An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

WHOLE  SCHOOL  EVALUATION REPORT

Scoil Náisiúnta Briocáin

An Gort Mór, Rosmuc, Co na Gaillimhe

Roll number: 17463L

 

Date of inspection: 12 October 2006

Date of issue of report:  15 December 2006

 

 

 

REPORT ON WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION

1. INTRODUCTION – SCHOOL CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND

2. QUALITY OF MANAGEMENT IN THE SCHOOL

2.1 Board of management

2.2 In-school management

2.3 Management of resources

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

2.5 Management of pupils

3. QUALITY OF SCHOOL PLANNING

3.1 School planning process and implementation

3.2 Classroom planning

4. Quality of learning and teaching

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

4.2 Language

4.3 Mathematics

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

4.5 Arts Education

4.6 Physical Education

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

4.8 Assessment

5. Quality of support for pupils

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

6. Summary of findings and of recommendations for further development

 

 

 

 

REPORT ON WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION

 

This report was written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Náisiúnta Briocáin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and 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 pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided 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.

 

 

1.  INTRODUCTION – SCHOOL CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND

 

This small Gaeltacht school is situated on the coast in the parish of Ros Muc about 57km west of Galway city. It is one of four schools in the parish and is under the patronage of the Bishop of Galway. There are two mainstream teachers on the school staff and a shared learning‑ support/resource teacher (LS/RT) provides additional support for pupils experiencing learning difficulties.

 

The last school report was provided in 1999 when the school had a staff of one teacher and an enrolment of 13 pupils. School enrolment fell drastically in the nineties but there has been a remarkable increase in the number of pupils attending the school in the intervening period, especially in the last few years. A total of 37 pupils is currently on roll, 11 boys and 26 girls.  A rise in enrolment is forecast in the short-term due mainly to the construction of a County Council housing estate 2km from the  school and due also to various families returning to live in the area.

 

Since 2001 the school has been identified as base school for the Giving Children an Even Break scheme, but a co-ordinator is not currently employed. School management has confirmed recently that they are prepared to take part in the school support programme DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) under the direction of the Department of Education and Science. This is an action plan on educational inclusion and aims to tackle disadvantage in the school community. The cluster group of schools has not yet been named in the area. It is the school’s intention to commence planning at cluster group level as soon as a co-ordinataor is employed and the various members of staff have received in-service training.

 

Despite the challenge the school faces to preserve the Irish language due to the decline in the number of families speaking Irish at home, staff and parents display commitment towards the promotion of the Irish language and Irish heritage. There is a very noticeable Gaelic atmosphere in evidence and Irish is credibly promoted as the language of communication and teaching in the school.

 

The vision and aims of the school indicate that a positive happy atmosphere is promoted which allows pupils to develop and grow spiritually, socially and intellectually. It is also one of the school’s objectives that every pupil will gain enjoyment and pleasure from their school life and that pupils’ various needs and abilities will be accommodated. Gender equality is promoted, participation of parents is well supported and the preservation of Irish in the school and in the community is also an objective. Great praise is deserved for the co-operative good relations fostered between the various parties in the school environment and for the dedication of the staff and the board of management generally in their regular review of the agreed aims for the school community.

 

The school rolls indicate an improvement in the pupils’ attendance patterns since the last inspection report on the school. The recommendations of that report have been implemented in the interim period and regular contact is made with the educational welfare officer, when necessary. Attendance and non-attendance records are maintained in accordance with paragraph 21 of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 and pupils are presented with prizes for their efforts in attending school regularly.

 

 

2. QUALITY OF MANAGEMENT IN THE SCHOOL

2.1 Board of management

The board of management was appointed according to the rules and procedures of the Department of Education and Science. At least two meetings are held each term to discuss and organise school affairs. These meetings are conducted through Irish, minutes are recorded and kept under lock and key. The board supports the unique spirit of the school and the school community is kept informed through a newsletter from the principal and an information booklet for parents. Parents are informed about the board’s procedures for dealing with complaints.

 

It was reported at the meeting with the board of management that all school policies are submitted to the board, in accordance with paragraph 14 and 15 of the Education Act, 1998 and that the main administrative policies have been discussed at board level. This is a conscientious board which takes appropriate notice of the legal obligations imposed on it to ensure that school affairs are administered efficiently. Appropriate policies have been developed on health and safety, on behaviour and bullying, enrolment, attendance and the protection of children. Most of the various policies have been approved by the board and signed by the chairperson.

 

It is asserted that there is regular communication between the chairperson of the board of management, the principal and members of staff. It would be beneficial for the future to organise meetings with the staff to discuss the implementation of the curriculum and the quality of teaching and learning generally. It is noted that the school is fulfilling the Department’s rules regarding the length of the school year and the length of the school day. The board must now ensure that every teacher working in the school is fully qualified according to the requirements of the Department. The board is to be commended for making the school available for dyslexia classes, which are organised after school hours for the children of Connemara with the support of Muintearas.

 

It was reported that the grants provided by the Department to date were used for the appropriate ends and it is ensured that the various expenditures are made with the approval of the board. Records and accounts of all expenditures are maintained and though they have not been certified yet, it is reported that they are presented to the school patron at the end of every year. There is usually a treasurer’s report at the various baord meetings. The chairperson is currently treasurer of the board. It is recommended that a different member of the board be appointed treasurer in order to share the various responsibilities among board members in a spirit of openness and transparency. Other board members accept responsibility for different tasks based on their own experience.

 

The board gives good example to the school community regarding the use of Irish. It is also ensured that only people fluent in Irish are appointed to the staff of the school. The school management is considering providing Irish classes for parents to strengthen the speaking of Irish and the Irish culture in the community, in line with their obligations under section 9 of the Education Act, 1998. It is recommended that a written record should be inserted in the school plan to recognise these efforts.

 

The minutes show that the main items discussed at the last three meetings of the board included money matters, school events for the pupils, the school library and the development of the building and accommodation generally. There has been a good improvement in the school accommodation in recent years and improvements made include new windows and blinds, a new office and development of the playing pitch. New computers and teaching aids have been provided. It is recommended that a specific time should be allotted in the agenda of board meetings to concentrate on the main messages of the curriculum and the implications of the latest legislation on the duties of the board. This discussion should be noted in the minutes. The board recognises the importance of the professional development of the teachers employed and a school policy has been developed in this regard. It would be useful for the board to register a list of the courses attended by teachers in the school plan.

 

Regular open dialogue is promoted between the school community and parents. The parents participate in the school life through sports, drama and school trips. Newsletters are issued regularly under the direction of the principal as a communication aid to disseminate information and notices to parents. During the  evaluation the potential role of the DEIS co‑ordinator was discussed and the implementation of a  systematic structured programme with the support of the parents in order to address future requirements of the school.

2.2 In-school management

The principal has operated very diligently on behalf of the school since he was employed in 2003. He has participated in the MISNEACH scheme and he intends to attend the Forbairt programme under the Department’s national initiative Leadership Development for Schools to further improve his leadership skills. Despite the staff change in the last few years the principal deserves particular praise for his efforts in carefully administering school affairs and  in the effective implementation of the protection and safety policy. Supervision duties are divided equitably and all parties are treated co-operatively and respectfully. The school chronicles are kept up to date and good use is made of administrative days to send newsletters to parents and to review the various school policies. Planning meetings are co-ordinated with the other schools in the area. Proper attention is paid to punctuality and the Department’s guidelines regarding time spent in school are followed in the context of Circular 11/95. Staff requirements are reviewed annually and teachers are given support to attend various courses in the interests of the educational provision in the school.

 

It was clear during the evaluation that the principal gets full support from the staff in the promotion of good manners and good behaviour among pupils and in the execution of the whole-school planning process. At the moment the special duties post encompasses duties involving supervision, administrative duties and the provision of support for the principal. It is necessary now to review this post of responsibility and to divide it into three parts, responsibilities regarding curriculum matters, organisation and pastoral care. It would be useful to register the various responsibilities of staff in the school plan for the information of the various parties, in accordance with section 22 and 23 of the Education Act, 1998

 

Formal staff meetings are arranged once a term or every six weeks. It is recommended that minutes should be taken of the main decisions made at these meetings in the interests of curriculum implementation.

2.3 Management of resources

The same school building, which was built in 1943, continues to be in use. Though the storage space, the support room and the principal’s office were renovated recently the two classrooms and the other small rooms are limited and narrow in space in the context of present day architecture. In spite of this, the efforts made by the board of management for the well-kept appearance of the school environment, the good condition of the toilets and the improvements made to the accommodation, under the leadership of the board and the principal, are praiseworthy. Additionally, the board of management has a plan to develop a hardwood forest at the side of the school with the support of Coillte.

 

The school is cleaned once a week and modern furniture has been provided in the classrooms. As there is a lack of space in these rooms, it would be worth removing the equipment not in use to create various other spaces. Beneficial use is made of the learning-support room as a staff room and a meeting room. There is no general-purposes room in the school. Some of the playground is tarmacked and includes a hard court area and a basketball court and the remainder constitutes a grassy area. The public pitch, Páirc Peile na bPiarsach, situated across the road from the school, is a wonderful amenity and is available for physical education classes, when suitable weather prevails. As school attendance numbers are increasing steadily, it is recommended that the board of management review the application sent to the Planning Section of the Department in 2004 for the renovation of the building. It is advised that a revised application be completed to prepare the school for the years ahead in the implementation of active teaching methods in the various areas of the curriculum. This should  be approved in writing by the patron before any expansion or reconstruction work is undertaken.

 

The school has invested well in the provision of computer facililties, library books, equipment and aids to the curriculum. On the whole there is not sufficient provision of mathematical or music resources. It would be beneficial now to provide more mathematical and music aids throughout the school to support learning and teaching. Labels, notices, various exhibitions and other typewritten material are on show throughout the building to promote an Irish atmosphere and to remind people of the school’s objectives. The use of Information and Communications Technology is to be commended, especially in the project work undertaken with pupils in some classes and in the provision of teachers’ plans in  each class. It is advisable that a list of the range of software packages for the different class levels be registered in the school plan as information for every teacher and as support for the implementation of some aspects of the curriculum.

 

There are two mainstream teachers on the school staff and each teacher caters for four class levels. There is a temporary teacher working in the school in place of another teacher who is currently on career break. The support service for learning-support/resource teaching is divided between two teachers, one teacher operating full-time between two schools and another unqualified teacher who is employed by the board for four hours a week. The board is advised to employ a fully qualified teacher to fill this post. Two special needs assistants give extra support to pupils with special educational needs, one post is sanctioned on a full-time basis and the other is a part-time post for five hours. Recognition is given to the diligence of the special needs assistants who add greatly to the service the school provides for pupils with special educational needs.

 

A language assistant provides extra support for pupils who have limited Irish. This support is organised by ‘Scéim na gCuntóirí Teangan’ under the umbrella of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Support is provided in the various classrooms under the direction of the teachers for approximately an hour a day. A second-level teacher provides weekly French classes from third class upwards. This service is funded by both Cumas Teoranta and parents. Two other tutors assist teachers with Physical Education and Music during school hours. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs together with Comhairle Connachta Chumann Lúchleas Gael finance the football classes provided. The pupils’ parents and Cumas Teoranta financially support the additional music classes provided. It is recommended that the number of personnel who operate in the school in any given week should be carefully co-ordinated and the priorities and main requirements of the school should be identified. The results of the learning arising from the various services should be monitored on an ongoing basis taking into account the amount of time suggested for the implementation of the curriculum.

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The welcoming relationship and good co-operation fostered among parents is a strong feature of the school. The school aims to promote a good relationship between school and home and share information with parents on procedures, administration and the work of the school. Parents interviewed indicated that there is an open transparent atmosphere in the school. Parents are welcome to share their views and to discuss educational matters. Parents praised the manner in which their suggestions were heeded, especially regarding the music and swimming opportunities provided. The parents expressed their satisfaction with the continuous information provided about various school events and policies. Parents praised the interest in learning promoted amongst pupils. It was reported that the parents were satisfied with the effective communication between the school, the home and school management. Parents also articulated that they were particularly happy with the excellent behaviour of the pupils in the school yard and in other surroundings. It was reported that pupils with special educational needs and pupils from other countries are given a very warm welcome. Parents praised the emphasis placed on project work and on Physical Education.

 

Formal meetings with parents are held at the beginning of the school year to discuss their children’s progress. These meeetings are very well attended. Other meetings are arranged with new parents to explain the school’s philosophy and objectives. Parents support the school when necessary by collecting money, and through the various sporting, swimming and other social occasions organised.

 

The school does not have a parents’ association. It would be beneficial now, as recommended in the last school report, to establish a parents’ association which would be affiliated to the National Parents' Council in order to comply with section 26 of the Education Act, 1998. Following consultation with the principal a programme of activities should be promoted to strengthen the parents’ role in the process of whole-school development planning.

2.5 Management of pupils

Commendable attention is given to the management of pupils’ behaviour. A discipline code and an anti-bullying policy have been developed by staff in conjunction with the parents and the board of management. A co-operative and respectful atmosphere exists between the pupils and teachers in classrooms and in the whole-school environment. Parents and visitors are warmly welcomed. Pupils are to be congratulated on their good manners, their behaviour and their learning efforts. Appropriate responsibilities are given to the senior pupils in the school in organising recycling to achieve the Green Flag. An Taisce presented the school with the Green Flag for the first time in 2004.

 

 

3. QUALITY OF SCHOOL PLANNING

3.1 School planning process and implementation

Significant progress has been made on the development of the school plan in recent years and strong emphasis is laid on the principle of partnership with parents and with the board of management in the planning process. The school accepted support and advice from the School Development Planning Initiative. The various policies indicate that the school management has a good understanding of the latest legislation and the specific needs of the school. It was evidenced that the majority of policies developed were approved by the board of management and are being implemented conscientiously. The result of the recent review of administrative matters undertaken is in evidence. Policies are helpful, easy to understand and transparent.

 

Despite various staff changes in the last few years, every effort has been made to ensure that each staff member has participated fully in the planning process. A summary of the priority administrative policies are recorded in a booklet which is given to each parent. This booklet draws attention to the manner in which complaints are dealt with in the school and to the school’s approach to the promotion of the Irish language. Parents expressed appreciation of the principal’s efforts in the regular dissemination of this information.

 

The school plan is carefully laid out in two parts with an index and includes administrative planning and planning for the implementation of the curriculum. There is a good emphasis on self-evaluation and a time frame for whole-school implementation is recorded. It would be of benefit to include more specific information on the subject matter of the curriculum so that the various parties would have a clearer understanding of the strands and the strand units of the curriculum. Practical policies have been prepared in every area of the curriculum in which the staff has availed of in-career training. The school aims to develop a drama policy in the current school year following receipt of training. It would be beneficial to develop a two-year strategic plan covering curricular, administrative and resource requirements.

 

The administrative policies developed include helpful school policies relating to accounts, sexual harassment, staff development, equality of opportunity, communication between school and home, enrolment, first-aid, distribution of medication, homework and a safety statement. Evidence was produced which shows that the board of management and the staff have taken the appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, new edition May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. It is advised now that a certification date be included on the policy. The policies should be signed at board level to confirm that the board has accepted the policies and is implementing them.

3.2 Classroom planning

Preparation is provided by all teachers on a continuous basis and includes timetables, long-term schemes, short-term schemes, individual learning plans and monthly reports. There is a variation observed in the quality of preparation, some aspects are comprehensive and include specific objectives, reference to the strands and strand units of the curriculum and the activities prepared. Other examples are mainly based on the programme of textbooks and workbooks in use. It is suggested there should be whole-school staff agreement in the organisation of teachers’ short-term planning. Reference should be made to the teaching methods and the assessment and differentiation strategies in use to support the continuity of learning and the quality of teaching. This plan could be reconciled with the school plan and the support services. There is also a need to extend the good practice observed in some classes and to record a more specific description of the content covered in the monthly reports completed. This would facilitate the continuous monitoring of pupils’ learning experiences at different class levels. There is a range of charts on display inside and outside of classrooms.

 

4.  Quality of learning and teaching

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The direct approach is the most frequently used teaching method used. Talk and informal discussion are also used to respond to the various needs of the pupils.  Some aspects of good practice include the implementation of a  communicative approach in the teaching of Irish, the use of actions, circle time, drama, project work, environmental-based learning and the use of information and communications technology. Appropriate provision is made for individual differences and pupils with special educational needs are accommodated appropriately. There is a need for the implementation of a broader range of teaching approaches to learning in order to enhance further the pleasure principle of learning and pupils’ motivation for learning. It is advised that cooperative learning and collaborative learning should be used as active learning methodologies on a more structured and systematic basis throughout the school. It would also be beneficial to make greater use of charts and visual stimuli, drama and concrete materials during the teaching process to strengthen and consolidate learning. During the whole-school evaluation it was advised that support should be sought from the Regional Curriculum Support Service. Prior to the end of the evaluation it was clear that the principal had contacted the regional support services. The staff deserves commendation for their immediate efforts in commencing to  implement this advice.

 

Pupils display an interest in education and are attentive in classrooms. Pupils’ computer skills are developing satisfactorily. Challenging tasks are presented to pupils through the project work organised. Most pupils have attained a commendable fluency in Irish and on the whole pupils display good comprehension skills in Irish. The standard of English reading is good, taking into consideration the fact that some pupils are reading English as a second language. A variation in the attainment levels of pupils is observed in Mathematics. A number of pupils have difficulty understanding the language of Mathematics and certain mathematical concepts. The development of pupils’ skills in History, Geography, Science and the Visual Arts are progressing well. Very good emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ oracy skills and self-confidence levels in Social, Personal and Health Education and appropriate emphasis is placed on pupils’ skill development in Physical Education.

4.2 Language

Irish

Emphasis is placed on the informal development of pupils’ communicative skills throughout all classes. The pleasure principle in learning Irish is promoted and pupils’ comprehension is developed through the use of action rhymes, discussion, debate and storytelling. The Irish atmosphere fostered in every classroom is commendable. Good emphasis is placed on the continuous use of the language. The infant and junior classes can recite a wide range of song and rhyme. On the whole, a good standard of fluency is discernible. It would be of benefit to further emphasise strategies to enrich pupils’ language acquisition and to establish a programme for language intervention to promote the development of pupils’ higher-order thinking skills in Irish using integrated cross-curricular themes. It is also advised that the school plan should be reviewed and the teaching methods and assessment strategies used be identified.

 

Pre-reading and pre-writing skills are carefully developed in Irish. The formal development of Irish reading begins in senior infants following the completion of a suitable pre-reading programme. The emphasis placed on word recognition in the junior classes and on the development of phonics and phonology throughout the school is commendable.  It would be of benefit to use flashcards and checklists to appropriately monitor this work. Good use is made of Foinse newspaper articles as well as various novels in middle and senior classes in order to stimulate the pupils’ interest in storytelling and reading. Pupils are also encouraged to read library books. Most pupils achieve a good standard of reading in these classes and pupils display good comprehension of the subject matter. Comprehension and accuracy difficulties are encountered by some pupils with English as a first language. It is recommended that the level of difficulty of the various texts used should be reviewed, a suitable structured reading scheme should be identified and new terminology should be taught during the pre‑communicative stages of lessons.

 

Penmanship and writing skills are promoted through various kinds of writing exercises based on the material in textbooks and workbooks. There is commendable integration with other areas of the curriculum to excite interest in writing and to improve pupils’ writing skills. Pupils in middle and senior classes are given worthwhile opportunities to publish their free composition in booklet form. This is laudable practice. It would be beneficial to focus further on the quality of pupils’ cursive writing styles and to implement a structured programme from junior classes upwards.

 

English

Teachers' planning is based on the strands and strand units of the curriculum and on the school plan and pupils’ various educational needs are taken into account. Attention is given to the appropriate amount of time spent on the teaching of English in general. Staff has identified various effective teaching strategies in the school plan. However, more specific information should be noted in the content section of the teaching programme.

 

Pupils are given regular informal opportunities to develop their oracy skills. Much emphasis is placed on the development of listening and speaking skills through debate, discussion and the use of a direct approach. The use of a series of illustrated charts in every class would be beneficial to encourage pupils’ ability to think. It is recommended that a language experience chart should be used and the printed environment should be developed further to prioritise the development of pupils’ understanding of new vocabulary, prior to the introduction of formal reading texts. Pupils in the junior classes recite a wide range of rhymes and various pupils in the middle and senior classes can recite self-selected poetry samples with confidence. The store and range of poems studied could beneficially be expanded in some classes. It is recommended that a structured oral language scheme be developed on a whole-school basis using a range of integrated themes to increase and enrich pupils' vocabulary on a systematic basis.

 

Appropriate pre-reading activities are undertaken and a good emphasis is placed on pupils’ pronunciation and on the rhythm of speech in junior classes. Phonics are taught in an informal basis throughout the school in the context of pupils’ poetry and reading texts. The schemes Letterland, Sounds at Work and Orton Gillingham are also used. It is recommended that agreement be reached on the whole-school use of a structured phonological and phonemic awareness scheme to strengthen the link between learning-support and mainstream class teaching. Differentiated tasks are organised, as appropriate, for pupils with special educational needs.

 

Formal English reading is taught from first class onwards and pupils in middle and senior classes are given worthwhile opportunities to respond to different novels and to discuss the content read. The Magic Emerald reading scheme is used throughout the school and is used in conjunction with parallel reading schemes in some classes. Most of the pupils throughout the school read with satisfactory comprehension and fluency in English. Some of the pupils have achieved a literal level of comprehension. It is now recommended that more care be focussed on the development of pupils' inferential comprehension skills to further develop their higher-order thinking skills. A good emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ silent reading skills and pupils are encouraged to read library books outside school. It is suggested that shared reading be promoted in junior classes in conjunction with parents. Reading records should be maintained in all classes.

 

There is good linkage in evidence between reading and writing tasks and the themes explored in conversation. Pre-writing skills are developed diligently in the junior classes and the emphasis placed on the writing process, especially in the middle and senior classes, is commendable. Pupils are provided with valuable opportunities to develop their powers of imagination through various pieces of writing and the use made of Information and Communications Technology to present, edit and publish completed samples in booklet form is praiseworthy.  Pupils' writing efforts are exhibited and celebrated publicly. This good practice is noteworthy.

 

Project for Modern Languages in Primary Schools

Though the school does not participate in the Project for Modern Languages in Primary Schools, opportunities are provided for pupils in middle and senior classes to learn French. The pupils enjoy these classes and can make themselves understood through the use of ordinary conversational vocabulary with a good emphasis on the appropriate phonetics. Written work is recorded in a neat fashion and a good range of French verse and song is recited. The school's efforts in providing this service as a motivation and support for pupils are commendable. This experience gives pupils a deep understanding of the French way of life.

4.3 Mathematics

The curriculum, the school plan and the mathematics textbook guide teachers’ individual planning and classroom practice. Learning is reinforced through the use of rhyme, activities, questioning, explanation and teacher modelling. Pupils are encouraged to be active in their learning in some classes and the use of equipment in these classes promotes the pupils’ interest and understanding. There is varied range of concrete materials provided in the different classrooms. It is evident that more mathematical resources are required in some classes to facilitate the more effective implementation of active learning and discovery methods.

 

The mathematics programme is largely based on pupils’ workbooks in middle classes and senior classes. Some pupils display speed in oral computing and a good understanding in the mathematical concepts covered and in the various problem-solving activities in their copybooks. Appropriate emphasis is placed on developing assessment skills in these classes and good use is made of calculators to check results. As Irish is not the first language of a small percentage of pupils, mathematical concepts are explained in both languages, which results in these pupils having difficulty in understanding specific mathematical concepts. It is recommended that the language of mathematics be examined in each strand and strand unit and an agreed systematic plan be developed to consolidate the mathematical terms on a whole-school basis. It is recommended that a more practical approach be adopted to include the use of a range of illustrative materials and active learning approaches such as cooperative learning to further reinforce pupils’ understanding of the concepts.

 

Work is neatly laid out in copybooks and the accuracy of this work is carefully monitored. Pupils’ progress is regularly tested through standardised tests and class tests and the results of these tests are used to promote early intervention and to further support the pupils who need it most.  It would be of benefit to examine pupils’ attainment levels further by analysing the sources of pupils’ difficulties and linking the results of this analysis more closely to the pupils’ language development programme.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

The school places particular emphasis on local history and valuable opportunities are given to pupils to work as historians. Pupils are developing a good understanding of time in all classrooms. Events in their own lives are examined in junior classes and there is an excellent focus on recognising the passage of time in various contexts in the middle and senior classes. An integrated, cross-curricular approach is appropriately emphasised.  Local historians are invited to the school from time to time. Storytelling, project work, the digital camera and the internet are beneficially utilised and the connections made between national and international history in projects undertaken are to be commended. Local history projects on display greatly enhance the development of pupils’ understanding.  The digital disc and the booklet on the history of the school deserve special praise. The school participates in an East/West programme in conjunction with Léargas. Links have been formed with Tremoilet School in Wales and it is planned that a joint project on the Celts will be completed during the current school year. The efforts made to  participate in this initiative are highly commended.

 

The majority of pupils have a very good understanding of the themes covered. It is clear, however, that the knowledge and understanding of some pupils needs further reinforcing, due to their lack of fluency in the language. It would be beneficial to give pupils regular opportunities to make PowerPoint presentations on the most important points of information in the various cooperative groups. Pupils’ knowledge could be further consolidated during instruction through the use of flashcards, artefacts, and illustrative materials and pictures. It would also be beneficial to identify the different strand units in the school plan as a guide to the school community to ensure that pupils in each class gain experience from a broad and balanced history programme. It would be worthwhile to collect historical sources such as old local maps, old newspapers, photographs and a range of books to fully develop this aspect of History.

 

Geography

Aspects of the geography curriculum are comprehensively studied in all classes. Suitable events are organised to examine the relationship between the world, the planets and the sun and healthy attitudes towards recycling are encouraged throughout the school. The environmental awareness and care strand is fostered and the work is favourably integrated with Science and with other areas of the curriculum. Project work, discussion and broadband are beneficially utilised to reinforce pupils’ understanding. Graph-plotting skills are well taught through the opportunity given to pupils to analyse weather data. There will be a need in the future to provide a wider range of maps in Irish and for the subject  to be tailored to each class level in the school plan, as a basis for promoting investigative skills in Geography. The school has been actively involved in the Green Flag project in partnership with An Taisce and the County Council. The booklet issued on the recycling project is to be commended.

 

Science

The school plan indicates that the implementation of the science curriculum is regularly reviewed. A good range of science rescources is provided to implement the curriculum and a list of this equipment is appropriately registered in the school plan. The school plan acknowledges that the staff is aware of the current gaps in implementation. This planning approach is to be commended.

 

The themes are interwoven during the year and the natural forces of weather, environment and nature are explained in each class. Some classes construct attractive nature tables. Research and project opportunites are provided for pupils to explore the concepts and computers are well utilised to analyse results in the senior classes. Great efforts are made to engage pupils in Science through their attendance at various science exhibitions. Pupils from fourth and sixth classes have participated in the STEPS to Engineering Magical Science and Engineering Show in the National University of Ireland, Galway and they derived great benefit from the tasks undertaken subsequent to the visit. The school has also applied to attend a training day under the direction of Discovery Primary Science, Forfás.

 

Pupils are given valuable opportunities to examine the immediate environs of the school. A small garden has been laid out and each pupil planted a tree. A weather station has been built and the weather project on the school climate is praiseworthy. Pupils speak confidently about the information gained. The use of the school yard as a learning resource is commended. Plans are in place to use the interesting range of habitats that are adjacent to the school.

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

Visual Arts is carefully planned and the challenges along with the strengths pertaining to the successful implementation of the curriculum are recognised. This transparent approach to self-assessment will greatly assist the provision of a broad, balanced curriculum in each class. The staff is also mindful of the importance of linkage and integration in planning visual arts activities which assists pupils’ understanding of art and of other subject areas. 

 

There is a specific link between the school plan and classwork in this aspect of the curriculum. Much of the pupils’ art arises from their own experience, both real and imagined, in all classes. Stimulating material is displayed in classrooms to awaken visual responses in pupils and this greatly enhances their motivation levels. This practice is commended. Parents are encouraged to share their skills with pupils and workshop classes are arranged in the third term. The school funds these classes through the organisation of sales of work.

 

Good use is made of the entire space within the school building, as appropriate. Teachers’ planning, photographs and the various samples of work on display illustrate that teachers are mindful of the pupils’ interests and of providing a broad developmental programme for each pupil. Senior pupils were given the opportunity to design a crest for the school uniform. Effective use is made of the digital camera to keep a record of pupils’ achievements. It is now recommended that a collection of representative samples of work in a range of two-dimensional and three-dimensional media be developed and that the samples be chosen in consultation with pupils. This collection could be used as a record of the creative and aesthetic development of individual pupils in Visual Arts.

 

 

 

Music

A variation in emphasis is evident in the implementation of the music curriculum throughout the school. Pupils are given valuable opportunities to listen to sounds from the surrounding area and a wide range of rhymes with accompanying actions are recited in junior classes. Pupils enjoy making music and work in phonology is combined with various elements of the music curriculum. Pupils benefit from and enjoy these activities. Senior pupils sing from memory a lovely collection of Irish songs. Good use is made of tape recorders in some classes. It would be beneficial to increase the range of songs and tunes in general to provide a greater variety in style and tradition.

 

There is limited provision in general in relation to the teaching of literacy in Music and the elements of music. It is recommended that more emphasis be placed on the whole-school development of musical literacy. It would also be of benefit to provide more musical instruments in all classrooms to broaden and enrich pupils’ understanding of musical composition  in various ways. Information and Communications Technology could be used to develop pupils’ awareness of related aspects in Music. It would also be beneficial to use group work and structured activities to develop pupils’ listening, composition and comprehension skills in Music.

 

Pupils are given worthwhile opportunities to play tuned and untuned percussion instruments and pupils from second class upwards gain experience in playing the tin whistle. An external instructor provides this service once a week under the direction of class teachers. Pupils attain a good standard in playing the tin whistle. This practice is commended. In support of the developmental implementation of the three music strands, it is suggested that the music policy be further developed as a guide to the school community. 

 

Drama

It is clear from the teachers’ planning that the importance of Drama as part of the curriculum is recognised. Appropriate time is allocated to the teaching of Drama in each class and it is regularly used to develop pupils’ confidence and social skills and to nurture pupils’ investigative and empathy skills. Mime, pretence, role-play, still-image and creative productions are utilised to develop pupils’ imagination and self-esteem and to allow pupils to express their emotions. Irish scripts compiled by teachers are used from time to time as starting points for Drama, especially at the annually organised concerts. All pupils are given the opportunity to participate in these concerts. The emphasis placed on Drama to develop the relationship between stories, themes and pupils’ own life experiences is commended. Pupils are also given the opportunity to produce their own plays and to attend drama workshops under the direction of Pléaráca Teo. It would be beneficial to use Drama as a curriculum integration approach and as an active-learning strategy to develop the pupils’ mastery of language in other areas of the curriculum. The staff intends to develop a drama policy to ensure that the aims of the drama curriculum are achieved on a more continuous basis throughout the school. This plan will be developed following the staff’s receipt of in-service training from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme.

4.6 Physical Education

The school staff places particular emphasis on physical health and sports activities. The thought and reflection which have gone into developing a practical plan to guide the school’s work is commended. When this plan is reviewed at the end of the school year it would be of benefit to set out the various activities for each class level in accordance with the different strands of the curriculum.

 

A wide range of activities is provided in most of the strands. The school yard and the playing field which has been developed adjacent to the school are well utilised, weather permitting.

Physical education activities are well organised and are suitable to pupils’ age, interest and stage of development. Pupils are actively involved in lessons. Laudable emphasis is placed on developing pupils’ co-operation, self-esteem and confidence skills throughout the school. The school’s equipment is appropriately used during all activities. Care is taken to include warming up and cooling down exercises. Pupils are given the opportunity to attend swimming classes for an eight-week period each year to enable them gain an understanding and appreciation of the aquatics strand. Particular emphasis is also placed on basketball, rugby, soccer and athletics. Teachers and parents work voluntarily during these events and this greatly assists in the strengthening of relationships with parents. An external coach supports teachers in the teaching of football skills from first class upwards over the course of two school terms. Since there is no community hall available locally, pupils currently receive limited experience in gymnastics. 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

The implementation of the social, personal and health education (SPHE) curriculum is observed in every aspect of life in this school. The implementation of this subject is carefully analysed in the practical plan developed, which provides guidance for the work of the school. It would now be worthwhile to develop the plan further to identify and register the school’s good practices on a more comprehensive basis. Parents who were interviewed during the whole-school evaluation made special reference to the excellent communication and to the positive, welcoming ethos which has been created in the school.  

 

A commendable range of activities is undertaken to develop pupils’ interests, self-confidence, co-operative skills and positive attitudes. This subject is developed in a range of learning contexts and pupils are clearly proud of the school. Pupils are confident in expressing their own opinions and are respectful towards each other and with visitors. The Misneach programme and various charts from the health board are used. A school policy on healthy eating is effectively carried out throughout the school.

 

A policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) has been developed in partnership with parents and talks with a guest speaker from the Department of Health and Children are organised every alternate year so that pupils are given information on various sensitive issues.  It was reported that these talks are given to pupils after school hours under the direction of teachers and parents. The aims of the RSE programme are clearly laid out in the school plan. It is also clear that every effort is made to attend to the values and needs of pupils from other countries in a respectful and comprehensive manner.

 

Pupils are provided with valuable opportunities to explore scenarios associated with the school’s code of behaviour and bullying policy. Circle time and discussion are used to introduce the subject to pupils. Pupils play an active role in debates and listen carefully to each other. It is suggested that more use be made of working in pairs and group work to further develop pupils’ critical thinking, analysis and higher-order thinking skills.

4.8 Assessment

The primary assessment strategies used by the school include teacher observation and questioning, pupils’ work samples, teacher-devised tests, projects, pupil profiles, individual learning programmes, homework, standardised tests and diagnostic tests. Formal assessment is carried out annually on every pupil from first class upwards to gain an insight into their learning needs and progress in Mathematics and English. The identification of assessment strategies for Irish would be of benefit. The Irish profiles published by the Educational Research Centre could be benefically used to assess progress made in Irish. There is scope for using and developing different assessment tools throughout the school, including checklists, collections of work, self-assessment by the pupils themselves, curriculum profiles and progress reports to guide teachers’ planning and address the needs of pupils.

 

Diagnostic tests are also used to gain more information in guiding instruction. The Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) screening tests are carried out on junior infants and it is planned to administer the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) to senior infants during the current school year to identify pupils’ strengths and needs and to plan learning goals for English. It is suggested that the Forward Together programme be implemented for pupils who require extra support in English.

 

Copybooks and pupils’ written work are regularly monitored in all classes. A written report is sent to parents at the end of each year and copies of these records are maintained in a central location. Formal meetings are held with parents during the first term to discuss test results and pupils’ progress. An assessment plan should now be developed in consultation with parents. Assessment strategies should be agreed to facilitate continual analysis of pupils’ progress. It would also be beneficial for staff to assess the impact of the approaches and various teaching strategies used in classrooms.

 

The most recent available standardised results show that pupils have attained good standards in English, taking into account that the test was given in their second language. There is scope for improving standards in general in Mathematics. Pupils approach their work with enthusiasm and display an interest in learning.

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The learning-support/rescource teaching service (LS/RT) is based in Scoil Mhuire in Turlach Beag and is shared with this school. The Department criteria are adhered to regarding the identification of pupils for supplementary support. Support is given to twelve pupils with learning difficulties in English and Mathematics, from first class upwards. This support is provided in Irish or English, depending on the individual pupil’s needs. An individual learning programme is provided for each pupil and contact is made with class teachers on a regular basis. These individual learning programmes are reviewed to assess progress and to identify new priority learning needs. Copies of the learning programmes are given to the mainstream teachers and are also available to parents.

 

The additional teaching is provided in a learning-support/resource room three or four times per week. Regular planning is provided and computer software is used from time to time to consolidate pupils’ learning. The illustrative stimuli used during teaching are effectively employed to strengthen pupils’ interest and understanding and to develop pupils’ language and reading skills. Assessment is based solely on observation and teachers’ questioning. It is suggested that the assessment methods in use be expanded to include the use of various checklists and flashcards as a guide for the planning of teaching and learning goals. It would also be worthwhile to use home-school journals as a method of communication between families and the school. It is recommended that a learning-support plan be developed based on the Learning-Support Guidelines (2000). The provision of learning-support in pupils’ classrooms has recently commenced. These efforts are commended. It would be worthwhile to further develop this practice by placing a particular emphasis on pre-preparation for differentiated tasks to enhance the impact of classroom learning for the pupils with the greatest need.

5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

An enrolment policy reflecting a spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion towards each pupil, including pupils with special educational needs, has been developed and ratified by the board of management. It is enshrined in the school plan that equal opportunities are provided for pupils to participate fully in the various curriculum experiences organised. A book rental scheme is in place in the school.

 

Seven international pupils currently attend the school. The school is mindful of diversity in tradition, language, religion, customs and culture. The language assistant gives additional support to pupils with limited Irish. This support is provided under the direction of teachers in the various classrooms and a record of the work covered is maintained.

 

 

6.  Summary of findings and of recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.