communication is very good. The staff team is friendly and connection with parents is effective. This includes SLT, teachers and all staff.
School communication is regular and effective. At one time there was perhaps “too much(!)” but the school adjusted the communication strategy in the light of that parental feedback.
There is a popular and active P.T.A. with good links to Mr Donaghy. There is a named contact within the school, who is the liaison point between the P.T.A. and the staff.
In the lockdowns the school communicated very effectively with parents and pupils. This included: a letter to all pupils, a letter to the parents about the remote learning pack (this was very reassuring for parents). Provision also included effective use of Class DoJo as a communication tool and included immediate feedback for pupils on their learning (including comments from the Principal).
P7 transition was well managed by the school, and this shows that staff know their pupils really well – an obvious strength of St Ronan’s.
Reading is a big focus in the school; parents are actively encouraged to support reading and the parental community are aware of the “Accelerated Reader” programme.
“Mr Byrne is the absolute best teacher in the universe!”
Well done Mr Byrne!
Happy, Cared for Pupils
As part of the IQM review the Assessor met with a group of pupils via Zoom. The pupils of St Ronan’s are extremely polite, extremely articulate, and clearly demonstrated the values of the school in the way they presented themselves. The Assessor also received written submissions from pupils who were able to share their ideas about what made St Ronan’s such an inclusive school. Below is a brief selection of pupil comments that captures the positive light in which pupils regard the school:
“It’s hard to put into words how much I love my school but if I had to use one phrase to describe it would be one in a million.”
“I always thought a Principal was just someone in charge, but Mr Donaghy genuinely cares about the school and the pupils.”
“Best of all we have fantastic teachers who are always here to talk and help us with work.”
“St Ronan’s is a very supportive school. I have allergies and ever since I came to the school they have looked after me. The school looks after children with learning disabilities and any other disabilities. The school is altogether supportive, and I will miss it next year.”
“What I like about St Ronan’s are the teachers and the classroom assistants; they are so kind and always willing to help you.”
“The Eco-Committee – before COVID 19 they were always going round the school emptying the bins or cleaning them.”
“I enjoy being part of this community.”
“I like a lot of things about St Ronan’s but the things I really like are the way all of the students and teachers are caring and kind and helpful.”
“I like the way we have different councils like the Eco-Council, School Council, Prefect Council and the Digital Leaders.”
“One of the things I enjoy most about St Ronan’s is the resources we play with during breaktime such as footballs, skipping ropes and the nets.”
“Everyone is inclusive and gets along with everyone.”
“The curriculum is very diverse and engaging.”
“What I like about St Ronan’s is that all the teachers – even if they aren’t in your class – all seem to really care about your progress.”
“Overall, St Ronan’s is just an amazing school!”
St Ronan’s enjoys many strengths as an inclusive setting.
The Shared Education Partnership which has led to:
• Increased pupil collaboration in areas of learning e.g., literacy projects.
• Parental awareness in areas about internet safety, reading etc.
• Global Schools’ developments and the opportunity to develop the Ethiopian visits and partnerships.
• Strong and joined-up CPD for staff.
• Inter-governing body collaboration.
• Access and links to funding and financial benefits.
Eco/Global Awareness Development which has:
• Been tied into the curriculum offer.
• Increased pupil voice, which is focussed and sharp and most importantly it is heard.
• Led to a series of awards in recognition of this aspect of the school’s work.
Real and genuine progress has been made in certain aspects of the IQM action plan in very challenging times, particularly with respect to:
• Eco/global developments.
• Accelerated Reading/Star Reader/library work.
St Ronan’s should now build on its strengths and continue its ongoing inclusion development work by finalising the remaining areas of the previous IQM action plan, re-engaging with the Cluster Group and sharing the inspirational work undertaken (especially around the Eco-council and Global Awareness framework) and beginning the Paths training/rolling out the Flagship Project. It is fantastic to learn that some funding has already been secured for this through the Shared Education Partnership.
The school clearly demonstrates its ability to respond to initiatives and to build the capacity essential to moving further on the Inclusion journey. This is all the more impressive given the political context and COVID 19 complexities which were described and explored during the review. I would like to thank Mr Donaghy and his staff and pupils for their time during the review – the impact of these stakeholders on the inclusive journey of the school is keenly felt, and I pay tribute to the wider staff team, governing body and pupil/family base too. You have a school of which you can be extremely proud, a school in which you all play a full role, and a school which values children, learning, engagement, the environment and the World. What a fantastic place St Ronan’s Primary School is!
Find out more about the IQM Inclusive School Award
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028 7127 7857 (9.00 am to 5.00 pm)
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