An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
SN Leac an Anaithe
Cathair na Mart, Co Mhaigh Eo.
Roll number: 13797U
Date of inspection: 23 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of SN Leac an Anaithe. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents. 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.
Scoil Náisiunta Leac an Anaithe is a two-teacher school situated on the coast of Cuan Módh, under the shadow of Croagh Patrick some eight miles west of Westport. It is situated in a picturesque rural area with a strong sense of community and allegiance to the school. The school works closely with the local community and sees parental involvement as a means of creating greater openness and transparency to the community. The schools’ mission statement seeks to promote pupils’ skills and competencies in a safe and caring school environment. The characteristic spirit of the school strives to support every pupil to attain a standard of education to a level commensurate with ability and equipped with the necessary skills to participate beneficially in post-primary and further education opportunity. Successful participation at third level education is the experience of the majority of pupils attending this school over the last number of years. School attendance rates are high except in exceptional circumstances and educational aspirations are high both for parents and pupils alike.
The board of management is properly constituted, it assumes corporate responsibility for the management of the school and generally meets once a term except where pressing business necessitates more frequent meetings. The board is commended for the quality of its presentation and on the range of activities as reported during the pre-evaluation meeting to this report. The board operates under the trusteeship of the Archdiocese of Tuam, and it makes an effective contribution to the school as a learning organisation. Board members have attended in-service for boards of management under the auspices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Tuam. The board facilitates the formulation and adoption of policy documents, it supports staff initiatives and its members act as support volunteers in the many festivals and local celebrations the school participates in annually. The board has prioritised the acquisition of the Green Flag and the provision of traffic safety in its activities for the coming year. School enrolment has been declining gradually over the last few years. It now stands at twenty four pupils although a slight increase in numbers is expected in the next few years. The question of school amalgamation with an adjoining parish school has been addressed by the community. This issue presents the optimal solution to the chronic lack of space in this school. The school building dates from 1893 and although immaculately kept, warm and cosy, serious inadequacies are recorded in relation to the size of this school building reflecting a design which is dated. Both mainstream classrooms are too small in size to allow for the optimum delivery of the current primary school curriculum. The classroom teachers are dedicated, professional, hard-working and effective. Nonetheless the inadequacy of space available to them makes the delivery of a curriculum with breadth and balance exceptionally difficult. The provision of an additional prefabricated building on the school site in 1993, although necessary, reduces the school site considerably. The site itself is around half an acre and places considerable constraints on the provision of adequate play space, physical education opportunities or sports facilities for the pupils. As both school buildings in this parish have inadequate school sites, it is recommended that the board of management addresses the issue of school provision as a matter of urgency and takes a leadership role in the exploration of potential amalgamation. If this proves untenable it is recommended that the board acquires an additional site necessary for the development of adequate classroom space and ancillary facilities to cater for local education needs. The board should proactively engage with the local planning authorities and County Council to explore all potential options in addressing these needs.
2.2 In-school management
The in-school management team consists of principal teacher and deputy principal and they ensure that the school is a warm welcoming place for pupils, parents and all parties that visit this school. The co-operative staff spirit is commendable and the whole staff takes a collective responsibility for the quality of education provision provided. The staff ensures that all the pupils receive a challenging, progressive education, to prepare them for life and the post-primary education opportunities available in the locality. There are regular informal meetings between staff members, where organisational, curricular and pastoral issues are discussed and agreed. It is recommended that these arrangements are now formalised to discuss agreed agenda. The proceedings should be recorded and minuted with definite responsibilities allocated for the implementation of decisions taken.
The current enrolment of twenty four pupils is divided according to class groupings between the two mainstream teachers. The infant to second class grouping is allocated to the assistant teacher and the senior pupils allocated to the principal teacher with reasonably even numbers between them. The school has access to a part-time learning-support teacher for seven and a half hours per week and a resource teacher for one special needs pupil for two and a half hours per week. Very effective support is provided for the pupils in each caseload and the support teachers’ work is reinforced by the mainstream teachers. A part-time secretary provides invaluable support to the school as well as in carrying out routine administrative duties. The school is maintained to a very high standard, it is cleaned twice a week and the school playground is very attractively divided into separate lined games areas.
The board has provided a range of teaching aids and technological equipment for every classroom. These include information communication technologies (ICT) equipment, as well as classroom libraries and a selection of resources for using in specific curricular areas such as Mathematics, Social and Scientific Education (SESE) and Music. These are well used to support the learning experiences of pupils.
The board recognises its legal responsibilities and the school plan includes a health and safety statement, a code of behaviour and policies on enrolment, special education, anti-bullying, the protection and nurturing of children, a system of supervision as well as a range of curricular areas. The parents are very interested in the operation of this school and are frequently involved as volunteers and supporters during school activities. During the preliminary meeting with the parents they expressed their delight with the management and operation of the school and their complete satisfaction with the quality of education their children receive in preparation for post-primary education. They praised the professionalism and openness of the staff and they felt they had relatively easy access to the school to discuss issues of interest. They also indicated their satisfaction with the inclusive way that the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) element was delivered to the pupils. It is recommended in light of the current review being conducted of the school plan, that a structured process be identified to involve the parent body as far as is practicable. The plan itself should be made available to parents for perusal and comment and a written report on pupils’ progress should be supplied to them on an annual basis.
The board is to be commended for the amount of support it gives to the pupils and staff, and a caring attractive learning environment is the hallmark of the school. Pupils are frequently reminded of their role in ensuring that the school remains a safe and happy place for all the pupils. The senior pupils are exemplary in their care and support of the junior classes. Interactions between pupils and teachers are very positive and constructive and a considerable emphasis is placed on promoting the intrinsic value of each pupil. It is to the staff’s collective credit that sanctions or disciplinary action has never been enacted in the school.
A school plan has been compiled primarily by the two classroom teachers and it contains useful corporate policies for the operation of the school. It has been agreed that elements in the plan now need to be updated and that a more consultative process should be engaged in with all the parties as an integral part of this review process. Areas such as enrolment policy, school time-table, record keeping, formal parent–teacher meetings, annual school reports should take priority in the organisational areas, and differentiated learning strategies, policy on assessment, social environmental and science education and physical education policies should take priority in the curricular areas. An action plan for this activity should be drawn up identifying the personnel involved and a clear time-frame for its conclusion.
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.
All teachers provide written preparation in both long-term and short-term planning and definite teaching and learning objectives are set and monitored. It would be useful if agreed templates referenced to the strands and strand units of the revised curriculum were used in planning and recording. This would ensure the delivery of a more structured co-ordinated and developmental learning programme and should include the support services. Effective drama, role-play, games, project-work, field trips, school tours, concerts and structured activities are undertaken in both classrooms and an attractive participative learning environment is offered to all pupils.
4.1. Overview of learning and teaching
This school provides a developmental well-structured curriculum, tailored appropriately to the pupils’ needs in terms of their interests and abilities. The teachers use a variety of methodologies from whole-class teaching to group work, paired work and individual instruction. The pupils are very engaged with their work, they show great independence, dedication and ease in completing organised tasks. Although the classrooms are very small, both teachers promote the use of resources and this supports the work of the pupils. They are well-stimulated, they integrate information and communication technologies regularly into their research, and the senior classes have just completed an excellent project on the rainforests of South America. This project was used to integrate the Visual Arts, Music, Social Environmental and Science Education (SESE) and research methodologies into an enriching cross-curricular stimulating classroom experience.
Múintear an comhrá Gaeilge go coinsiasach sa scoil seo, baintear úsáid as cur chuige cumarsáideach agus cothaítear cumas agus dearcadh dearfach i leith na teanga. Bunaítear an phleanáil ar structúir agus ábhar na teanga sa churaclam agus bíonn na daltaí gníomhach san fhoghlaim. Baintear úsáid as raon leathan d’abhair léirithe, ról plé agus gníomhaíochtai cumarsáide chun tuiscint agus úsáid teanga a chothú. Is léir go ndéanann na hoidí iarracht leanúnach an teanga a úsáid trasna gnéithe eile curaclaim.
Cuirtear béim fhorásach ar léitheoireacht agus scríbhneoireacht na Gaeilge sna meáin sna hardranganna agus déantar monatóireacht leanúnach ar an dul chun cinn. Bfhiú breis leabhair Ghaeilge a chur le stoc na leabharlainne ionas go mbeadh deiseanna leanúnacha ag na daltaí léitheoireacht neamhspleách a chleachtadh. Tá raon suimiúil dánta, scéalta agus amhrán ar eolas ag na daltaí sa teanga agus baineann siad an-sásamh as a bheith á n’aithris.
Irish conversation is taught in a very conscientious manner in this school. Teachers make frequent use of the communicative approach. Competence as well as a supportive attitude to the language is fostered. Language planning is based on curricular structures and themes and the pupils engage actively in their learning. Use is made of a wide range of illustrative materials, role play and structured interactive pieces to facilitate pupils’ understanding and usage. The teachers make frequent use of Gaeilge in cross-curricular contexts.
Reading and writing skills are fostered in the middle and senior classes and pupils’ progress is regularly monitored. Further investment in Irish language library books is recommended to facilitate independent reading. The pupils have an extensive repertoire of poems, stories and songs in Irish and they take great pleasure in recitation.
English lessons are undertaken in a structured and developmental fashion, considerable emphasis is placed in all classes on developing oracy skills and fostering literacy development. The teachers use different strategies to encourage pupils’ participation and supportive interventions are organised for pupils experiencing learning difficulties. Teacher planning for this curricular aspect is quite detailed, with commendable attention being given to differentiated skills development. Provision is made for all four curricular strands including developing cognitive ability through the use of language. Basic reading skills are well taught in the junior section through the development of phonemic awareness and whole word sight vocabulary. The school uses a structured reading programme, supported by the use of shared-reading activities and novels and great attention is placed on developing strategies to foster pupils’ independent reading by the pupils at an early age. A high standard in reading is attained by almost all pupils and the senior classes frequently engage in independent research through projects and through their pursuits of personal interest areas.
Pupils are enthusiastic about engaging in various writing activities, pupils’ work is carefully scaffolded in the junior classes and there are some exceptional examples of personal writing in all the classes. Writing skills are well integrated into most other curricular aspects, pupils’ skills are developed creatively and consideration is given to presentation and handwriting skills. The pupils experience an extensive programme in story and verse, they engage enthusiastically in creative writing and their works are on display in the very restricted display areas in the classrooms and corridor.
Pupils are provided with opportunities to manipulate and discuss mathematical constructs and concepts in group, whole-class and individual settings on a regular basis. Lessons are well structured and paced and pupils are encouraged to learn co-operatively. Estimation skills are developed at every level, regular revision is undertaken, pupils record their work carefully and this is monitored by the teachers. Cross-curricular activities and linkages are effectively used to consolidate concepts through discussion and environmental-based activities, and investigations are undertaken to develop pupils’ competencies.
Standardised norm referenced attainment tests, checklists and teacher-designed problem-solving tests are used to measure progress and reflect the good standards being achieved by pupils. A review of the school plan in this area is recommended with a view to placing more emphasis on practical problem solving and on the development of technical vocabulary as an intrinsic aspect of the work
A varied and stimulating programme in Social Environmental and Scientific Education is delivered and the pupils are encouraged to take a keen interest in current affairs and in the world around them. There is a commendable effort on developing the skills of a historian, geographer and scientist through the activities in this curricular area. Pupils’ interest in local history is enhanced through the use of story, legends, local folklore and family history and family charts are used to explore timelines. This aspect is well linked with other curricular areas through project work and personal investigations and the pupils speak knowledgeably and enthusiastically about their areas of study.
Teachers plan a broad programme of activities to allow pupils to explore their own immediate environment as well as global themes of interest. An appropriate blend between textbook and investigative work is pursued and the teachers supplement the work through use of the worldwide web. The investigative work being conducted on the rainforests in the senior classes during this evaluation was commendable and has left an indelible mark on the pupils’ knowledge of this natural phenomenon as a result. It is commendable also how insights into the richness of different cultures is linked to the locality and how value and respect for diversity is fostered through the pupils’ understanding of variety and difference.
Teaching and learning in this area is integrated with other curricular aspects and pupils are encouraged to take an interest in the diversity of animal and plant life. Pupils are encouraged to investigate scientifically and to understand the influence of human development on ecological systems. It is regrettable that lack of space for displaying projects, hinders the accessibility of a wider audience to the themes being explored, particularly in the senior classes. A whole-school plan offering a progressive, broad and well-planned curriculum programme in all classes and built on current good practice will enable further development in this area.
Art activities frequently follow seasonal themes and although space is at a premium, there is an attractive display of the pupils’ work in the available display areas. Pupils are exposed to aspects of the strands and strand units and their creations regularly feature in local festivals and staged activities. Pupils display confidence in discussing their work and can explain how it was made, the options they faced and their reasons for selecting the materials used and the creative process involved. Pupils would benefit from an arts appreciation programme with exposure to the paintings and creations of renowned artists.
There is evidence of excellent practise in this school in relation to aspects of performance, listening and responding strands of the music curriculum. Irish and English song-singing, listening and the creation of different genres of musical composition including experimentation with percussion, pitch and rhythm work, are effectively undertaken. The range of musical instruments practised by the pupils is to a very high standard. The teaching of Music is creatively integrated with other aspects of the school curriculum, particularly History, Geography and the Visual Arts. The quality and range of song singing evident in the schools’ latest CD ‘Guí Clanna Binne’ is commendable.
Drama is used as a teaching methodology and also to enhance the communicative abilities of pupils particularly in Irish. Drama is also used to explore feelings and promote good decision making and relationships. The nativity play is an important social event in the community calendar and involves all the pupils in the school. Pupils are provided with suitable opportunities to improvise, invent and assimilate experiences in a collaborative fashion through teamwork and individual presentations.
The facilities for Physical Education are quite limited in this school with its very restricted class room and play area. Physical Education forms the basis for activities during break times and pupils engage in different games with discrete lined areas in the schoolyard. A Gaelic Athletic Association coach attends the school on a regular basis to provide coaching skills for the pupils from third to sixth classes. The school participates in local sports events organised among a cluster of similar sized schools. Whilst allowing for the structural restrictions placed on this curricular aspect, the development of a school plan in conjunction with the primary schools’ support programme could enhance considerably the opportunities available to pupils in this important curricular area.
The quality of interpersonal relationships among all the parties to this school is manifest in the warm and supportive ethos that pervades all its activities. Pupils present themselves confidently and interact with adults and pupils in a constructive positive manner. There is a broad and balanced programme in Social Personal and Health Education presented using both commercially produced materials and local experiences and interests. There is a strong emphasis on promoting responsible behaviour sensitive to the rights and dignity of others and it is noteworthy that the school authorities were never required to engage in any formal reprimand.
There is considerable variation in the type and use made of assessment tools throughout the school. This area of work requires the development of a whole-school plan to structure and co-ordinate the assessment approaches in this area. A variety of assessment approaches is used including teacher observation, profiling, Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) as well as teacher-devised tests in particular curricular areas. Standardised assessment tests are also used in English and Mathematics. The results are collated on either a class or on an individual basis according to class level. Results indicate the attainment of good standards by the pupils generally. Further analyses of test results could be used to guide differentiated activities and the provision of tailored tasks and learning opportunities for pupils at both ends of the ability spectrum. The close collaboration between mainstream and support teachers is recommended in developing the revised school plan and assessment records should be shared with all the teaching professionals involved in the process. Parents should also be involved in the revision of individual education plans and end-of-year progress reports on pupils should be supplied to parents on an annual basis.
Additional supports are in place for pupils experiencing learning difficulties and are consistent with the school plan and screening guidelines. Both teachers have considerable experience in their fields of work, they have engaged with formal and continuous in-service education to ensure that best practice principles are implemented in their areas of work. Priority is given to pupils performing at or below the twelfth percentile and standardised tests in English for learning- support. One pupil is in receipt of resource support for two and a half hours per week. In order to foster inclusiveness, the use of group work as well as class teaching is recommended in mainstream classes during supplementary teaching sessions. Learning support also facilitates a general programme on phonics to the senior infant group each year. The role of parents to foster pupil improvement is recognised and parents are consulted by the support services regarding intervention strategies being adopted by the school. Parents should also be included in any reviews of the individual education plans as they occur. Detailed files and comprehensive teaching objectives are set out and the quality of teacher-pupil interaction within the support services is praiseworthy. Diagnostic tests such as the Aston Index and Jackson are used to supplement teacher observation schedules and a positive affirming atmosphere prevails. Pupils were actively involved in the lessons observed and clearly enjoyed the teaching content. Support-teaching is based primarily on withdrawal from class and this model could be augmented with in-class support on an occasional basis. Specific modules on the development of self-esteem should also be included in the programme and peer affirmation could be explored as a contributory process in this area.
The pupils currently enrolled at this school are reasonably homogenous as a group and therefore there are no focused intercultural activities necessary other than those arising from the normal curriculum requirements.
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.