An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Gilson National School
Oldcastle, County Meath
Uimhir rolla: 12488C
Date of inspection: 26 March 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Gilson 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, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management 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.
Gilson National School is located in the town of Oldcastle in north County Meath and caters for boys and girls from junior infants to sixth class. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Meath. Enrolment levels have remained relatively stable over recent years. Enrolment trends reflect an increasing diversity among the national backgrounds of pupils. Attendance levels are generally good.
The board of management is constituted correctly and meets regularly with minutes being kept of all meetings. These minutes reveal that particular duties have been allocated to board members and that meetings are structured according to accepted good practice. The board demonstrates a clear understanding of the process of policy development. Policies required by legislation such as enrolment, health and safety and a code of behaviour have been developed and ratified. Wording in the enrolment policy which suggests that the admission of pupils with special educational needs may be deferred pending provision of resources from the Department of Education and Science needs to be altered. Procedures described in the anti-bullying policy for communicating with parents need clarification. A number of other organisational policies such as homework and healthy-eating have also been developed and ratified. It was noted during the evaluation that plans still need to be drawn up for a number of curriculum areas.
The principal is very effective in leading and managing the school. He demonstrates a clear vision for the school founded on the pursuit of high academic standards allied to the provision of a broad range of experiences mediated through a spirit of partnership between all members of the school community. Since his appointment to the position two years ago, the principal has been very successful in prioritising appropriate areas for development and implementing and monitoring the effectiveness of changes introduced. In addition to maintenance and organisational issues, the principal has very effectively overseen the development of plans in a number of key curriculum areas such as English and Gaeilge and these plans impact positively on standards in these areas.
A range of curriculum, organisational and pastoral duties, reflecting the current priorities of the school, has been identified for each member of the in-school management team and these duties are carried out diligently. It is good practice that these duties are underwritten by signed contracts. Regular meetings of the in-school management team are held. On-going review of these duties should reflect the changing priorities of the school as identified through the school’s strategic planning process.
The current staffing schedule for this school is ten mainstream teachers, two teachers in support roles and two teachers of English as an Additional Language (EAL). The allocation of teaching staff in the school is in compliance with this schedule. Practice in the school suggests that teaching staff tend to remain teaching the same age range on an on-going basis. It is recommended, from the point of view of the on-going professional development of teachers, that a policy of staff rotation be developed and implemented. Three special-needs assistants are provided to support the participation of particular pupils in the mainstream setting. Specific and appropriate duties are allocated to these special-needs assistants and these duties are implemented conscientiously and unobtrusively. The school has the services of a part-time secretary, a part-time cleaner, and a part-time caretaker. The smooth running of the school and its clean and tidy appearance reflect the work of these personnel. An external tutor provides instruction in Irish dancing.
Teaching accommodation comprises ten mainstream classrooms, a general-purpose hall and a room developed as a computer room. Support and EAL teachers are located in prefabricated accommodation. All teaching accommodation is well maintained and satisfactory for its purpose. A school library has been developed in the old school building. While the school has endeavoured to make this attractive for pupils, the condition of the building detracts from these efforts.
Administration and maintenance facilities comprise a principal’s office, a secretary’s office, a staff room and various small storage areas. Whilst this accommodation is generally satisfactory, the staff room is not adequate for its purpose. All accommodation reflects a good awareness of health and safety issues. Outdoor facilities comprise a tarmacadam and hard court area together with a grass area. Outdoor facilities are sufficiently spacious for the number of pupils in the school.
A wide range of material resources, both commercial and teacher-designed, are generally effectively deployed to support teaching and learning in both the mainstream and support settings. The display of pupils’ work in classrooms is successful in consolidating and affirming pupils’ learning. While some use is made of the general-purpose hall to display pupils’ work, there is scope to expand on this. It is recommended that the school considers how the entrance hall could be made more pupil-friendly through the use of colour and display.
The parents’ association is very active in raising funds for the development of the school through a number of annual events and sponsorship from local businesses. Effective channels of communication with the school principal ensure that this fundraising is specifically targeted and used to enrich the range of learning experiences provided for pupils.
Regular newsletters (which are also translated into Russian) succeed in keeping the general parent body informed of school activities. The parents’ association has been pro-active in seeking to recruit representatives from the international community. It is good practice that policies are circulated to the parents’ association whilst also being available for individual parents to consult or to request copies. It is suggested that in future policy development comments from the parents’ association and the general parent body should be invited during the drafting stage to optimise the impact of the partnership process.
Representatives of the parents’ association report satisfaction with the sense of order in the school and the authoritative presence of the principal together with his progressive approach to school development and his willingness to support the work of the parents’ association. The parents’ association is also very appreciative of the diligent work of the teachers and the broad education provided for children.
Appropriate policies have been developed to promote positive behaviour. The success of these policies is evident in the very effective management of pupils and the creation of a positive, caring and ordered learning environment in all classrooms/support settings and the school generally. Teacher-pupil relationships are affirming and respectful demonstrating a commitment to the holistic development of each pupil.
A good quality planning process has been instituted which emphasises the selection of priorities and the identification of specific measures to be implemented. This planning process has also effectively provided for the development of teachers in these priority areas. It is recommended that this approach continues during the considerable work that remains to be done on the school plan. To enhance this process, the school is advised to develop its procedures for ensuring that pupil attainment is central to the review of all plans.
The quality of plans that have been completed is good. It is clear that an emphasis has been placed on ensuring that the school provides for the broad range of learning experiences in the curriculum within the particular context of the school. Plans are particularly good where they identify specific practices to be implemented by teachers. Completed plans are impacting positively on classroom practice.
A school booklet is successful in synopsising a number of key policies for parents. It is commendable that the school has translated this booklet, together with such key documents as the enrolment form, for non-English speaking parents.
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.
Long-term planning is effectively delineated into time-bound units and indicates that a broad and balanced curriculum is to be provided for pupils in all classes. A template for teachers’ short-term planning has been adopted in the school. It is planned that this will be reviewed. There is scope for teachers’ short-term planning to be further developed particularly in terms of specifying learning objectives and providing for the range of ability levels in all classes. The focus on identifying specific language to be taught in the infant classes is commendable. The whole-school approach to maintaining monthly progress records consists of ticking off content taught on the short-term planning template. This approach does not easily facilitate the tracking of pupils’ learning from year to year. A review of monthly progress records for the current school year suggests that, at some class levels, some curriculum areas are not taught in a broad and balanced fashion.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The quality of learning and teaching is good. Lessons are appropriately challenging, appropriately structured, make good use of visual resources and concrete materials, are well paced and taught in an affirming manner. In some curriculum areas, there is an over-reliance on textbooks. Greater attention at the planning stages to differentiating teaching and learning to take account of varying pupil ability levels would enhance learning for some pupils. Attainment levels for most pupils in most curriculum areas are good.
Tá cáilíocht na foghlama agus an teagaisc sa Ghaeilge go maith. Sa phlean scoile cláraítear eiseamláirí teanga a bheadh feiliúnach do gach rang leibhéal mar bhunús don Ghaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil sa scoil. Is breá an tslí ina stiúrtar ceachtanna Gaeilge sna ranganna trí Ghaeilge amháin. Cuirtear raon deas acmhainní oiriúnacha ar fáil agus baintear feidhm éifeachtach as na háiseanna chun suim na ndaltaí a mhúscailt agus a chothú. Baintear úsáid éifeachtach as úsáid na teanga mar mhódh bainistíochta. Forbraítear scileanna éisteachta na ndaltaí trí thascanna oiriúnacha a eagrú. Moltar scéalaíocht a chur chun cinn sa scoil mar straitéis do mhúineadh agus d’fhoghlaim na scileanna teanga ar fad.
Leathnaítear foclóir na ndaltaí go córasach agus tá stór leathan foclóra ar eolas acu. Sna ranganna sóisearacha, moltar struchtúr níos cinnte a chur i bhfeidhm a thabharfadh áit níos larnaí don teagasc nua. Sna meánranganna, cuirtear béim éifeachtach ar cheisteanna leithne a mheallan na daltaí chun freagraí iomlána a thabhairt. Múintear an ghramadach go sistéamach agus léiríonn na daltaí cumas maith ar úsáid na mbriathra. Múintear an fhilíocht go héifeachtach tríd an scoil. Cuirtear béim ar sheanfhocail agus logainmneacha a iniúchadh agus cuireann sé seo le cumas na ndaltaí comhthéacs cultúrtha na teanga a thuiscint. Tá daltaí tríd an scoil in ann ceisteanna a chur chomh maith le ceisteanna a fhreagairt agus múintear bun-struchtúir theanga go cumasach. Tá na daltaí in ann páirt a ghlacadh i gcaint leanúnach. Baintear feidhm mhaith as obair bheirte chun deiseanna cumarsáide a thabhairt do dhaltaí.
Sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna, tá dul chun cinn oiriúnach á dhéanamh ag na daltaí maidir le scileanna léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta agus tá dea-shamplaí scríbhneoireachta le feiceáil sna seomraí ranga agus sna cóipleabhair. Is ar théascleabhair a bhunaítear an chuid is mó de na ceachtanna léitheoireachta. B’fhiú don scoil eispéirís léitheoireachta na ndaltaí a shaibhriú anois trí acmhainní ar nós fíorleabhair agus leabhair mhóra as Gaeilge a chur ar fáil do na rangléibhéil éagsúla. Is dea-chleachtas faoi leith é go bhfoilsítear scéalta na ndaltaí mar leabhair agus moltar an cleachtas seo a fhorbairt tríd an scoil.
The standard of teaching and learning in Irish is good. The school plan documents language structures appropriate to each class level as a basis for the development of informal Irish throughout the school. It is good practice that lessons are conducted through the medium of Irish. A good range of appropriate resources is made available and these are effectively used to stimulate and maintain pupils’ interest in lessons. Effective use is made of Irish as a means of classroom management. Listening skills are developed through the organisation of appropriate activities. It is suggested that story-telling be used throughout the school as a means of teaching and learning all the skills associated with language acquisition.
Pupils’ vocabulary is systematically developed and they have a wide range of words at their disposal. In the junior classes, it is advised that a clearer structure be put in place that places the central emphasis on new learning. In the middle classes, an effective emphasis in placed on the use of open questions that encourage full responses. Grammar is taught systematically and the pupils demonstrate a good mastery of the use of verbs. Poetry is taught consistently throughout the school. An effective emphasis is placed on the exploration of proverbs and place-names and this is effective in developing pupils’ capacity to understand the cultural context of the language. Pupils throughout the school are able to ask as well as answer questions. Pupils are able to participate in sustained discussion. Good use is made of pair work to provide pupils with opportunities to communicate.
In the middle and senior classes, pupils are progressing appropriately in the acquisition of reading and writing skills and there are good examples of writing to be seen in classrooms and copybooks. Most reading lessons are based on textbooks. It is suggested that the school seeks to enrich the reading experience for pupils through making resources such as novels and large-format books available to the various class levels. It is very good practice that pupil’ stories have been published as books and it is recommended that this practice be developed through the school.
English is taught competently in this school with all curriculum strands being consistently and systematically addressed. Pupils’ oral language is enhanced through the use of story, simple poems and rhymes at infant level. In junior and middle classes, pupils are encouraged to use language imaginatively to recount incidents from their own lives, to discuss issues such as safety and play and to ask appropriate questions. Specific vocabulary extension activities are undertaken in an integrated fashion. In senior classes, pupils discuss books they have read, recount specific events from their own lives and relay episodes from the lives of people who lived long ago. They are enabled to give detailed instructions and directions and to discuss issues of major concern.
Pupils’ reading skills are developed effectively from infant classes and good use is made of large-format books as an introduction to the reading process and as a basis for discussion. In junior and middle classes, reading competences are carefully nurtured and pupils are encouraged to read widely. Pupils from senior classes are invited periodically to read their stories to younger pupils and books written by older pupils are stocked in junior class libraries. Paired reading projects also affirm good practices. In middle and senior classes, good use is made of novels to develop pupils’ comprehension and emotional response to text and more sophisticated language skills are effectively developed. Standards of reading throughout the school are generally good. Class libraries are well stocked and a central school library, which is currently accommodated in the nearby old school building, is used effectively. The school has plans to re-locate this library to more suitable accommodation as the current room is damp and dusty. It is recommended that this change be made as soon as practicable.
Early writing skills are appropriately taught and opportunities to write in various genres are provided from an early age. The standard of spelling is good and the quality of pupils’ written work throughout the school is of a high order. Most classrooms are characterised by having a print-rich environment and pupils’ written work is carefully monitored and corrected. Particular emphasis has been put on developing the standard of handwriting in recent years and a uniform style of presentation is taught throughout the school. Standards achieved are highly commendable as is attested by the quality of work in folders, copybooks and on display around the school.
Provision for pupils in receipt of support in English as an additional language requires significant development. At present assessment of pupils is carried out using the English Language Proficiency Benchmarks developed by Integrate Ireland Language and Training. It is the intention of the school to move to the use of the Primary School Assessment Kit developed by the Department of Education and Science. The overview provided in teachers’ planning for each group of pupils is effective at synopsising pupils’ attainment.
An adequate print-rich environment has been created in the language-support settings. Multi-lingual signs throughout the school indicate that language diversity is valued. Teacher planning needs to focus more explicitly on the development of language skills and be more specific with regard to the vocabulary and sentence structure to be acquired. The focus in lessons needs to move from the completion of class work to a more specific targeting of language skills, including listening skills. These skills need to be developed in a co-ordinated and coherent manner with a more central role allocated to the resources specifically developed by the Department for this purpose. The use of more open questions is required to facilitate pupils in the formulation of more comprehensive responses. The use of running records would contribute to the on-going assessment of pupils’ progress particularly in terms of pronunciation and sentence structure. The provision of EAL support in the area of Mathematics needs to focus more specifically on the teaching and learning of language. The exclusive reliance on a withdrawal approach to the provision of EAL support for pupils should be reviewed and more in-class support provided.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is generally good and satisfactory standards are achieved by most pupils. Examples of effective discussion and questioning to nurture pupils’ reasoning skills were observed in many classrooms and a good range of concrete materials is used, especially in infants and junior classes, to bolster concept development. A judicious range of teaching approaches is used, including whole-class work, paired discussion, group activities and project work. Monthly progress records indicate that a broad and balanced programme is systematically taught. Pupils’ work in copybooks, worksheets and projects is carefully monitored and corrected. In order to build on the good work already underway, it is recommended that greater use be made of oral discussion to ensure that all pupils have a clear understanding of the mathematical vocabulary being used and as a means of analysing and sharing solutions to mathematical problems.
The quality of teaching and learning in History is good. A range of content-rich topics has been taught encompassing various strands in the curriculum. Pupils demonstrate a good knowledge of topics which have been addressed. Content for the history curriculum is drawn from a core textbook, supplementary textbooks and resources, stories, legends, personal history, the locality and local place-names. Approaches to the teaching and learning of History include class discussion, interviews, the exploration of photographs and the use of timelines. Visual resources are effective in generating discussion around concepts of change and continuity in the local community while diagrams are used successfully to consolidate pupils’ learning. In the middle and senior classes a greater emphasis should be placed on independent and personal writing to consolidate learning and to encourage pupils to engage in self-evaluation of their learning. The development of a school plan for History is required to ensure that elements of good practice that are in evidence in different classrooms are extended throughout the school.
The quality of teaching and learning in Geography is good. An appropriate variety of strands have been addressed in Geography encompassing human, physical and environmental topics. Textbooks, ICT, brainstorming, sustained observation and recording of various natural phenomena, project work and visits to relevant sites and visits from various groups form the mainstay of the approach to the teaching of Geography.
Visual displays of pupils’ learning indicate that project work on the study of different countries has incorporated a sense of space, place and the environment. Worthwhile cross-curricular links have been forged between Geography and other curriculum areas. The school is preparing to participate in the Green Schools Programme and practical recycling activities implemented by the pupils are in evidence in the school. Pupils visited the Recycling Centre in Kells and were visited by members of the Oldcastle Tidy Town Committee as part of these endeavours. Initiatives such as participation in ‘Tree Day’ are effective in focusing attention on the natural environment. Aspects of the geography curriculum such as mapping need further attention in terms of being taught throughout the school in a co-ordinated fashion. The development of a school plan for Geography would assist in indicating how these skills will be developed on a whole-school basis.
The quality of teaching and learning in Science is good. In most classes, a textbook forms the core of the Science programme with additional textbooks being effectively used to enrich provision. In some classes, however, the science programme delivered is overly dependent on a single textbook. Therefore, it is recommended that the range of science resources identified in the school plan be utilised in all classes. Concept-mapping is effectively used to establish existing levels of knowledge before teaching takes place. Experiments feature prominently in the teaching of Science. Group experiments are sufficiently challenging and effectively organised. To optimise learning, time should be taken to consolidate learning during the lesson and not just at the conclusion of lessons. The recording of experiments effectively documents the scientific process. Diagrams are successful in illustrating learning. A range of ICT software is available to support teaching and learning in Science. During the inspection, ICT was observed to be used effectively to enrich pupils’ understanding of scientific concepts. There is scope to expand upon the role of open-ended experiments in the provision of the science curriculum. The development of a whole- school plan for Science would assist in ensuring that the aspects of good practice already evident in some classes are implemented within the school as a whole leading to a co-ordinated learning experience for pupils. A whole-school plan would also be effective in documenting how designing and making skills are to be developed.
The standard of teaching and learning in the Visual Arts is good. Pupils experience all strands of the curriculum and lessons are well resourced and managed. Examples of work on display and in portfolios are testament to the quality of the visual arts programme being followed. While displays of pupils’ work enhance most classrooms, it is recommended that further samples of children’s work be displayed on corridors and particularly in the front hall of the school.
Music is taught in all classes and the standard achieved is good. Pupils sing a suitable repertoire of songs with confidence and are provided with opportunities to listen and respond to an appropriate range of musical styles and traditions. The tin-whistle is taught in some classes and this provides a good foundation for further development in the performing and composing strands of the curriculum. It is recommended that the school should now consider introducing a more versatile instrument such as the descant recorder to all pupils in middle and senior classes in order to broaden their knowledge of musical literacy.
Drama is taught as a discrete curriculum subject and as a method of fostering pupils’ understanding in other aspects of the curriculum, particularly Irish and English. Pupils are provided with opportunities to reflect on and make drama in small-group and whole-class settings. The development of a school plan would assist in the provision of a richer range of learning experiences for pupils in some classes.
4.6 Physical Education
The standard of teaching and learning in Physical Education (PE) is very good. The school has built up a good range of suitable PE equipment which is used effectively in the general purposes hall during physical education lessons. A broad curriculum is provided and pupils obviously enjoy and benefit from the activities. The parents’ association arranges swimming lessons for pupils after school time and pupils are transported by bus to a pool in Kells. The school also engages in a variety of extra-curricular sporting activities for both boys and girls and teams from the school have been successful in a number of local competitions.
The quality of teaching and learning in Social Personal and Health Education is good. In most classes, a broad and balanced programme has been taught making good use of the variety of published resources that are available to support teaching and learning in this curriculum area. Lessons are effectively structured and appropriately challenging. Thought-provoking questions and the use of story are effective in generating worthwhile discussion among pupils. Pupils demonstrate a good ability to discuss issues in groups. Circle-time is also used effectively to prompt discussion among pupils. The ‘Learning for Life’ programme is implemented to address relationship and sexuality objectives in the senior classes. This is taught by health-care professionals and overseen by class teachers. Written accounts by pupils of their learning indicate thoughtful responses to lessons. The Discipline for Learning initiative is effective in encouraging pupils to monitor their own behaviour.
Various assessment modes are effectively employed in the school ranging from teacher observation to standardised screening tests and diagnostic tests. Criterion-referenced assessment grids are effectively employed in a number of classes to indicate pupils’ progress across a number of curriculum areas. There is evidence of teacher-designed tests informing subsequent teaching. Pupils’ written work is generally effectively monitored with personalised comments particularly useful in providing pupils with information on their progress.
Considerable work has been done to develop learning support provision in the school. This work has focused effectively on the assessment of pupils, the provision of early intervention support, the development of planning templates and the development of resources. A variety of appropriate activities are taught with good pacing and good attention paid to consolidating prior learning. It is good practice that pupils are encouraged to verbalise their learning. There is scope for support in English to encompass the development of independent writing and for this writing work to be closely linked to the independent writing being undertaken in the support setting. Provision of support for older pupils should place a greater emphasis on encouraging pupils to understand how their learning in the support setting assists their learning in the mainstream setting.
Both formal and informal communication takes place with mainstream teachers regarding programme content and pupils’ progress. This on-going communication is successful in allowing incidental difficulties to be addressed in the support setting.
At present all learning support is provided for on a withdrawal basis. It is recommended that this be reviewed to include provision for in-class support. Procedures for discontinuing support need further clarification to elaborate upon how the progress of these pupils will be monitored.
A small number of pupils receive support to enable their full participation in the life of the school. The interest demonstrated by all teachers in every pupil’s welfare and progress ensures that the needs of these pupils are identified and met with due care and sensitivity.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a strong spirit of partnership and a shared sense of purpose between the board, the principal, teachers and parents.
· The principal has been very effective in prioritising areas for development and overseeing the implementation of changes.
· Staff members are to be commended for their commitment and positive attitude to the development of teaching and learning within the school.
· A good quality planning process has been initiated within the school.
· A broad and balanced curriculum is particularly well delivered in English.
· The teaching and learning of Physical Education is very good with an emphasis placed on encouraging optimum participation and providing pupils with the opportunity to engage in
a rich range of activities.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Provision for English as an additional language (EAL) needs considerable development, particularly in terms of more focused teacher planning that would identify the specific
language skills, structures and vocabulary to be taught; also, the use of running records would contribute to the on-going assessment of pupils’ progress particularly in terms of
pronunciation and sentence structure.
· The exclusive reliance on a withdrawal model for the provision of learning and language support needs to be reviewed to incorporate in-class support.
· Greater attention needs to be paid to differentiating for varying pupil ability levels in the mainstream setting.
· The over-reliance on text-books in a number of curriculum areas needs to be addressed.
· Curriculum plans need to be drawn up for all curriculum areas.
· The wording in the enrolment policy which suggests that the admission of pupils with special educational needs may be deferred pending provision of resources from the
Department of Education and Science needs to be altered.
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.
Published February 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Since the inspection a qualified primary school teacher has been appointed by the Board of Management as an EAL teacher. A Facilitator from the PPDS has visited the school on a number of occasions to support the staff with the development of English as an Additional Language.
Other recommendations will be dealt with as they arise under the school’s strategic plan framework.