An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Roll number: 01569O
Date of inspection: 7 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Ballycahill National School. 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 inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors 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.
Ballycahill National School is a three-teacher school in the village of Ballycahill approximately six kilometres from Thurles in Co. Tipperary. The school enjoys a central location beside the community hall in the village and serves as a focus point for the community. Currently there are 73 pupils enrolled in the school. The school opened in 1966 and an extension was added in 2004. At present, there are three classrooms, two support teaching rooms, a staffroom and an office. The interior and the exterior of the school are very well maintained.
The staffing arrangement includes three class teachers, one learning support teacher shared with a neighbouring school, a part-time resource teacher, a part-time resource teacher for language support and two special needs assistants. A part-time secretary and a caretaker are also employed in the school.
The pupils interact very well with visitors. The teachers display a genuine pride in their school and environs and there is a very positive sense of engagement between the teachers and the pupils. The school, as a whole, seems active and diligent with a strong focus on co-operation, friendliness and collegiality. A genuine effort is made to fulfil the aspiration of the school’s mission statement to develop the potential of each pupil equally.
The board of management is properly constituted and members have taken up the positions of chairperson, secretary and treasurer. Subcommittees of the board are selected to deal with matters such as the appointments to posts of responsibilities. Some training is available to board members to assist them in the implementation of their duties. Board meetings are held regularly, approximately at six week intervals. During the recent school-building development, meetings were frequently convened on a weekly basis. In the recent past, the development of the school building under the devolved grant scheme was the main priority of the board. This required much input from board members. The board also undertook major fundraising which, with the devolved grant, enabled the board to develop the school to its present day pristine condition.
The board of management supports the running of the school by ensuring that finance is available to meet the purchase of resources, assisting in maintaining good relationships with parents and ensuring that there is good communication among board members, the parent’s council and the general parent body. Board members discuss all school policies presented for ratification, make recommendations where deemed necessary and ratify plans when finally agreed by the partners. Included in the policies ratified by the board are policies on admissions and enrolments, code of behaviour and discipline, health and safety statement and a policy on the management and reporting of child protection concerns. All policies are made available to be examined by parents at parent-teacher meetings and on request. Each year the parents of new pupils to the school are issued with a booklet outlining some of the school rules and information to assist in easing the transition process from preschool to formal schooling.
The board of management expressed its satisfaction at the very good level of teaching and learning taking place in the school. The board considered that a broad and well-balanced curriculum is delivered to the pupils and it praised the many extra-curricular activities including athletics, sports, games and drama in which the school takes part. The board complimented the teachers for their dedication to their work and for the community spirit developed in the school. The board of management carries out its work in an effective manner. This is evidenced by the resources available to teachers and pupils and the reports by parents of their satisfaction with the running of the school. The board of management is commended for its willingness to discharge its role in a positive and proactive fashion. The board of management should now consider methods to develop further the communications among school, board, parents’ council and the general parent body, especially in the area of school planning.
The in-school management team consists of principal and deputy principal. The deputy principal has carried out the duties of principal on a number of occasions in the past and also for a period during the current school year ending before this whole school evaluation. Both post-holders carry out their duties in a collegiate fashion. This co-operation has resulted in a management structure which is of a very high standard and which contributes significantly to the success of the school.
The duties of the principal are fulfilled in accordance with the Rules for National Schools and are in line with relevant Department of Education and Science circulars. Management and teaching duties are undertaken by the principal in a very professional and competent manner. The principal was appointed to this post two years ago. Within that short space of time she has developed a commendable working relationship with all of the staff of the school. She carries out her duties in a diligent and conscientious way. The principal has continued the very good work of her predecessor, who is now a class teacher in the school. She has continued to develop many of the excellent planning initiatives put in place by him.
The areas of responsibility attached to the post of deputy principal are clearly defined in the school plan and a contract is in place. These duties incorporate organisational, pastoral and some curricular responsibilities. It is recommended that, following consultation with the post holder, a curricular development role be included among the duties of this post. The post should be reviewed in line with the development of the school plan in order to assist the school in advancing the curricular areas under review in the school plan.
All aspects of the school are very well resourced. Personnel are all employed effectively with individual skills appropriately developed for the benefit of all pupils. The classrooms all have a bright and airy perspective. Accommodation is of a high standard, new furniture has been put in place and significant display space has been constructed and is well used. The school building is extremely well-maintained. The entire school community is to be commended for its management of the extension to the school in 2004. The additional space created is now very well integrated into the overall campus and it is clear that a great deal of pride in the school exists locally. Overall, the physical appearance of the school is of an excellent standard.
Material resources are plentiful and well managed. In all classes, pupils were observed manipulating a range of commercially-produced and school-made learning tools which made significant contributions to the learning process. In all aspects of the curriculum, the school has well-stocked inventories which are readily accessible. The success of the school's purchasing policy which targets specific curricular areas systematically is clearly evident.
During the course of the evaluation process, a very positive relationship between home and school was observed. Clear lines of communication have been established and the parents’ association committee members work closely with the school authorities to ensure the maintenance of this positive approach. Significant funds have been raised by the parents for a range of projects in the school. Work is now beginning on how the parents can become more involved in the curricular work of the school. In order to develop this further, it is recommended that the teaching staff of the school identify areas for development and seek the partnership of the parents to maximise the benefit to the pupils. It is clear that parents are supportive of this aim also.
The school should consider the value of a regular newsletter as part of its efforts to alert and explain the curricular developments ongoing in the school. The senior pupils are computer-literate and could expand their skills even further if given charge of the production of the newsletter. The school would, through this document have the opportunity to highlight the content of the Primary Curriculum 1999 in a meaningful and helpful manner over the entire school life of the pupils.
There is a positive, caring and respectful relationship to be observed between staff and pupils in this school. At all times during the evaluation a sense of calm and a focus on learning were evident. Pupils were always anxious to display their knowledge and skills and did so in a co-operative and purposeful manner. Positive affirmation of work done by all pupils is also evident through the colourful display of work done and also through the supportive and encouraging signage visible throughout the school. Discipline was easily maintained by all teachers and great expertise was in evidence in the sensitive management of the wide range of personalities and learning styles of the pupils. The results of this good work are to be seen in all classes.
Whole school planning in this school is carried out to an exacting and high standard. A wide and comprehensive range of planning materials is available in the school. All curricular areas are covered along with a diverse suite of administrative policies. During the pre-evaluation meeting with the board of management, knowledge and ownership of the planning process engaged in by the staff was clearly evident. These documents provide clear and measured programmes of learning and experiences for all class levels. Differentiation and assessment strategies are identified and integration opportunities are highlighted for all staff. Given the size of the school, these documents are very impressive in their range, complexity and clarity of style. It is obvious that all staff members have worked diligently and co-operatively to ensure the impact of this process is not lost in the effort to plan effectively at individual class level.
Following the evaluation of the teaching and learning, there is ample evidence of the impact the excellent planning process is having on classroom activities. Teachers understand the need to differentiate and integrate learning opportunities as regularly as possible. It is vital that this momentum is maintained and progressed as fully as possible. In support settings, ensuring the maximum involvement of the pupils with particular needs in the mainstream lessons can be exploited even more than at present. Using the whole school planning documentation will assist this work.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken 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, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The school has successfully developed a template for use by all teachers to assist them in their planning preparation. All teachers use this template to provide long-term and short-term planning for their classes based on the content objectives, strands and strand units of the Primary Curriculum 1999 and as set out in the school’s policies for the curricular areas. Monthly progress records are also maintained which delineate that portion of the curriculum taught during the preceding month. The plans set out clearly the methodologies being used, strategies for differentiation and the resources needed for the implementation of the work. The planning provided takes into account appropriate assessment strategies and from the teaching observed these strategies were used effectively.
The quality of teaching and learning in this school is of a high standard. Teachers work diligently to implement the principles of the Primary Curriculum 1999. Methods are for the most part traditional in nature and lesson aims and concepts are explained clearly and followed by a range of interesting activities. There is evidence of good pupil attainment in literacy and numeracy. Engagement with the teacher is full and attention levels are high.
It is recommended that the teaching staff would now examine the potential of introducing more active learning methodologies throughout the curriculum. There is a need for the pupils to be allowed a greater amount of freedom of expression and to access a wider range of guided discovery learning opportunities in all aspects of the curriculum. In order to assist this, more creative approaches to room and furniture layout should be considered. Allowing more space for groups to discuss, share and listen to ideas from others would promote creativity, foster leadership and develop individual learning capacity.
Feictear go bhfuil plean don ábhar seo curtha ar fáil atá nascaithe le prionsabail agus struchtúir snáitheanna agus snáithaonaid an churaclaim. Is léir go gcaitear an-dúthracht le múineadh na Gaeilge sna ranganna go léir. Baintear úsáid rianúil as postaeir, lipéid chun teanga labhartha na ndaltaí a spreagadh agus a chur chun cinn. Baintear úsáid fhónta as cluichí cainte, feidhmeanna teanga, áiseanna teagaisc agus as drámaí beaga chun foghlaim na teanga a spreagadh. Cuirtear béim chuí ar fhorbairt scileanna léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna. Déantar freastal maith ar fhorbairt tuisceana agus ar leathnú foclóra le linn na gceachtanna. Léann na daltaí go beacht. Léiríonn siad a dtuiscint ar an ábhar trí cheisteanna a fhreagairt agus pléann siad an t-ábhar léitheoireachta go tuisceanach. Cuirtear cleachtaí oiriúnacha faoi bhráid na ndaltaí sa scríbhneoireacht agus tá ord agus eagar i leagan amach na gcóipleabhar. Cuirtear raon maith rann, amhráin agus filíochta oiriúnaigh i láthair na ndaltaí agus baineann siad taitneamh astu. Ar an iomlán, sroichtear caighdeán creidiúnach amach sa Ghaeilge ach go háirithe sna hardranganna. Fágtar mar dhúshlán faoin scoil teanga labhartha na ndaltaí a leathnú a thuilleadh amach anseo.
The school has provided a plan for this curricular area which is based on the principles and structure, strands and strand units of the curriculum. It is clear that the teaching of Irish is carried out diligently in all classes. Posters and labels are used regularly as stimuli to develop and promote the pupils’ oral competency. Good use is made of word and language games, teaching aids and short drama presentations to promote learning in this area. Suitable emphasis is placed on the development of reading and writing skills in the middle and senior classes. The pupils read accurately. Through questioning and debate, they display good understanding of the material being read. The pupils engage in suitable writing exercises and the work in their copies is neat and well ordered. The pupils are exposed to a good range of rhymes, poems and songs which they enjoy. In general, a creditable standard in Irish has been achieved by the pupils especially in the senior classes. It is now a challenge for the school to expand the pupils’ oral language skills.
In English, the standards of attainment in reading are good. There is a plentiful supply of books in the school and the pupils clearly enjoy reading interesting texts. Comprehension levels are high and when given the opportunity, pupils are competent at answering questions of varying degrees of complexity. The school should examine the use of space in the rooms with a view to greater promotion of reading through reading corners. A more deliberate approach to the creation of an effective print-rich environment would result in greater levels of attainment for the pupils.
In writing, pupils are encouraged to write creatively on a regular basis. There is a plentiful supply of examples of this work on display and the quality of the work is good. Handwriting is of a high standard. The further expansion of the use of the ICT infrastructure in the school to support creative writing is recommended. It is hoped that the school will see the benefit that technology can bring to the writing experience and the help it can deliver in particular to the drafting process.
Language development in this school is monitored carefully and liaison with the support teachers is close and focused. Debates, performance and presentation of work are all encouraged. The inclusion of all pupils for whom public performance proves stressful should be further expanded.
The teaching of Mathematics in this school is of a very high standard. Orally, the pupils are alert and accurate in their answers. A wide range of effective strategies is in use which encourages participation, enjoyment and achievement. High levels of competence are in evidence in knowledge of tables and awareness of place value in particular. The principles of the curriculum are well understood and active learning activities are the norm. This work is supported by high quality resources which are plentiful and accessible. Problem-solving skills are well developed and group and pair work strategies are firmly established. Mathematics areas in all classes are relevant and attractive. The use of everyday situations based on the experience of the pupils as foundations for learning is undertaken effectively. The children respond positively to this and can see a relevance to the work.
The teaching of History is carried out in accordance with the principles of the Primary Curriculum 1999. Pupils are afforded the opportunity to explore the local historical settings of the area. Local history books have been produced and the children are encouraged to work in pairs and in groups, as appropriate. Integration with other subject areas is evident. A good sense of the chronology of history is developed and the pupils are competent at displaying their knowledge base verbally, pictorially and in written form. The school is encouraged to expand the range of materials available to the pupils through the interest centres in the classrooms. With the upcoming in-service in drama, there will be many areas where the pupils could be encouraged to role-play and to come to a greater understanding of the history of their area.
In Geography, the pupils are developing knowledge and understanding of local, regional and wider environments. Very good work is carried out to assist pupils develop their spatial awareness. Pupils are developing an appropriate cognitive map of the local area and are being challenged to extend the process to wider geographical settings. Maps and other relevant illustrations are used effectively. Geographical investigation skills are being well developed and during lessons there is good use of the interpretation and analysis of data. A very suitable range of methodologies and resources is utilised during lessons. There is very good use of a digital camera during some lessons and it is recommended that the use of ICT be expanded across all aspects of Social Environmental and Scientific Education. The pupils’ attainment in this curriculum area is creditable.
The teaching and learning experiences observed during the evaluation indicate a very high standard in Science. Pupils are actively engaged, work in groups and pairs and manipulate a wide range of materials which support the lesson aim. Clear instructions are given with care taken to ensure pupil safety. Scientific language is well developed. Commendably, significant time is given to prediction where the pupils are assisted to make appropriate judgements as to the possible experiment outcomes. As with History, a greater sense of Science about the school would enhance the learning experience even more.
Coverage of the various strands of the curriculum is evident throughout the school. Pupils use a range of materials and some of the work integrates well with other subject areas. In some parts of the school, this work is displayed effectively. It is recommended that more creativity and inventiveness would be encouraged to promote the individuality of each child's work and that there would be a sense of the subject throughout the entire school. This strategy would also assist the development of the Looking and Responding strand of the curriculum. The public areas are ideally suited for a celebration of the good work which the pupils are doing. This is also an area of the curriculum where parental involvement in all stages of the learning process can be considered and where pupils can be allowed a greater freedom of thought and expression.
The pupils display a good standard of performance and musical competence through the use of the tin-whistle. The enthusiasm of the teachers has a positive effect on the pupils in this area of the curriculum. A wide range of appropriate tunes and songs are introduced during this work. Singing is also of a good standard and pupils experience the various curricular strands. It is recommended that during lessons where the focus is on the Listening and Responding strand, the pupils would be given more opportunity to explore their responses verbally. This would encourage oracy and imaginative development. The inclusion of pupils with special educational needs in this activity is also an opportunity to maximise the work of the support teachers in assisting those pupils to participate as fully as possible in the mainstream class. The teachers are to be commended for their commitment to the concerts organised for the local community. It is clear that this is much appreciated by the parents and assists in forging meaningful home/school links.
Drama has been identified by the school as an area where a greater focus may be appropriate for the future. All classes are encouraged to participate in this subject and there is especially good work in evidence in the integration with Irish. A Drama teacher working under the direct supervision of the teachers has been introduced to the school and the quality of the experiences for the pupils is widening. It is recommended that greater liaison between the work of the visiting teacher and the teaching staff would now be put in place. There is a need to build on the good work in Drama and Irish by examining where further integration possibilities can be explored.
The school is fortunate in having very good grounds, a hurling field and access to the local community hall for the development of this area. Pupils work enthusiastically in Physical Education activities. They thoroughly enjoy all their work and co-operate well with each other. Care is taken to develop all strands of the curriculum but especially the strands of athletics, dance and games. Pupils are acquiring an appropriate range of movement skills in a variety of contexts. Alertness, control, balance and co-ordination through movement are suitably developed. Their knowledge and understanding of basic rules and the need to adopt safe practices while engaged in physical activities is appropriately fostered. Very good use is made of the resources and amenities available to the school. The school participates in inter-school competitions and everyone becomes involved in the annual sports day. Staff members provide support for a number of extra-curricular activities and give substantial amounts of their personal free time to school teams.
A very high level of pupil engagement characterises the learning experience in this subject area. Significant effort has been put into healthy eating, bullying, behaviour and misuse of substances policies. The result is a school where the principles of this curricular area pervade all other aspects of school life to a commendable degree. During the evaluation, the interaction with the pupils was always based on a visible awareness of the importance of these principles. All are to be commended for the success of this work.
A wide range of diagnostic, standardised and teacher-devised assessment tools is used effectively in this school. Pupils are tested annually and for those with special educational needs more regular and detailed assessments are administered. The results are maintained with great care. For the future, the school should consider the advantages of organising a whole-school tracking scheme for assessment data. Whole staff knowledge of the school averages would serve to identify those areas of the curriculum which might require greater emphasis and a wider range of teaching strategies to be employed from year to year. It is important that all curricular areas are assessed regularly and that teacher observation skills are developed to assess those aspects of the curriculum which are not suited to paper-based assessments.
In this school learning support is provided for 14 pupils at present. These pupils receive extra support in English and Mathematics. Resource teaching is provided for three pupils, while language support is provided for two other pupils. Detailed individual education plans [IEPs] are maintained on all pupils. There is clear linkage between the programmes and the whole school plan for support provision. This comprehensive and clear plan provides an ideal foundation for the future work of the services. The staged approach is used extensively and a good understanding of the Learning Support Guidelines is evident. The teaching of these pupils is carried out sensitively. Strategies employed are effective and relevant. It is clear that the pupils enjoy the learning experiences provided and benefit from them. Regular testing is carried out using a range of diagnostic tools. The information gathered is used to inform the work of these teachers and to assist parents in the education of their children. Regular liaison with parents is in evidence and the inclusion of the pupils in mainstream classroom activities is identified as a priority.
Currently, the performance of the pupils in receipt of support provision in their classes would indicate that participation in the majority of these activities is not as fulsome as possible. There is a need for greater clarity between the class teachers and the support teachers regarding the identification of the content, methodologies and the assessment of appropriate learning targets for these pupils. Greater knowledge of the relevant aspects of the IEPs’ relevance to the classroom, achieved through a more formal communication mechanism, would give the class teacher more opportunities to include the children meaningfully in the work of the class. It is recommended that the focus of the services to these pupils now turn towards supporting their participation in the classroom activities in as full a manner as possible. This work should include more in-class activity by the relevant teachers, guided by reference to the strategies to be used by the individual class teachers and to the outcomes achieved by the pupils in the monthly report.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The teachers, staff and board of management are commended for their commitment, diligence and professionalism in providing a very good education to all pupils.
· Supportive collaboration is very much in evidence between all stakeholders in the school community.
· Pupils in this school are mannerly, well behaved and hardworking.
· Teachers use a wide range of very suitable methodologies during lessons.
· The school has achieved commendable standards in Mathematics, History, Geography and Science.
· The school buildings and grounds are of very good quality and are maintained to a very high standard.
· The board of management has provided a wide range of very suitable resources for teaching and learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· More specific communication between the class and support teachers should be ensured. This would assist in the prioritisation of the aims and objectives of the mainstream class activities for the pupils in receipt of support.
· Pupils should be given full exposure to the Drama curriculum following receipt of in-service during the current school year.
· The use of information and communications technology in the school should be expanded.
· The school should further expand the work in Visual Arts and give greater prominence to displays of pupils’ work in this curricular area.