An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
SN Muire, Letterfrack
Roll number: 13621G
Date of inspection: 20 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of SN Muire, Letterfrack.
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. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. 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.
SN Muire, Letterfrack is located in north west Connemara, on the coastline and adjacent to Connemara National Park some fifty miles from Galway city. It is located in a picturesque rural community which was once renowned as the location of a Christian Brothers’ reformatory school, now closed since the early seventies. This context has had a profound effect on the school community not just in Letterfrack village, which is fast becoming a town, but on all the other four national schools in the Tullycross /Letterfrack community. Partly as an education response to the negative image portrayed of this area, local teachers have helped to transform the social infrastructure, the cultural agencies and the commercial vitality of this region fundamentally over the last thirty years. The leadership and development engaged with was based on the principles of self help, working inter alia with state development agencies and community enterprise resulting in a community development plan agreed by all parties through consultation and co-operation. The developments and institutions accruing to this area include North-West Connemara Radio, Forum, Teach an Cheoil, North West Connemara Co-Operative, The Credit Union and numerous other social and community agencies. A key outcome has been the transformation of the old reformatory school into a modern HEA approved third level institution specialising in wood design and research development. This institution is currently presided over by a former primary school teacher and it has brought vibrancy and population increase to a community that was predominantly based on social welfare and emigrants’ stipends. SN Muire is set in a school community context that is unique, vibrant and dynamic and the school is expected to affect the quality of opportunities and lifestyles of the residents. Letterfrack National school has risen to this challenge and has been pivotal in pioneering community based festivals and enterprises such as Conamara Environmental Educational and Cultural Centre. This centre facilitates a range of activities including Bog Week, Pioc Suas é, Sea Week, NUIG Masters Programme in Rural Development, Taréis na Féile Bríde, Oyster farm, Mol an Óige concerts and as well as launching three CDs Behind The Mist, Loose in Letterfrack and Between the Jigs and the Reels. The CDs have the children performing with accomplished musicians and with celebrated national artists. Throughout the year the activities directed by Conamara Environmental Educational and Culture Centre, located in this school, transform school experience into a vibrant community hub for the locality.
The school building itself dates from the mid-sixties and was extended in the mid-nineties. It now requires major refurbishment as well as the addition of a general purposes room, a staff room, and additional ancillary facilities.
The board of management functions in accordance with the requirements of the Education Act 1998, is properly constituted and assumes corporate responsibility for the management of the school. The board upholds the characteristic spirit of the school and operates under the patronage of the Archdiocese of Tuam. The board has a keen sense of the schools’ community involvement. It supports community enterprise and facilitates the development of community resources such as the local crèche and the naíonra by sharing its facilities for interim periods during their respective initial periods of operation. The board is committed to effective provision of education in the school. It makes a solid contribution to the school as a learning organisation and facilitates the formulation and adoption of policy documents as necessary. Circulars from the Department Of Education and Science (DES) are circulated and discussed. Parental involvement is encouraged and facilitated and the board members actively encourage and support the initiatives of school staff to create a positive learning and growing environment for the pupils by participating in various school activities as support staff and facilitators. Accordingly, the school is a warm welcoming place where everyone is treated with respect and dignity and this ethos is pervasive of the whole school community. The characteristic spirit of the school is typified by a phrase incorporated into the school plan ‘childhood is a journey, not a race’.
The principal is conscious of the traditional hallmark of this school and is making an admirable effort to ensure that this vision in the school is nurtured and evolved under her stewardship. This is exemplified in her professionalism in discharging her pedagogical and administrative roles. She is currently engaged in a collegiate process of updating and reviewing all the policy documents pertaining to the operation of the school. Draft documents are circulated to ensure that the broader school community retains ownership of the administrative and curricular changes in the school. Her clear and coherent vision is child-centred and developmental and it includes maintaining links with families and the wider school community. The school staff consists of principal, deputy principal and one assistant teacher, a fulltime teacher and a part-time learning support teacher, together with two classroom assistants and a part time secretary. They all engage continuously with their professional development through participation in ongoing in-service education and parallel professional development opportunities. Posts of responsibility are advertised and candidates interviewed and the duties attached to the posts are reviewed regularly in light of the evolving needs of the school. During the current review it is recommended that a strong pedagogic or curricular development objective be included in each post description that might include, developing differentiation strategies, organising workshops in Mathematics and Science or school evaluation strategies to guide the on going curricular innovation being practised. Regular staff meetings are held and the proceedings are recorded and minuted.
The board of management and teachers through their initiatives and investments provide a very broad and developmental education experience for all the pupils. They ensure unrestricted access for all pupils to the various opportunities at hand, whether within school time or outside of school time. The range of resources and equipment available are multivariate and include marine equipment, resources and seed, library and ICT equipment, Visual Arts resources, musical instruments available to both current pupils and past pupils, as well as an array of teaching materials and curricular equipment to support high quality teaching and enhance pupils’ learning. Further investment is now required to update ICT and Science equipment generally in line with changes in the curriculum as well as making further investment in classroom libraries particularly in books as Gaeilge.
There is a long and fruitful tradition of community involvement in this school and it is manifest in the late hours that the school remains open to various school and community activities. These include dedicated school events and events organised by Conamara Environmental Educational and Cultural Centre. The centre is located in the school and managed primarily by past and current school staff, parents and members of the board of management. These events vary from an after-school club to Youthreach activities for current and former pupils, music practice, investigative and art projects, local celebrations and festivals such as sea week, bog week, sports projects, co-operative projects with other schools, school visits, green flag, concerts, film projects and a host of other activities. All after school events are accessible on an unrestricted basis and create inclusive learning opportunities across the ages to interested members of the school community.
The board of management, school staff and community work steadfastly and conscientiously in ensuring that every pupil is cherished and held in high esteem and that the pupils take a guided and pro-active role in designing and participating in their preferred area of work and interests. A strong spirit of collaboration, collegiality and support exists and specific responsibilities are delegated to pupils as well as staff to ensure that relationships are open and well managed. All the parties in the school are on first name terms and this school practise is extended to visitors and guests. School policies reflect this openness and mutual respect and issues are dealt with through allowing fair play, and equality of rights to everyone irrespective of age, size or status. Very high expectations are placed on all the parties and a friendly safe and committed work ethos pervades the school.
A school plan was compiled collectively by the staff some years ago and is currently being reviewed in conjunction with board of management members. This process could be extended to offer interested parents an opportunity to review and make submissions to the planning process, particularly in the area of Relationships and Sexuality Education. The document should also be made available in a structured way for perusal by parents. It could be made available in the secretary’s office and a record should be kept of parents’ comments and contributions. A planning diary is being compiled that designates responsibilities, timescales and activities for the reviewing procedure and a considerable amount of work has already been completed through this process. An equality policy, school attendance strategies and supporting pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are the primary organisational policies outstanding at this stage. In the curricular areas Social Health and Personal Education (SPHE), Visual Arts and Drama require completion along with reviewing the school policy on pedagogics and on both formative and summative evaluation to aid differentiation and child centredness in class work or with the support services.
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 for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Teachers engage in both short-term and long-term planning strategies on a collective basis and definite teaching and learning objectives are set and monitored. These planning and monitoring strategies include the support services as well as in class activities. Effective drama, role-play, games, workshops, project work, field trips, school tours, concerts and structured activities take place in all the classrooms and highly participative learning experiences are offered to the children. This commitment to the provision of heuristic learning opportunities is commendable and the resultant quality of good relationships in the school is palpable. Pupils respond very positively to school tasks and activities. They value the feedback they receive and take pride in their work and their achievements.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
This school provides a curriculum comprising of both breadth and depth, tailored appropriately to the children’s needs in terms of their interests and abilities. This school takes a pride in preparing its pupils for post-primary and further education. A variety of methodologies is used from whole class teaching to group work, paired work and individual instruction. The support services are regularly consulted on appropriate and useful classroom interactions. All the staff members regularly consult the school plan and classroom practise is guided by both curricular principles and content. The effort that is made in this school to blend the curriculum with both local and environmental factors is especially praiseworthy. Pupils’ knowledge and skills are appropriate to age and ability and it is commendable how pupils’ skills as independent responsible learners are fostered and cultivated throughout the school.
Pupils enjoy their daily interactions at school and they are regularly affirmed and supported in their efforts and achievement. Pupils practise their skills in using investigative and research skills in new learning situations and both oral responses and written work reflect excellent progress. A review of whole school assessment practices is currently underway and it is intended to use both formative and summative assessment strategies to guide interventions for individual pupils. The Drumcondra attainment test in English, as well as both the Sigma T and Micra T standardised tests are administered annually and their results are collated on an annual basis. It is recommended that class results be collated sequentially to enable easier tracking of individual scores over the primary school period and that individual scores be combined with other assessment strategies to enable a more personal and co-ordinated school response to individual learning needs.
Tá an scoil seo lonnaithe i gceantar galltachta ina bhfuil iarsmaí den Ghaeilge an-fhollasach sna comharthaí áitiúla agus i gcaint na ndaoine. Bíonn míreanna Gaeilge cosúil le amhránaíocht ar an sean nós, ceol traidisiúnta agus aithris filíochta go minic i gcláir ar an stáisiún Radio áitiúil. Bíonn daltaí ón scoil seo mar rannpháirtithe sna cláir seo chomh maith le bheith páirteach i gníomhaiochtaí eile sna meáin chumardsáide go haitiúil agus go náisiunta. Roghnaítear eisimleáir cinnte teanga sna naíonáin a bhaineann le riachtanais cumarsáide na ndaltaí ar scoil agus cleachtaítear iad seo go minic trí chluichí agus spraoi. Baintear úsáid chreidiúnach as dramaíocht agus as rannpháirtiocht na ndaltaí i dteachtaireachtaí scoile agus idirchumarsáid le daltaí eile chun an clár teanga a chleachtadh. Leanann an nós seo sna ranna sóisearach agus sinsearach agus bíonn idirghábhálacha trí Ghaeilge comónta i measc na ndaltaí. Is gá tosaíocht a thabhairt don teanga labhartha áfach ag gach leibhéal agus béim leanúnach a choinneáil ar na scileanna cumarsáide ó bhéal chun cur leis an líofacht cainte. Tugtar faoi chothú scil na léitheoireachta go foirmeálta ó rang a trí ar aghaidh agus teastaíonn breis infheistíochta a dhéanamh i léitheoirí Gaeilge agus leabhair Ghaeilge chun tacú leis an obair seo. Cothaítear scríobh na teanga trí chleachtais éagsúla agus tugtar ardan agus deis léitheoireachta do na píosaí ar fud na scoile agus sna foilsiúchain áitiúla.
This school is set in an English speaking area where remnants of the Irish language are very visible in the community both in signage and speech. Irish activities such as sean-nós singing, traditional music, dance and recitations in Irish are frequent items on the local radio station and children from this school contribute to the creation of these radio programmes as well as frequently participating in programmes in other local and national media. Specific language exemplars are identified in the infant section, that pertain to the children’s communication needs in the school and they are regularly internalised through play and games. Drama is also used to good effect and the children practise their language register through their participation in school messages and in their interactions with other pupils. This practice continues in the junior and senior sections and communication through Irish is practised between pupil and pupil during Irish language classes. It is recommended that primacy should be given to using and speaking the language as a communication tool whenever feasible, throughout the school. Irish reading becomes more formalised from third class upward and further investment in Irish readers and library books in Irish is now required in all classrooms to support these activities. Irish writing is fostered through a variety of genres and children’s pieces are displayed and shared throughout the school and in community publications.
The key principles of the curriculum are embraced and implemented on a coherent structured and sequential basis. Reading writing and oral language activities are integrated into a continuous language process that is both stimulating and engaging for the pupils. The staff is aware of the close connection between language and learning and frequent references were made to previous learning in cross curricular areas during the lessons observed. Stimuli for oral language lessons are broadly based and engaging and commendable use is made of story, talk and discussion, improvisational drama, puppetry, poetry and rhyme to ensure pupils participation in organised activities as well as the development of comprehension and higher order skills.
Various reading schemes are used, both within class and in conjunction with the support services and well stocked libraries feature in every class room. A range of approaches is used to develop pupils’ reading skills and strategies such as silent reading and individual reading times are structured into the timetable. Large-format books are used to develop awareness of the various aspects of the reading process in the junior section and attention to phonological and phonemic reading structures are integrated into the programme. Parents are viewed as key partners in the teaching of literacy and are actively encouraged to share in collaborative reading activities. Class novels become prominent in children’s exposure to reading. Context constructs, character analyses and book reports supplement this practice. Poetry, including composition, is explored throughout the school and children take pride in presenting and reciting their work.
The school encourages and nurtures the pupils’ ability to write independently and confidently, for different audiences and in a range of genres. Portfolios of pupils’ work are displayed with pride and the written work is shared and celebrated. Different assessment strategies are used to monitor pupils’ progress and the pupils engage pro-actively in this process.
Understanding of mathematical concepts take primacy in the schools’ approach to this curricular area and cross curricular themes are recorded in the planning stages to the programme. Number concepts are developed in a carefully sequenced programme and number lines and 100-square charts are used to promote place value and number relationships. Concrete materials and work sheets are used to support and develop pupils understanding. Posters, concrete operations and problem solving are referenced to the local environment. Careful monitoring of pupils progress is conducted on a whole school basis and learning support for children experiencing difficulties in the area has recently commenced. The programme in general however is largely text-book based and whole class teaching is supported by individual instruction and learning support when required. This could be further supplemented by practical problem solving workshops incorporating a range of suitable age-appropriate differentiated tasks, using environmentally based resources and materials and integrated with the school programme in ICT.
The pupils are regularly encouraged to collaborate on tasks and co-operate in their problem solving exercises. The work is monitored through teacher observation, class-based tests and standardised assessment (Sigma-T). There is a review currently in place on curricular and pedagogical aspects of the school plan and on strategies and uses of school assessment. It is recommended that this include the identification of appropriate terminology and the development of pupil-centred learning programmes.
Pupils are encouraged to work as historians through the use of first hand historical documents and materials, field work in the community and through organised events such as Intergenerational Day, projects and contacts with third world countries having historical elements, timelines, exploration of personal dates and chronological events as well as enhancing their concept of time. The analysis of local place names, stories and questioning techniques is to be commended. ICT is purposefully used to develop a local bank of information in this area.
The school has operated as the headquarters for Conamara Environmental & Cultural Centre since 1984. Pupils engage in hands-on practical experience as geographers, environmentalists, scientific researchers and community activists. The range of activities engaged in by pupils is multivariate and developmental. ‘Bog week’, beginning in the middle of October, begins the line of activities that continues throughout the school year and the programme is supplemented with a diverse and learning-centred summer programme. The prepared programme for ‘Bog Week’ includes visits from nationally recognised artists, poets, environmentalists, scientists, social historians and musicians. There is an array of events ranging from bird watching at dawn to shore visits, creating science exhibitions, public lectures in the school, bog field trips with environmentalists and scientists as well as art exhibitions and poetry recitals to celebrate the wonderful landscape of Connemara.
The level of consciousness and expertise that’s developed in the pupils during this wide range of activities is unusual and laudatory. All the pupils from infants to senior classes as well as past pupils and community members engage enthusiastically in the various organised activities. Pupils’ enrichment and the development of community pride is the communal benefit derived from these school activities at a level that’s exceptional in the primary school system.
This school is a participant in the Discover Primary Science project and uses this area of the curriculum in a pro-active manner to interpret the local environment. The development of the schools’ own oyster farm sponsored by BIM and marine biologists, has been one of the well orchestrated achievements of the school. The pupils are engaged in preparing, seeding, feeding, growing, harvesting and selling the farm produce. During this project the children work as scientists, identifying options and experiments, recognising patterns, estimating, questioning and researching to improve both the quality and produce of the farm. The experiments are recorded and are used to educate other pupils and visiting schools about their work. This exercise has been extended to study the biology and lifecycles of a variety of species with emphasis placed on understanding the relevance of ecology to the animal kingdom.
This school engages in an impressive programme in the Visual Arts which is characterised by variety and refinement in chosen media. Art and artists are central to all of the schools’ events and the integration of the arts with a holistic approach to living is notable. The children are practised in engaging with artists of every type and hue, and pupils’ enrichment and appreciation of the arts is central to this hub of activity. The children along with interested parents and local artists are currently preparing their works for Bog Week exhibition. The theme selected for this year is ‘A School and Its Place’ and will include works from the different strands of the curriculum.
Pupils’ achievements are celebrated in a communal way that develops their sense of belonging to the community and being cherished as vital and important members.
This school provides a broad Music programme with emphasis on developing the performing arts, through instrumentation, choral work and dance. The pupils’ skills were used to great acclaim during their recent cross-border reciprocal visits with Holy Cross National School, Belfast. They have produced a number of excellent CDs along with accomplished artists. One of these ‘Behind the Mist’ has been recommended as a resource during music in-service days organised by the Primary Curriculum Support Service.
A school plan in music literacy is being developed during the review period and is intended to become more central to the music programme in its developed state.
Drama is used in an integrated way to explore and enhance learning across the curriculum as well as form perspectives on themes through role play and imaginative development. Pupils are provided with suitable opportunities to improvise, to respond, to invent and explore and to assimilate experiences in a collaborative fashion through team work and individual presentations.
The Physical Education curriculum is somewhat hampered by the lack of facilities, although a structured developmental programme is engaged in with the pupils in the playground during dry weather, particularly in field sports and athletics. Use is made of The Ellis Hall nearby to complement these activities and every child receives swimming instruction of at least eight hours as part of the strand Aquatics. The pupils participate in sport events organised in the community and all pupils are expected to engage in healthy living exercises. It is important to include this curricular aspect in the current review programme to ensure that all the strands and strand units are covered in an appropriate manner.
A positive and enriching programme of activities is developed in the school where mutual respect, transparency and dignity are the cornerstone of interpersonal interactions. Pupils are continually affirmed and praised and the curriculum is skilfully used to develop self esteem and self confidence. High standards and expectations are promoted and pupils’ achievements are celebrated through project work and photographic displays in classrooms. There is a strong emphasis on promoting responsible behaviour and self learning throughout the school. Integration with the Visual Arts, Physical Education, SESE, communal activities and language is promoted and pupils generally display a mature responsible and caring attitude.
A variety of assessment approaches is used including teacher observation, teacher designed tasks and tests as well as profiling pupils as part of the ongoing evaluation of curricular areas covered and pupils’ learning strategies. Standardised objective testing is also carried out in the school in English language and Mathematics and it is recommended that results from these tests should be collated according to class on a sequential basis to track progress. Middle Infant Screening Test and Belfield Infant Assessment Profile tests are also used in conjunction with Neale Analysis, Jackson, and Non Reading Intelligence Test and the results are used to tailor an appropriate curriculum for individual children. The close collaboration between mainstream and support teachers is commended and parents and pupils are to be included in any review of the individual education plans as appropriate. It is recommended that test results should be copied to pupils’ file records and shared with other school professionals and parents, as well as used in devising a differentiated curriculum for pupils.
Pupils receive additional support primarily in the areas of Mathematics and English as well as in some specialised education programmes such as auditory processing and speech therapy run in conjunction with other agencies. Termly meetings are held to agree individual pupils’ needs. Short-term teacher preparation relating to in-class work is shared regularly with the support teachers to co-ordinate and integrate topics covered. The model for delivery is largely based on the withdrawal of children individually or in small groups and this could now be augmented to include classroom interaction and team teaching. An agreed and integrated provision could also include regular school-based caseload reviews to include parents, educational professionals and pupils when appropriate. The programmes of work are well structured and effective and the emphasis placed on developing pupils’ confidence and esteem is praiseworthy. It is recommended that a supplement on assessment procedures and analysis within the support services be included in the school plan to ensure targeted interventions based on identified needs. It is also recommended that records from these services be integrated in the relevant class records to ensure differentiated and successful class room activities for pupils with special education needs
This school is included in the DEIS programme and provides a considered inclusive and well structured response to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as for children from other nationalities attending the school. The corporate plan for these multivariate interventions needs to be included in the school plan and review procedures set therein to comply with the DEIS programme currently being rolled out.
The following are the main strengths 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 where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.