An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil na mBuachaillí
Áth Trasna, Contae Chorcaí
Uimhir Rolla: 11236Q
Date of inspection: 9 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil na mBuachaillí, Áth Trasna or Newmarket Boys’ 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 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 the inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspectors interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. The inspectors 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Scoil na mBuachaillí, Áth Trasna or Newmarket Boys’ National School is an all-boys primary school serving the town of Newmarket in north County Cork. Situated on the western outskirts of the town it is about a kilometre distant from the girls’ primary school. The school is located beside a main road adjacent to the town park and the all-weather football field. The school building dates from 1972 and consists of a single storey structure with five main classrooms, a general purpose room and other ancillary rooms. An extension was built in the early 1980s and the school had a complete renovation in 2001-2002. The school has 81 pupils on roll and a teaching staff of six.
The school was last reported on in a School Report in 1995. In the intervening eleven years, the school has evolved in various respects and several key aspects of the school’s functioning have been reformulated and reshaped. A new dynamic for planning and for curricular implementation has been established as the school has advanced to a new phase of development. The school reflects much of the effort and commitment given to the process of redefining elements of its work.
The school is under the patronage of the Bishop of Cloyne. The chairman and members of the board of management are attentive to their responsibilities for the school. Meetings are held once a term but more often if required. Routine business is transacted with care and the school’s needs are taken into account as necessary. Accommodation and facilities are provided for very well. The board is involved in planning issues in consultation with the teaching staff and policies are endorsed in timely fashion. Arrangements for parent teacher contact are overseen with consideration for parental needs. All the detailed aspects of the business of the school are well known to the board and appropriate steps are taken to ensure the smooth functioning of the school. Developmental aspects are taken into account and the board is pro-active in relation to particular items that need to be addressed.
The management of the school merits commendation for the care and attention that is committed to the school in particular its educational work and also the upkeep of the school and its surrounds. It is apparent that an attractive and stimulating environment for education and learning is provided for the children and that all the business of the school is transacted in a timely and appropriate fashion. The development and progress of the school in the last decade or so may be regarded as very substantial and reflective of the work of the board of management in conjunction with the teachers over that period.
The school functions in an effective and consistent way with clear and dependable procedures for the completion of the many tasks that are required. The principal, deputy principal and special duties post-holder combine their efforts and work in close collaboration to realise the aims of the school. Duties are specified clearly and there is a good mix of organisational, curricular and pastoral responsibilities allocated. For example, one of the posts includes responsibilities for the school library, assessment test materials, school savings scheme, the collation and production of the school magazine, liaison with the health authorities, ICT co-ordination, in addition to responsibility for certain curricular areas. It is apparent that the post-holders discharge these responsibilities with considerable success and that the pupils benefit in many ways from the effort that is given to whole school tasks. It is evident also that other members of staff contribute very notably to particular tasks and that this collaboration adds greatly to the overall quality of school life. It seems apparent that the staff as a whole is closely united in a common commitment to the realisation of school aims. It is apparent that the development and progress of the school is due in large measure to the combined effort and commitment given by all members of staff to the realisation of school aims.
Two distinctive achievements merit particular comment. The school newsletter entitled Bundle and produced once a term is a valuable source of information to parents and gives wide-ranging background material concerning the school’s activities. This is a most attractive newsletter and provides many insights into the work of the school, its engagement with various community activities and with sports and cultural events, in addition to news and comment on school life. The degree of communication that is accomplished by means of the newsletter is most striking and this is appreciated by parents who have easy access to all the news of the school. A second distinctive achievement by the staff is the annual school magazine entitled Bitz ‘n’ Pieces. This substantial booklet combines photographs, pictures, poetry, creative writing, book reviews, fun activities, and snippets from various aspects of the curriculum including Irish, History, Science and the arts. The magazine is attractively produced and provides a splendid showcase for many elements of the work of the pupils. The magazine highlights the combined effort and collegial work that underpins the school’s progress and success in recent years. The work of the teachers in producing both the newsletter and the magazine is especially praiseworthy.
The school manages and organises its resources with efficiency and with success. The in-school management provides detailed arrangements for maintaining and supplying necessary items to support the teaching and learning in the classrooms. Good organisation is a feature of note throughout the school and this is a major element in supporting curricular activities. For example, each classroom has an attractive stock of books and teaching aids and these are suitably arranged and displayed to buttress classroom work. Many items are centrally stored and easily available to the teachers for particular purposes. For example, the art materials are stored in a small room at one end of the school while the staff room has many video and audio aids that can be taken on loan by any member of the staff. There are excellent storage facilities available to the teachers and these include filing cabinets, bookcases, baskets, shelves, trays, presses and stands all of which assist teaching and learning.
The school has built up an excellent stock of equipment to assist its work. There is a good stock of computer equipment which is suitably distributed in the classrooms and is easily accessed by the pupils. There is a valuable array of equipment for video and audio reproduction. There are many attractive items that bring subject material to life and enable pupils to grasp concepts with understanding. These include science and mathematical equipment, language aids, book series, pictures and charts, music and physical education equipment, computer software, and a wide range of other small items. Of particular note is the equipment that has been made by the teachers themselves and this includes local maps, small books, educational toys and many other items. For example, the large scale map featuring wooden cut out shapes denoting the local townlands represents an excellent aid for Geography. Some of this work is to be commended highly for its inventiveness and usefulness as an aid for teaching and learning. All in all, the school has an impressive array of aids and equipment to assist its work and it is apparent that these materials are used frequently to the benefit of the pupils.
The accommodation consists of mainstream classrooms, a general purpose room, a staff room, special needs classrooms, offices and storage areas. One of the mainstream classrooms is leased to a Montessori pre-school group. Outside, there is a spacious playground which overlooks the football field and the town park. The school has ready access to these facilities with steps leading down into the field. The school is maintained very well. Classrooms are neat and clean and furniture and fittings are kept in excellent condition. Corridor and communal areas are attractively kept with displays and notice boards. The school is in the process of putting in place new down-pipes on the playground side where the old pipes have been removed. The board of management might explore the question of reducing or eliminating the echo effects in the general purpose room in the interests of pupils and teachers so that it may be made more user friendly. It is clear that the teachers and the pupils look after the school and its equipment in a responsible and mature manner. Habits of neatness, cleanliness and hygiene have been well inculcated in the pupils.
There were 81 pupils on the roll at the time of the evaluation. These were distributed in four class groups as follows: junior and senior infants with 17 pupils; first and second classes with 18 pupils; third and fourth classes with 20 pupils; fifth and sixth classes with 26 pupils. The distribution of pupils is appropriate. The school has four mainstream class teachers one of whom is the principal. There are two other teachers on staff one being a learning support teacher and the other being a resource teacher for pupils with special needs.
The school’s ancillary staff includes the caretaker who is full-time and two part-time school secretaries. Their work is well arranged and their contribution to the success and effective operation of the school is notable.
It is evident that there is a genuine and rich partnership between the school and the parent body. Communication is the foundation for this partnership and it is apparent that there are many ways in which open and timely communication is provided. The newsletter is one special element of this while letters, notices, information leaflets, home school diary and other means provide a steady flow of information that has benefit both for parents and for teachers. The regular parent teacher meetings and other meetings which can be easily arranged assist two-way communication. Parents express confidence in the systems that are in place and it is apparent that they feel very much a valued part of the school’s life. There is an active parents’ association which has members representing each of the mainstream class groupings in the school. The association gives assistance to the school with fund-raising activities, in the organisation of particular events such as sports’ days, and in the consultation process in the formulation of policies on various matters. The parents have confidence in the school’s capacity to provide an education for all the pupils including those with special needs.
A comprehensive School Plan has been developed by the staff in association with the board of management and with parents. The principal and the staff have collaborated in the work of developing the plan which is mainly contained in two large lever arch files and stored in the staff room. Staff meetings, planning days and the assistance of facilitators are some of the means which helped the school in the development of the plan. Particular members of staff take responsibility for facets of the planning and for review processes.
The large folder dealing with administrative issues has a contents page with 116 separate items listed in alphabetical order. These cover all manner of school related matters and include aspects such as accident policy, annual pupil reports, Cork School Sports, fire drills, homework, litter control, parent contact details, pupil absences, record keeping policy, savings scheme, staff development, student teachers, team teaching and uniforms. Enrolment policy, code of discipline, substance abuse, prevention of bullying, are among the policy documents that are contained in the plan. The policies are signed by the chairperson and a review year is specified. The special needs policy and school policy for assessment are also provided. The school has a mission statement in which respect for themselves and for others is a central aspiration for the pupils. The school organises an orientation day for new entrants at an opportune time. A homework policy was formulated last year in consultation with pupils, parents and staff and also in association with the Newmarket Girls’ School. This was ratified by the board of management and was printed as a special information card for parents giving also helpful information concerning home school communications, parent teacher meetings and telephone calls policy. This information card is supplemented by another, giving information about transport arrangements, school tours, school hours and other arrangements. These information cards or leaflets are indicative of the school’s anxiety to provide helpful information and background details to parents so that the school may function smoothly and efficiently in the interests of all the children. Another feature of note is the homework diary, specific to the school, which lists ten school rules along with the mission statement and which provides an important point of contact for school and home throughout the year. Another notable feature is the development by the staff of a four page quick reference guide for teachers incorporating many of the main elements of the school’s practice in respect of organisational and administrative matters. This is a valuable resource for substitute teachers and indeed for others.
The curricular aspects covered in the School Plan are Irish, English, Mathematics, Science, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Visual Arts, Music, and Physical Education. There are draft policies for History and Geography. There is a plan for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) which is valuable and clear. In essence, all the areas of the curriculum are dealt with in the plan and these are useful policy documents which influence the school’s practice in curricular areas. Whereas the curricular plans are clearly indicative of a considerable amount of thought and effort, it may be appropriate for the staff to review some of the plans and seek to produce a simpler and more focused policy guideline for some of the curricular areas. Some of the plans are somewhat lengthy and could be shortened to dwell on the main features to be accomplished in particular areas of work. For example, in Mathematics, it may be feasible to summarise the plan in a condensed form giving the key features and omitting much of the content material. In Science, it might be appropriate to provide a shorter outline of policy in relation to Science lessons and methods to be developed at each stage of the school and to do this as part of a consolidated plan for Social, Environmental and Scientific Education. There is need also for the school to review its approach in relation to pupils’ handwriting and the use to be made of copies generally.
All the teachers devise short-term and long-term plans and all aspects of the curriculum are planned for. Timetables are based on the guideline times recommended by the curriculum and there is a good balance achieved in the implementation of the curriculum. The school has monthly progress templates differentiated for junior and senior class groups and the teachers complete these records for central storage in the staff room.
Whereas the school has initiated steps to deal with child protection issues, the board of management needs to formally adopt the 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) and nominate a member of staff to act as designated liaison person in accordance with the Department’s guidelines.
It is apparent that the school benefits very fully from the work that is committed to planning and organising the implementation of the curriculum. An overarching feature is the good discipline and control that is apparent in the school from the youngest pupils to the most senior. It is evident that the teachers have developed in their pupils a high degree of self-respect and a strong sense of respect for others. Pupils are very well trained to give their best effort to their work no matter what aspect of the curriculum is involved. It is evident that the teachers work closely together to ensure that all pupils receive appropriate training in habits of conduct and behaviour. Pupils’ self-esteem is nurtured in a multiplicity of ways that have significant cumulative effects and the teachers are most anxious to promote the social and personal development of their pupils in every respect. The teachers have high expectations for all the boys in their care and every effort is made to assist pupils with specific difficulties.
By and large, the pupils manifest good skills in their school work and suitable awareness of lessons that have been done. The good organisation and administration of the school is conducive to implementing the curriculum in a broad manner. The availability of resources and supports lends further assistance to the mainstream class teachers in their work. It is apparent that the whole school planning effort of the staff over recent years has been of considerable benefit in helping the school to realise many of its objectives.
The quality of learning and teaching in the curriculum was evaluated on the basis of a sample of work in each of the mainstream classrooms. The sample included particular taught lessons in all the main aspects of the curriculum as well as interaction with pupils in each class group. Samples of pupils’ work in copies or on display were also taken into consideration while classroom features such as project work or other pupil related aspects were similarly considered. Aspects of the provision made for special needs were also sampled.
Cuirtear na ranganna Gaeilge i bhfeidhm go ceardúil is go beoga. Tá Gaeilge líofa ag na múinteoirí agus is féidir leo na ceachtanna a mhúineadh gan stró. Cuirtear prionta ar fáil go héifeachtach sna seomraí éagsúla agus déantar abairtí agus nathanna cainte a léiriú ar na cláir taispeántais. Cloistear na seanfhocail in úsáid ó am go chéile agus tugtar spreagadh do na buachaillí spéis a chur sna hainmneacha bailte fearainn agus an bhrí a ghabhann leo. Déantar iarracht an Ghaeilge a úsáid agus a chomhtháthú le gnéithe eile mar shampla le linn an Chorpoideachais agus chun an rolla a ghlaoch. Soláthraítear leabhair bhreise léitheoireachta go fial agus cuireann siad go mór leis an taitneamh atá le baint as na ceachtanna Gaeilge.
Cuirtear na ceachtanna foirmiúla i láthair go hábalta. Spreagtar na leanaí le ceisteanna agus lorgaítear iarracht cheart uatha le linn teagaisc. Baintear úsáid as cluichí, pictiúir, scéalta agus leabhair chun na ceachtanna a mhúineadh. Cuirtear na leanaí ag obair i mbeirteanna ar ócáidí agus eagraítear na gnéithe seo go soiléir. Aimsítear bríomhaireacht agus rannpháirtíocht oiriúnach san obair agus cothaítear meon dearfach i measc na mbuachaillí i leith na Gaeilge. Déantar an obair go samhailteach agus go díograiseach. Freagraíonn na buachaillí go rialta agus baineann siad taitneamh as an obair. Ar ócáidí baintear feidhm as an mBéarla chun brí na gceachtanna a léiriú ach moltar gan é seo a dhéanamh. Meastar go bhféadfaí an comhrá neamhfhoirmiúil a leathnú tuilleadh fós chun deiseanna sa bhreis a thabhairt do na daltaí an Ghaeilge a shealbhú agus a chleachtadh. Déantar cúram leanúnach den léitheoireacht agus pléitear na ceachtanna go cúramach. Léiríonn na buachaillí tuiscint an-bhreá ar na scéalta atá pléite. Múintear píosaí filíochta go rialta agus aithrisíonn na buachaillí go fonnmhar. Déantar cúram leathan den scríbhneoireacht agus ceartaítear saothar na bpáistí go rialta. Ar an iomlán, is léir go ndéanann na buachaillí dul chun cinn céimniúil san obair agus go bhfuil toradh ceart ar shaothar na n-oidí.
English is a major feature of the work in all the classrooms and the teachers allocate considerable effort and time to the development of language skills in accordance with the principles of the curriculum. Continuity and development from class to class are clearly apparent and the teachers are assiduous in providing appropriate and varied language opportunities for all their pupils. Lessons are tailored with skill to meet particular needs while good differentiation for the separate class groups is a feature in all the mainstream classrooms.
In the infant classroom, there are inventive and creative methods applied to maximise pupils’ engagement with language and with the acquisition of new words and speech patterns. Pupils are absorbed by their lessons and they participate very fully in the tasks that are set. News, pictures, stories and materials are used freely to stimulate interest while circle time and imaginative dramatisation produce beneficial results. Phonological awareness is promoted with care and syllabification exercises are practised with skill. Big books are featured in an attractive and valuable manner. Reading skills are fostered with due care and records of pupils’ progress are maintained. Throughout the school, vocabulary development is given close attention and pupils reveal keen interest in language and its uses. It is apparent that pupils listen to and respond willingly when offered opportunities to discuss topics of interest to their particular age groups. Certain aspects of the learning support work are delivered in the mainstream classes and this is done in an effective and unobtrusive manner. In the middle classes, the pupils receive methodical and deliberate exposure to oral lessons and intelligent use is made of worksheets, equipment, dictionaries, books and other materials to stimulate and promote language development. The pupils are well used to compiling their own books about themselves, their poems, their book reviews with many variations of approach and design. Many opportunities for creative work are provided and the school magazine features many individual items that the pupils have produced. Some very useful research work has been done by pupils in respect of older family members with interviews carried out and accounts written up in attractive format. Editing, redrafting and computer word processing skills have also been nurtured in this context as well as in many other exercises given to the pupils. Reading skills are well founded and overall performance in reading seems impressive. The boys have wide exposure to reading and good use is made of the school library. Pupils can discuss their reading material with confidence and with precision. Occasionally, the pupils visit the town library as part of the school’s programme to promote reading. Newspaper items and other source materials are used to add interest to lesson work and the boys derive benefit and satisfaction from their work in these aspects. Written work is given regular and consistent treatment through all the classes and varied exercises and tasks are assigned to the children. Useful guidance is given for much of the work and the pupils’ work is supervised and corrected with care. In general, pupils write and express themselves in a manner that is appropriate to their age and class level. However, there is a need for the school to review practices in relation to work in copybooks generally. It is recommended that the organisation and use of copybooks and the school policy on handwriting be examined with a view to securing a more unified approach.
In the teaching of English, the teachers are to be commended for the success and achievement that the pupils reveal. It is apparent that many aspects of the work reach a very creditable standard.
Mathematics receives regular attention and is a prominent aspect of the work in each of the classrooms. All of the classrooms feature display material of a mathematical nature. The teachers prepare their lessons with care and make good use of equipment and concrete materials to assist instruction. Oral and mental aspects are given due prominence and the pupils respond very well to the teaching. Lessons are presented with skill and with pace and the pupils are well trained to benefit from their instruction. The pupils are well motivated to engage with the topics that are presented. Many of the pupils reveal very good facility with number while conceptual aspects seem well founded and developed. Some of the oral work with number is inventive and challenging while the pupils display speed and accuracy in handling problem questions. Calculators are used commonly in certain facets of the work in the senior groups and the pupils show good facility in their use. Textbooks are used regularly and progress seems appropriate for the majority of the pupils. Written work is featured in the pupils’ copybooks and is suitably monitored by the teachers.
In order to refine further the work in Mathematics, it is recommended that number lines be availed of more commonly in display areas and in other ways to give pupils more opportunities for using these for particular purposes. It is recommended that the teachers provide a more directive approach for pupils’ written work so that more independent and ordered work may be achieved in the written exercises.
Lessons in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) are a prominent feature of work in all the classrooms. Many notable features are arranged in the classrooms to assist the work in this area of the curriculum. Models, nature tables, display areas, posters, scrapbooks, maps, photographs and objects of interest are among the things provided by the teachers to support the work. Aspects of History, Geography and Science are attractively put on view and the pupils’ skills of inquiry and observation are being developed by the teachers in the lessons in SESE. Commendably, the school has a regular programme of recycling and paper and cartons are disposed of in an environmentally safe manner.
The boys have lessons in History as a regular part of their work in school. Elements of History have prominence in all the classrooms with stories, pictures and information about the past featured. For example, legends of Ireland are given treatment with dramatisation and storytelling in such a manner that the boys assimilate information and concepts about ancient peoples and other cultures. The boys enjoy acting out these stories and become keen participants in imaginative dramatisations which are featured for exhibition to wider audiences when opportunities permit. Aspects of local history are featured with important benefit to the pupils who can relate with ease stories of the locality that have connection with national events. The boys take pride in the knowledge they have acquired and are capable in answering questions about selected topics. Of particular merit are the interviews conducted with family elders and the scrapbook records that have been produced on foot of this work. These warrant particular praise for the exceptional standard of completion achieved in the overall work. Aspects of national and world history are featured with good results and the pupils reveal good understanding of certain historical developments of note. Some of these topics are discussed at a high level of sophistication and link with contemporary events.
All the classrooms provide lessons in Geography and, where sampled, it is apparent that the teaching is appropriate and suitably focused. Many elements of the study are incidental such as for example weather observation which is a regular feature of conversation and description in both Irish and English. Nature tables are on view and nature topics are given prominence in various ways. Plant and animal life are featured and the pupils benefit from their instruction. Lessons are presented with skill and use is made of pictures and toys to assist learning. Oral work is well developed and the pupils show good facility in describing matters they have studied. Maps, globes and other equipment is used to assist the pupils. Local maps showing townlands are especially impressive as aids for learning and the pupils relate meaningfully to their home areas with good understanding of location and linkage with neighbouring features. In the senior classes, lessons are carefully structured to provide information and insights into European countries while text and handout material is used to good effect. Maps and diagrams are featured though pupils’ own maps could be given a larger emphasis as part of the work. Text material is used commonly for lesson topics and though this is appropriate in many ways, it might be fruitful to seek to develop a more varied and more local focus in some aspects of the work. The project approach might be used more frequently to stimulate pupils’ interests further.
The teachers place emphasis on the teaching of Science and the pupils have many interesting items on display in the classrooms to stimulate interest in scientific aspects. Some of the classrooms might give a more obvious focus to the work in Science with the inclusion of a science and investigation corner perhaps linked to the nature display. Where sampled, the formal teaching of Science is very effective and well geared to the age and interests of the pupils. Lessons are skilfully presented and equipment and materials are used with clear benefit for the pupils’ understanding. Experiments are a frequent occurrence and the pupils profit from effective and methodical exposition of everyday phenomena. The pupils are fascinated and absorbed by their experiences and aspects such as language development and conceptual development are notably assisted by the lessons. Some lessons are based on study of the human body and make use of models of organs which lend concrete experience of interrelated parts of the body. The boys have learned intricate and detailed knowledge of particular parts and can discuss these with confidence and understanding and with reference also to particular health and living issues. Other work includes model building using batteries and switches, and plant experiments and tests. The school engages in science outings on occasion and, earlier this school year, the pupils had a field trip to Knockreer House in Killarney where animal habitats were studied.
The boys have many opportunities to benefit from lessons in the Visual Arts and their work adorns the classrooms and corridor spaces. Many of the strands of drawing, paint and colour, clay, construction, print and fabric and fibre are provided for and the pupils receive careful guidance in their lessons. Material for art lessons is easily accessed in a central storage area and a good variety of necessary items is available. The work is well integrated with other areas of the curriculum and the pupils have many opportunities to present topics in an art medium. The pupils can discuss their work with ease and understanding. Some of the work is held in portfolios and in scrapbooks. On occasion the school participates in community art activities such as Christmas card production and the credit union competition. It is apparent that the boys benefit from their work in this aspect of the curriculum.
A comprehensive plan for Music has been formulated and this offers appropriate and useful guidance for work in this aspect of the curriculum. The teachers have valuable skills for the teaching of Music and lessons are implemented with enthusiasm and with precision. Percussion instruments are available for use as lessons require. Elements of rhythm and literacy are handled with confidence while creative and inventive work is produced by the boys in pairs and in small groups. Songs in Irish and in English are well taught and the boys are well trained to sing together tunefully. Some of the work is put on display for occasions such as St Patrick’s Day and this offers the boys opportunities for public performance. Overall a good standard is to be found in this aspect of the curriculum.
Drama is incorporated into many aspects of the school’s work and is featured as a teaching strategy for various curricular aspects including Irish, English, History and Social, Personal and Health Education. The pupils are frequently given opportunities to be active participants in small dramatic pieces where they imagine that they are other characters. Props and costumes are used to excellent effect to assist role playing and the children benefit enormously from the experiences provided. In Social, Personal and Health Education, the boys are encouraged to be actively engaged in role playing in considering aspects such as decision making and personal choices.
The school has a useful plan for Physical Education. Covering all the strands of the curriculum, this is a valuable aid and assists the teachers in their planning. Sports and team activities are given appropriate prominence in the life of the school. Connections are made with local and county team games sometimes involving visits to the school of teams that have won acclaim. The school had a special visit from a local hunt group with horses and hounds providing a particularly colourful occasion recently. Formal lessons in Physical Education are a regular part of the work of all the teachers and these are held in the playground or in the general purpose room. Equipment is used to very good effect to assist the boys in developing and refining their skills. Activities and games are managed with confidence and expectations are set at a high level thus encouraging the pupils to give of their best in their work in this area of the curriculum. The work has beneficial effect for discipline and co-operation and the pupils enjoy their lessons. Swimming is arranged periodically with six-week blocks of time committed to it for various class groups and different levels of ability are catered for. The school has arrangements in place for training for hurling and football while the school sports day and Cork City Sports are also listed as activities that are provided. It appears that the boys have good access to Physical Education activities and that these are most appropriate for their needs.
The school has cultivated a disciplined and positive atmosphere in its activities. The pupils are given careful training as regards behaviour and it is apparent that this has notable and pervasive effect. The teachers are addressed by their first names as a matter of policy and the pupils demonstrate a high standard of conduct and behaviour. There is a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere of mutual respect and co-operation among the pupils who display a positive demeanour in all their school interactions. It is apparent that a high degree of collaboration obtains among the teachers in the development of good manners on the part of the pupils. The good discipline that is in evidence is to the great credit of all of the staff.
Formal lessons in Social, Personal and Health Education are featured by each of the teachers. These include lessons on personal development, on safety, on hygiene and substance use and other related topics. Health promoting habits are discussed and assisted by school practice as for example by the promotion of healthy eating as part of the school programme. The school has a number of initiatives in place to assist appropriate development of pupils’ Social, Personal and Health Education. For example, assembly of pupils takes place once a term at least and includes general topics such as bullying, school ethos, current issues and other elements of significance for the whole school. The staff appears to take advantage of particular developments to foster appropriate social and personal traits in the pupils and this is commendable. The school makes special efforts in respect of particular selected charities and the pupils give generous assistance for causes that are featured as worthwhile by the staff. The school is often involved in community activities and the pupils have varied opportunities for participation in cultural and social occasions that provide benefit to them.
The school uses a range of assessment instruments to monitor pupils’ progress. These include standardised tests, teacher-designed tests, teacher observation, checklists of words and samples of work pages, lists of books read and results of various small tests such as spelling tests. The school uses the Drumcondra English reading tests, the Sigma-T Mathematics tests, and the Quest Mathematics Screening tests for infant classes. The school has a well established system for monitoring progress using commercial record booklets purchased by parents at the junior infant class level and maintained in the school. These permit the sending to parents of an annual school report while a copy is retained on file thus giving a complete record of individual pupil progress over the full period of primary schooling. This is very carefully organised and is in being in the school for several years. Signed by the principal and giving account of progress in all areas of the curriculum as well as the social development of the child, these reports are valuable sources of information for parents.
This system complements the formal parent teacher meetings which are provided annually. A commendable policy that the school staff has adopted is that individual pupils’ progress will not be discussed casually but as a formal part of school business ideally to be done in the context of parent teacher meetings. It is apparent that the staff takes a methodical and careful approach to assessment issues and that this responsibility is discharged with success.
The school has a comprehensive, detailed and practical policy on special education provision. This policy is very closely based on the learning support guidelines. All roles are outlined, with teaching strategies and methodologies listed. A detailed catalogue of resources is compiled and early intervention strategies are stressed. Resources including staffing, are managed effectively and efficiently to support the pupils’ identified needs. All staff are sufficiently aware of procedures for identifying, assessing and providing for pupils with special educational needs. The staff is commended for the clarity and precision of this policy.
The school has the services of a shared learning support teacher who caters for 17 children in this school. The school also has a shared resource and learning support teacher who caters for three resource children also in this school. Both teachers are based in the school and have their own dedicated rooms. These rooms are well organised with a plentiful supply of resources that supplement and assist beneficially the teaching and learning that takes place. Class teachers administer screening tests such as the Drumcondra Reading, Sigma-T and Micra-T tests. The results of these along with teachers’ observations and discussions inform decisions as to who receives supplementary teaching.
Both of the Special Education Teachers (SET ) advantageously use computer programmes such as Wordshark and Lexia to teach the children. Language games are also used to motivate the children and to improve their memory and oral language skills. The SET team provides support to pupils experiencing difficulties across the curriculum. They administer a number of diagnostic tests such as Aston Index, Jackson phonics, Neale analysis and Quest as well as checklists. These are used to inform the Individual Profile and Learning Programme (IPLP) that is drawn up for each child in receipt of supplementary teaching. These programmes address the individual needs of the children attending these teachers. There is some parental input in the development of the IPLPs. All these plans have specific targets, identify resources that are needed, specify methodologies and assessment criteria. In some instances the pupils themselves have an input on what goes into their IPLP. This is commendable practice. Many of the children attending learning support are above the tenth percentile.
There is highly effective collaboration between the members of the special education team with one another, with the class teachers and with the parents. This has a very positive effect upon the pupils and the teaching and learning that takes place. The teachers keep helpful and concise records on children’s progress. Many engaging samples of children’s work are displayed to excellent effect in the rooms. Creditable emphasis is placed on the development of onset and rime activities, phonological awareness, spelling strategies, experience charts and writing activities. A most positive feature of the work undertaken by both teachers is in-class teaching. It is recommended that this excellent facet of the programme be developed further and that the class teacher might occasionally take the smaller group and the special needs teacher might take the mainstream class. The quality of provision for special educational needs is creditable while the standards achieved by the pupils are impressive.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· The board of management is commended for its management of the school and for its timely attention to providing for the needs of the pupils in various respects over recent years. In particular, the development and progress of the school in the last decade or so may be regarded as very substantial and reflective of the work of the board of management in conjunction with all the teachers over that period.
· The principal and the teachers are commended for their success in cultivating a positive and conducive educational atmosphere in the school and for developing a disciplined and attentive work ethic among the pupils. The unity, commitment and mutual cooperation of the staff are especially notable and it is apparent that the development and progress of the school is due in large measure to these features.
· The principal and the teachers are to be praised for the creditable work that has been accomplished in providing a comprehensive School Plan dealing with a multiplicity of administrative features as well as the detailed aspects of the curriculum. Exemplary organisation is a feature of note throughout the school and this is a major element that supports all the work of the school and particularly its curricular activities.
· The good overall standards of work and achievement in the curriculum are acknowledged and the particular success in aspects such as English, Physical Education and provision for special needs are especially recognised.
· The notable achievement that the school and its teachers have fashioned with the work in the school’s newsletter and in the annual school magazine, is highly meritorious and worthy of special commendation. The communication and publication of school related matters as well as pupils’ work are indicative of a strong commitment to forge close links with parents and with the wider school community.
· One of the cornerstones of the school’s success is the provision it makes for good communication with parents. The distribution of information cards for parents about homework and parent teacher meetings is testimony to the deliberate effort by the teachers to foster good relations and sound channels of communication with the parent body.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the whole school planning process be further developed with a review and refinement of the curricular plans that have been produced in particular with a shorter and more succinct policy overview for areas such as Mathematics, Social, Environmental and Scientific Education and other curricular aspects.
· In Mathematics, it is recommended that number lines be availed of more commonly in display areas and in other ways to give pupils more opportunities for using these in the development of concepts and of facility with number. A more directive approach for pupils’ written work in Mathematics is recommended to develop further the pupils’ skills for independent and methodical work.
· It is recommended that the school should develop a policy governing the organisation and use of copies with a view to having good coordination of written work in general throughout the school. The school policy on handwriting might be examined with a view to securing a more unified whole school approach to pupils’ written work.
· It is recommended that the school should seek to develop processes for self-evaluation in overall school practice in areas such as the quality of learning and teaching in the curriculum so that the staff and management may reflect on relevant issues on an ongoing basis with a view to developing further particular facets of curricular practice.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management and the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.