An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Glenahulla National School
Mitchelstown, County Cork
Roll number: 12446J
Date of inspection: 24 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 29 June 2006
Whole -school evaluation report
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Glenahulla National School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Glenahulla National School is situated in Mitchelstown parish about four miles from the town. Opened in 2004, it replaces a schoolhouse dating from 1884. It occupies a compact site beside a busy road and adjoining crossroads. The school serves a well-established rural population and caters for boys and girls of the immediate neighbourhood, a total of 82 children. This represents an increase of 27 since June 1998 when the last whole school report was produced. Under the patronage of the Bishop of Cloyne, the central ethos is based on principles of inclusiveness, equality and concern for others. A key aim is the promotion of learning in a safe and secure environment in which individual children are enabled realise their developmental potential. This is reflected in comprehensive written plans that outline in some detail how the school endeavours to promote the academic, social, emotional and spiritual dimensions of its pupils. As might be expected in respect of a new building, the decorative order and maintenance, both within and without, are excellent and the overall appearance is enhanced by the location of attractive flower boxes in prominent positions. In this, the contribution of the enthusiastic caretaker cum secretary is acknowledged. Throughout the school examples of the children’s artwork are prominently displayed, a warm and welcoming atmosphere pervades the classrooms and the children are polite, happy and eager to learn. This is reflected in high attendance levels and vibrant interaction throughout the day between teachers and pupils, and pupils and their peers.
The board of management meets once per term and is prepared to meet on a more frequent basis when urgent matters arise. This was particularly the case in the period prior to the commencement of the construction of the new school and also throughout the duration of the project when significant problems arose. For this, their generosity of spirit is acknowledged. It is clear that the board of management is keenly interested in promoting the welfare of the school and it exhibits a praiseworthy willingness to discharge its evolving role in a conscientious fashion. To this end, for example, it carefully examines non-curricular policy documents at draft stage and it exhibits an understandable concern for the expediting of a building project to accommodate the extra teacher to be appointed next September.
The principal discharges her duties in a highly conscientious manner. In general, she is well acquainted with the children, their families and the character of the catchment area. She has charge of two mainstream classes, a factor that imposes constraints on her freedom to satisfy administrative demands during the school day, but with the support of an efficient school secretary and a willing staff she is succeeding admirably in addressing the priority issues that arise. She is intent on maintaining the high standards of success referred to in previous reports and to this end in particular she is attentive to disciplinary issues and those that impinge on the promotion of continuity and progression in the teaching at each class level. This is appropriate.
While the deputy principal provides a valuable measure of general support, her current formal responsibility centres on general administration and supervision issues which she attends to effectively. The special duties teacher adds another level of useful support which is readily acknowledged by the principal. She has direct responsibility for Music and Science in the curriculum and also discharges the important duty of secretary at planning meetings. In all, this constitutes a vibrant collaborative relationship that facilitates the maintenance of high operational standards throughout the school. As a development issue however, it is appropriate that staff have regard for the need to keep posts of responsibility under review on a regular basis in accordance with a constantly changing school environment.
The teaching staff comprises a teaching principal and two mainstream teachers; there is also a learning support cum resource teacher (LS/RT) who is shared with a neighbouring school and a part time resource teacher (RT) for children with specific special educational needs. In addition, there is one special needs assistant who supports one child.
The resources of the school, both human and material, are used in an effective manner. The children are divided in the usual manner for a three mainstream teacher school: one teacher takes infants and first class (33 pupils), another takes second, third and fourth (29 pupils) and the principal takes the final grouping of fifth and sixth classes (20 pupils). It is unfortunate there is a clear misbalance in the distribution of the children, but in the circumstances and with the object of avoiding a multigrade situation in more than one classroom, it was decided at the beginning of the school year that this was the best option pending the appointment of the extra teacher next September. Although challenging for the infant class teacher, this temporary arrangement has worked well in enabling staff make best use of their talents within the context of the school. The contribution of the LS/RT and RT is organised on a withdrawal from classroom basis and the special needs assistant works efficiently under the sensitive direction of the relevant mainstream teacher. The value of introducing a closer engagement of the support staff with mainstream staff has been explored with the staff and it is appropriate that for the coming year the LS/RT and RT will operate to a growing extent within the classroom. There is also a highly motivated part-time school secretary cum caretaker who displays an admirable measure of initiative and who discharges a multi-faceted role in an efficient and enthusiastic fashion.
In general the school is well resourced. In the infant classroom there is a fairly large stock of basic learning materials and in the three mainstream classrooms there is a broad range of library books that is supplemented on a regular basis by recently published materials. In addition, in each classroom there is a generous supply of attractive commercial and teacher-made visual aids and these are used to considerable effect in the different areas of the curriculum. The photocopier is seen as a most valuable resource and it is used to a considerable extent in the production of support materials. Also there are TVs and VCRs, together with tape recorders, music players and an electronic keyboard. In addition, there is a laminator and digital camera which impact beneficially on the learning. Although there are six PCs, computer technology does not yet feature strongly in the school and as part of its development plan it is appropriate that the school makes provision for a systematic introduction of computers and peripheral technology to enhance the learning across the curriculum.
Clearly the parents association is proud of its school and is most appreciative of the efforts of staff. On one formal occasion each year they meet with staff to discuss their child’s progress and, in addition, they consult with the teachers on an informal basis.
Parents are acquainted with certain elements of school plan and they have had an involvement in the drafting and ratification of the policies within the SPHE area and in the areas of homework and discipline. Moreover, they make a significant contribution to the boosting of the school’s finances and in the period leading up to the new building, and throughout its development, their support was particularly significant. They also provide useful support in the curricular areas, specifically in respect of basketball and to a lesser degree Visual arts. They express a desire to continue their support, not only in respect of fundraising but also in curricular areas, and to this end the school might gainfully consider ways of increasing their involvement in these aspects of the life of the school.
The school has prepared a useful school plan. It contains clear statements of school policy in the essential areas, together with a detailing of aims and objectives in curricular areas. By its nature, the school plan is in a constant state of evolution and it is intended that it will be revised and further developed in conjunction with the delivery of the curriculum in-service programme. As part of this process, staff might gainfully set itself the objective of outlining certain curricular areas, such as Mathematics, in a more concise fashion. The school board has contributed to elements of the school plan, specifically in the areas of admission policy, health and safety, code of discipline and equality and it is appropriate that its efforts should continue both in the administrative and also in the curricular areas; and as part of this process the contribution of parents should also feature strongly. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection: Guidelines and Procedures (Department of Education and Science, April 2001).
It is clear that teachers are well acquainted with the school plan in all its essential elements. In every classroom there is evidence that the teacher’s short- and long-term planning is rooted in the curricular aims and objectives outlined in the plan. This is reflected in a high measure of continuity from one class level to the next, and is particularly evident in respect of Mathematics and Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE). The school’s system of recording progress by means of a grid system devised last summer proves most helpful in facilitating this level of success. The challenge now is to refine still further the link between individual and whole school planning so that the highest standards of progression from one level to the next will be more easily achieved.
Caitear an-dúthract le múineadh na Gaeilge tríd an scoil, tá éagsúlacht agus beocht ag baint leis an gcur chuige agus tá ardmholadh tuillte ag an bhfoireann as ardchaighdeán na hoibre ó thaobh labhairt, aithris agus scríobh na teanga de. Ar an iomlán labhrann na daltaí le líofacht shuntasach ar ábhair ina gcuireann siad suim agus tá an-ghreim acu ar ghnéithe éagsúla den ghraiméar san Ardroinn. Amach anseo, ar mhaithe le hardú an chaighdeáin a thuilleadh fós, moltar don fhoireann ról na héisteachta agus na scéalaíochta a fhorbairt ar bhealach sistéamach.
In each classroom lively interaction features prominently and the teachers regularly engage the children in stimulating discussion on topics drawn from the different curricular areas. Appropriately, the work is rooted in Primary School Curriculum (1999) with its strands and strand unit components. In all classes the importance of developing reading skills is recognised and teachers are highly successful in promoting an interest in reading as a source of pleasure and resource for life. In infants the children acquire a useful sight vocabulary and they proceed from this to a trustworthy grasp of phonics. Graded books from a commercially published scheme form the core of the reading material but, appropriately, this is supplemented by a study of the novel together with a systematic promotion of library book reading. An examination of reading scores achieved in standardised tests shows that the children in general are achieving impressive levels of success and the staff is duly commended for its efforts. Also, poetry features regularly in each classroom and children recite with clarity and enjoyment. Regular opportunities for writing are provided and overall the standard is most creditable. In all classes there is a substantial collection of carefully marked exercises drawn from different areas of the curriculum and much of the work is advantageously correlated with Visual arts. Moreover, standards of handwriting in general are excellent across the curriculum and occasionally the computer is utilized to motivate and extend the range of experience.
Standards in Mathematics are generally very good. In broad outline, the content and sequence of the programme in each classroom follows the arrangement of topics outlined in a commercially produced scheme. This leads to a methodical engagement with the various topics prescribed in the curriculum and, appropriately, the work is supplemented by a range of teacher-produced worksheets and materials.
In infants, the children acquire an appropriate mathematical vocabulary and the work is regularly underpinned by an imaginative use of concrete materials combined with a purposeful use of language. Throughout the school the children in general are competent in computation and they present their work for regular monitoring in a neat and orderly fashion. When challenged on topics drawn form specific areas of the prescribed programmes, they respond with accuracy and confidence and the problem-solving skills of some children at senior level are particularly impressive.
Children experiencing difficulty are provided with a measure of individual tuition on a systematic basis and some are supported by the LSRT in a more intensive fashion. All this serves to raise general standards and promotes a creditable level of self-confidence in Mathematics in all classes. Where children are experiencing difficulty, teachers make a systematic effort to provide a measure of individual support and their efforts are usefully complemented by the LS/RT. In this way, the mathematical achievement is considerably enhanced.
The History programme is grounded on the principles embodied in Primary School Curriculum (1999) with its emphasis on strands and strand units of work as a functional organisational device. Teachers are conscientious in cultivating a lively interest in the past as they proceed through the commercial texts that form the central element of the programmes. Local History also features and, appropriately, this is an area of the programme that is to be extended in the coming year. The children prove knowledgeable in their appreciation of past events and their written work is neatly presented and attractively integrated with Visual arts.
The children are making steady progress in Geography. Planning is comprehensive and has as a central aim the extension of the children’s knowledge and understanding of natural and human environments at home and abroad. A broad and interesting programme is followed, and the methodical and imaginative use of textbooks facilitates a praiseworthy measure of continuity from class to class. Interesting work on rocks, winds and direction in the senior classes is particularly noteworthy. The project method is used to effect and the results of the children’s researches are presented in attractive charts or colourful scrapbooks.
There is a comprehensive Science programme and the work is rooted in the child centred principles embodied in the revised curriculum. The children are involved in the study of the natural environment and topics dealt with include water, air, rocks, magnets and life processes. A variety of materials has been assembled and these items prove useful in enabling the children work scientifically. Activity learning features frequently, there is discussion and speculation and clearly the children are proud of their growing understanding of scientific phenomena.
Visual Arts are seen as an important element of the school’s programme and this is evidenced in attractive and highly colourful displays of children’s work. Corridors, display space and available wall areas in classrooms and corridors bear eloquent witness to a developing aesthetic sense that is being systematically cultivated. Much of the work is integrated with other curricular areas and this makes a significant contribution to the quality of the learning. In each classroom painting, printing and drawing are complemented by three-dimensional craft and construction work. The clay modelling, the wool pictures and the three-dimensional models (e.g. of St Patrick) are particularly impressive.
Performance, listening and responding to music feature in all classrooms. Song-singing forms the core of the music curriculum and the children have acquired a repertoire of suitable songs in Irish and English that they perform with enthusiasm. Rhythm work also features on a regular basis and the children in middle and senior classes are being taught the recorder. The staff ensures that listening to quality music a forms a central part of the school’s programme and the children are growing in their appreciation of the work of great composers.
The staff is aware of the value of Drama as a learning tool of great potential for the development of imagination and language skills, and in each classroom dramatic activities form a regular feature of the work. In due course it is expected that this area of the curriculum will be developed further in balance with the commitment to other curricular areas.
Physical education features in the programme for all classes. The children participate in a variety of suitable activities and their enthusiasm is manifest. Teachers introduce the children to a range of exercises and games that lead to a creative and energetic response. School teams participate in inter-school hurling and football leagues and visiting GAA coaches contribute to the development of these programmes. In addition, there are eight sessions of swimming per annum, and there is also basketball. Orienteering is promoted to considerable effect in the senior classes and the work is integrated to advantage with elements of SESE. Overall, the work in Physical education throughout the school highlights for the children the value of exercise and the significant pleasure to be derived from lively participation.
The teachers are aware of the importance of SPHE in the overall development of the child and the understanding of self. They set as an important objective the promotion of healthy relationships and consistently encourage sensible patterns of behaviour, both in formal lessons and informally across the curriculum. They supplement work in SPHE with relevant material from associated programmes such as RSE and Stay Safe, they alert children to the dangers of substance abuse and they place considerable emphasis on nutrition and healthy eating.
Formally and informally, pupil progress is assessed on a systematic basis. Each lesson includes a series of questions designed to elicit levels of understanding, and pace and challenge are adjusted on the basis of pupil response. Appropriately, higher order questioning forms an integral part of the process. Written work is regularly set and in each classroom there is a variety of regularly monitored written tasks drawn from the different areas of the curriculum. Some of these are presented in copybook form, others appear as scrapbooks or mini-projects; all serve to provide teachers with an insight on progress that leads to an adjustment of pace and planning. In addition to informal assessment, formal assessment also features. Specifically, the Micra-T is administered to measure attainment in English reading. Test scores achieved are impressive and the staff is commended for its success in continuing the impressive high standards in reading that have been a feature of this school’s success for many years. As a development point, the school intends to extend its range of assessment procedures so that a greater emphasis on the determination of the nature of literacy and numeracy problems will emerge. To this end it is hoped that criterion referenced assessment, focused on children infant and junior classes, will become a more prominent feature of the work. This is particularly relevant for the special needs team.
The special needs team consists of two resource teachers, both of whom are shared with nearby schools: one attends for 23.5 hours per week and the other attends for a total of 14.5 hours. There is also a conscientious special needs assistant who, although focused on one child, supports their efforts in a variety of ways. Her contribution is most appreciated by staff.
The learning support resource teacher supports a total of seventeen children in English and Mathematics, whereas the resource teacher for children with a general special educational need supports seven children. Both teachers were appointed only in recent months and are still engaged in developing their skills. Their work is characterised by detailed planning aimed at addressing the identified needs of individual children, and their contribution to the success of the school is noteworthy. As they gain a mastery of diagnostic assessment processes and specialised pedagogic approaches, it is envisaged that their contribution will become more significant. It is hoped that this will entail a greater involvement of parents in their strategies and an increasing tendency to work within the classroom.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.