An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills


Whole School Evaluation



Toonagh National School

Fountain, Ennis,Co. Clare

Uimhir rolla: 03898U


Date of inspection: 22 October 2009





Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils


School response to the report



Whole-school evaluation


A whole-school evaluation of Toonagh National School was undertaken in October 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Mathematics and Geography. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.



Introduction – school context and background


Toonagh National School is a four-teacher, co-educational primary school, located seven kilometres north-west of Ennis town. Situated in a rural area, the school’s population comes to a great extent from the areas of Toonagh, Ballygriffey, Dysert and Fountain and to a lesser extent from the outskirts of Ennis town. Over the last number of years, enrolment at the school has risen steadily. Pupils’ average attendance level is high.


The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:




Pupils enrolled in the school


Mainstream classes in the school


Teachers on the school staff


Mainstream class teachers


Teachers working in support roles


Special needs assistants




1.     Quality of school management


1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

This school operates under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Killaloe. The motto of the school is Mol an όige agus tiocfaidh sí. A deep and unified commitment to nurturing and encouraging pupils is demonstrated by the principal, teachers, board of management and parents.  These parties have an ardent belief that the school and the extended community play a significant and privileged role in enabling pupils to develop to their fullest potential. A strong sense of co-operation and collegiality amongst all personnel contributes to the positive, welcoming climate in the school.


1.2 Board of management

The board functions efficiently and it is properly constituted. Regular meetings are held at which a wide range of issues is discussed. Minutes of these meetings are kept and they contain a clear outline of decisions made and actions to be taken. In addition to formal meetings, the chairperson has contact with the principal on a very regular basis thus facilitating efficiency in dealing with issues as they arise.


It is evident that the board of management operates with clear vision and commitment. Underpinning the effectiveness of this board is its clarity of purpose and commitment to the school. The board cites the moral and holistic development of pupils as well as the future development of the community of Toonagh as the bedrock of its work. Board members report that they derive a sense of satisfaction from their work on the board. The board is keenly aware of the strengths of the school and is determined to ensure that standards are maintained.


The chairperson, who has twenty years of experience in the role, provides steadfast leadership. She demonstrates significant organisational skills. Considerable praise is due to the maintenance sub-committee for the exemplary manner in which the school is maintained externally and internally. A board member who is a qualified accountant, maintains the school’s account in a commendable manner and in accordance with Section 18 of the Education Act 1998, these accounts are certified externally on an annual basis. In support of their roles, some members have attended training provided by the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) and the board has registered for further training in the near future. The board’s duties in relation to school planning are effectively discharged.


The board plans its work strategically and with foresight.  It is committed to the provision of extra sports facilities and plans for the refurbishment of the adjacent ball alley and the development of an all-weather pitch are underway. Enlargement of the available car-parking space is also a priority. The board ensures that a good supply of equipment and resources is available to support teaching and learning.


1.3 In-school management

The principal who was appointed to this role in 1999, works very effectively. He displays highly developed interpersonal skills and dedicates himself to achieving specific targets and to systematically overseeing improvements in many aspects of the school, including the school building and academic standards. Under his leadership, high standards are routinely expected and achieved. Feedback from parents, enrolment trends, staff morale, standardised test results, and pupil behaviour are analysed by the principal as measures of the school’s effectiveness. His commitment to the holistic development of pupils is laudable and he encourages all pupils to take part in all activities.


The principal is supported by a highly skilled and dedicated in-school management team comprising a deputy principal and a special-duties post holder. In fulfilment of Circular 07/03, they carry out a range of pastoral, organisational and curricular duties which are reviewed biennially. The deputy principal offers sustained support to the principal. She liaises regularly with parents and with outside organisations and agencies and advances parental involvement in school activities including the school sports day. Amongst other responsibilities, the special-duties post holder assumes an extensive role in school planning. Both have engaged in postgraduate studies and their respective expertise in the areas of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Music contribute significantly to the school. Of particular note is their willingness to share their talents to ensure that the strong tradition of music in Toonagh is sustained.


1.4 Management of resources

The standard of accommodation at this school is very good. The existing school building was constructed in 1966 and in recent years, the board has overseen substantial maintenance and extension work. This well-planned work has resulted in bright, comfortable accommodation for teaching and learning. The spacious interior is well organised and has some interesting structural features. Externally, the pupils’ play areas have been extended and enhanced. The school employs one part-time cleaner who works to a high standard in ensuring cleanliness throughout the school. Two voluntary caretakers work diligently and with manifest pride, carrying out minor repairs and maintaining the building and its environs on a day-to-day basis.


A part-time secretary works efficiently in support of the principal and the school. Two Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) work ably under the direction of the class teachers. They contribute greatly to the care of pupils with special educational needs.


A section of the school’s general purpose has been designated for the storage of materials, including computers. This area is very well organised and as a result, resources and equipment are readily available to teachers. Over the years, all of the teachers at the school have taught at a variety of mainstream class levels. Collegial relations amongst staff result in sharing of expertise and, as a result, the ongoing professional development of teachers is supported. The school participates in the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative (MLPSI) and a visiting French-language teacher provides tuition to pupils in fifth and sixth class.


1.5 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Communication within the school is very good. Staff meetings are held once a term and informal meetings occur on a daily basis. Decisions are made democratically and school plans are drafted and reviewed collaboratively.


Very good efforts are made to communicate with parents.  Regular circulars and a yearly calendar are distributed. Information nights are held for the parents of new pupils. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually and each pupil receives an annual report. Parents and pupils engage in shared-reading at home and some parents are involved in training pupils in athletics and team games. At present, the school is working on the development of a dedicated website and this will greatly enhance communication. A public notice board on the school’s premises allows pupils to access information about school events. Parents are involved in drafting and reviewing policies, most recently in a review of the school’s code of behaviour.


A very active parents’ association supports the school’s work and there is very regular communication between the officers of the association, the parent body, the principal and the board of management.  A significant aspect of the association’s work is in relation to the adjacent hall which is owned by Muintir na Tíre. The association pays the annual rent and insurance costs and decorates and cleans the hall in advance of events. Each year, the association organises a get together to mark the celebration of the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. With the approval of the board of management, the association engages in fund raising amongst the parent body in order to pay for these activities.


1.6 Management of pupils

The management of pupils is very good. In class, they work diligently and they engage readily in activities. The principal visits every classroom on a weekly basis to encourage pupils and to affirm their work. As part of its code of discipline, the school has an anti-bullying charter in place. This aims to encourage good behaviour and to proactively pre-empt bullying. A buddy system is in place to support newly enrolled pupils. In their final year in the school, efforts are made to prepare pupils for post-primary school, including setting weekly deadlines for project work and homework.  It is reported by parents that pupils make this transition confidently.



2.     Quality of school planning


2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

All policies required by legislation have been developed, discussed and ratified by the board and the process of reviewing these policies is ongoing. They are presented in a well-organised manner and as a result they are easily navigable. Parents receive a copy of all school policies on enrolment. Further to this, on request, all relevant documentation is available for viewing by parents.


Overall, the quality of whole-school and classroom planning is good. Whole-school planning has a positive impact on teaching and learning in the school. Staff members have invested time and effort in drafting, discussing and reviewing plans. In the recent past, the school has engaged with the support services with a view to developing and extending good practice. In some curricular areas, specific targets have been identified in relation to how particular aspects of the curriculum will be developed throughout the school.


In fulfilment of Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools, all class teachers engage in long-term and short-term planning. Good links are made between the curriculum and the whole-school plan and a broad and balanced programme of work is taught. In general, plans contain a good outline of the content and the methodologies to be used.  In the future, placing a greater emphasis on planning for the use of more specific methodologies in some curricular areas will enhance teaching and learning.  In some cases, there is a good outline of how content will be differentiated for pupils with varying needs and levels of ability. Monthly progress records in the form of Cuntais Mhíosúla are compiled by teachers and these are maintained centrally by the principal. These reports give a good account of areas of the curriculum which have been dealt with. Included in teachers’ plans is the manner in which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) will be used to support work in literacy and numeracy.


2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.



3.     Quality of learning and teaching


3.1 English

English is well taught throughout the school. In oral language, games, pair work and circle time are used effectively to maximise the interactions between pupils at some class levels. The school’s general purpose area is gainfully used and provides pupils with sufficient space to fully engage in these activities. Props, posters and texts provide a good stimulus for lessons which focus predominately on vocabulary development. As a result, the majority of pupils possess a very good range of vocabulary and topic-specific terminology. The teaching of oral language will be greatly enhanced by ensuring that pupils are the dominant contributors in oral language lessons. Planning lessons in accordance with the contexts for oral language as outlined in the curriculum will help to achieve this.

In reading, lessons are enjoyable and teachers provide enriching experiences for pupils through the effective use of a wide range of books and texts. Pupils have access to well-organised class libraries. In addition to using a graded reading scheme, they compile lists of supplementary books which they have read. Good efforts are made to provide a print-rich environment. Teachers read expressively and model the reading process well. Throughout lessons, pupils are appropriately questioned and their comprehension and higher-order thinking skills are well developed. Commendably, in junior classes, reading lessons are very well structured and cater extremely well for pupils as emergent readers. The development of pre-reading skills including auditory and visual discrimination is emphasised. Rhymes and word games are skilfully used in this regard. The conventions of print are explored using an ample supply of large-format books.  


Writing is very well taught. In junior classes the desire to write is fostered and early writing skills are well developed. In middle and senior classes, the writing process receives appropriate attention. Pupils draft, edit and redraft their work. This work is very carefully corrected and affirming, constructive comments are added. Useful checklists are provided to remind pupils of key factors to consider when writing. They are encouraged to be neat in their work and are advised of strategies to achieve this. Imaginative, creative writing is explored through writing poetry and stories and a very good standard is in evidence in the samples of work displayed in the school environment. Whole-class writing projects are undertaken and pupils take part in the ‘Write-a-book’ competition. Functional writing and handwriting are developed predominately through use of a graded scheme throughout the school.


3.2 Mathematics

The teaching of Mathematics is very good. The school’s learning support teacher combines with the mainstream class teachers to create four groupings for the teaching of Mathematics. Oral Mathematics receives very good attention throughout the school. Lessons commence with rapid revision of number facts and questions which are linked to pupils’ lives, homes and direct experiences. The pace of lessons motivates and challenges pupils. Questioning is skilful and good connections are made between the strand units of the curriculum. This integrated approach to oral Mathematics is commendable.


At all class levels, topics are rigorously explored and very good explanations are provided by teachers. Whole-class demonstrations are effective. Concrete materials and objects from the home environment are very well utilised to demonstrate concepts practically. Mathematical language is developed and cross-curricular connections are made. In order to further support pupils’ learning, there is scope for the development of Mathematics-rich environments at some class levels. The outdoor environment and mathematical trails are used to develop some concepts. In junior classes, structured play sessions support the work which is carried out in discrete Mathematics lessons. This work is very well organised and an extremely good supply of resources and toys is utilised. At this level, rhymes and songs are used to develop and consolidate number concepts.


Throughout the school, pupils demonstrate a very positive attitude to this curricular area and they answer questions confidently. They use the strategy of estimation well and demonstrate good problem-solving skills. The majority of pupils achieve well in tests.


3.3 Geography

Teachers plan for a broad and balanced programme in Geography and worthwhile outcomes are achieved in lessons. A good range of resources is made available for the teaching of Geography. The use of multi-media projectors, the internet and PowerPoint presentations enhances lessons. Teacher-generated materials, compasses, models, simulations and objects from the environment are also used. Pupils handle and explore rock samples and demonstrate an interest in this aspect of the curriculum. Text books and a selection of atlases are used judiciously.


Lessons are well structured and engaging and a good variety of methodologies is used. Pupils’ record their knowledge in Geography using a range of approaches including sketching and the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Impressive project work is carried out. In junior classes, pupils investigate weather conditions and record their observations in an appropriate manner. They engage in simple and effective comparisons between the lives of people in different environments. When questioned on a range of topics, pupils at each level showed good ability to recall geographical facts and to make comparisons between contrasting areas.


The development of geographical investigation skills is central to activities during which pupils observe, predict, estimate and measure. In addition, pupils’ graphical skills and sense of place and space are well developed through the examination of a very good variety of maps. The use of photographs, aerial photographs and pictures as a basis for discussion helps to generate an interest in places. A large globe which is displayed in the school’s reception area is a point of interest for pupils. It is suggested that pupils have more access to this valuable resource and that a globe be made available for incidental examination in each classroom.


Particularly noteworthy is the work which is carried out in the school and local environment. This work focuses predominately on the Human Environments and the Natural Environments strands. Fieldwork is engaged in extensively and lessons are enhanced by teachers’ intimate knowledge of the area. Pupils in junior and middle classes develop awareness of people in our community and of the interconnectedness of people through their visit to the fire station in Ennis and to a local farm. In senior classes, an annual excursion to the Burren allows pupils to appreciate this unique environment and pupils have very good ability to discuss its features.


Work in the strand Environmental awareness and care is carried out in discrete lessons. In addition, positive attitudes towards the environment are developed through the very good initiatives which are in place to promote care of the environment. Pupils are encouraged to minimise packaging and litter and to assume responsibility for tidying their classrooms and the school grounds. Books and materials are recycled where possible. A well kept exterior with a variety of shrubbery enhances the school’s appearance and pupils assume an active role in ensuring that the school yard is litter free.


Throughout the teaching of Geography, there is a good level of integration with English, Mathematics and History. Pupils are encouraged to write letters to national organisations such as The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) to request information about topics being explored. The careful selection of novels in English allows for interesting cross-curricular studies. Graphs are generated for the purpose of analysing data in Geography and this consolidates work carried out in Mathematics. Members of the community accompany pupils on trips to sites of local significance. These visits facilitate an integrated approach to the teaching of History and Geography, particularly in the strand Continuity and change over time. A map of a driving tour which incorporates sites of local interest is distributed to pupils, and they are encouraged to embark on this tour with their families. This helps to encourage parental involvement and to enhance home-school links.


3.4 Assessment

A whole-school assessment policy has been devised and success criteria have been identified. The policy contains a clear outline of the approach to be taken to assessment in the school.

At all class levels an appropriate range of tests is used to monitor pupils’ progress. Samples of pupils’ work are maintained in individual pupil folders. This facilitates teachers in analysing pupils’ progress over a period of time. In middle and senior classes, regular written tests are administered in spellings, Irish, Geography, and History and parents are requested to sign these tests. Pupils’ written work is very carefully and regularly monitored as a means of continuous assessment of work.

In senior infants, the Belfield Infant Assessment Programme (B.I.A.P.) and the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) are used. The Forward Together programme is used if concerns are raised. From first to sixth class, The Drumcondra Primary Reading and the Drumcondra Primary Mathematics tests, as well as the Micra-T and Sigma-T tests, are administered each year. Information regarding pupils’ results is communicated to parents at the parent-teacher meeting in the form of STEN scores. An analysis of results by teachers helps to identify pupils who may be in need of additional support. In order to inform planning and identification of priorities, teachers also analyse results of these tests from year to year.

Once pupils have been identified as needing additional support, the learning-support teacher uses a range of diagnostic assessments in literacy to identify pupils’ needs and to plan a programme of work. Error analysis of written work in Mathematics helps in the diagnosis of pupils’ needs in this curricular area.



4.     Quality of support for pupils


4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

Three teachers are involved in the provision of very good support to pupils with special educational needs. It is evident that the pupils and teachers relate well to each other and pupils are affirmed regularly.


One of the three teachers is based at the school on a full-time basis and provides learning-support and resource teaching to pupils in a designated teaching area. This environment is stimulating, attractive and well arranged. Samples of pupils’ work, including work in the Visual Arts, are displayed alongside materials which support pupils’ work in literacy. Thorough questioning of pupils ensures that they are motivated and focused throughout the session. An appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of specific skills such as auditory memory skills and motor co-ordination skills. Some pupils engage in project work based on topics which are of particular interest to them. They use a computer to type their work and they demonstrate pride in their finished products. ICTs and an electronic library are used to develop and consolidate specific skills. A suitable range of software including Lexia reading software is in use. This supports the acquisition of reading skills. Two teachers who are based in nearby schools provide resource teaching for pupils with particular needs. The majority of supplementary support is provided by withdrawal of pupils from the mainstream classroom. Suitable resources including concrete materials, pictures and items from the environment are used to enhance teaching and learning. Activities are stimulating and well matched to the pupils’ needs and due cognisance is given to pacing activities appropriately.


Each teacher carefully devises and documents programmes of work for pupils, in some cases in the form of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs). Progress is very carefully monitored and daily notes are kept. Standardised assessments and teacher-designed tests are used to assess pupils’ progress. Pupils are also assessed against their main learning targets at intervals and subsequently, learning targets are reviewed.


In the case of all three teachers, there is very good collaboration and communication with the mainstream class teachers. The support teachers receive a copy of the class teachers’ programmes of work, in order that support is tailored to the prevailing needs of pupils. Regular communication is at the foundation of this arrangement. In class, the special needs assistant (SNA), works diligently to support pupils. There is also a high level of communication with pupils’ parents. In some cases, this includes maintaining a communication booklet to record observations and to ensure consistency between the school and all relevant parties. Regular meetings are held with parents to discuss programmes of work and pupil progress. Where appropriate, a multi-disciplinary approach is used to meet the needs of the pupils and there is a high level of communication with outside agencies.


4.2 Other supports for pupils; disadvantaged, minority and other groups

This is an inclusive school where all pupils benefit from an extensive range of activities throughout the year. The teachers endeavour to tailor education provision to meet the needs and abilities of all pupils.



5.     Conclusion

The school has strengths in the following areas:


·         The work of the school is overseen by a very good board of management and principal.

·         There is a positive climate and atmosphere in this school. Very good relationships have been cultivated between personnel namely the board of management, principal, teachers, parents, pupils and members of the local community.

·         There is considerable commitment to pupils’ holistic development and pupils are given many opportunities to engage in a range of activities.

·         Overall, standards in teaching and learning are very good.  

·         Over the course of lessons, a very good range of methodologies and approaches is used. Lessons are engaging and interesting and are suitably matched to pupils’ ability and interests.

·         The quality of support for pupils with special educational needs is very good.


The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:  


·         There is scope for greater use of the whole-school and classroom environments to support pupils’ learning and to display their work.

·         Use of broader contexts for the teaching of oral language in English as outlined in the curriculum is recommended in order to ensure that pupils are the dominant contributors throughout lessons.


 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.





 Published, May 2010








School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management



Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     


The Board of Management of Toonagh National School would like to thank the inspector for her professionalism, courtesy and support during the recent Whole School Evaluation.


We are delighted that the report highlights the very good teaching and learning in our school. We warmly welcome her recognition of the school’s commitment to the nurturing of the pupils’ holistic development.


We further welcome her affirmation of the strong sense of co-operation and collegiality amongst the school community, which contributes to the positive, welcoming climate in our school.