An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Joseph’s National School
Bonniconlon, Ballina, County Mayo
Uimhir rolla: 13667H
Date of inspection: 22 May 2008
A whole-school evaluation of St. Joseph’s N.S. Bonniconlon was undertaken in May 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Music. 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.
St. Joseph’s N.S. is located in the village of Bonniconlon, about 13 kilometres east of Ballina. The school is under the patronage of the Bishop of Achonry. It has three mainstream class teachers and a learning-support teacher who is shared with one other school. A resource teacher who is based in another local school visits St. Joseph’s N.S. for three hours per week. The school participates in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), an initiative of the Department of Education and Science to alleviate educational disadvantage. As part of this initiative, the school shares the services of a DEIS co-ordinator with other local schools. A special-needs assistant works with one pupil.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation.
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teachers on the school staff
Mainstream class teachers
Teachers working in support roles
Special needs assistants
The school’s ethos statement is included in the school plan and is also displayed in the building. It makes reference to the Catholic ethos of the school and to the school’s role in maintaining and developing Irish cultural heritage. It is evident from classroom observation that the teachers foster a positive atmosphere in their classrooms. Pupils show enthusiasm for learning and are respectful in their social interactions.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science. The board’s most pressing concern is the quality of the school accommodation. The school has an application with the Planning and Building Section of the Department of Education and Science for a new school building. The board had expected that work on a new building would have commenced by the time of the evaluation. It is recommended that the board give greater attention to the maintenance of the existing buildings, in the interests of the current pupils. Board members report that they are happy with the work of the school. Some of the strengths reported by the board, including the pupils’ social and personal development, were in evidence during the evaluation.
It is recommended that the board support and monitor the work of the principal and teachers in implementing the recommendations of this report, especially those regarding in-school management, planning and instructional leadership. It is recommended that the board of management ensure that the role of principal is fulfilled in accordance with Section 23 of the Education Act and Department of Education and Science Circular 16/73. The board is reminded also that the chairperson’s signature on salary forms constitutes a declaration that the Rules for National Schools have been upheld.
The principal teacher was present for the pre-evaluation and post-evaluation meetings but was absent for several weeks prior to and including the actual in-school evaluation. She had been present for most of the school year up to that point. The school’s deputy principal had commenced maternity leave several weeks prior to the evaluation. The acting principal managed the day-to-day operation of the school with courtesy and efficiency during the period of the evaluation. There were two substitute teachers employed in the school at the time of the evaluation. In the interests of the pupils, it is recommended that the school seek to ensure that the substitute teachers employed in cases of teacher absence are qualified primary teachers.
There is significant scope for development in the area of in-school management. In particular, there is a need for effective leadership and good example in the areas of school planning, classroom planning and aspects of teaching and learning. The scope of the difficulties observed indicates that these were not attributable to the absences recorded in the preceding paragraph. The issues to be addressed in each of these areas are outlined in the relevant sections of this report. Some of the issues involve breaches of Rules for National Schools. It is recommended that the principal ensure the Rules for National Schools are upheld in the school. The school is reminded that Leadership Development for Schools (LDS), a national programme established by the Department of Education and Science, provides professional-development opportunities for principals and deputy principals.
The school’s deputy principal has certain whole-school responsibilities in addition to her teaching duties. It is recommended that the responsibilities assigned to the deputy principal be revised with a view to ensuring that the post has an appropriate balance of curricular, organisational and pastoral duties. It is recommended also that the school provide a contract for the deputy principal, in accordance with Department of Education and Science Circular 17/2000.
Parent-teacher meetings are held annually and the school sends a written report at the end of the school year. The school has a parents’ association, which meets four or five times a year. It is reported that there is good communication between the association and the parents’ representatives on the school’s board of management. The parents’ association is involved in fund-raising for the school. It also co-ordinates the involvement of parents in programmes such as shared reading and Maths for Fun.
A meeting was held with representatives of the parents’ association, with the prior approval of the board of management. It was reported that parents are especially happy with the way in which pupils are prepared for post-primary school and with provision for pupils with special educational needs. They are also very happy with the work done by the visiting Music teacher. The most pressing concern for the parents’ association is the health and safety of pupils in the school building, especially given a recent problem with rodents. It is evident that there is scope for more effective communication with parents with regard to the school plan. None of the parents interviewed had seen the school’s code of discipline or its anti-bullying policy. Nor could they recall being given drafts or final versions of any other school policies.
An information booklet is provided for parents of pupils enrolling in the school. It is recommended that this booklet be revised so that it provides practical information about the school, including key school policies such as the code of behaviour, anti-bullying policy and child-protection policy.
The behaviour and attitude of pupils in this school are a credit to their parents and teachers. It is evident from interactions with pupils during the evaluation that they are courteous and hardworking. Section 2 of this report contains recommendations regarding the school’s code of behaviour and anti-bullying policy.
There is evidence of significant scope for improvement in the whole-school planning process. It is evident from interviews with parents and teachers that the whole-school planning process is not conducted in accordance with Section 21(3) of the Education Act 1998, nor with the guidelines of the Department of Education and Science as outlined in Developing a School Plan: Guidelines (1999). It is evident that much of the work that went into the production of the current school plan occurred in the period immediately prior to the evaluation. None of the parents or staff members interviewed during the evaluation were familiar with the content of the plan, nor were they involved in the whole-school planning process. The board should ensure that the whole-school-planning process includes collaboration and consultation with key stakeholders such as staff members and parents, as appropriate. The school is reminded of the support that is available from the school-planning facilitators of the Professional Development Support Service, who may be contacted through Mayo Education Centre.
The school plan that has been produced contains policies and procedures dealing with various organisational issues. The need to revise certain organisational policies was discussed at the post-evaluation meetings. It is recommended that all policies be signed by the chairperson following their formal ratification by the board.
The curricular sections of the school plan are generally based on the templates provided by the support services. Each school is expected to adapt these templates so that the school plan records accurately the good practice that has been developed in response to the particular needs of that school and the resources available locally. Most of the curricular plans for St. Joseph’s N.S., however, remain generic in nature and are therefore not as useful as they might be in co-ordinating and improving the work of the school. It is recommended that the school conduct a full review of its curricular policies.
There is evidence of significant difficulties regarding written preparation and recording in mainstream classrooms. There is a great need for strong leadership in this area. Teachers prepare monthly plans, as opposed to the fortnightly plans that are required by Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools. These are generally vague and do not identify what the pupils are expected to learn from the activities organised. Neither the short-term nor long-term plans examined were sufficiently specific to have a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning.
Rule 126 requires each teacher to keep a progress record, the custody of which is one of the duties of the principal teacher. The format being used by the teachers in this school at present does not provide a useful account of what has been achieved by the pupils. The monthly records are not collected and kept on file by the principal as required by Rules for National Schools.
In one classroom there were no plans or monthly records available for inspection or for the use of the substitute teacher. This made it very difficult for the substitute teacher to ensure continuity and progression in the pupils’ learning. It is also in breach of Rule 126.
It is recommended that the in-school management provide effective leadership and example with regard to classroom planning and recording.
It is recommended that the principal lead the teachers in agreeing common formats for long-term planning, short-term planning and monthly records. The guidelines and samples that have been made available by the support services at http://www.pcsp.ie/ should be given careful consideration.
It is recommended that the principal monitor the written preparation of the teachers as required by Department Circular 16/73.
It is recommended that the principal keep the monthly records on file as required by Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools.
It is recommended that the school formulate and implement a policy on the documentation to be made available to substitute teachers, with a view to ensuring progression and continuity in pupil learning in the event of teacher absences.
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). It is recommended that these child protection procedures be brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures be provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management ensure that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) has been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. It is recommended that a deputy DLP be named in the policy.
Mar chuid den mheastóireacht seo, chonacthas ceacht Gaeilge i ngach seomra ranga. Caitheadh am freisin ag ceistiú na ndaltaí agus ag breathnú ar na háiseanna a bhí in úsáid sna seomraí. Is léir go bhfoghlamaíonn na daltaí sna meánranganna go leor rann agus paidreacha agus go ndírítear aird chuí ar mhúineadh foclóra. Tugtar deiseanna do na daltaí tabhairt faoi thascanna éagsúla ina mbeirteanna. Sna meánranganna agus sna ranganna sinsearacha, is léir go mbíonn cúlstór réasúnta focal ag na daltaí. Is léir, áfach, ó cheistiú na ndaltaí nach mbíonn dóthain taithí acu ar úsáid na Gaeilge i gcomhthéacsanna cumarsáideacha. Bíonn deacrachtaí suntasacha acu maidir le cruthú abairtí simplí agus le húsáid na mbriathar go háirithe. Moltar do na múinteoirí deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí an Ghaeilge a labhairt le haghaidh cumarsáide le linn an cheachta Ghaeilge agus taobh amuigh de. Ag am na meastóireachta, bhí ionadaí neamhcháilithe ag múineadh na ranganna sóisearacha. Bhí an easpa cáilíochta le sonrú go háirithe i dteagasc na Gaeilge.
I dhá cheann de na seomraí ranga, úsáidtear cairteacha agus lipéid chun foghlaim na ndaltaí a éascú agus a bhuanú. Ní raibh aon ábhair chlóbhuailte i nGaeilge le feiceáil i seomra ranga na sinsear. Moltar go mbainfeadh gach oide úsáid as raon d’ábhair léirithe chun foghlaim agus labhairt na Gaeilge a éascú do na daltaí.
As part of this evaluation, an Irish lesson was seen in each classroom. Time was also spent questioning the pupils and observing the resources that were in use in the classroom. It is evident that the pupils in the middle classes learn a lot of rhymes and prayers and that appropriate attention is given to the teaching of vocabulary. Pupils are given opportunities to undertake various tasks in pairs. In the middle and senior classes, it is evident that the pupils have a reasonable passive vocabulary. It is clear, however, from questioning the pupils, that they do not have sufficient practice at using Irish in communicative contexts. They have significant difficulties constructing sentences and with the use of verbs in particular. It is recommended that the teachers provide opportunities for pupils to speak Irish for communicative purposes both within the formal Irish lesson and outside of it. At the time of the evaluation, an unqualified substitute was teaching the junior classes. The absence of qualifications was particularly evident in the teaching of Irish.
In two of the classrooms, charts and labels are used to facilitate and consolidate the pupils’ learning. There was no printed material in Irish to be seen in the senior room. It is recommended that each teacher use a range of illustrative materials to make it easier for pupils to learn and speak the Irish language.
The quality of provision for English varies from class to class. There is evidence of good work in aspects of reading and writing. Oral-language development is the area in which scope for improvement is most obvious.
Most pupils in the middle classes read with accuracy and clarity. Each classroom has a pupils’ library and the pupils generally show enthusiasm for reading. It is recommended that the library books in all classrooms be presented attractively with a view to promoting the habit of reading for pleasure. It is recommended also that the pupils’ libraries be labelled and classified. Pupils encounter poetry regularly and enjoy reciting familiar poems. While the school plan for English makes reference to the language-experience approach in the teaching of reading in the junior classes, there is no evidence that this approach has been used in the current school year.
Some very good practice was observed in one classroom with regard to English writing. The approach used enables pupils to draft, edit and publish their own work. They have experience of writing in a range of genres and have made their own books. It is recommended that this good practice be implemented in all classes.
While most of the pupils in the middle and senior classes speak clearly and confidently, the school does not have a structured oral-language programme. It is recommended that the principal, in consultation with the DEIS co-ordinator, lead the staff in developing and implementing a whole-school oral-language programme in English. As part of this programme, it is recommended that a play rota be implemented in the infant classes, with a strong emphasis on language development. It is recommended that additional equipment, such as a sandbox, waterbox, dressing-up box be provided for this purpose. In the senior classroom there were no displays to reinforce vocabulary in English and other curricular areas. It is recommended that each class teacher provide clear classroom displays of language and vocabulary that the pupils are expected to learn and use.
There is some evidence of good practice in the teaching of Mathematics. Pupils are given opportunities to participate in hands-on mathematical activities and there is effective use of illustrative materials to reinforce concepts and language. It is recommended that this good practice be implemented in all three classrooms. Pupils respond well to questions regarding lines and angles, shape and space and less well to questions about measurement. There is evidence of a need for a more practical hands-on approach to the strand Measures. Overall, pupils’ use of mathematical vocabulary is fair. It is recommended that charts and other displays be used in all classrooms to support the learning and use of mathematical vocabulary by the pupils.
An external tutor teaches instrumental music and song-singing to each class once a week. All pupils learn to play a melodic instrument, beginning with the tin whistle in the junior classes. As they move up through the school, many pupils graduate to other instruments including the banjo, mandolin, fiddle and accordion. The pupils can perform a wide repertoire of songs and tunes to a very high standard. It is understood that the class teachers implement the strands of the curriculum that are not addressed by the visiting tutor. It is important that the class teachers employed by the school maintain and develop their own ability to teach Music. It is important also that areas such as musical literacy, composition and listening and responding are dealt with adequately within the time available for Music. With a view to addressing these issues, it is recommended that a greater portion of the programme be taught by the class teachers and that the time that is allocated to the external tutor be reduced.
The school administers norm-referenced tests annually in English and Mathematics. A range of further diagnostic tests is administered by the learning-support teacher. Various teacher-designed tests are used in each classroom. Section 2.1 of this report contains recommendations regarding the preparation and filing of monthly progress records.
The learning-support teacher provides supplementary teaching in literacy and numeracy to particular pupils. The teacher is to be commended on the high-quality learning environment that is provided in the learning-support room. There are numerous displays that make it easier for pupils to understand and remember what is taught. There is particularly good use of charts to develop mathematical language.
Individual learning programmes are prepared for each pupil in receipt of learning support. The teacher also maintains a useful weekly planning and progress record. The value of the short-term plans would be enhanced by the inclusion of learning objectives. The quality of the supplementary teaching provided is very good. There is commendable variety in the teaching methodologies used. The lessons are very engaging and provide an appropriate challenge for the pupils.
At the time of the evaluation, there were pupils in receipt of learning support whose inclusion in the caseload was not justifiable on the basis of their results on standardised tests. It is recommended that learning support for these pupils be discontinued. It is recommended that the time be used to implement an early-intervention programme in the infant classes in the areas of language and literacy.
A resource teacher visits the school to provide supplementary teaching for one pupil. An individual education plan is prepared. It is recommended that the scope of this programme be broadened so that it addresses the language needs that have been identified in assessments conducted by the relevant professionals.
This school is part of a cluster of five schools that are served by a DEIS co-ordinator. The schools in the cluster have formulated a three-year plan to address the areas of literacy, numeracy and attendance. The plan includes targets for each of the three areas as well as an outline of the actions to be taken and the ways in which progress will be monitored and evaluated. The co-ordinator’s role includes visiting homes, developing resources for the school, working with pupils and providing a range of supports for pupils and their families. Some of the funding that the school receives through DEIS is used to provide various after-school activities, including Drama, Visual Arts and coaching in tennis and basketball. The work that the co-ordinator does with pupils in this school includes a series of lessons for sixth-class pupils regarding the transition to post-primary school. The lessons are well-structured, clear and purposeful.
It is recommended that the school organise a meeting at which the DEIS co-ordinator would inform parents of the operation of the DEIS programme and especially of the resources that are available to parents through the programme. It is recommended also that the DEIS co-ordinator be present at the annual induction meeting for parents of incoming junior infants.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the 2008 WSE. Successive Boards have been heavily involved in a long campaign for a new building; we were due to move out of the school building on March 1st 2008. Therefore only urgent repairs had been carried out on the building prior to this date. Two ramps with handrails were erected immediately for a special needs pupil when required. Unfortunately our move has been deferred again and as a result repairs and maintenance of the existing building have commenced.
Teachers’ planning continued despite a spell of much switching and changing of teachers.
All school recommendations will be addressed, discussed and implemented as deemed necessary over time
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
a) Demolition and removal of 19th century derelict old school
b) Clár grant sought to improve play area and conditions in yard
c) External painting of existing building
Staff Principal together with B.O.M. will review school plans and policies on an on-going basis over the coming years. We will seek all possible guidance and keep amending existing policies.
A universal template is now in use by all staff members for the preparation and recording of short-term planning, long-term planning and monthly records. A filing system is also now in place for storage of these records.
The B.O.M. and the staff are conscious of the school’s strengths which are recognized in the WSE report. We see in them a foundation to build on. We intend to make a unified effort with all the partners in the educational process to implement the report’s recommendations.