An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Whole School Evaluation



SN Columba, Inisturk,Westport,County Mayo

Roll number:13174H


Date of inspection: 7th October 2008





Report of Whole School Evaluation

Introducion – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of School Planning

The quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development





Report of Whole School Evaluation


This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Cholumba in October 2008.  It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for its further development. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Science. 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.


Introducionschool context and background



This two teacher school is situated on Inisturk (Island of the Boar) to the south-west of Clew Bay between Clare Island and Inisboffin some nine miles off the coast southwest of Louisburgh in County Mayo. The island had been inhabited during the Bronze Age and continuously since the early Christian period with religious sites and remnants of early Christian artefacts evident, particularly which of St Columba’s church after which the school is named. The school site is located in the south eastern side of the island with a panoramic view of the south-west Mayo and the north-west Galway coastline. Directly across on the coastline is the Killary Fjord, shouldered by the Twelve Pins and Mamturk mountains to the south and Mweelree and Sheefry hills to the north. Croagh Patrick penetrates the skyline just south of Westport town and adds a further picturesque dimension to the view from the front windows of the school. This school is the only fulltime public centre functioning in this community and there has been a significant drop in the population of the island over the past forty years. As a consequence there has also been a significant drop in school enrolment to the extent that only seven pupils are currently enrolled in the school. At present there are no infant classes, second class, or third class in the school and the indications are that the enrolment will further decrease.


This school was first opened in 1886 on a very confined site in terms of space and level. The permanent building remains much the same as when it was built. A prefabricated two classroom addition with toilets and a principals’ office and staffroom was attached in the summer of 2002. The original classroom is now used for displays and augmenting the additional services in Drama, Art, Music and Dance, Physical Education as well as for additional supports under the D.E.I.S. programme. There is a concrete surface playground at the south gable end with a mobile home placed at the back of the school that once served as teacher accommodation. There is also a small hilly area adjoining the playground that has been sculptured and dedicated to past pupils and families of Inishturk. This Garden of Remembrance was officially opened by President Mary Mc Aleese in June of last year.


The table below provides the general information on the staff and pupils registered in the school at the time of this evaluation:




Pupils enrolled in the school


Mainstream classes in the school


Teacher(s) on the staff of the school


Teacher(s) in mainstream classes


Teacher(s) assigned to a support role (shared post)


Special needs’ assistants




1.     Quality of school management


1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission and vision of the school

All pupils in the school are native to the island and have a consciousness of being islanders and rooted in their community with pride, place and purpose. The mission of all parties in the school is to provide an equal opportunities child-centred education for all pupils based on their abilities and interests. The mission statement of the school indicates that the school wants to create a happy positive atmosphere where pupils can develop and grow and are prepared for taking their part in the wider world. The mission statement includes a statement on the importance of parental support in order to achieve its aim. To this end a happy and positive learning environment has been created where all pupils have an opportunity to develop and to learn in preparation for the next phase of their education on the mainland. The school also addresses the concept of island isolation through its recently initiated and very pro-active ICT programme and through its participation in locally-organised competitions and events both on the mainland and in conjunction with adjacent island schools. The school won Cuman na mBunscoil Small Schools’ Blitz in Mc Hale Park, Castlebar last year, a gigantic achievement for possibly the smallest school in the county.  The school is making worthwhile efforts to include the parents in the learning activities of the school and this is a welcome role change for parents. The principal of the school is commended for developing the recent school plan and for focusing on raising the achievement standards of the pupils in literacy and numeracy. The principal has been assisted in the process by the part-time learning support teacher who visits the school for one day per week.  


1.2 The board of management

The board of management has been selected in accordance with the regulations of the Department of Education and Science and officers are allocated with specific duties. Meetings are held at least three times a year and minutes are kept of decisions made and careful management is kept of expenditure. The account books are submitted annually to an independent accountant to be audited. It was confirmed that the chairperson of the board meets with the principal on a regular basis, correspondence received is usually discussed and decisions are made through this process between meetings. Oral progress reports are presented to the board from the principal and from the treasurer at regular board meetings. These presentations should be formally recorded in the minutes of the meetings.  The board is engaging with its responsibilities in ensuring comfortable accommodation and is committed to discussing and ratifying the school plan as part of its meetings agenda in the future. The school plan needs revising and updating to include a plan on methodologies specifying the differentiated approach to teaching and learning, staff development plan, relationship and sexuality programme, prioritising an investment plan for educational mathematics and science equipment to support workshops in these areas, and in increasing the broad stock of library books in conjunction with Mayo county council library services. The school plan currently includes a health and safety statement, a code of conduct policy, policies on school ethos and philosophy, child protection, assessment and reporting, school safety statement, as well as a range of curricular aspects. Discussions took place with the board regarding the various ways in which parents might be included in the ownership of the school plan as well as discussing usual practices in this regard.  

1.3 In school management

The two class teachers have posts of responsibility as principal and special post holder in the school and both teachers are recent additions to the school staff. The principal is in her third year as principal and has assumed responsibility for developing a school plan appropriate to this island school. The principal and assistant teacher both assume a key role in the management of the school. They receive advice and support from the other part-time teacher. The part-time teacher is responsible for general allocation learning support hours as well as taking after school activities in sports with the pupils. They all contribute to ensuring that there is a happy, convivial and safe learning environment in the school as well as providing a progressive education programme for the children. Good habits of behaviour are practiced, resources and support software are regularly used and policies in regard to the use of technologies in education are in preparation with the assistance of the newly appointed classroom teacher. The two classroom teachers are both conscientious professionals, they invest time and effort in continuous in-career development and they seek to develop independent learning skills in the pupils.

Good use has been made of the curriculum supports services for physical education and further supports are being planned for social environmental and science education (S.E.S.E) during this term. Localising the science programme to this environment should be emphasised during this development process. Parents are informed of pupils’ progress at least once or twice a year and other informal contacts with parents are welcomed throughout the school year. Written reports on children are given to parents at the end of the school year and an annual report on school progress is orally submitted to the board of management. This annual report is being recorded in the minutes of meetings.


1.4 Managing relationships and communication with the school community

At the pre-evaluation meetings with board of management and parents’ representatives in advance of this evaluation, the professionalism and competence of the teachers were acknowledged by the parties.  Both the parents’ representatives and the board of management members confirmed that they were satisfied with the way the school was operating. A lot of effort is currently being made to include parents in the education of their children through schemes such as D.E.I.S. and paired reading and a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere is encouraged in the school. The building is kept neat and tidy, both outside and inside, a structured maintenance plan is in operation. Credit is due to all the partners who care for the school in this exposed climate, particularly to the caretaker who takes great pride in ensuring that the working conditions are as attractive as possible for pupils and teachers. Parental help and support is regularly available when the school moves to the mainland to augment educational experiences for the pupils. The classrooms and corridors are appealing and attractively decorated with samples of the pupils’ work and other project work. It would enhance the relationship between school and community, as well as giving practical application to developing the pupils’ communication skills, if a newsletter was periodically produced by the school for the people of the island. This would serve as a platform for pupils’ work as well as providing news briefings on issues pertaining to this community.


1.5 Management of pupils

There is an open mutually respectful and co-operative relationship among all parties in the school and the board of management confirmed that the code of discipline is rarely used. The school has invested in resources and materials that  are available to pupils, these are regularly used in the classrooms and they  ensure that the work programme is interesting and challenging. Further investment in resources is now required as well as developing the stock of library books available. The pupils are divided between the two teachers with second and fourth class together under the responsibility of the principal teacher and the fifth and sixth classes under the tutelage of the assistant teacher. There is a high level of attendance by the pupils in the school and a broad list of extra curricular activities is available. Participation in local competitions and other events, such as team games, dancing, drama, swimming, concerts and school tours are organised throughout the school year and the older pupils keep a caring brief on younger pupils in the school playground or during school events. Many past pupils from this school participate in third level education and are engaged in a range of employment activities, primarily on the mainland, inclusive of marine and navigational employment as well as employment in the horticultural and the leisure industry.



2.     Quality of School Planning


2.1 Whole school planning and classroom planning

It was agreed during this school evaluation that aspects of the school plan would be amended and that parents would be presented with these changes for their approval. It was also agreed that individual education plans would be made more specific and that case conferences would be inclusive of all the parties including the pupils, where appropriate. A structured whole- school plan is in the process of being collated over the last three years. It includes organisational, pastoral and curricular elements and it is based on the current school context and on principles of good practice. Some of the aspects covered in the school plan are currently up for review.  Recognition is given to the strands and strand units framework in the curriculum and these also form part of individual teacher planning. Differentiated teaching and learning strategies are adopted in the delivery of the curriculum and a record is kept regularly of the progress of pupils. The range of methodologies used in teaching and learning is stimulating and engaging for the pupils and the teachers make frequent use of both human and material resources during activities. The pupils engage successfully in their learning programmes and are currently achieving well in standardised tests. Regular meetings are held with parents regarding the progress of pupils and home school cooperation is practiced in the form of paired reading and other learning activities.




2.2 Policies and practices in regard to child safety

It was confirmed, in accordance with Circular 0061/2006 from the Department of Education and Science, that the board of management has formally accepted the Guidelines for Primary Schools on the Protection of Children (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). It was also confirmed that management, staff and parents were made aware of these practices in regard to child safety; that copies of these practices were provided for all staff members (including new members); and that management has ensured that all staff understand what procedures are to be applied. A designated liaison person and a deputy liaison person have been appointed as required by the guidelines.



3.     The quality of learning and teaching


3.1   Language



Bhí an oileán seo ina ceantar Gaeltachta ag deireadh an naoiú chéad déag agus baintear úsáid as Gaeilge fós ag sean iondúirí an oileáin ar uairibh. Cuirtear béim ar an nGaeilge mar sprioc theanga don teagasc agus mar theanga teagaisc sa scoil agus úsáidtear í mar theanga cumarsáide i measc na bpáirtíthe ar uairibh. B’fhiú an cleachtas seo a fhorbairt a thuilleadh. Cuirtear béim ar theagasc na Gaeilge mar úirlís foghlama agus déantar saibhriú agus forleithniú ar soifisticúlacht nádúrtha na ndaltaí dá réir. Tá spiorad rannpháirtíochta agus sástacht na ndaltaí follasach sa gcurchuige agus cothaítear féin mhuinín agus pearsantachtaí na ndaltaí mar dlúth chuid den obair. B’fhiú úsáid a bhaint as ‘Séidean Sí’ mar thacaíocht don chlár teanga  sna ranganna sóisireacha. Is fiú infheistíocht a dhéanamh sa leabharlann, go háirithe sa chnuasach leabhair Ghaeilge atá inti faoi láthair chomh maith lena chinntiú go mbeadh fáil ar shaothar scríbhneóirí aitiúla agus comhaimseartha inti chun an léitheoireachta a chothú. Cothaítear na scileanna macnaimh ard-ord go rialta sa churchuige agus baineann na daltaí caighdeáin chreidiúnacha amach a thagann lena n’inniúlacht nadúrtha. Tugtar faoi raon leathan ábhar ceapadóireachta agus scríbhneoireachta sa scoil, dírítear aire ar na meicnicí agus baintear úsáid as tionscadail agus téamaí taighde comhghaolaithe sna téamaí curaclaim. B’fhiú breis deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí a gcuid saothar a chur i láthair pobal níos leithne tríd an idirlíon agus trí fhoillsiúcháin tréimhsiúla ón scoil féin a fhorbairt.



This island was a Gaeltacht area in the latter part of the nineteenth century and Irish is still a feature of island activity with some old people. Emphasis is placed on the teaching of Irish and on teaching through Irish in this school and it is used as a language of communication in the school.  Further use of this practise is recommended. The pupils’ spirit of participation and enjoyment is evident in the way the language is taught, and language enrichment and vocabulary development are integral to the approach. ‘Séidean Sí’ could be used as a resource to support the language programme in the junior classes. It would be worthwhile investing in contemporary books in Irish and in books written by local authors for the library to further encourage recreational reading. Higher order thinking skills are regularly developed in the approach to teaching language, and pupils achieve creditable standards relative to their abilities. A wide range of composition and writing topics is selected and focus is placed on the mechanics of writing  and research areas are selected from related curriculum themes. It would be worthwhile to create more opportunities for pupils to present their work to wider audiences through the internet and through periodical publications from the school.



A structured English programme is taught in the school which places due emphasis on developing oral language skills, phonological awareness as well as structured reading and writing programmes of work. Drama, circle time and discussion are used to develop the communicative approach and an excellent anthology of poetry and rhyme is offered. Parents are encouraged to engage in shared reading exercises with the pupils. Continuous use of library books is a central feature of classroom practise and personal reading through a drop everything and read approach (DEAR) is practised by all the classes. Further investment in library books is recommended. Writing is taught in a developmental fashion with editing and re-editing being a feature with emphasis placed on skills such as hand-eye co-ordination, gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Pupils’ progress is carefully monitored through a variety of assessment procedures including teacher observation, questioning, written tasks, correction of copies as well as the use of standardised tests. 


3.2 Mathematics

The teaching of Mathematics has been clearly influenced by the approach recommended in the curriculum; a specific programme has been outlined in the school plan and textbooks are used as a guide for exercises on problem solving. The use of work stations and concrete materials to develop an understanding of the basic concepts is commendable. Further investment in mathematical resources to support the additional use of workshops is recommended. Mental work is regularly practiced as part of the programme and attention is given on an ongoing basis to the terminology of mathematics. Group-work supporting the range of abilities of pupils in the various classes is organised effectively and pupil activities are guided to achieve the stated teaching objectives. Pupils have opportunities to develop their prediction and estimation skills and the strategies used to promote problem solving are commendable.



3.3 Science

An emphasis is placed on Science in the school plan and in individual teacher preparation. All the strands and strand units of the social environmental scientific education curriculum are included in school planning. The curriculum support services are requested to provide an in-service training programme in Science later during this term. Pupils work proactively in experimentation and the manner in which the pupils work co-operatively to refine their skills is commendable. Pupils participate in construction and have designed and fabricated model boats that are electrically propelled. Although an agreed programme is being followed guided by different text books, the programme should be extended to include local marine, climatic and ecological aspects pertinent to island living.


3.4 Assessment

Standardised tests are used to monitor the progress of pupils. Other strategies such as teacher observation, checklists, compilations of work samples, projects as well as teacher designed tests, are also used and analysed at teacher meetings. The results of standardised and criterion referenced tests are recorded on an ongoing basis and the scores should be collated sequentially for all class groups. The results should be reviewed regularly to update appropriate learning targets for the individual pupils.





4.     Quality of support for pupils


4.1 Pupils with special educational needs


There is currently no pupil in the school diagnosed with low incidence disability. The learning support teacher provides additional support in English and Mathematics for pupils with learning difficulties and they benefit greatly from this intervention. The D.E.I.S. programme provides support of a sensitive and developmental nature to pupils with identified needs as well as to parents. 



4.2 Additional supports for pupils: disadvantaged pupils and pupils from minority or other groupings


It was confirmed by the school that all pupils currently enrolled in the school are of a similar background and are indigenous to the island.







5.  Summary of findings and recommendations for further development


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         The good behaviour and cooperation of pupils is commendable.

·         The attitude, effectiveness and diligence of the teachers in regard to their work is commendable.

·         A positive learning environment has been created in the school.

·         Good provision is made for pupils with learning difficulties.


As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

·         Ratifying and upgrading of the school plan should be undertaken.

·         Further planned investment in school resources and library is recommended.

·         Current practices in regard to pupil evaluation should be reviewed


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 January 2009