An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Whole School Evaluation



St. Joseph’s  National School Brackloon, Westport, County Mayo

Uimhir rolla: 04796R


Date of inspection: 2 October 2008






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 Brackloon N.S. was undertaken in September 2008. 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, Irish, Mathematics and Science.  The board of management 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

Brackloon National School is a five-teacher co-educational school, situated in a rural area eight kilometres south of Westport. It is a good school with a dedicated and professional staff. The school has experienced considerable growth and change in recent times. Pupil numbers have grown from 38 pupils in 2003 to the current enrolment of 67. Two new staff members were appointed in January 2008. The school is sited in two separate buildings either side of a busy road. The staff is to be commended for the very effective manner in which they are dealing with this challenge. While school attendance is generally good, the poor attendance of a small number of pupils is a cause for concern. The school participates in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), part of the Department of Education and Science’s programme to alleviate educational disadvantage.


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 is a caring, inclusive school. It is under the patronage of the Archbishop of Tuam and has a Christian ethos. The teachers are commended for their success in creating a happy and secure learning environment for the pupils in their care.


1.2 Board of management

The current board, which was established in January 2008, is effective and supportive. It is properly constituted and meets regularly. Specific tasks are allocated and are undertaken in a professional and committed manner. The dangers associated with the split campus are causing anxiety to the board. Currently it is seeking the provision of a new school building and plans have been submitted to the Department of Education and Science for consideration.


The board has been involved in the review and ratification of the school plan. It is recommended that all members of the board have a copy of the plan.




1.3 In-school management

The in-school management team consists of the principal, deputy principal and special-duties teacher. The principal, who was appointed in September 2007, has many years of teaching experience in the school and is very familiar with the families and the local community. He is a very effective leader and he plays a vital leadership and management role in the areas of curriculum, pastoral care and administration in the school.

The other post holders share many of the daily tasks and actively participate in decision making. A culture of co-operation and collaboration prevails which contributes significantly to the positive, friendly atmosphere which is evident in the school. The openness with which the entire school staff engaged with the evaluation process is particularly praiseworthy. The board is advised to review posts of responsibility regularly and to establish a practice whereby post holders provide a report to the board on developments in relation to their duties. 


1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

A very positive relationship is evident between the school and the local community. A number of parents with expertise in the visual arts assist class teachers with particular strands of the curriculum and high quality samples of the children’s work were noted during the evaluation.  Parents have assisted in fund-raising and providing practical help with sports activities. At present the board of management is engaged in the setting up of a parents’ association.

Parent-teacher meetings are held in the first term of the school year and an annual written report is issued in June. Parents are encouraged to consult with teachers on an individual basis whenever they deem it necessary. It is school policy that all parental concerns are addressed at the earliest possible opportunity. Parent representatives were interviewed as part of the evaluation process and expressed a very high level of satisfaction with the quality of education provided by the school.


1.5 Management of pupils

The management of pupils in this school is excellent. A positive code of discipline is effectively promoted throughout the school. During the course of the evaluation mutually respectful pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil relationships were evident. The extent to which pupils are encouraged to participate in classroom work through the use of activity based learning and co-operative group work is highly commendable.



2.     Quality of school planning


2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The quality of whole-school planning is very good. A comprehensive school plan, addressing curriculum and organisational areas, has been devised by the staff. The collaborative process used in the drafting of school planning documents is highly commended. It is evident that the plans are specific to the school context. Useful work has been undertaken in outlining how the curriculum plans are to be implemented in the multi-grade setting each year. These documents are concise and user-friendly.


The quality of classroom planning is good. A common template is used throughout the school for both long-term and short-term plans, which helps to ensure consistency in terms of curriculum provision. Currently the monthly progress record is recorded by inserting ticks on short-term plans. It is recommended that progress be recorded in terms of the specific learning outcomes that have been achieved by children, noting content, skills and learning experiences. Differentiated learning outcomes should also be recorded.


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 Language



Éiríonn go breá leis na hoidí dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge a chothú. Labhraíonn siad an Ghaeilge go cruinn, líofa. Cothaítear atmaisféar spreagúil don Ghaeilge agus úsáidtear í go rialta i rith an lae. Tuigeann na daltaí treoracha agus ceisteanna. Is léir go mbaineann siad taitneamh as na ceachtanna. Baintear úsáid as réimse leathan de straitéisí agus d’acmhainní chun feidhmeanna teanga a chleachtadh agus a dhaingniú, ina n-áirítear drámaíocht, rainn agus teicneolaíocht faisnéise agus cumarsáide (TFC). Úsáidtear cairteacha agus taispeántais éagsúla chun foghlaim agus úsáid na Gaeilge a éascú do na daltaí. Moltar tuilleadh béime a leagan ar shaorchomhrá simplí agus ar úsáid nathanna cainte i gcomhthéacsanna úra lasmuigh de chomhthéacs an cheachta fhoirmiúla.


Léann formhór na ndaltaí le cruinneas agus déantar plé ar ábhar na léitheoireachta. Déantar cúram den scríbhneoireacht Ghaeilge agus is léir ó na cleachtaí go bhfuil caighdeán maith á shroichint ag na daltaí. Tá cnuasach deas filíochta curtha le chéile atá in oiriúint do na grúpaí éagsúla agus aithrisíonn na daltaí go beoga é.



The teachers succeed in fostering a positive attitude towards the Irish language. They speak the language accurately and fluently. They cultivate a stimulating atmosphere towards Irish and they use the language regularly throughout the day. The pupils understand commands and questions. It is clear that they enjoy the lessons. A wide range of resources and strategies are used to practise and to consolidate language, including drama, rhymes and information and communication technology (ICT). A variety of charts and displays is used to assist the pupils in their use and learning of Irish.  It is recommended that emphasis be placed on the development of simple unstructured conversations and on the employment of common language structures in new contexts outside of the formal language lesson.


Most pupils read accurately and discuss the content of their reading. Care is given to written activities and a good standard is achieved by pupils. A good collection of suitable poetry is available for each grouping and the pupils recite with enthusiasm.



The standards achieved in English are very good in all classes. A broad and balanced range of experiences is provided and pupils’ progress reflects the high scores achieved in the most recent standardised tests completed by pupils from first to sixth classes. An extensive programme in oral aspects of English is undertaken throughout the school and the children are encouraged to ask and answer questions and to express their thoughts and feelings using a wide and varied vocabulary.  A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ vocabulary and language on a cross-curricular basis.  Co-operative group work is an effective strategy used to improve children’s oral-language competence.


Particularly impressive work was observed in the development of phonological awareness, as part of the foundation of basic reading skills, in the infant classes. The emphasis placed on developing reading skills and on developing a love of reading in the school is praiseworthy.  Despite very limited space, a library has been established in the school.  Buddy-reading and shared-reading strategies are successfully implemented. Children can confidently discuss their favourite genres. Very effective use is made of visits to Westport library to enjoy readings by poets and authors.


Writing skills are suitably developed in all classes and pupils are encouraged to write in a variety of genres and for different purposes and different audiences. Written work is presented neatly and corrected regularly by the teachers who provide sensitive and encouraging feedback. The writing process is emphasised and the final draft of pupils’ project work is attractively displayed in classrooms. It is recommended that greater use be made of information and communications technologies in both the writing process and in presenting pupils’ written work.


3.2 Mathematics

The standard of Mathematics achievement is good and this is reflected in impressive standardised test results. All classrooms have displays of charts and provide number-rich environments. The classrooms are well resourced with a wide range of concrete materials although the provision of greater quantities of certain items, such as balances, would allow more pupils to have ‘hands-on’ learning opportunities. Pupils displayed a good grasp of number facts and have learned good habits in terms of the presentation of their written work, which is carefully monitored by the teachers. Particularly effective work was observed in the teaching of the strand Shape and space in the senior classes where the skilful use of active learning strategies, manipulatives and a strong emphasis on the correct use of mathematical language ensured good learning outcomes. It is advised that this good practice be implemented in all classes. It is also recommended that the school would now develop a maths trail to further extend the pupils’ opportunities to develop mathematical concepts.


3.3 Science

Teachers make very appropriate provision for all strands of the Science curriculum. Active pupil involvement is encouraged and there is breadth and balance in curriculum implementation. There is an effective emphasis on the development of pupils’ skills in predicting and working scientifically. Lesson content is effectively related to the experience of the pupils. Pupils clearly enjoy Science lessons.  Lessons make very appropriate provision for hands-on activities, with pupils being given a wide range of opportunities to engage in experimentation. Teachers make excellent use of resources, especially the local environment. Very effective use of the interactive whiteboard was observed during the evaluation. The school is to be commended for its ongoing participation in An Taisce’s Green Schools’ programme. The pupils in all classes display a good awareness of the importance of respecting and caring for the environment.


3.4 Assessment

The school has recently devised a comprehensive assessment policy based on the guidelines provided by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. This policy places an appropriate emphasis on pupil self-assessment as well as assessment of and for learning. An action plan should now be devised to undertake the effective implementation of the procedures outlined in this policy.  Currently portfolios are being developed of pupils’ achievement in literacy, numeracy and Visual Arts.  Attainment tests in literacy and numeracy are administered annually. Test results are analysed to inform the staff of pupil achievement when compared with national norms and to plan appropriate interventions. This good work is highly commended. Currently a central record of assessment results is maintained. It is recommended that this system be developed to provide for more careful monitoring of pupils’ achievement.


4.     Quality of support for pupils


4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

A comprehensive whole-school plan for pupils with special educational needs has been developed. It outlines prevention strategies, an early-intervention programme, criteria for the selection of pupils for supplementary teaching, procedures for discontinuation of pupils and the various roles of the partners involved in the pupils’ learning. Clear guidelines on how special-needs assistants should support pupils are usefully included in the school plan. Effective links have been established with outside agencies, where required.


Individual education plans are devised for pupils in consultation with their parents and class teachers. It is recommended that an agreed template be used for recording these plans and that a written copy be provided to parents. A daily record of work undertaken is maintained. It is recommended that a detailed monthly progress record be provided. Support is provided on a withdrawal basis, either individually or in small groups, and is effectively complemented with in-class support. The special-needs assistant makes an important contribution to pupil learning in class under the careful guidance of the class teacher.


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

The school participates in the initiative Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, part of the Department of Education and Science’s programme to alleviate educational disadvantage. The co-ordinator is a talented and dynamic teacher who displays an admirable knowledge of the families attending the school. This is the base school for a cluster of four other schools. The schools have formulated a three-year plan to address the areas of literacy, numeracy, parental involvement and attendance. It is recommended that the five schools collaboratively formulate a policy on disadvantage.


5.     Conclusion


The school has strengths in the following areas:



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


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 January 2009







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 St. Joseph’s N.S. would like to thank the Inspector for the professional and courteous manner in which the WSE was carried out. The Board welcomes the report and affirms the very positive working relationships among the entire school community, the effective and stimulating learning atmosphere, the high quality of teaching and learning and the commitment and dedication of the staff. The Board of Management was pleased the report acknowledged the split school campus, the Board’s anxiety with the Health and Safety implications of this and the careful management of this by the school authorities. The Board looks forward to the close and prompt co-operation of the Department of Education in providing St. Joseph’s N.S. community with a much needed new school on the grounds of unacceptable risks to the Health and Safety of the children attending the school.



Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection



The Board has looked carefully at the key recommendations of the report and has set out a plan to address these recommendations. To date the Board has drawn up an action plan for the

continued implementation of the school’s Assessment policy.