An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballygiblin National School
Mitchelstown, County Cork
Roll number: 02114B
Date of inspection: 14 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Ballygiblin 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 inspector 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 the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. He interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. He reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. 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.
This school occupies an attractive spacious site three miles east of Mitchelstown. It serves a well-established rural community and at present enrols a total of 101 boys and girls from infants to sixth class. The current building was opened in 1985 and replaced a two-classroom adjoining schoolhouse dating from the 1840s. Under the patronage of the Bishop of Cloyne, the school’s ethos is based on principles of inclusiveness and equality, and a key aim is to foster a strong civic spirit and sense of pride in the school as a community. The teachers endeavour to enable all their pupils reach their full potential as whole persons. This is set out in written plans that are characterised by an aspiration to promote the academic, imaginative, social, emotional and spiritual dimensions of its pupils. With its low front walls and rear and side boundary of neatly topped coniferous trees, the school provides a safe and secure environment in which to learn and it is clear that the children treat the school building and surrounds with due care and respect. The decorative order and maintenance, both within and without, are generally good and the overall appearance reflects the continuing and praiseworthy interest of a board of management that works in willing co-operation with an efficient part-time caretaker. There is a happy atmosphere about the school and relationships are harmonious. Children appear enthusiastic and polite, they display a positive attitude to learning and are eager to be challenged. This is reflected in high attendance levels and lively, respectful interaction with peers and teachers throughout the day.
The board of management meets once per term and is prepared to convene on a more frequent basis when circumstances warrant it. In compliance with his supportive role, the chairperson maintains regular contact with the principal and staff and his attention to school matters is most appreciated by the teachers. Clearly the board of management is interested in promoting the success of the school and displays a commendable willingness to discharge its evolving role in a positive and worthwhile fashion. In this regard, the board is particularly concerned that the fifteen-year-old prefabricated structure that houses the special needs team needs to be replaced. To this end it has made a formal application to the Department of Education and Science (DES) for grant aid for replacement accommodation to include ancillary rooms for principal and storage.
The principal is highly conscientious in the discharge of her duties and makes an admirable effort to ensure that the high standards so long a hallmark of this school are maintained. In turn, she is ably supported by willing colleagues. She has charge of two classes, a necessary arrangement but one that inevitably restricts her discretion in satisfying administrative demands. However, in conjunction with a deputy principal who offers valuable support, she succeeds admirably in satisfying priority issues that arise throughout the day. The deputy principal contributes not only in the area of general administration but also in the promotion of the litter free campaign, maintenance of school records, overseeing certain funding arrangements and curriculum development in respect of Irish and Science. The special duties teacher’s duties include a responsibility for curriculum development in respect of SPHE, Music and Arts education and she discharges her duties to effect. In all, this presents as a dynamic relationship that facilitates the maintenance of high operational standards overall.
The teaching staff comprises a teaching principal and three other mainstream teachers; there is also a full-time learning support resource teacher and a part time resource teacher for children with special needs. There are also two special needs assistants, one of whom in effect is full-time and the other part-time.
The resources of the school, both human and material, are used to effect. The children are divided in the usual manner for a four mainstream teacher school: one teacher takes infants (27 pupils); another takes first and second classes (25 pupils); the principal takes third and fourth classes (20 pupils), and fifth and sixth classes (29 pupils) comprise the fourth grouping. This arrangement works successfully in enabling teachers make best use of their talents within the context of the school. The contribution of the learning support/ resource teachers (LS/RTs) is organised on a withdrawal from classroom basis and the special needs assistants function under the sensitive and purposeful direction of their colleague teachers. There is also a part-time school secretary who is assigned meaningful support duties and who discharges her role in an efficient and conscientious manner.
Overall, the school is well resourced. There is a large stock of basic learning materials in the infant room and in all classrooms there is a comprehensive collection of good quality library books that is regularly supplemented by newly published materials. In addition, in each classroom there are many colourful commercial and teacher-made visual aids and these are used to considerable effect across the curriculum. Packs for history, archaeology, science and maps are used to considerable effect. The photocopier and printers are used to considerable advantage in the production of support materials, and also there are TVs and VCRs, together with tape recorders, music players and electronic keyboard. In addition, there is a laminator and digital camera which impact beneficially on the learning. Computer technology has featured strongly in the school for some years, there are ten personal computers and six laptops and there is an admirable upgrading of stock on a systematic basis. The computers and peripherals are used to considerable effect, broadband has been introduced and are in regular use in enhancing the learning.
The parents association expresses a high level of satisfaction with the school and is particularly appreciative of the efforts of staff. They meet with the teachers on a formal basis on one occasion each year but know that they are welcome to consult with teachers on an individual basis whenever they deem it necessary; and they regularly do so, particularly at the behest of teachers who seek their sustained support in addressing particular difficulties being encountered by their child. A recent initiative at infants’ level has involved parents in the development of their children’s reading competence as part of a shared reading programme and it merits recording that the briefing took place outside of school hours. Parental support of the school is also evidenced in its fundraising initiatives which in recent times, for example, have led to the provision of lagging for basketball posts and the meeting of the cost of playground markings, whiteboards and certain other teaching materials. It is also seen in the organisation (including transport) and subsidisation of the swimming sessions for some forty-five children. All this is appreciated by the staff.
Parents exhibit an acquaintance with certain elements of the school plan and have had an involvement in the drafting and ratification of the policies within the SPHE area. Moreover, under the direction of an outside tutor, they have joined with their children in the school in the delivery of the RSE elements of the programme. The staff has produced an attractive and readable booklet that is presented to the parents of newly enrolling children. This outlines in some detail school policy in respect of certain key areas such as discipline, enrolment procedures, home work and attendance; and, appropriately, the school’s vision statement with its commitment to celebrating the uniqueness of each child is included.
The overall judgement is that there exists a valuable home-school relationship that is rooted in high levels of mutual respect and appreciation. Inevitably, this leads to the maintenance of high standards throughout the school.
The school has prepared a useful school plan. The document contains informative statements of school policy in essential areas, together with a detailing of aims and objectives in curricular areas. By its nature the school plan is evolving and it is envisaged that its compilation and revision will proceed in parallel with the delivery of the curriculum in-service programme. In this regard, it is recommended that the cyclical process of amendment will have as a central objective the systematic reduction of unnecessary detail in the curricular areas (for example, in Gaeilge) so that a higher level of clarity and conciseness will emerge. The school board and parent body have contributed to some elements of the school plan, specifically in the areas of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), and it is appropriate that their supporting role should continue to be encouraged. 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, 2004) and Child Protection: Guidelines and Procedures (Department of Education and Science, April 2001).
Teachers demonstrate a useful familiarity with the school plan in all its essential elements. In every classroom there is evidence that individual planning is grounded in the curricular aims and objectives outlined in the school plan. This results in a positive measure of continuity and progress from one class level to the next, and is particularly evident in respect of Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) and Mathematics. The teachers are aware that securing a close relationship between whole school and individual planning constitutes a critical element of planning operations and it is appropriate that in the coming months they will focus on refining arrangements to secure increasing levels of success in this crucial area.
Tá sé mar aidhm inmholta ag an scoil an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn mar theanga bheo agus is léir go gcaitear an-dúthracht le múineadh na teanga ar fud na scoile. Cleachtann na hoidí modhanna feidhmiúla teagaisc, gabhann beogacht leo chun na daltaí a spreagadh agus ar an iomlán sroichtear caighdeán an-creidiúnach. Is inmholta ach go háirithe an caighdeán a sroichtear san Ardroinn dá bharr, agus sonraítear leis go bhfuil an-ghreim ag na daltaí ar an ngraiméar sa dá rang san. Baintear úsáid as an miondrámaíocht chun daltaí a spreagadh, cleachtar an fhilíocht agus chonacthas an-idirghníomhaíocht idir oide agus dalta. Cuirtear cleachtaí oiriúnacha ar na daltaí san obair scríbhneoireachtta agus gabhann ord agus eagar le leagan amach na gcóipleabhar. Fágtar mar dhúshlán faoin scoil ról na héisteachta agus na scéalaíochta a fhorbairt a thuilleadh amach anseo agus, maille leis, an chaint leanúnach a chur chun cinn ar bhealach sistéamach.
Purposeful oral interaction in English features in each classroom and the work is firmly rooted in Primary School Curriculum (1999) with its strands and strand unit components. Teachers engage the children in discussion on topics drawn from the different curricular areas and the children in general respond enthusiastically. This is particularly evident in the middle and senior classes where children are growing in competence to present and support argument. In all classes teachers see the development of reading skills as vital. At infant level the children acquire a useful sight vocabulary and they proceed from this to a generally sound grasp of phonics. This is grounded in the recently introduced Jolly Phonics programme that centres on the promotion of phonological awareness. Whereas graded books from a published scheme form the core of the reading material, this is supplemented by a study of the novel and a systematic promotion of library book reading. An examination of reading scores achieved in standardised tests shows that on the whole the children are achieving a very a high level of success and the staff is worthy of commendation for its efforts. Also poetry features regularly and children recite a range of suitable poems with clarity and expression. The development of writing skills is another key aim of each teacher. Some of the work is executed by means of computer and is presented in copybook form and in attractive projects on walls where it is integrated with Visual art. Standards of layout are impressive and throughout the school the handwriting in general is excellent.
Mathematics achievement is generally sound. Each class follows the content and sequence outlined in a commercially produced scheme and this leads to a systematic treatment of the various topics prescribed in the curriculum. Furthermore, this is supplemented by a range of worksheets and materials produced by staff. In infants the children acquire an appropriate mathematical vocabulary and much of the learning occurs during play activities where the work is underpinned by a purposeful use of concrete materials combined with lively oral exchange. The children in general are accurate at computation and present their work in an orderly, disciplined fashion in copybooks that are systematically monitored. Problem solving is attempted with enthusiasm in the senior classes and some children prove particularly adept in identifying the fundamental elements of problems that are rooted in their every day experience. Children experiencing difficulty are provided with a measure of individual tuition on a systematic basis and some are supported by the LS or RT in a more intensive fashion. All this serves to raise general standards and promotes a creditable level of self-confidence in Mathematics at all levels of the school.
The History programmes are rooted in the principles integral to Primary School Curriculum (1999). Strands and Strand units outlined in teachers’ programmes of work demonstrate that the school aims to foster an interest and curiosity in respect of the past. Much of the focus of the work centres on themes included in commercial texts but, appropriately, the teachers regularly depart from these sources and promote discussion on how people and events have had an impact on each other. Local History features to a certain extent and the learning is enhanced by its integration with construction work. This is evidenced in the construction of various types of tomb that are synonymous with the Stone Age and in the production of large-scale colourful models of Norman castles.
The teachers’ planning in Geography is comprehensive and orientated towards the development of the children’s knowledge and understanding of natural and human environments in the immediate locality and further afield. A suitable programme is followed and there is a high measure of continuity from class to class, a circumstance that is facilitated by the practical use of core texts. The project method features to a creditable degree and is used to considerable effect to supplement texts, to widen perspectives and to develop research skills.
The teachers are working diligently to develop a Science programme that will encourage children to observe, recognise patterns, estimate, question and hypothesize and their efforts are referenced to the child-centred principles integral to Primary School Curriculum (1999). A variety of ‘hands-on’ materials has been assembled and this enables children work scientifically. Activity learning features regularly, for example in the areas of electricity, air and pressure. The children appear highly interested in the task on hand as they develop their investigative skills and their oral competence in small groups.
There is an impressive programme in Visual Arts and it is characterised by high levels of variety and practicality. The range of experiences offered is wide and the work seen includes drawing, painting, printing and modelling with a wide range of media. The work is displayed to effect in the classrooms and clearly the children are being successfully and systematically helped develop a keen aesthetic sense.
The curricular strands of performance, listening and responding feature in all classrooms. While there is rhythm work on a regular basis, song singing forms the core of the music curriculum. The children acquire a growing repertoire of suitable songs and some of these are performed in pleasing two-part harmony. Standards of singing within the school are good and the children perform to good effect. In all classes their enjoyment is striking and can be viewed as eloquent testimony to the success of their teachers in promoting an appreciation of quality music and a personal response.
Dramatic activities form a feature of the work in all classrooms and its value as a learning tool is acknowledged by teachers. On occasion, this is reflected in the production of a small-scale operetta and the most recent offering was an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz in 2005. Staff is encouraged to develop this area of the curriculum still further in balance with other areas of the curriculum.
The school’s Physical Education is in the process of development. At this stage each teacher follows a programme that embraces movement, dance and games. The children participate in the lessons in a spirited but disciplined fashion and it is clear that they derive a high level of enjoyment from the dance elements of the curriculum. Team games also feature on the programme with hurling, Gaelic football, basketball and shinty on offer, and school teams participate in inter-school tournaments inside and outside school hours. Swimming is also organised for the children, in most part by parents, and takes place for a period of ten sessions each year.
The school’s Social Personal and Health Education programme provides useful opportunities for children to develop their understanding of themselves. The staff is conscientious in promoting healthy relationships and in encouraging healthy patterns of behaviour. They supplement work in SPHE with relevant material from a variety of associated programmes such as RSE and Stay Safe, they engage with the issue of substance abuse as a matter of policy and the work is profitably integrated with other curricular areas.
The staff uses a variety of assessment modes on a systematic basis. These include informal observation and testing coupled with monitoring of written work. Moreover, the assessment work is complemented by the administration of norm- and criterion-referenced tests. Informal mathematics tests feature regularly and near the end of each school year the Micra-T is administered to measure attainment in English reading. The results in literacy and numeracy, and indeed across the curriculum, confirm that the children in general are achieving at a standard that is well in keeping with age and ability. In fact, the test scores in reading are particularly impressive.
The school administers the MIST at senior infants level, and Quest too, and these help identify those children who are experiencing difficulty at an early stage. Arising from this, programmes directly centred on recognised weaknesses are prepared and followed by class teachers and, where appropriate, by the special needs team. Parents are consulted and advised of results, and an outline of planned support is provided so that they themselves may make their valuable contribution.
The special needs team consists of two resource teachers, one of whom is full-time in the school and the other attends for a total of fourteen hours per week. There are also two conscientious special needs assistants who support their efforts and whose contribution is appreciated by staff. The learning support resource teacher supports a total of twenty-one children in English and Mathematics, whereas the resource teacher for children with a general special educational need supports four children. The work of both teachers is characterised by careful, detailed planning aimed at addressing identified needs. These are identified by means of a battery of tests such as Quest, Neale Analysis and Aston Index and are complemented both by psychological reports and the Micra-T which is administered by the class teacher. Arising from the testing, an individual learning programme centred mainly on individual needs is devised, and in all of this the mainstream teacher and parents are consulted and briefed. Arising from this, the focus centres on the development of literacy and mathematical skills, but not exclusively so as emotional development is also addressed. The usual strategy adopted by the special needs team involves the withdrawal of the children from the classroom for concentrated attention. This has a significant value, particularly in respect of certain children. However, given the crucial nature of integrating special needs children with their peers, teachers are encouraged to work within the classroom on an increasing basis as part of their strategy.
The following are among the strengths and areas for development of the school identified in the evaluation:
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 the staff and the board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.