An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballinderreen National School
Kilcolgan, County Galway
Uimhir rolla: 07551C
Date of inspection: 28 January 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Ballinderreen N.S. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment 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.
Ballinderreen N.S. is situated in a rural area south east of Galway city bordering on a very busy link road between the villages of Kilcolgan and Kinvara. The school celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding in 2007. The original building forms part of the present school building as well as the various extensions which have been added in the intervening years. In addition, there are at present some prefabricated classrooms on the school site.
The front exit of the school, which borders directly from the school playground on to a busy road, presents a major health and safety risk to pupils and staff. Due to its ongoing concern regarding the dangers which exist during the arrival and departure of pupils and others from the school, the board of management is active in seeking that appropriate traffic management and safety measures be put in place. The board of management should continue to prioritise its pursuit of the amelioration of the health and safety risk presented by the current front exit of the school as a matter of urgency.
The school operates under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Galway. There are 5 combined mainstream classes in this 7 teacher school. In addition to the 5 mainstream teachers, there is a resource teacher and a learning support teacher. The school has defined its ethos and it has drawn up a mission statement. In practice, a strong sense of common purpose is evident among the school community as well as the transmission of a set of values that focuses on pupils’ development and success.
The board of management is properly constituted and operates effectively by using correct procedures and ensuring that regular meetings are held. It manages the school’s finances efficiently. The board can draw on the previous experience and broad knowledge of school management issues acquired by some of its members. Board members manifest empathy with and understanding of the school’s day to day issues. They deserve credit for overseeing the smooth administration of the school and for their ongoing deep interest and support.
Continuous school self-evaluation should now become integral to the culture of the school. The board of management should enable structures to be put in place whereby all partners in the school community can become involved in this school self-evaluation at an appropriate level.
The board should now consider adopting practical means whereby it can become more involved in the whole-school planning process and whereby it can support the adoption of a self-evaluative culture in the school. Through consulting documentation such as Looking at our School (Department of Education and Science), which suggests evaluation themes for measuring performance, the board should challenge itself with the provision of concrete evidence for the identification of the school’s current standards.
The board should now plan for improvement by drawing up an achievable short-term action plan and a long-term strategic plan for the school. It is recommended that, in taking account, of school needs, the board would initiate in the current school year, an annual review of the responsibilities of in-school management personnel. As a board, members should continue to avail of opportunities for further training for their challenging roles.
The principal, who is also responsible for teaching a mainstream class, is committed and is very hardworking, bringing many years’ teaching experience and very good organisational skills to her role. Her long-standing connection with the locality underpins the deep affinity she exhibits with the pupils and their families. The principal has positively influenced the sense of unity and purpose which underpins the operation of the school. She has supported the development of good working relationships among staff members. She deserves praise for leading the implementation of the curriculum in the school and for competently combining the dual challenge of teaching and organisational and curricular leadership.
The principal’s future challenge, in leading the delivery of the curriculum and in ensuring continuing improvement of teaching and learning, will be to place greater emphasis on overseeing the revision of the school plan and on the evaluation of the implementation of this plan within the school. The principal should build on existing inter-staff collegiality by involving all staff in this school-based self-evaluation process. In fostering the development of this process, the principal should aim to ensure that there is a shared understanding across the school community of the constituents of high quality teaching and learning. Working as a team and building flexibly on existing staff strengths, there is scope to organise for a greater amount of group work within and between classes.
The deputy principal and two post holders support the work of the principal in her administrative and pastoral duties. It is evident that these teachers are committed and flexible in their approaches. Their duties at present are clearly outlined. While the in-school management team does not meet on a formal basis, its members discuss important issues at frequent informal meetings. So that curriculum leadership can be distributed among senior staff, each post-holder should now be allocated the responsibility of facilitating the development of a selected aspect of the curriculum throughout the school. In addition, consideration should be given to broadening the remit of these post-holders to include the co-ordination of the implementation and the evaluation of attainment in the particular curricular area.
2.3 Management of resources
There are five mainstream classes in this school, four of which are accommodated in the original school building, which also includes a general purposes room. One class and the support teachers are accommodated in a prefabricated building. The playground is spacious and well maintained. However, its proximity to the main road is perceived as presenting a considerable health and safety risk. Staff and visitors avail of parking on the church grounds which are directly opposite the school. The board of management is committed to the development of alternative access to the school grounds. The classrooms and the building in general are well maintained. Throughout the evaluation period, good use of classroom resources was observed. These resources are well organised. The allocation of staff to classes is effectively managed and regular rotation of classes occurs. Teachers express keen interest in updating their skills through engagement in continuous professional development.
2.4 Management of relations and communication with the school community
Communication with parents is facilitated by the regular distribution of newsletters, memos and the home work diary. To facilitate the quick and efficient dissemination of information the parents’ association has set up a ‘text-a-parent’ facility. Parent/teacher meetings are held annually. The parent representatives expressed a high level of satisfaction with the level of communication within the school. Particular note was made of the welcoming nature of teachers and the ease with which parents can meet teachers if necessary. The good practice observed could now be further enhanced by the publication of an annual report which would provide information to parents on all aspects of the school.
During the evaluation period very good pupil behaviour was observed. Particular note was taken of the courteous and mannerly nature of the pupils. It is clear that a climate of mutual respect underpins relations between teachers and pupils and between the pupils themselves. Pupils’ self-confidence and self-esteem are explicitly nurtured. The code of behaviour is clear and well understood and high expectations of pupil behaviour are set and achieved.
A systematic review of school planning documentation should now be initiated. To ensure continuous improvement of all forms of learning, the in-school management structure and its practice should support clear alignment between whole-school policies, teachers’ classroom planning and cyclical self-evaluation of learning outcomes. There is a need, at this juncture, to redefine the role of policy and plans within the school planning process. The content of the curricular plans should be reviewed, prioritising English and Mathematics. It is recommended that curricular policy statements would be revisited to ensure that they are defined by following systematically the prompts supplied by the support services. Mechanisms for the greater involvement of parents during the whole-school planning process should be explored.
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.
The quality of classroom planning is good. All teachers provide comprehensive long-term and short-term planning, which is linked to the principles and structure of the Primary School Curriculum and which guides classroom activity. An agreed template for this planning is operative in almost all classes. There is a need to revisit the operation and structure of this template to ensure coherence and alignment between the school plan and classroom planning. In some instances, short-term planning would be improved by focusing on a small number of clear objectives. Such action would allow far greater scope for observation and tracking of the attainment of pupils in terms of these planned learning outcomes.
To ensure continuous improvement of all forms of learning, the in-school management structure and its practice should support clear alignment between whole-school policies, teachers’ classroom planning and cyclical self-evaluation of learning outcomes. Possibilities for improvement also exist in the structure of the monthly progress record. Redesigning the structure of this documentation would ensure that it could become a mechanism for recording what has been learned, as opposed to recording what has been taught.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The overall learning outcomes in terms of knowledge, literacy and numeracy skills are good. Teaching in the school was observed to be predominantly based on a whole-class approach. Pupil engagement with the teachers and with the methodologies in use was commensurate with the degree to which teachers differentiated the activities. In some classes, insufficient attention was paid to the need for differentiated activities to cater for the various attainment levels present among the pupils. To ensure that teaching and learning in the school challenge all pupils to succeed to the best of their ability, core skills should now be developed to a greater extent through organising for a greater amount of group work, for differentiation of outcomes and activities and for extension of the use of active learning methodologies.
In general attainment levels throughout the school are good. Where questioning undertaken by teachers was good, pupil response was accurate and thoughtful. Knowledge and appreciation of the valuable aspects of their local historical geographical and scientific environment is well developed in the pupils.
Déantar sár-iarracht suim sa Ghaeilge a chothú sa scoil seo. Tá plean cuimsitheach uile-scoile curtha ar fáil. Déantar measúnú rialta ar an obair. I ngach rang, labhrann na múinteoirí an Ghaeilge mar theanga chumarsáide le linn na gceachtanna. Chomh maith le sin, usáidtear an Ghaeilge ar bhonn leanúnach ar fud an lae tríd an scoil. Mar thoradh ar sin, tá caighdeán maith sroichte ag na daltaí sa Ghaeilge. Sna ranganna naíonán, baineann na páisti an-taitneamh as na ceachtanna agus tá éagsúlacht leathan sa teagasc. Bíonn obair bheirte, obair aonair agus teagasc ranga in úsáid. Glacann na páisti páirt i gcluichí teanga, i gcluichí traidisiúnta, i ndrámaí agus i sceitsí. Canann na páisti amhráin le geáitsí agus aithrisíonn said stór iontach de rainn le brí. I ngach rang, úsáidtear raon d’acmhainní teagaisc chun an curaclam Gaeilge a mhúineadh. Tá sé ar chumas an chuid is mó de na daltaí ceisteanna a fhreagairt agus a chur, bunaithe ar théamaí agus ar ábhar a múineadh cheana féin. San iomlán, léann na páistí le cruinneas agus le tuiscint agus baineann siad taitneamh as na ceachtanna léitheoireachta. Tugtar deiseanna dóibh drámaí beaga a bhunú ar ábhar na léitheoireachta. Tá réimse leathan de théacsana agus d’úirscéal curtha ar fáil sa scoil. Moltar anois, úsáid a bhaint as na leabhair seo chun eispéaras níos leithne a thabhairt do na daltaí sa léitheoireacht Ghaeilge. Tá na samplaí d’obair scríofa na ndaltaí ar chaighdeán oiriúnach sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna. Bíonn deiseanna acu tabhairt faoi scríbhneoireacht fheidhmiúil agus scríbhneoireacht phearsanta. Dá thoradh sin, tá cnuasach mhaith de samplaí scríbhneoireachta bailithe ag na daltaí.
A major effort is made to stimulate interest in Irish in this school. A comprehensive school plan has been put in place. The work is regularly assessed. In every class, teachers speak Irish as the language of communication during the lessons. In addition, Irish is used continuously during the day throughout the school. As a result, a good standard in Irish has been reached by the pupils. In the infant classes, children enjoy the lessons immensely and there is wide variety in the teaching. Pair-work, individual work and class teaching are used. The children take part in language games, in traditional games, in dramas and in sketches.The children sing songs with actions and they recite a wonderful store of rhymes with meaning. In all classes, a range of teaching methods is used to teach the Irish curriculum. Most of the pupils have the ability to answer and pose questions based on themes and content already taught. For the most part, pupils read with accuracy and understanding and they enjoy the reading lessons. They are afforded opportunities to base small dramas on the content of the reading material. A wide range of textbooks and novels has been made available in the school. It is now recommended that these books be used in order to give the pupils a broader reading experience in Irish. Samples of the pupils’ written work in the middle and senior classes are of an appropriate standard. They are afforded opportunities to engage in functional and personal writing. As a result, the children have accumulated a good collection of writing samples.
The good quality of teaching and learning in English is underpinned by the school plan, which is generally linked to the broad structure of the primary school curriculum. The work undertaken in devising and implementing this plan is acknowledged. However, the plan is now due for review. A systematic approach to review of the present plan is recommended. It should be ensured that the revised plan will fully reflect the structure of the Primary School Curriculum in English. The use of the trigger questions presented by the support services in prompt documentation would support this review. It should be ensured that every member of staff is enabled to become involved in the review process. The new plan should be developed fully taking the particular context of this school into account. For example, the school’s approach to emergent literacy should be fully clarified and recorded in the plan. The planned means of implementing the four strand units, including developing cognitive abilities and emotional and imaginative development, in particular, within oral work, reading and writing should be fully exemplified.
Talk and discussion feature in all classes. Good attention is paid to poetry throughout the school. It is necessary, however, to clarify the specific oral language outcomes which will be aimed at in each class grouping. At all class levels, one-to-one and group discussion should be frequently undertaken, reducing the amount of teacher talk which occurs. To further develop the pupils’ thinking skills through language, the frequency of their engagement in active learning strategies should be extended. The organisation of more challenging collaborative and co-operative activities would allow scope to focus on developing the pupils’ abilities to ask questions. Teachers should aim to become involved in sustained shared thinking with the pupils, irrespective of the activity. There is a need to develop the potential of the very good resources which are in place to support play based activities in the infant classes. There is a need also to draw up a policy on the systematic evaluation of oral language outcomes. Use of the Drumcondra Language Profiles is recommended in this regard.
In the teaching of reading some good practice was observed where a variety of approaches was undertaken. A very good selection of reading material has been made available. Book fairs, library events and shared reading are organised. As a result, there is ample evidence that the pupils are reading widely. In the senior classes, some good questioning, discussion and predictions by the pupils in regard to the plot and characters presented in the reading material was noted. The full four strand structure of the English curriculum should now, however, be brought to bear on teaching and learning in reading. To achieve maximum benefit from teaching time, and to ameliorate the excessive amounts of time expended in hearing children reading aloud in some classes, more differentiation of pupils should occur.
Some good examples of the outcomes of process writing were on display throughout the school. The pupils are enabled to write about interesting topics as well as to become involved in the Write a Book project. In the early years children were being enabled to write on a developmental continuum varying through scribbles, drawings, labels, to the writing of full sentences. The writing process is effectively scaffolded by the teachers. Handwriting is in general very neat. The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in English was observed.
Over the course of the evaluation, many features of good practice in the teaching of Mathematics were noted. At infant level, activities are carefully structured to develop pupils’ understanding of early mathematical concepts. Throughout the school, whole-class, paired work and individual teaching was observed. There is good emphasis on the language of mathematics. Lessons are well paced, varied and structured. Classrooms are stocked with a wide variety of mathematical resources and equipment and the use of concrete materials as an integral part of teaching and learning at all levels is highly commendable. At some levels, a very supportive mathematical environment was noted. This included the provision of a maths corner, where pupils can avail of opportunities to explore concepts independently. Pupils demonstrated competence in maths and showed good ability to solve problems and answer questions based on work done. Pupils’ work is carefully monitored and regularly corrected. A variety of assessment modes is used to track progress and records of pupils’ attainment are carefully kept. Activities are carefully differentiated for pupils with special educational needs. It is recommended that this practice be extended to include differentiation for more able pupils.
Teaching and learning in Geography is good. Pupils explore and learn about features in human and natural environments. Lessons are presented in a clear and well-structured manner. Pupils are encouraged to participate through whole class discussion and they engage in some project work. Good use of maps was observed. Individuals with expertise from the local area are invited to visit and present occasional lessons. The school has won an award for its project on the local turlough. Environmental awareness and care is emphasised.
A limited number of lessons in Science were observed. The focus on experimentation was appropriate although the enthusiasm of the pupils could be channelled into purposeful group activities to a greater extent. Active exploration of the scientific elements of the immediate and local environment is facilitated. In general, however, staff could put a greater emphasis on fostering a scientific approach to investigations emphasising the skills of questioning, observing, predicting, recording and communicating.
Good practice was evident in relation to all strands of the curriculum in the Visual Arts. Whole class projects and individual work are carried out. The development of skills, concepts and visual language is very good and meaningful integration with other areas of the curriculum is undertaken. Throughout the school, work of a good standard is displayed. Pupils discussed the processes involved in their work well. At middle and senior levels, highly commendable work is carried out in the strand of fabric and fibre. Equal opportunities are given to all pupils to develop skills in knitting, sewing, crochet, embroidery and French knitting. The pupils engage in these activities with enthusiasm and work of a very good quality was observed. As it does not at present reflect the good practice occurring at classroom level, the school plan for the Visual Arts should be reviewed and updated.
The teaching of music throughout the school is good. Lessons in song singing, playing instruments, exploring sounds and composing were observed. Pupils participate actively and with enthusiasm. The development of musical concepts such as pulse, timbre and dynamics is emphasised over the course of lessons and pupils demonstrate clear understanding of these concepts. The availability of a wide range of resources including percussion instruments and a good variety of CDs facilitates the teaching of Music.
There is a strong musical tradition in the school and past-pupils have formed a traditional band, Ceoltóirí an Dóirín in which some current pupils also participate. The school choir which is accompanied and directed by two members of the teaching staff performs very well. Hymns in English and Irish are rehearsed by children from first class to sixth class. Unison singing, two-part singing and singing in rounds are practised.
Teachers’ long-term and short-term plans outline how children will be afforded opportunities to engage in drama. Lessons are carried out in the school hall as well as in classrooms. Themes are explored at an age-appropriate level and lessons are engaging and well paced. Whole-class teaching, pair work, group work and individual work were observed. Opportunities are taken to integrate the teaching of drama with other areas of the curriculum. In order to extend the existing good practice and to optimise opportunities to further utilise drama effectively, it is recommended that teachers continue to develop their understanding of some aspects of the drama curriculum.
4.6 Physical Education
The behaviour and mutual respect of teachers and pupils for each other reflects the success of the school’s approach to social personal and health education. The staff is commended for its development of a positive school climate. It is evident that the values of equality, respect, dignity and mutual tolerance are transmitted effectively through the positive interaction occurring on a day to day basis among all the stakeholders in the school community. The teachers promote the personal development and well being of individual pupils in a caring and considerate manner. Social Personal and Health Education is carefully integrated with other areas of the curriculum. The use being made of discrete time for SPHE needs to be reviewed at this point. Ideally discrete lessons should focus on elements of the SPHE programme that cannot be addressed through the development of a positive school climate or through integration.
A detailed and comprehensive assessment policy has been compiled which was ratified in December 2008. It also outlines the procedures used for identifying the needs of pupils experiencing difficulty. The range of assessment strategies used include teacher observation, monitoring of written work and the administration of teacher-designed tests. The Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) and the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) are administered. The standardised Drumcondra Mathematics and Reading tests are administered annually and parents are made aware of the results.
There is a need at this point to ensure that formative assessment becomes a core part of learning and teaching and is fully embedded in school practice. The identification of clear short-term learning targets will support the more precise use of day to day observation and assessment which will inform the next steps in learning. It is recommended that learning objectives are regularly shared with the pupils in an age appropriate manner so that they are enabled to become involved in self assessment. Closer linkage is required between the summative assessment data produced and the planning developed by the teachers. It is recommended that the staff now consider the implementation of the school’s assessment policy and that the recent publication of the Assessment in the Primary School – Guidelines for Schools (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) be consulted during this process.
5.1 Pupils with special educational needs
The provision of support for pupils with special educational needs is of a good standard. Practice is informed by the learning support and resource policy and assessment policy. The learning support teacher and the resource teacher, both full-time teachers in the school, provide the support. Both teachers have engaged in continuous professional development in the area of special education. Their dedication and commitment to the children in their care is highly commendable as is the level of communication and co-operation which operates between them. In addition to the withdrawal of pupils from classes, in-class support is also provided. Pupils are selected for learning support using a combination of analysis of the MIST test results and consultation between teachers and parents.
A collaborative approach to the formulation of individual pupil learning plans (IPLPs) and individual education plans (IEPs) has been adopted involving the learning support teacher, the resource teacher, class teacher, principal, the parent(s) and where deemed appropriate the pupils themselves. Records of pupils’ achievement are carefully maintained. Very good efforts are made to involve external support agencies in focusing on the needs of the pupils. The individual plans are well presented, specifying the teaching strategies, resources and supports necessary to achieve broad learning goals. Dates for review and assessment dates are clearly identified. The inclusion of more specific learning outcomes in all long-term and short-term plans for pupils with special educational needs is now recommended. Opportunities should also be taken to clearly communicate these to class teachers, special needs assistants, and parents. Early intervention is carried out at senior infant, first class and second class levels. This intervention involves the development of phonological awareness and oral language during lessons which occur weekly. It is recommended that the long-term and short-term plans for these lessons incorporate the specific outcomes to be achieved. The regular assessment of these outcomes is vital as is the use of the assessment outcomes to inform planning.
The teachers share a well divided prefabricated building. The teaching areas are attractively organised and well resourced. During the evaluation period, good teaching of pupils with special needs was observed. Pupils are regularly affirmed and well motivated. Good use is made of resources including concrete materials and information and communication technologies (ICT). Lessons were observed to be well structured and focussed on the priorities which have been identified for the children.
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:
Published, October 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management wishes to acknowledge the courtesy and professionalism of the Inspectorate during their visit to Ballinderreen National School.
The Board of Management welcomes the very positive findings of the WSE report.
The Board of Management also welcomes the constructive comments and recommendations throughout the report.
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 of Management welcomes the recommendations and suggestions which will further enhance the learning process in the school.
These recommendations will be taken on board during the school year 2009/2010.