An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Vicarstown National School
Vicarstown, County Cork
Uimhir rolla: 06342L
Date of inspection: 4 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Vicarstown Mixed 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. She interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. She reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Vicarstown Mixed National School is located approximately ten miles outside the city of Cork. It is one of four schools in the parish of Inniscarra and it serves a well-established rural community. At present, this four-teacher school has an enrolment of 61 pupils from a total of 39 families. Enrolment in the school has increased over the last two years reflecting some changes in demographic trends in the locality. In general, the school’s catchment area is experiencing an increase in population.
The school is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Cloyne. A warm and welcoming atmosphere was evident during the period of inspection. This characteristic spirit of the school is reflected in the daily positive interactions among pupils and teachers. Pupils enjoy school and good levels of attendance are recorded.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly. The frequency of meetings has increased recently as a result of school accommodation matters. The agenda for meetings is agreed in advance and circulated to board members. Financial statements are provided orally and it is reported that accounts are audited annually. It is clear that the board of management is keenly interested in promoting the welfare of the school and it exhibits a high level of enthusiasm for the future development of the school in the community. The board is most supportive of the work of the school and co-operation between school and board is fostered continuously. The board of management believes that the school is about to experience an increase in enrolment given the proposed development for the area and is anxious to make provision for such development.
The board of management engages in matters pertaining to school maintenance, safety issues, the acquisition of a new classroom and supporting the principal and teaching staff. Procurement of a third classroom has been a priority for the board in the last year. Primarily, the board of management has directed its attention to the development of organisational policies. It is now considered advisable that, in collaboration with the teaching staff, the board becomes more actively involved in the development of curricular policies, in their ratification and review. At the post-evaluation meeting with the board of management, the results of standardizing testing were discussed. The board is now aware of the need to support teachers in their endeavours to make improvements.
Currently the principal acts as secretary to the board of management, recording the minutes of meetings and setting agendas. It is considered that such duties could be delegated to other members of the board to help alleviate some of the administrative work of the teaching principal. It would also be advantageous if board members could avail of formal training to support them in their role as managers of the school.
The in-school management team consists of the principal and the deputy principal. The teaching principal carries out his administrative duties conscientiously. Since his appointment to the school in 2004, both board of management and parents report that considerable progress has been made under his guidance. The leadership demonstrated is characterised by good working relationships with colleagues and with board members. The changes that have taken place in relation to policy development, general appearance of the school building and the internal management of school are praiseworthy.
Duties for the deputy principal have been agreed. These duties are primarily of an organisational nature which the post-holder carries out diligently. In facilitating a productive matching of duties to a constantly changing school environment, responsibilities in matters curricular and pastoral should also be assigned and reviewed regularly. This is particularly important given that a second post of responsibility is soon to be created. Currently no formal meetings are convened to discuss school matters. To this end, the in-school management team might usefully consider meeting regularly as a management team to facilitate further collaborative decision-making, to assess progress and to plan for further development. Given that posts of responsibilities have not been reviewed recently it is recommended that review procedures are put in place and that the board collaborates with post-holders to enhance their contribution to the overall management of the school.
All necessary resources, both material and personnel, are deployed equitably throughout the school. A full-time learning support/resource teacher was appointed last year and most recently a second mainstream class teacher has joined the staff. With these recent appointments it is recommended that expertise on staff is used prudently to enhance certain areas of the curriculum particularly the areas of Music, Visual Arts, Drama and Physical Education. Given the possibility of further increases in staffing in the years ahead, a policy of staff rotation and class allocation should be drawn up ensuring that opportunities are provided for teachers to experience a variety of class levels. Two special needs assistants (SNA) have been appointed to support pupils with special educational needs. The SNAs make a value contribution to the support and care of these pupils. It is recommended that both special needs assistants should be deployed, when appropriate, to assist in other day-to-day school activities. The school secretary provides valuable administrative support to the principal and staff. The board of management with the support of the parents’ association employs a speech and drama teacher to provide tuition to the pupils. The board, parents and staff are to be commended for the manner in which this additional tuition is financed.
An appropriate variety of teaching and learning resources is available in the school and is used to considerable effect. Each classroom has some suitable charts, maps and posters on display which contribute to the creation of a pleasant learning environment. Appropriate use is made of commercial materials while overemphasis on the use of workbooks may impact negatively on the teaching and learning process. Resources have been purchased to support curricular delivery particularly in the area of literacy. It is recommended that some attention be directed to the provision of additional resources for the teaching of Mathematics and Science particularly in the senior classes. The school has acquired a wide range of physical education equipment which is stored for easy access. There is a computer in each classroom but limited use is made of this resource. It is recommended that due consideration be given to the appropriate use of ICT as a tool to enhance the teaching and learning process.
The original school, which was built in 1965 comprises of two classrooms, cloakrooms and pupils’ toilets. During the summer months of 2006 an additional classroom and principal’s office were erected. The original cloakroom now accommodates the secretary’s office. A separate building, which was refurbished with the support of parents, serves as a learning support/resource room and staff room. Indoors, the school is bright and pleasant and is cleaned regularly. A high standard of hygiene, neatness and order is in evidence throughout the building. Classrooms are decorated with pupils’ writing, artwork and projects. Corridors are also used as display areas where art work is a feature. Pupils’ recreational area outdoors is extensive with plenty of hard surface and field space. The school does not have access to a PE hall. Necessary improvements are carried out on a regular basis and the board of management is currently engaged in extending the entrance area as part of the building programme.
The parents’ association is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council and meets regularly. Members of the association have attended seminars and plan to attend further training events to assist them in fulfilling their role. The parents’ association maintains close communication with the principal who attends their meetings. Parents are involved in annual fund raising activities and monies raised are used to supplement ongoing maintenance costs and the acquisition of additional equipment. In previous years parents have also helped to promote basketball and other sporting activities.
The school community recognises the value of good communication in building trust and respect between home and school. The parents’ association reported that greater communication with the board of management would be beneficial. To this end careful attention should be directed towards the development of a productive partnership between board and parents where there is regular communication between both parties. A number of practical strategies could be devised to involve parents more fully in school life.
New parents are inducted into the school and are provided with relevant documentation. To date parents have had little involvement in the development of policies. It is recommended that structures are put in place to involve parents more fully in the design of policies, both curricular and organisational.
Parents value the work of the school and the representatives of the parents’ association reported that they are satisfied with the educational provision in the school. Parents receive clear information about their children’s progress and formal parent-teacher meetings are organised annually. Parents meet the principal and other members of the staff informally when necessary.
The board of management and the teaching staff have devised a code of behaviour including anti-bullying policies that are implemented consistently in the school. The pupils are well behaved, they display pride and interest in their work and they co-operate willingly with their teachers during all class activities. They are eager to engage in discussion and participate fully in all aspects of school life. As a developmental issue a forum for pupil input into school matters could be established.
The board of management in collaboration with the teaching staff have prepared a useful school plan, which outlines a range of organisational and administrative policies. Policies are reviewed and ratified by the board of management. With regard to the current Health and Safety policy it is timely to update and review this document given recent structural improvements.
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, September 1999) and Child Protection: Guidelines and Procedures (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 whole-school planning process has been initiated and curricular policies are outlined in the required subject areas. Some curriculum plans are complete and well-documented while others lack the same level of detail. It is recommended that current policies are reviewed with emphasis on progression and continuity in teaching and learning. It is intended to develop these plans more comprehensively in collaboration with new staff members. It is expected that this review will contribute to greater implementation of curricular policies. The delineation and delegation of specific work associated with curricular areas to individual staff members would greatly enhance continuous planning and systematic review.
Teachers undertake long-term and short-term planning and monthly progress records are maintained. The quality of classroom planning varies. Some programmes of work are comprehensive in nature and are linked to the structure and content of the curriculum. However, some plans lack an appropriate level of detail which results in lists of topics presented from textbooks. While a short-term planning template has been devised, it is now necessary to agree the most effective manner in which such a template can be used and the level of detail that is required to ensure effective teaching and learning in all classrooms. The completion of this template in a more comprehensive manner, identifying the aims and content of each curricular area, is recommended. In addition, the identification of a range of appropriate key methodologies in this short-term template would impact positively on teaching and learning outcomes. Monthly progress records also merit a similar detailed review.
The quality of learning and teaching in the curriculum was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching, a review of samples of work and standardized test results in each of the mainstream classrooms. A variety of teaching methods was observed including whole-class teaching and some group work. However, the use of individual and group work as an effective approach to teaching could be extended throughout the school. Opportunities for structured play and free play were provided in the infant classes and this practise is commendable. The pupils in the middle and senior classes engaged purposefully in work in the local environment.
With regard to standards reached by pupils in some areas of the curriculum scope for development has been identified. While English is well taught, standards of achievement in literacy fall short of the school’s expectations in some classes. Similarly, achievement levels attained in Mathematics merits further investigation. In general, a very focused approach outlining a set of clear curricular objectives for each subject, is recommended.
Éiríonn leis na hoidí suim na ndaltaí i bhfoghlaim na Gaeilge a mhúscailt agus a gcumas cumarsáide sa teanga a fhorbairt trí úsáid a bhaint as straitéisí éagsúla. Bíonn idir gheáitsíocht, cluichí, filíocht, aithriseoireacht ar siúl chun spéis na ndaltaí a spreagadh sa teanga. Úsáidtear fearas agus ábhar corpartha go taitneamhach chun scileanna éisteachta na ndaltaí a fhorbairt agus chun a dtuiscint ar an teanga a éascú. Léiríonn na daltaí cumas maith tuisceana. Leathnaítear foclóir na ndaltaí go cuí agus dírítear béim ar chleachtadh múnlaí cainte. Tá caighdeán labhartha creidiúnach sroichte ag na daltaí. Chun cur leis an obair seo, b’fhiú na daltaí a spreagadh chun úsáid a bhaint as an teanga i gcomhthéacsanna cumarsáideacha le linn na gceachtanna comhrá. Moltar an dea-úsáid a bhaintear as an nGaeilge le linn teagaisc sna hábhair éagsúla. Ní mór plean uile-scoile a fhorbairt a chruthóidh leanúnachas agus forbairt na n-eiseamláirí teanga ó rang go rang. B’fhiú na heiseamláirí a fhorbairt i gcomhthéacs na dtéamaí atá sa churaclam agus iad a bhunú ar ábhar suime na ndaltaí. Aithrisíonn siad cnuasach deas dánta go fonnmhar.
Ullmhaítear na daltaí don litearthacht go fónta trí bhéim a chur ar an bhfocal aithint. Léann cuid mhaith de na daltaí le cruinneas oiriúnach. Moltar feidhm níos mó a bhaint as téacsleabhair éagsúla idir fhíor-leabhair agus nuachtán chun cur le scileanna léitheoireachta na ndaltaí agus taithí níos leithne léitheoireachta a thabhairt dóibh. Faigheann na daltaí cleachtadh ar an scríbhneoireacht fheidhmiúil ach is fiú deiseanna sa bhreis a sholáthar dóibh chun a scríbhneoireacht phearsanta féin a fhorbairt.
The teachers succeed in motivating pupils to learn Irish and to develop their competency in the language through the use of a variety of strategies. Language games, poetry and dramatization are regularly deployed to maintain the interest of pupils. Listening and comprehension skills are further enhanced by the use of suitable resources and materials. Most pupils’ comprehension skills are of a good standard. Language structures are taught systematically and appropriate emphasis is placed on the extension of pupils’ vocabulary. A credible standard of oracy is achieved. To assist in this work it is recommended that pupils are motivated to use the language in a communicative way during lessons. The use of Irish informally in the day-to-day activities and in the teaching of other subjects is commendable. A whole-school plan which outlines the progression and development of language exemplars from class to class is recommended. Consideration should also be given to the development of these exemplars in the context of using the themes of the curriculum and the interests of the pupils. A range of suitable poems is recited with enthusiasm.
Pupils are well prepared for early literacy by the systematic use of appropriate strategies for word recognition. Most pupils read with an age-appropriate level of accuracy and fluency. It is recommended that greater use is made of library books and magazines to further develop the reading skills of pupils and to provide them with a wider experience of reading. Pupils are provided with opportunities to engage in functional writing. Opportunities for pupils to generate and to draft their own thoughts in writing is recommended.
Appropriate attention is paid to the development of pupils’ oral language skills and opportunities for engaging in discussion across a range of curricular areas are exploited. Pupils engage actively during poetry lessons by reciting a range of rhymes and poems clearly and with expression. The use of language experience charts and a structured oral language programme should feature regularly in the delivery of the English curriculum.
Pupils in junior classes, where a print-rich environment is created, display age-appropriate phonological and phonemic awareness. A good knowledge of frequently used words and proficiency in word identification strategies was also noted. Activities for reading readiness provide a foundation for the teaching of reading through the use of large format books and a good selection of age-appropriate reading books. In middle and senior classes readers are supplemented by the reading of a novel. A more extensive use and development of the novel would greatly enhance the reading culture throughout the school. Pupils are encouraged to read for pleasure, facilitated by the provision of well-stocked libraries and the services of the mobile library.
In the junior classes written activity includes daily news. It is recommended that pupils in all classes be given further opportunities to write creatively on a regular basis and for a variety of purposes. It is also necessary to expose pupils to the writing process which will further enhance their skills of drafting and editing. While good penmanship presents as a positive feature in some classes, it is recommended that a whole-school approach to fostering handwriting and presentation skills should now be adopted.
In general, lesson content is presented clearly with appropriate questioning. Emphasis is placed on active learning methodologies in the junior classes where a wide range of mathematical equipment is provided and used effectively in the demonstration and in the teaching of concepts. This good practise should be extended to all classrooms and in particular to the senior classes where additional mathematical equipment is required. Mathematical concepts and skills are systematically developed throughout the school with the aid of textbooks. Pupils in the junior classes display age-appropriate understanding of number. Pupils should be encouraged to explain and clarify mathematical concepts in appropriate language during lessons. Plans are in place to develop mathematical language in order to ensure continuity and progression in all classes. To further develop pupils’ mental processing skills it is recommended that emphasis is placed on oral Mathematics across all strand and strand units on a regular basis. Work in Mathematics is generally well presented. It is recommended that pupils from first class upwards present their work in copybooks as well as workbooks. Through observation, teacher-designed and standardized tests pupils’ attainment should be monitored closely and recorded systematically. Ongoing examination of test results should inform the teaching and learning programme presented to pupils.
History lessons are presented in an interesting manner. Teachers’ progress records indicate that some strands of the curriculum have been covered. Pupils display a good knowledge of the content taught and articulate their views clearly. Emphasis is placed on discussion and on consolidation of knowledge acquired. Pupils actively explore and investigate features of local historical sites and present their findings through project work. Group work is purposefully exploited to promote pupils’ understanding and knowledge. Stories are ably retold from local folklore. Overlap in the teaching of local history was observed and consequently it is recommended that the history programme is systematically developed from class to class. It is also necessary to ensure that a broad and comprehensive coverage of the content strands is achieved coupled with the development of pupils’ historical skills.
Teachers’ notes indicate that a range of suitable topics are examined during the Geography lesson. The use of the local environment as a basis for developing pupils’ knowledge and understanding of natural and human environments is commendable. The lessons observed were well presented and support pupils in acquiring geographical knowledge. Integration of this subject with other aspects of the curriculum is praiseworthy. The development of further investigative and skilled-based approaches using multi-media including ICT tools is suggested.
The examination of teachers’ preparation and the observation of teaching and learning indicate that a range of methodologies is used to encourage active learning in the area of Science. While a whole-school plan has been devised, it is intended to review the science programme in the current academic year. It is recommended that such a review would also include the acquisition of a range of scientific resources and materials. It is also considered advisable to plan for scientific skill development through active participation of pupils. Experiments were recorded in an age-appropriate manner.
Pupils in the junior and middle classes participate in a broad and balanced range of visual art activities. Pupils in these classes are provided with regular opportunities to explore, design and create using a range of media and techniques including drawing, painting and printing. Pupils in the senior classes should also be afforded the same opportunities. Activities in the visual art programme are organised with competence, skill and enthusiasm. The development of pupils’ imagination and creativity across the strands and strand units is commendable. Integration of this subject with other aspects of the curriculum is praiseworthy. Learning about the work of artists could receive greater attention supported by suitable displays. Staff might also gainfully explore the language of Art and art appreciation in a review of this subject area. The suggested use of pupil portfolios would foster the progressive development of pupils’ skills and offer opportunities for assessment.
A clear understanding of the elements of Music is evidenced in some individual teachers’ planning. The breadth of musical experiences, in those classes where music is taught regularly, is noteworthy. Pupils are encouraged to sing tunefully an appropriate range of songs in both Irish and English. Tin-whistle is taught to middle and senior classes. Lessons were observed where pupils were actively involved in the learning process in a very positive manner. Work in the area of rhythm, notation and the use of percussion instruments is of a high standard. Body percussion is also used to considerable effect during the music lesson. As a developmental issue, staff might usefully undertake a review of songs taught throughout the school and decide on a core compilation to become part of each pupil’s repertoire. Pupils are afforded opportunities to perform publicly in school concerts, community events and liturgical ceremonies It is recommended that all classes are exposed to all strands and strand units of the music programme in accordance with the designated time. To this end it is recommended that the expertise on staff is made available to all classes in a structured and organised manner.
Dramatic activities are skilfully integrated with curricular areas and their value as a learning tool is acknowledged by staff. Pupils’ understanding is enriched and their confidence and expressive abilities in language are promoted through good practice in Drama. In most classes pupils are provided with opportunities to engage in role-play and to respond dramatically and creatively to story. Mime is also explored during the drama lesson and pupils clearly enjoy the activities. The teaching of Drama is ably supported by the drama teacher.
While the school is fortunate to have a well-maintained pitch to facilitate the delivery of the physical education curriculum, it does not have access to a general purpose room. The work is, of necessity, limited and subject to the influence of weather. Pupils’ physical activities are fostered through a range of games and activities which are organised in the school yard. Appropriate use is made of suitable equipment and teachers actively promote integration opportunities with other subject areas. The use of Irish in organising and directing activities during the lesson is commendable. Group and team activities are promoted and safety issues are attended to promptly. All activities presented to the pupils should be challenging with greater emphasis on the development of a wide range of skills. The current physical education programme is supported by an external tutor from the GAA. A swimming programme is organised each year and pupils are also provided with opportunities to participate in hurling and football competitions.
Teachers demonstrate a strong commitment to fostering a school environment that promotes respect and mutual understanding. Pupils are encouraged to be confident, competent and caring individuals. This positive disposition is reciprocated in the co-operation which pupils offer to teachers. The school has developed certain aspects of the SPHE programme. Further work in this area is planned. Topics based on feelings, food and nutrition, safety and healthy eating are explored in a sensitive manner. Efforts are made to promote pupils’ confidence and self-esteem in a positive manner. The effective use of a wide range of methodologies should be extended to all classes in the delivery of this subject area.
Teacher observation, teacher-devised tests and monitoring of pupils written work are some of the assessment modes used regularly throughout the school. These are complemented by the administration of formal standardized tests namely Micra-T and Sigma-T twice a year from first class upwards. It is recommended that the frequency of administration of these tests be reviewed to ensure test validity. The MIST test is also administered to pupils in senior infants to assess pupil attainment in literacy and to identify those pupils who may require supplementary support. Effective use is also made of a range of diagnostic tests when considered necessary. Formal procedures should be established to record pupil progress as they move through different classes. As a further development of assessment procedures, the school might usefully direct attention to the plotting of trends and the creation of a whole-school perspective on pupil achievement in literacy and numeracy, and use the analysis to devise future programmes of learning. It is also recommended that the teacher of the senior classes and the learning support teacher collaboratively devise a specific programme of focused targeted intervention to support pupils who may be experiencing difficulties.
The quality of provision for pupils with special educational needs is commendable. Detailed plans are prepared based on the identified needs of individual pupils. Progress records are also maintained. Individualised, structured and purposeful teaching strategies are adapted appropriately and suitable resources are deployed to support learning. Most pupils are making good progress in accordance with their own competencies and abilities. However, it is suggested that all pupils’ learning targets are reviewed at suitable intervals in collaboration with class teachers and parents. Diagnostic tests are used purposefully to aid in the identification of learning difficulties and support the preparation of specific learning programmes. A system of withdrawal is practised which focuses on literacy and numeracy. However, in-class support could also be provided particularly in the area of Mathematics in the senior classes. The implementation of an early intervention programme is commendable.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.