An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballina County Mayo
Uimhir rolla: 11725I
Date of inspection: 16 April 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Behymore 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 inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, and examined pupils’ work. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams. 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 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.
Behymore National School is an eleven-teacher co-educational school under the patronage of the Bishop of Killala. It is situated in a rural area, approximately four kilometres from Ballina. The school has experienced considerable growth and change in recent times. Three new teachers were appointed in September 2007, with the principal becoming an administrative principal for the first time. Three of the mainstream classes are taught in permanent classrooms. The remaining classes are taught in the general-purposes room and two temporary classrooms. The school also has special-education rooms, a principal’s office and a staff room. While school attendance is generally good, the poor attendance of a small number of pupils is a cause for concern. The school participates in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), part of the Department of Education and Science’s programme to alleviate educational disadvantage.
The current board was established in January 2008. It is properly constituted and has already met on three occasions. Specific tasks are allocated and are undertaken in a professional and committed manner. The deficiencies of the current school accommodation have been a source of concern for successive boards of management in the school, especially given the rapid increase in the school population in recent years. Strong effective links exist among the board, staff, parents and the wider community. Finances are managed carefully and there is a clearly defined system for tracking income and expenditure. The board has been involved in compiling and ratifying a number of organisational and administration policies. It is recommended that all policies be signed by the chairperson of the board of management.
The principal has worked in this school for over twenty years and demonstrates a very high level of commitment to the whole school community. She has been principal since 2004 but this is the first school year in which she has not also had class-teaching responsibilities. Her vital leadership and management role in the school is acknowledged by parents, staff and the board. It was evident throughout the WSE process that the principal fulfils her duties in the school to a high standard in a courteous and democratic manner. There is evidence that morale and motivation are high among the teachers.
The principal places a commendable emphasis on developing communication processes within the school. She has succeeded in creating a culture that is characterised by co-operation, teamwork and a commitment to ongoing school improvement. The fact that the principal no longer has teaching duties provides an opportunity for the instructional-leadership dimension of the role to be developed further. An increased focus on monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the whole-school plan is recommended.
The principal is supported effectively in her role by the deputy principal and special-duties teachers. Each member of this in-school management team has been assigned organisational, curricular and pastoral duties in accordance with Departmental guidelines. It is recommended that the post descriptions be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that they reflect the changing needs of the school. It is recommended also that responsibility for the development and use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the school be included in one of the posts.
High levels of professionalism and dedication are evident among the teachers. Their commitment to their own professional development is evident and they are to be commended on the open manner in which they engaged with the evaluation process. The school’s ancillary staff includes two full-time special-needs assistants, a secretary and a caretaker. All duties associated with these posts are attended to in an enthusiastic and highly effective manner and contribute to the overall effectiveness of the school.
The teachers work hard to ensure that the school provides a bright, stimulating learning environment. However, small classrooms, insufficient storage space and the lack of a general-purposes room are among the challenges that the teachers deal with on a daily basis. The board is currently seeking funding from the Department of Education and Science for the redevelopment of the school building. The principal and staff deserve credit for maintaining the existing accommodation and the school grounds to the highest possible standard while they await a new building. There is evidence in particular that the school grounds have been developed and used as a resource for the teaching of Science.
There is effective provision and use of equipment and materials to support the curriculum. Most notable is the attractive selection of library books in each classroom. A great deal of effort has gone into preparing materials to support the learning of pupils with special educational needs. This supports the development of positive attitudes towards learning and enables teachers to provide more active learning experiences for pupils.
There is an active parents’ association which is affiliated to the National Parents Council (Primary). The association contributes significantly to the school and the chairperson and individual members are to be commended for their commitment. A meeting with the representatives of the parent association revealed very positive parental attitudes. Parents are appreciative of home-school correspondence such as newsletters and annual written reports. They also referred positively to the availability of staff members to discuss children’s progress, both at the formal parent-teacher meetings and throughout the year. In addition to engaging in a variety of fundraising activities, parents also support the school in activities such as shared reading and coaching for particular games.
The management of pupils in this school is excellent. The board of management and the teaching staff have devised a code of behaviour and anti-bullying policies that are implemented in a consistent manner. The code of behaviour is circulated to parents. Pupils are encouraged to devise their own simple classroom rules in accordance with the school’s discipline policy and these rules are displayed in the classroom. There is evidence of mutually respectful relationships among pupils, and between pupils and teachers.
There is evidence that the whole-school planning process involves widespread consultation and collaboration. Most policies are initially compiled by the staff and presented to the board for consideration prior to ratification. Parental views are sought through the parents’ association and draft policy documents have been circulated to the general parent body for comment. The plan includes policies for a range of organisational and administrative areas. These include enrolment, pupil behaviour, bullying, and health and safety. At the time of the evaluation, a section of the school’s enrolment policy provides for the deferral of enrolment of pupils with special educational needs. It is recommended that this reference be removed.
Curriculum plans have been drawn up in respect of ten subjects. The staff is currently drafting plans for Drama and it is anticipated that this plan will be in place at the end of the current school year. The school’s curricular plans reflect the structure and language of the Primary School Curriculum (1999). The school has made good use of the services of the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and the School Development Planning Support (SDPS) service. The quality of the plans ensures that the children are offered a broad and balanced curriculum. It is commendable that every teacher on the staff has been given responsibility for the development of some aspect of the curriculum. The challenge now facing the principal and staff is to ensure the consistent implementation of the plan. Consideration should be given to developing the role of the curriculum co-ordinators to include the monitoring of the implementation of the school plan. It is recommended that the school plan indicate how the curriculum is to be implemented in the dual-class context.
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.
All teachers provide detailed long-term and short-term schemes of work. There is a variety of planning and recording templates in use in the school. In the interest of uniformity and increased team-effectiveness, it is recommended that the same planning and recording templates be used in all classes in the school. Many teachers make reference to differentiation in their planning. It is recommended that all mainstream class teachers plan for the differentiation of programme and lesson content for pupils at either end of the ability spectrum.
Some class teachers record the work that has been completed by inserting ticks on their short-term plans. Others maintain a separate monthly progress record that states the learning outcomes that have been achieved by the pupils. This latter format provides a more useful record and it is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes. It is also recommended that the principal and staff make use of these monthly progress records to monitor the implementation of the whole-school plan and the Primary School Curriculum.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Lessons are well presented and teachers succeed in motivating pupils to learn and in maintaining their interest throughout lessons. Whole-class teaching and grade-level teaching are generally used in delivering the curriculum. Good emphasis is placed on the use of the environment as a resource and as a starting point for learning. Some good pair work, using active learning tasks, was observed during the evaluation. Overall, there is a need for more frequent opportunities for structured pupil-pupil interaction. Further emphasis on sustained, purposeful play-based learning activity is recommended for pupils in the infant classes, with a view to developing pupils’ language, imagination and cognitive abilities.
In some classes, there is a need for a more purposeful, deliberate approach to oral-language development and for greater pupil participation generally in lessons. Greater consideration should be given in some classes to extending the pupils’ vocabulary and using open questions that elicit more sustained spoken contributions from the pupils.
Labhraíonn formhór na n-oidí an Ghaeilge go cruinn, líofa. Sa chuid is mó de na seomraí ranga, úsáidtear cairteacha agus taispeántais éagsúla chun foghlaim agus úsáid na Gaeilge a éascú do na daltaí. Sna ranganna sóisearacha, baintear feidhm thairbheach as raon de scéalta, rainn agus drámaí chun foclóir nua a bhuanú. Sa chuid is mó de na ranganna, cloiseann na daltaí an Ghaeilge go rialta agus tuigeann siad treoracha agus ceisteanna. Sonraítear cleachtas cumasach i bhforbairt scileanna labhartha na ndaltaí i roinnt bheag de sheomraí agus moltar don scoil féachaint chuige go scaipfear an dea-chleachtas seo.
Is léir ó bhreathnú ar cheachtanna nach bhfaigheann na daltaí i gcuid de na seomraí ranga dóthain deiseanna cainte le linn an cheachta Ghaeilge. Is léir ó cheistiú na ndaltaí nach mbíonn taithí acu ar úsáid na Gaeilge mar theanga chumarsáide. Bíonn deacrachtaí acu, go háirithe, le cruthú abairtí agus le húsáid na mbriathar.
Moltar don fhoireann teagaisc athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar mhúineadh na Gaeilge sa scoil. Moltar plean gnímh a cheapadh chun féachaint chuige go gcuirfear an plean scoile atá leagtha amach don Ghaeilge i gcrích. Chun úsáid teanga atá gníomhach agus neamhspleách a chur chun cinn, beidh ar na hoidí gá a chruthú d’úsáid na Gaeilge i measc na ndaltaí, sa cheacht fhoirmiúil agus taobh amuigh de.
Sa cheacht Gaeilge, beidh gá le tascanna a thabharfaidh deis do na daltaí an Ghaeilge atá foghlamtha acu a úsáid le haghaidh cumarsáide. Moltar don scoil cnuasach de thascanna oiriúnacha a chur le chéile. Moltar don scoil an plean atá leagtha amach d’úsáid neamhfhoirmiúil na Gaeilge a fhorbairt, agus aird níos mó a dhíriú ar na frásaí a bheidh á lorg ó na daltaí ar ócáidí éagsúla. Moltar don scoil socruithe a dhéanamh chun an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn mar theanga chumarsáide i measc na múinteoirí. Chun an obair seo a chomhordú, d’fhéadfaí na dualgais a bhaineann le Gaeilge i gceann de na postanna freagrachta a leathnú ar mhaithe le ceannasaíocht láidir a sholáthar i múineadh agus úsáid na teanga sa scoil.
The majority of teachers speak Irish fluently and accurately. In most classrooms, charts and displays are used to assist children in their learning and use of Irish. In the junior classes, effective use is made of story, rhymes and drama to teach new vocabulary. In most classrooms, the pupils hear Irish regularly and they understand instructions and questions. In a small number of classrooms effective practice in the development of the spoken language skills of the pupils was observed and it is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes.
It is evident, from the lessons observed, that pupils in some classrooms do not get sufficient speaking opportunities during the Irish lesson. It is evident from questioning them, that the pupils lack experience of using the Irish language for communication. They have particular difficulty with constructing sentences and using verbs.
It is recommended that the staff review the teaching of Irish in the school. It is recommended that an action plan be devised to facilitate the implementation of the school plan for Irish. To develop independent and active use of the language the staff should create a need for the children to use the language during the formal lesson and outside of it.
In the Irish lesson, there is a need to provide tasks that will give the pupils opportunities to use the Irish they have learned for communicative purposes. It is recommended that the school compile a bank of suitable tasks. It is recommended that the school develop the existing school plan for the informal use of Irish, giving further attention to the phrases that pupils are expected to use on particular occasions. It is recommended that the school promote the use of Irish for communicative purposes among the teachers. To co-ordinate this work, the school should consider broadening the duties relating to Irish that are included in one of the posts of responsibility at present, with a view to providing further direction and impetus to the teaching and use of Irish in the school.
Classroom observation provides evidence of very good practice in the development of the pupils’ reading and writing. The area that presents greatest scope for development is oral language.
The school generally does very good work in the area of reading. There is a systematic whole-school approach to the teaching of phonics. Large-format books are used to good effect in junior classes to model reading behaviour and demonstrate print conventions. Most teachers display an abundance of printed material in their classrooms so that pupils are encountering print informally on a frequent basis. There is good use of children’s literature in the teaching of reading. Each classroom has a pupils’ library. Some of these are attractive and categorised according to genre. In some classrooms, teachers use real books as the basis for interesting activities in writing and the Visual Arts. Pupils encounter a range of appropriate poetry. It is recommended that the language-experience approach be used more extensively in the infant classrooms. Teachers are referred to Primary School Curriculum: English – Teacher Guidelines p55.
There is evidence of good practice in the development of the pupils’ writing ability. There is careful attention to letter formation and handwriting in the junior classes. Throughout the school, most teachers provide pupils with writing opportunities in a range of forms and genres. Pupils’ writing is displayed and celebrated and pupils in many classrooms have made books. Some very good writing activities are based on the pupils’ personal reading.
In most classrooms, there is evidence of scope for improvement in the pupils’ oral-language development. It is recommended that the principal and teachers develop and implement a whole-school oral-language programme that identifies the outcomes that are expected at each class level. At classroom level, it is recommended that teachers identify specific language outcomes for their dedicated oral-language lessons and that they monitor the extent to which the pupils are achieving these outcomes. In most classrooms, better use could be made of the vocabulary-development opportunities that are presented by lessons in subjects other than English. It is recommended that teachers identify the key vocabulary for each lesson, display this vocabulary during the lesson and support and monitor the pupils in its use. It is recommended also that activities with a deliberate oral-language emphasis be included in the play rota for the infant classes.
A comprehensive school plan that reflects the principles of the Primary School Curriculum has been prepared for the teaching of Mathematics. Commendably, agreed approaches are outlined in the school plan for teaching key aspects of the programme, such as number operations, mathematical language and problem-solving. A useful list of resources for the teaching of Mathematics is included in the plan. A series of pupils’ textbooks is among these resources. While the pupils’ textbook is one of many useful resources, there is evidence of over-reliance on the textbook for programme and lesson content in some classrooms. In classes where Mathematics is taught particularly well, there is skilful use of concrete materials and active learning strategies and a strong emphasis on the correct use of mathematical language. It is advised that this good practice be implemented in all classes.
Standardised tests are administered annually to pupils from first to sixth class. Analysis of the current test results indicates that achievement in Mathematics varies widely across the school. Some children are performing very well but there is evidence that a significant number of pupils are experiencing difficulty in numeracy. Ongoing analysis of these assessment results is advised with a view to addressing the learning needs that they identify. Evidence from staff planning reveals that in-class learning-support is currently being provided for Mathematics and ongoing development of this support is advised. It is recommended also that there be more widespread use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in supporting pupil learning in Mathematics.
Overall, the teaching of History is good. Classroom planning for the subject reflects the structure and language of the Primary School Curriculum. Most classrooms have an age-appropriate timeline on display. There is a good emphasis on personal history and story in the infant and junior classes. Pupils’ skills as historians are developed successfully through the examination of artefacts and photographic evidence. There is good use of the digital camera and data projector during these lessons. There is an appropriate emphasis on the strand Local Studies. Pupils in the senior classes have interviewed older people in the community and have engaged in relevant research projects.
The local environment is used effectively as a resource for learning in this subject and the pupils demonstrate a good knowledge of the geography of their locality. Particularly good work has been done in the strand Environmental awareness and care. The school is to be commended for its ongoing involvement in An Taisce’s Green Schools programme. The children in all classes display a good awareness of the importance of respecting and caring for their environment.
There is a comprehensive, useful whole-school plan for Science. Pupils clearly enjoy this subject and display a positive attitude towards it. Classroom displays are used to make it easier for pupils to understand and remember what is taught. The school grounds have been developed as a resource for learning in Science and are used effectively. An increased emphasis on the learning and use of scientific language by the pupils is recommended. The school has participated successfully in the Forfás Discover Primary Science project.
Teachers take great care to display and celebrate the pupils’ art work throughout the school. It is clear from these displays that appropriate attention is given to each of the curriculum strands and that there is a good balance between the pupils making their own art and responding to the work of others. There is evidence that pupils get experience of various techniques in the production of pieces of art. It is evident from the displays in many classrooms that pupils would benefit from an increased emphasis on the creative process and on development of the pupils’ individual creativity in the various media. Teachers are referred to Primary School Curriculum: Visual Arts – Teacher Guidelines pp.11-15.
The school plan for Music is comprehensive, practical and very user-friendly. It is evident from classroom observation that it is being implemented in most classes. Pupils in most classes are able to sing a range of appropriate songs. In the classrooms where Music is taught particularly well, the pupils do a variety of vocal exercises regularly and teachers give a start note to ensure that the pupils are singing in a key that suits their voices. It is recommended that this practice be implemented in all classes. Some good work is done on musical literacy, most obviously in the junior classes. The school choir performs regularly in the local church. It is recommended that all pupils be enabled to play a melodic instrument.
The teachers are beginning to implement the Drama curriculum and there is evidence of good practice in this area. The lessons observed reflect the principles of the Primary School Curriculum. There is scope for more extensive use of socio-dramatic play in the junior classes. It is recommended that a dressing-up box and mirror be provided for this purpose in each of the junior rooms.
The teaching of Physical Education (PE) is good, despite the lack of an indoor facility. Lessons are well structured, with appropriate attention being given to warm-up activities, skills practice, games and cool-down routines. The Buntús programme is used very effectively. The school participates in Active Schools Week and achieved a County Winner Award in 2008. A series of swimming lessons is provided for all pupils each year.
The programme in this area of the curriculum strongly supports the ethos of the school. A positive school climate is nurtured and the school fosters respectful attitudes among the pupils. Affirmation of achievements and delegation of responsibilities further nurture the pupils’ self-esteem and confidence. Discussion, story, poetry, games and circle time are used effectively to focus pupils’ attention on feelings and emotions and to develop their communicative skills. Parents have been actively involved in the drafting of the school policy for Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE).
Teacher observation, teacher-devised tests and the regular monitoring of pupils’ written work are some of the assessment modes used throughout the school. In addition, standardised testing is carried out annually on pupils from first to sixth classes inclusive in English and Mathematics. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is administered to pupils in senior infants and the pupils identified as needing additional help participate in the Forward Together programme. This early-intervention strategy is commendable. A more systematic approach to the analysis of assessment results is recommended, with a view to ensuring that teaching is adapted to the range of identified strengths and learning needs. It is recommended that a system be introduced to track the progress of each individual pupil as he/she progresses from infants through to sixth class.
The school’s dedicated special-education team consists of a learning-support teacher and two resource teachers. These teachers provide supplementary teaching to particular pupils and implement early-intervention programmes. The use of attractive displays and high-quality learning resources creates a positive atmosphere in the learning-support and resource rooms. An individual learning programme is completed for each pupil, clearly indicating their learning strengths, priority needs and the targets to be achieved during the term. These programmes are based on the results of a wide range of relevant diagnostic tests and are drawn up in consultation with class teachers and parents. In addition to withdrawing pupils for supplementary teaching, the special-education teachers also engage in team-teaching activities alongside the mainstream class teachers and this is to be commended.
Some pupils receive supplementary teaching from more than one teacher and leave their classrooms more than once a day. It is recommended that the school arrange for each pupil to receive support from only one teacher where this is feasible. It is recommended also that the proportion of supplementary teaching that is provided in the pupil’s own classroom be increased.
The learning-support and resource teachers have considerable experience in the area of special education as well as relevant post-graduate academic qualifications. They provide a valuable source of expertise and advice for their colleagues. It is recommended that the school use this resource with a view to improving the differentiation of mainstream-class activities for pupils with special educational needs.
The school participates in the initiative Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, part of the Department of Education and Science’s programme to alleviate educational disadvantage. This is the base school for a co-ordinator who also serves four other schools. The schools have formulated a three-year plan to address the areas of literacy, numeracy and attendance. The plan includes targets for each of the three areas as well as an outline of the actions to be taken and the ways in which progress will be monitored and evaluated. The co-ordinator’s role includes visiting homes, developing resources for the school, working with pupils and providing a range of supports for pupils and their families. There is evidence that the work being done has a positive impact on pupil learning in the school.
The school employs a part-time teacher to work with pupils who do not have English as their first language. The teacher implements a programme provided by Integrate Ireland Language and Training. The main emphasis is on improving the pupils’ spoken English and there is evidence that the quality of teaching and learning is good.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The principal provides very good leadership.
· The spirit of professional collaboration promoted by the principal leads to a very positive working atmosphere within the school.
· The school provides a welcoming, orderly learning environment for the pupils.
· The pupils develop positive habits with regard to work and behaviour.
· The principal and teachers are to be commended for the open manner in which they engaged with the evaluation process.
· The school has an active, well-informed parent body, which contributes significantly to the work of the school.
· The school grounds are maintained to a high standard and are used very effectively for teaching and learning in Science.
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 school review, expand and develop its oral-language policy in English and provide a structured oral-language programme for all classes.
· It is recommended that all mainstream class teachers adapt their class programmes and lessons, as necessary, for pupils at either end of the ability spectrum.
· It is recommended that the school implement a system for tracking the progress of individual pupils as they move from infants through to sixth class.
· Moltar don scoil plean gnímh a cheapadh ionas go gcuirfear an plean scoile atá leagtha amach don Ghaeilge i bhfeidhm ina iomláine tríd an scoil.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
We, the B.O.M. and staff would like to say thank the inspectors for the professional, sensitive and courteous manner in which the W.S.E. was conducted.
We were delighted to be afforded the opportunity to showcase the very high standard of teaching and learning in our school. We found the inspection process to be fair. It gave us the chance to reflect on the variety of enriching experiences and activities being offered to pupils attending Behy school.
As expected the confidence and self esteem of our pupils was very evident in their interaction with the inspectors.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Ta comhairleoir Gaeilge ag cabhrú linn plean a chur i bhfeidhm an cur chuige cumarsáide agus an Ghaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil a chur chun chinn sa scoil.
We have re-introduced tin whistle lessons. The Arts advisor is helping us to further develop the implementation of the Performing and Listening strands of the Music curriculum.
We intend to further develop peer tutoring initiatives.
The Buddies programme has been in operation in our school for many years.
A school plan has been formulated to consolidate a structured oral language programme.
Published November 2008