An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil Náisiúnta Rónáin
Cill Rónáin, Inis Mór, Co. na Gaillimhe
Roll Number: 174560
Date of the inspection: 24 May 2006
Date of publication of report: 15 December 2006
This report was written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Náisiúnta Rónáin. It presents the results of an evaluation of the work of the entire school and makes recommendations regarding further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation the inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the schools’ board of management and representatives of parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with pupils and teachers, examined the pupils’ work and interacted with class teachers. He reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation and met with different staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector gave oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. 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.
Scoil Náisiúnta Rónáin is situated on Inis Mór, the biggest of the Aran islands in Galway Bay on the west coast of the country, about six miles off the coast. This Gaeltacht School was built in 1944 after the old school, which was there since 1889 under the national school scheme, closed down. There is a long history of the influence of education on this island since Saint Enda went there first in 489A.D. and it is claimed that there are at least thirty-five universities across Europe today which are descended from the monastic influence of the island. The effect of this tradition is still felt in the strong historic interest of parents in education and today’s parents are no exception. A work ethic and community spirit accompany this school’s activities in general and the board and staff assert that they see the school’s mission as a benefit and support to the local community, including parents, pupils and neighbours. A united group, they took part as a community in the development of the new school building, in the effort to achieve a green flag and in the Arus Rónáin project for the adults on the island. The motto the school has chosen as an illustration of that mission is ‘mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí’.
School enrolment currently stands at 64 pupils and this is expected to drop over the next few years. At the moment there are five teachers registered on the permanent staff of the school consisting of principal teacher, two classroom teachers, one fulltime resource teacher and a part-time learning support teacher. An education co-ordinator under the Department’s Support Programme for disadvantaged areas also offers support to pupils in this school. These part-time post holders service the school on a shared basis with other schools on the island. The withdrawal of pupils from classes is the usual working model for all of the support services.
A considerable number of the pupils come from marine and fishing backgrounds as well as the tourism industry and related services, though there is a percentage of the population which depends on social welfare payments as well. The Archbishop of Tuam is the school patron and the school enshrines a strong charitable Christian ethic. There is a close relationship between the school and the local community, the church and local organisations and beneficial use is made of the Church magazine to disseminate information from the school to the community. It was stated that the school partners, board of management, school staff and parents work closely together to establish a safe and secure environment and to provide a broad, exciting curriculum for pupils.
The Board of Management was appointed in accordance with the appropriate procedures in October 2003 and two meetings are held every quarter to administer school business and discuss educational matters. The reconstruction of the school building was the board’s top priority for the last five years. A fine, new, well-appointed, spacious school was built and officially opened on the island recently and the building of a general purposes hall and refurbishing the old classrooms would ensure even better facilities. At a preliminary meeting with the board and with representatives of the parents, dissatisfaction with the Department of Education and Science’s grant for the recent upgrading and renovation of the school was expressed. The board declared that only two thirds of the cost of the new building was covered by the grant and that the Department did not take account of the extra costs associated with building on an island. It was also stated that the board had little choice but to accept the Department’s offer or do without their building requirements. The board stated that there are two playing fields available to the school, one belonging to the Arch Diocese of Tuam, situated beside the school and given for school use by the parish. A playing field owned by Galway County Council directly to front of the school had been used by the school as a playing field for a good number of years. It was stated that measures were in train to formalise this arrangement with the County Council on a more permanent basis. The measures undertaken by the board to equip and fit out these facilities is commended.
The school building itself is kept clean, colourful and tidy. Stimulating educational material and photographs from school events and from local history as well as community events are on display in the corridors. The photographic exhibition currently on show gives a pertinent illustration of the centrality of the school in life on the island. A school cleaner comes in every evening and a part-time maintenance person is used whenever the need arises.
It was confirmed that the chairperson of the board has regular contact with the principal and staff of the school between meetings. The school staff has compiled a whole-school plan and aspects of that plan are currently being reviewed. The reviewed segments are placed before the board for approval and it was stated that the board signed off on the latest reviewed segments at the end of February last. In the light of this report the board and staff are advised to include parents in the reviewing process and cognisance to be taken of their suggestions when offered. It is timely to include this process in the current alliance being formed with them to ensure the development of the general purpose hall and the playground facilities.
Since 1998 the responsibility for in-school management rests with the principal teacher and she ensures that there is a pleasant welcoming atmosphere in the school for pupils, parents, visitors and various parties. She receives commendable and informed support from the deputy principal and from the whole staff. The co-operative staff spirit pervading the school is commendable and the team collectively takes professional responsibility for the performance and the quality of the school. The team ensures that the pupils receive a challenging, progressive education to prepare them for life and for the post-primary education opportunities available in the area. It is recommended to place the development work being undertaken in the curricular and pedagogical areas under the auspices of a formal steering committee made up of staff members and subject to the principal. The committee could also take responsibility for the implementation of school policies and would ensure evolution of classroom practise as well as co-ordination and progression in the various areas of the curriculum. The committee would be formed from the current post-holders of responsibility so that duties of curriculum development, records of progress, practices, breadth and delivery of the curriculum as well as monitoring pedagogical strategies would be tied in to this structure. To this end it is necessary to restructure staff meetings, to include the practice of setting agenda and recording decisions as well as minuting meetings in order to implement a partnership system of management suitable for the requirements of the school. It would also be worth spreading the appropriate leadership experience and responsibility to all members of staff through the working of the committee. It is recommended that the reviewing of the school plan be undertaken under the new structure, that environmental factors pertinent to the school be defined including the centrality of its Gaeltacht setting and a timetable agreed for review objectives. The full programme of teaching and learning should now be included in this operation, including the principle of differentiation and pedagogical matters to ensure that there is a satisfactory curriculum with breadth, balance and content for the various categories of pupils attending the school. The role and the function of the education co-ordinator should also come under the influence of this committee.
The pupils are divided among the teachers on a class group basis so that the infants, the middle classes and the senior classes are clustered in class groups with a reasonable balance in the number of pupils allocated to teachers. The teachers exchange classrooms during the year so as to broaden the curriculum and to share their individual experiences with the largest number of pupils. A resource teacher works fulltime with five pupils with special needs and a learning support teacher works in the school on three days per week or for approximately nine hours a week. The education co-ordinator visits the school twice a week in accordance with requirements to provide equality of opportunity for pupils. These learning support services ensure that pupils with different needs receive a comprehensive response from the school. It is commendable that all pupils in the school are given clear opportunities to play an influential role in the leadership and operation of the school.
The board of management has provided a range of teaching aids and technological equipment in every classroom and the teachers also create a range of maps, diagrams and learning support aids. These are well used to enhance the learning and experience of pupils at school. Further investment in teaching materials and aids will be needed to promote the centrality of activity and discovery methods in every area of the curriculum and it is advised that strands and strand units of the curriculum are explored to enable a priority list of necessary teaching aids be identified for the school. It’s also worth making a significant investment in the school library particularly in the purchase of books in Irish and strengthening the school’s useful connection with the local library. The provision of an agreed budget for all teachers on an annualised basis is also recommended as well as an agreed policy regarding the use of technology across all the aspects of the curriculum.
The school accommodation is generally excellent with newly built classrooms and an abundance of space for support services and administration. The building is kept clean, neat and well-decorated at all times and the proposed project to add a general purpose room to the school and to bring the old toilets and other school rooms up to an acceptable standard for present day needs is commended. The playground and school environment are kept clean and neat and everyone involved with winning the green flag recently deserves praise.
The board takes cognisance of its legal responsibilities and the school plan includes a health and safety statement, a code of behaviour and policies on enrolment, special education, bullying, staff development, equality of opportunity, the protection and nurturing of children and a system of pupil supervision as well as a wide range of other curriculum activities. Efforts are underway to establish structures in which the whole school community could become more involved in the planning process and also of ways to keep the community informed of changes occurring in the school. Currently parents are kept informed through the church newsletter and through meetings arranged with them once a year. It was emphasised that further formal and informal contact is both frequent and welcomed.
Additional possibilities and use of the regularly published church newsletter was discussed and it was seen as a worthwhile vehicle for disseminating information on the school’s activities to the community. To this end it is recommended that the technological facilities of the school are updated and also that joint ventures with community organisations are examined to provide general education programmes or second chance programmes for adults locally. The education co-ordinator in conjunction with the parent’s council could make such arrangements with Galway County Vocational Educational Committee, Údarás na Gaeltachta and other local foundations to ensure the suitability and viability of the plan.
It became very apparent during the preliminary meeting with parents’ representatives that they are very interested in the operation of the school and they work diligently to support all events in the school. They specifically mentioned the high regard they have for the quality of service the school provides for them. They praised the professionalism and the dedication of staff and it was their wish that the same staff would remain into the future. They also mentioned the role of the education co-ordinator and emphasised the need for the continuation of this post as a support for the schools. The possibility of registering the parents’ association with the National Parents’ Association was to be explored as a development of the organisation.
A strong commitment to keep the Gaeltacht status of the school and to continue the teaching through Irish in the school was emphasised by all parties during the preliminary meetings and is commended. The board, however, must formulate a plan of action for the school under paragraph 9 of the Education Act to help language preservation and development in the community. It is necessary to contact community organisations on the island to ensure collaboration, synthesis and integration in the process and to ensure co-ordination between the language plans of the various communal organisations. The education co-ordinator could be used to create networks and to promote contacts and continuity in the plan. As part of this process it is recommend that the board devise an appropriate in-service education plan for its members as well as for teachers, in order to have continuous investment and upskilling in the human resource responsible for the managing and guidance of educational services in the school.
The board is to be commended for the amount of support given to the staff and pupils in their efforts to create an attractive learning environment. The staff members take its responsibilities seriously and organise an efficient, effective school on the island accordingly. They accept the mission of the school is to ensure that every pupil feels safe, happy and content in school and enjoys skills development and learning opportunities
according to their ability. The provision of educational and playing facilities both outside and inside the school building embodies this ambition and the fit out of the playing field in front of the school reflect their efforts admirably to the pupils’ advantage.
The school plan has been developed by staff over a number of years and new measures are submitted to the board of management from time to time. These are discussed and signed by the board and procedures are currently being put in place to submit them to the parent body as well. A comprehensive review of the existing plans is underway both in the area of policies and curriculum and the staff intends to submit its proposals to all parties for their consideration. Evidence was produced that appropriate steps have been taken by the board of management and by staff to develop measures which conform to the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (An Roinn Sláinte agus Leanaí, 2004) and Treoirlínte agus Cur Chuige um Chaomhnú Páistí (An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaiochta, Aibreán 2001). Evidence was also provided which states that the measures have been adopted by the board of management and have been implemented by it. A named liaison person has been appointed according to the requirements of the Department’s guidelines.
The board of management, parents and teachers recognise the importance of the school plan and are interested in taking part in the planning process. Most of the teachers are diligently attempting to implement the Primary School Curriculum 1999 and are working to promote a firm connection between the school plan, the principles of the curriculum and practices in the classrooms. It is recommended that this development process be placed under the supervision of the in-school management committee, that the review of the curriculum measures include the investigative nature as well as structure and content of the curriculum and that pedagogic planning include implementation strategies in the multi-class context. There is a need to ensure continuity, progression and balance in the teaching programmes at every level, and to register teaching strategies, teaching aids and methods of assessment in every area.
Most of the teachers provide personal planning, including long-term schemes, short-term schemes and individual learning programmes as well as monthly accounts of progress. It is now necessary to put the planning in a frame of reference encompassing the strands and strand units of the curriculum and to ensure common practices regarding the memorization of facts and mental exercises on a whole school basis. Textbooks have a dominating influence on some areas of the curriculum in the school. Placing greater focus on the surrounding environment as a learning objective is recommended, this objective to include the ecology of the island and marine ecology in their local aspects and to engage the principles of the curriculum in directing practices.
Different assessment methods are used in the school and they form a central part of school practices from the junior section on. A formal analysis of the results of the standardised assessment process is recommended in order to direct the teachers’ planning and to differentiate the learning strategies appropriately to accommodate differences in pupils’ abilities from year to year. The teachers keep an account of work progress and they should now agree a common modern recording template to reflect the multi-class context of the school.
Irish is taught and spoken as a language of communication and sensible use is made of language programmes and modern support software in the light of the curriculum changes since 1999. Teachers in all classes develop different models of language instruction in their activities and there is an appropriate emphasis placed on active listening and expression. Beneficial use is made of play-acting, puppets, toys, charts, pictures, labels, some communication games, stories, little rhymes and songs to improve pupils’ comprehension and communicative ability. The attempt to enrich Irish as a class management language throughout the school is praiseworthy and it would yield greater effect if the work was formulated into a definite school programme for the different sections. Pupils engage in debates, drama and dialogue based on distinct themes and the activities ensure progress in language enrichment as well as developing an understanding of syntax and structure.
Commendable use is made of large attractive books and storybooks in the junior classes to extend the pupils range of language and to promote an interest in reading. Reading is based primarily on textbook material and it would be worthwhile placing an appropriate range of storybooks into every classroom to expand the pupils reading skills. Writing is mostly based on conversation, projects and reading and the diversity and personal abilities of the pupil are nurtured in written work, especially in the junior section. It would be timely now to expand the range of genres throughout the school and to place more emphasis on personal writing. Further co-ordination between of the school plan and individual teachers’ plans is suggested and the topics chosen in different genres at each level should be registered to ensure progression and progress from class to class.
An integrated language programme is provided in English with a structured oral-language element receiving considerable attention in the junior section of the school. Individual teacher planning reflects this approach and opportunities are given for debates and discussion to develop language competences and fluency. Reading and writing skills are carefully developed and praiseworthy emphasis is placed on the early development of listening, discussion and presentation skills in the junior section. Class work based on large-format books and structured group activities provide valuable opportunities for pupils to explore story frameworks, react to characters, sequence events, listen to and retell stories. Further opportunities to develop receptiveness to language and to enhance the pupils’ confidence and competence in using language are provided by the serialised reading of class novels. Greater emphasis should be placed on pupil-to-pupil interaction and on the development of comprehension and higher order thinking skills, particularly in the senior classes.
A number of different programmes are used to develop phonological and phonemic awareness and pupils display clear concepts of sound patterns and letter groupings. Expressive confident reading is encouraged from an early stage and large-format books, graded reading schemes, library books and novels are used effectively to engage the pupils in the reading process. While most pupils read fluently, a wide range of reading abilities is evidenced within certain class levels and resource teaching and supplementary teaching is provided to support pupils experiencing difficulties. Praiseworthy contribution is provided by the pupil support services to children in this area and structured interventions in language development skills are designed to supplement classroom activities. Consideration should now be given to the provision of in-class support to facilitate appropriate group work within the classroom setting to support differentiation across all curricular areas.
A clear, well-structured approach to developing early writing skills introduces pupils to the writing process. The competencies to write independently are further developed by engaging the pupils in writing for a variety of purposes and in a range of genres. Many examples of pupils’ writing including their poetry, story reviews and project work are attractively displayed. Written work is regularly monitored and evaluations should be used as an appropriate feedback to pupils in conjunction with engaging pupils in self-correction tasks. While written work is neatly presented, a review of the approach to handwriting should be considered in order to ensure the development and continued use of a cursive style.
The curriculum, the school plan and the textbook influence the individual planning of teachers as well as classroom practice in all the sectors. An agreed template of mathematical terminology should be identified and agreed according to class level. Group work is organised efficiently to accommodate the range of pupils’ abilities in the different classes and beneficial use is made of concrete equipment and pupil activities to promote pupils’ understanding of concepts. The pupils are given worthy opportunities to develop their skills of prediction and estimation and the strategies used in the classes to promote problem solving are praiseworthy. Further investment in materials is recommended to enable the use of activity methods in every aspect of this area. Is is necessary also to give priority to the use of Irish language textbooks to ensure that pupils have sufficient language skills to engage in discussion of mathematical concepts.
Textbooks, interviews, projects, discussions, story telling and drama are used to acquire knowledge of the historical aspects of the world and this locality. An appropriate emphasis is placed on the pupils’ personal memories, or on aspects of their family histories and on significant changes in the area. Aspects of local history as well as national history are covered and the school library provides a rich source for research and discovery in this area. More emphasis could be placed on this aspect of the programme given the historical richness of the island itself and the international impact the local monasteries have had on the formation of Europe. The participation of pupils in a programme sponsored by a national daily newspaper in conjunction with Arus Rónáin on exploring habitats and lifestyles is commendable.
Teachers examine aspects of the geography curriculum on an ongoing basis primarily with the support of textbooks. An understanding of the environment is developed and attention is given to the physical aspects of the area, as well as to the country and countries abroad. Knowledge and care of the environment is promoted and the work is integrated with science as well as other aspects of the curriculum. More opportunities could be given to the pupils to discuss the way of life of the people who live and work in the area, to study the geology, buildings, infrastructure and local organisations in order to draw a profile of the area. Pupils’ research could also engage the structure of the island itself, emphasising the effect of its marine setting and construction. Useful contact could be made with national and international institutions that study the Ocean, for example the Marine Research Institute of Ireland to support this endeavour.
A structured programme in science is identified at class level to allow pupils to work scientifically in areas of interest. Life elements are studied, as well as energy and forces, materials, knowledge and care of the environment. Experimentation is central to the approach and nature tables as well as study areas are organised in the different rooms. Research occasions and projects are utilised to examine items of interest and workshops are used to develop the pupils’ understanding. The pupils gain experience of group and individual work and have opportunities to investigate aspects of the local environment. It would also be worth adding a separate model on ecology and the science of the sea to this programme, especially in the senior classes.
A wide range of facilities and local handwork skills are used to develop different aspects of the programme in the arts curriculum. Attention is drawn to the various strands of the programme and the pupils enjoy and benefit from all the activities. The opportunities to practise and develop different techniques are commendable. The rooms and the public areas are decorated with fine examples of the pupils’ work, which draws all the strands together. The examples on show demonstrate appropriate integration with other areas of the curriculum.
The pupils skills in song singing are developed and emphasis is placed on tone and sweetness of delivery as well as being able to perform a commendable repertoire of sean-nós songs with exceptional ability. The pupils also experiment and play traditional musical instruments with ease and they enjoy opportunities to perform for an audience on public school occasions. Listening and responding to music is included in the programme and there are percussion instruments and CDs in every classroom to support this work. Further emphasis on the acquisition of music literacy is recommended and this would be enhanced if an agreed progressive programme is structured on a whole school basis.
Drama is beneficially integrated with other areas of the curriculum and pupils have the opportunity to focus on characters in scripting and presentation. Role play is used to explore fantasy and pupils investigate ideas and learn to communicate through drama.
Activities, exercises and games are organised regularly for pupils in the yard or on the football pitch, weather permitting. However this programme needs to be reviewed to ensure the development of breadth and balance in the pupils’ experience of this curricular aspect. The board of management has indicated its intent to add a general-purposes room to the school and this addition to the schools’ facilities would add considerably to the opportunities afforded to the pupils. In the meantime, it is suggested that discussions are engaged in with the local residents’ committee in relation to the possible use of the nearby community hall in the short-term to broaden pupil’s opportunities in this area. Strategies to promote physical fitness and games skills are undertaken and pupils participate in inter-school leagues and field sports, particularly Gaelic football.
The school’s ethos has a strong influence on developing a sense of personal responsibility and fostering good behaviour in this school. An integrated approach is used to deliver individual teachers’ programme as well as in the implementation of national focal programmes. The use of circle time, collaborative games, group work, pair work and individual work in exploring issues, is commended.
A variety of assessment methods is used by the teachers in this school from teacher observation, checklists, collections of work samples, projects, individual profiles and learning programmes, tests designed by the teachers and standardised tests to assess pupils’ progress. The evaluations are mainly used to illustrate pupils’ progress and to inform parents. Wider use should be made of the assessment results in evaluating the effect of teaching and learning strategies and to assist in matching and planning group work and individual work on a differentiated mode. It is recommended that a review is undertaken of the assessment policy within the school plan and include modelling and diagnostic evaluations on a whole school basis, and to collate information on a year by year basis for every class. Keeping an individual file on pupils is recommended to ensure consistency and progression of information on pupils during their school life and also to help design a differentiated programme of learning for gifted pupils.
Parents are given the opportunity to discuss the pupils’ test results and progress at organised parent teacher meetings and informal contact between teachers and parents is actively encouraged throughout the year. Pupils’ homework diaries are also used to keep parents informed and constitute a strong communication vehicle between home and school.
Pupils gain a wide range of experience and practice in their learning and development programmes in this school. They succeed in achieving creditable standards in the various curricular areas. The manner in which pupils’ self-confidence and assertiveness is progressively nurtured throughout the school is commended. Various teaching and learning strategies are used to foster attainment levels, though textbooks still exercise a primary influence on the overall programme of work. It has been agreed in light of this report to review class practices and pedagogic approaches in general, to reduce the influence of textbooks on the curriculum, to place further emphasis on discovery methods and to give primary recognition to the environmental principle. It was also agreed to offer differentiated approaches in the school’s learning programme. These changes must be set out as part of the school plan and the agenda should have a clearly defined strategy for implementing these policies. The school’s policy on ICT technology should also be reviewed so that pupils gain wider experience of modern technology as an intrinsic part of their school experience. The school merits praise for the challenging programme of developmental learning presented to all pupils, for the continuous monitoring of individual progress and for the way pupils are carefully prepared for post primary education opportunities. Pupils derive significant benefit from their experience in this school generally.
On the whole good standards are attained; pupils show a great interest in learning and engage with their school work with energy and enthusiasm, especially when activity and discovery methodologies are used. Teachers make commendable efforts to implement all the curricular areas and an atmosphere of contented industry pervades the school.
The school’s entrance policy ensures access and participation for pupils on an equal basis, including pupils with special needs. The learning support teacher, the resource teacher and the education co-ordinator provide extra teaching in English and Mathematics to pupils with learning difficulties as well as to pupils recognised as having special needs. The learning support teacher operates on a shared basis with the island’s other primary schools and the common working model for this service is withdrawal from class in groups or on an individual basis.
All support teachers supply individual learning programmes for their pupils, they prepare appropriately for their teaching and learning activities and keep regular contact with class teachers and parents. Emphasis in the literacy programme is placed on recognising common words, developing phonemic and phonological awareness and in the development of pupil’s use of a range of reading strategies. Understanding mathematical concepts and number work is also covered as a pivotal element in the support programme. It is recommended that a review is undertaken on the breadth of pupils’ individual programmes to include some cross-curricular support and to include specific modules in developing self-confidence and assertiveness. The model of delivery should also include collaborative classroom work to promote agreed learning and teaching strategies in the school. It would also be beneficial to review the school plan in the range of support that’s offered and to implement the agreed coordinating strategies.
The school is included in the department’s rural scheme in tackling disadvantage and the scheme’s co-ordinator visits the school twice a week. The model of delivery engaged in is primarily a learning support model as well as nurturing assertiveness in identified pupils. The scope and delivery model of this scheme needs to be expanded to include direct involvement with parents and to link educational events and practices with parallel education organisations. There is a need to directly support the development of skills and opportunities for parents in education, as well as collaborating with the post-primary schools and other community developmental organisations as envisaged in the scheme. It would be beneficial to join forces with the adult education services of Galway County VEC, Cumas and Acadamh na hOllscoile Gaillimh, to explore the opportunities regarding second chance education on the islands.
The following are the main strengths identified in the assessment:
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 teaching staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.