An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil Náisiúnta Inis Bó Finne
Inisbofin, County Galway
Roll number: 13927H
Date of inspection: 22 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
THIS WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION REPORT
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Inisbofin National School. It represents 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 schools’ board of management, and representatives of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ 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 Náisiúnta Inis Bó Finne is a two teacher, co-educational, denominational primary school located on the island of Innisbofin some five nautical miles northwest of Cleggan, Co Galway. The original school was established in 1890 and replaced two older structures, a girls’ school in Fawnmore and a boys’ school in Middlequarter. The school currently caters for 19 pupils (9 girls, 10 boys), from junior infants to sixth class and it is expected that enrolment will remain at the current level or increase slightly in the foreseeable future. A staff of three includes a principal, a mainstream class teacher and a part-time learning support/resource teacher. The school employs a part-time secretary and has access to a care-taker as required; these provide invaluable support for the school. A previous school report within the terms of Circular 12/83 was furnished in 1996. A commendable feature of the school is the emphasis on presenting a bright, colourful and stimulating learning environment both in the classrooms and in shared spaces. The board of management, teachers and pupils take obvious pride in the good appearance of their school and its surroundings. The school is comprised of 2 permanent classrooms, 1 common room, a recently acquired small staff-room incorporating a kitchen, storage area under stairs, a principal’s/secretary’s office and an ICT-room doubling up for learning support and resource centre. The common room between the two classrooms frequently functions as an all-purpose room and drama centre/project room. Pupils have access to a hard-surface playing area to the front of the school, and a community football pitch which is used for field sports organised by a community adult member. The board is currently considering developing the commonage area to the rear of the school site as a sports and play area.
The mission, ethos and work of the school endeavour to foster the health and well-being of the school community and to nurture the promotion of respectful and caring relationships. The staff strives to provide a well-ordered, caring, happy and secure environment in which respect for all is the hallmark. Relationships within the school and throughout the school community are characterised by mutual care, respect and openness. Every effort is made to provide a spiritual, cultural and positive academic experience for pupils and a spirit of co-operation, goodwill and courtesy is fostered. The school is to be commended for its participation in numerous curricular and extra-curricular activities, both during and after school time, which requires onerous travel and time commitments due to its geographical location.
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 trusteeship of the archdiocese of Tuam. The board is committed to effective provision of education in the school, makes a solid contribution to the school as a learning organisation and facilitates the formulation and adoption of policy documents as necessary. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate action to develop policies in Children First: National Guidelines for the protection of Children (Department of Heath and Children, September 1999) and Child Protection: Guidelines and Proceedures (Department of Education and Science, April 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 requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
A strong sense of community in which pupils, teachers, support staff, parents and the wider community work very well together has developed. Good communication is encouraged, promoted and practised through regular contributions to the community newsletters, as well as through formal and informal contacts. Matters raised by the board during the pre-evaluation meeting included poor communications, procedural and funding difficulties with the Planning and Building Section of the Department of Education and Science. It was highlighted for this report that Departmental sources contributed less than half of recent essential building costs through the devolved scheme. It was also indicated during this preliminary meeting that investment in members’ capacity and upgrading skills of members of boards was necessary on site in island schools as ferry and transport logistics made it difficult to attend seminars or training sessions on the mainland. Attending mainland training frequently required overnight accommodation and expense in what is a voluntary civic-spirited role. However the board reiterated the necessity for further training due to the election of a totally lay and inexperienced board. The board also expressed serious concerns at the closure of the boarding element traditionally offered in the post-primary schools on the mainland. This change may mean that island children might not have post-primary options due to costs and the suitability and availability of alternative accommodation for students. They board predicted that early school drop out as well as the non transfer of children to post-primary schools would be the inevitable consequence of the changes.
Circulars from the Department of Education and Science are circulated among members and filed. Active parents’ representatives convey the views of parents, they foster co-operation between the various parties and assist in many fundraising activities, Christmas concert preparations, and coaching activities. The whole community was involved recently in addressing discipline issues and drafted a plan which was subsequently formally adopted by the board and successfully implemented It is suggested that the recent document Looking at our School would further assist and enhance the deliberations of the board in the discharge of its duties. The board of management encourages the endeavours of staff to create a positive learning environment for all pupils and is supportive of staff initiatives. Substitute cover is provided whenever possible, when staff avails of professional leave. The board recognises its responsibility towards provision for continuous professional development for board members and staff and intends to allocate a specific budget for this purpose in the future.
The principal displays constructive professionalism in her pedagogical and administrative roles. She has a coherent vision of child-centred education and recognises the importance of building links with the families and the wider learning community on the island and also ensuring a positive link with national education projects and sporting activities. The post-holder provides effective leadership in the school and served as acting principal during the school year 2004-2005 while the principal was on maternity leave. School ledgers and other records are properly maintained. Effective in-school communication systems include staff meetings, notes/information bulletins, a staff room notice-board and regular classroom visits and interactions by all staff members. The in-school management team consists of the principal, and post-holder as well as the special duties teacher that combines learning support and resource. A strong spirit of collaboration, collegiality and support exists and responsibilities are delegated and well managed. The harmonious co-operation between the members of the in-school management team ensures co-ordination in the delivery of a suitable curriculum by the staff as a team and the smooth working of the school as a cohesive whole. Specific tasks are assigned to teachers on a wide variety of organisational and curricular areas and attention should also be directed to the continuous updating of school records. Curricular responsibilities include Science, ICT, Physical Education and the Visual Arts. It is suggested that further review and development of the specific duties is revised in the context of pedagogy, staff mentoring/shadowing, curriculum innovation and further implementation of wide and varied pedagogical approaches. Although the teachers have attended a variety of in-career development courses in recent years further exploration of heuristic methodologies should be considered.
School policy guarantees equal access to the curriculum for all pupils with resources tailored to meet the special needs of pupils. The board of management and staff have invested wisely in strategic resources, equipment and materials and there is evidence that the various grants received by the school are used judiciously to provide for both academic and recreational needs. However the changing nature of the curriculum as well as the new emphasis on the development of skill and competencies requires continued planned provision of library books, text books, visual art requisites, percussion instruments, scientific and physical education equipment. Although improvement has occurred in the range of resources and materials available to support teaching and to enhance pupils’ learning experiences, this provision requires continuous modernisation at school level together with discretionary budgets being made available on an annual basis to individual teachers for requisites. A supportive and stimulating environment has been created in each classroom with appropriate displays, charts and other illustrative materials. Considerable investment has also been made in information and communication technology (ICT), and good quality software is provided. ICT is viewed as an educational cross-curricular tool that can contribute to appropriate learning strategies and is integrated with all areas of investigation and work. Recent development in this area includes broadband access, a dedicated ICT room, multi-media communications and support from the ICT advisor. The learning support and special education needs teacher has the use of the designated ICT room to engage with the children.
A school plan is being developed within the requirements of the Education Act 1998 and outlines policies and programmes for a range of organisational and pedagogical issues. This includes organisational and enrolment policies, health and safety, child protection and care, equality of access and participation, code of discipline and anti-bullying as well as a plethora of curricular policies and review dates as required. All teachers have been active in the development of the plan, the process has evolved over a number of years and some of the stages are well documented. It is now envisaged that the outstanding curricular areas are to be completed over the next academic year. A subcommittee consisting of parents, staff members and members of the board of management is currently collating the policy on relationships and sexuality to be presented to the board. Policies are scrutinised and ratified by the board and provision is made for systematic updating and review.
A planning diary that designates responsibilities, timescales, activities and rationales for 2005-2006 is being implemented. Teachers’ individual long- and short-term planning provides organised learning experiences for pupils and seeks to ensure systematic progression for pupils from class to class in order to develop cohesiveness as a whole. The staff is encouraged to continue to engage with curriculum objectives, strands and strand units in their short-term planning and to utilise curriculum exemplars and discretionary time. Monthly progress records are maintained and they serve to confirm the broad thrust of lessons covered. Pupils experience a broad and balanced curriculum and commitment to the development of such breadth and balance is commendable. Further extension of heuristic approaches and teaching methodologies in the school is recommended with the emphasis being placed on childrens’ investigative and research skill particularly in the senior classes. Pupils participate very well in classroom activities and a pleasant working atmosphere and a positive educational culture exist in the school.
A variety of teaching and learning methodologies is practised in areas of the curriculum and it was evident during the inspection that it is planned to review the approaches in order to place greater emphasis on investigative methods.
A child-centred approach is in operation on a whole-school basis and a stimulating learning environment is created in the classrooms. Interest corners and samples of pupils’ work are features of display. The teachers approach their work diligently and they encourage the cooperation of pupils. Efforts are made to promote the principles of the primary curriculum and it is recommended that an individualised and integrated approach be developed in the short-term. Various teaching methodologies are practised including individual work, pair work and group work as well as class teaching. Integration as a methodology is recognised along with drama and pupil involvement in order to consolidate learning objectives. Higher order thinking skills are developed continually. Homework is assigned regularly and pupils are encouraged to be fully involved in their own education.
Cothaítear atmaisféar Gaelach agus grá don Ghaeilge sna daltaí agus luadh go sainiúil ag an réamh chruinniú den bhórd bainistíochta go raibh sé i gceist go roinnfidh a n’oidhreacht ar bhonn leathan leis na daltaí. Cuirtear le taitneamh agus léirthuiscint na ndaltaí sna ranganna trí gheaitsíocht, puipéid, rainn, amhráin agus idirghníomhú sóisialta. Tá roinnt lipéid, cairteacha agus ‘frásaí na seachtaine’ dá gcleachtadh chun suim na ndaltaí a mhúscailt sa teanga. Baintear úsáid thairbheach as raon leathan d’ábhar léirithe agus as an cur chuige cumarsáideach le linn na gceachtanna. Tá gá áfach ag an bpointe seo, athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an gcur chuige, modh an aistriúcháin a sheachaint, béim bhreise a chur ar an teanga feidhmiúil agus riachtanais chumarsáide daltaí agus breis úsáide a bhaint as an nGaeilge mar theanga teagmhasach agus mar theanga cumarsáide-scoile. Dírítear béim ar bhunscileanna léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta déantar ath dhréachtú ar phíosaí oibre agus monatóireacht leanúnach ar an obair sríofa, cé gur gá breis béime a chur ar eagar sna cóipleabhair agus ar pheannaireacht. Forbraítear na scileanna léitheoireachta go cúramach, cuirtear béim ar léitheoireacht thaoitheanach sna hardranganna agus léiríonn na daltaí tuiscint mhaith ar na hábhair. Sa chomhthéacs sin, moltar béim sa bhreis a leagadh ar agallamh beirte, ar mhím, ar leabhair leabharlainne, ar chairt eispéiris agus ar scéalaíocht. Moltar níos mó feidhme a bhaint as cláir TG4, as Ócáidí Scoile, as Séideán Sí agus as deiseanna cumarsáide le chéile chun cur le cumas cainte na ndaltaí.
Oral language lessons maximise the development of pupils’ comprehension and reader response skills and the school purposefully develops a close relationship between language and learning. Reading, writing and oral language skills are integrated in a coherent language process. Integration was observed during all lessons taught and connections were made with prior knowledge in other curricular areas. Print-rich classroom environments support pupils’ learning. Oral language lessons are broadly based and story, talk and discussion, technology and games, improvisational drama, poetry and rhymes are utilised to optimise learning opportunities. Classroom work is carefully reinforced by the support teacher and excellent use is made of pupils’ notebooks to prioritise and co-ordinate the work programme. Excellent use is also made of supportive language programmes such as Omega, Chatterbox, Toe to Toe and Pat, to stretch and extend pupils engagement. The development of a formal whole-school structured oral language programme with attention to discrete oral language time and incorporation of the many resources available in the school would further enhance the current provision.
Comprehensive resources including a variety of big-books, Letterland, and various reading schemes are available and well-utilised. Class libraries contribute to the creation of a school atmosphere which views books and reading as valuable and pleasurable and extra opportunities in reading are provided through the community library service in the community centre. A well-structured emergent reader programme is employed, large format books are used to foster collaborative reading and develop an awareness of various aspects of the reading process including attention to phonological and phonemic awareness and vocabulary development. Parents are viewed as key partners in the teaching of literacy and are actively involved in paired reading schemes. Ever-improving standards in reading over the last four years in particular, is evidenced by the general improvement in reading attainment levels indicated by standardised testing. Class novels are used to broaden the in-school reading programme and character analyses and book reports are exploited and emphasised. Pupils are encouraged to select, read and comment critically on a range of narrative, expository and representational text. Story, poetry and writing activities are used in creative ways in an integrated manner across many curriculum areas.
The school creates and nurtures pupils’ ability to write independently for a variety of purposes, for different audiences and in a range of genres. Some portfolios of pupil written project work were observed and an agreed school plan on presentational styles and handwriting would enhance quality even further. Pupil progress is monitored through different assessment strategies that include: teacher observation, questioning, teacher designed tasks, homework, projects, work samples, checklists and standardised tests.
All strands receive due attention in planning for Mathematics and activities are drawn from a range of sources. An appreciation for the practical and aesthetic aspects of the subject is being developed as well and some local issues are selected for investigation. Understanding of mathematical concepts is systematically and effectively explored and pupils exhibit an ability to explain these in mathematical language. Maths-rich environments are promoted and due emphasis is placed on the use of concrete material to support and develop the pupils’ mathematical understanding. Mental arithmetic and oral problem-solving activities should be included on a planned whole-school basis. Number concepts are developed in a carefully sequenced programme enabled by the use of number lines and 100-square charts. Mathematical resources are identified to support and enrich learning. Posters, games and other visual stimuli are used to enhance the learning environment and are suitably displayed in mathematics corners. There is progression and continuity from class to class and integration with other curriculum areas is a feature of the teaching and learning processes. Standards are improving generally as recorded by the use of standardised tests. The pupils are afforded regular opportunities to collaborate on tasks and to co-operate in their learning. Assessment takes the form of teacher observation, teacher-designed tests and standardised assessment.
Pupils are encouraged to take a keen interest in the world around them. They are encouraged to respect and care for their environment, develop a sense of responsibility and give practical application to the strand Environmental awareness and care. An environmental audit has been conducted in the school environs. The school has also compiled a very good resource library of nature and science video tapes which support the broad Social, Environmental and Scientific awareness programme. Pupils have engaged with primary science days and studied some local habitats. Senior pupils have researched a recycling project and visited the recycling centre. Some simple experimentation with a focus on scientific skills, integration and linkage with other curricular areas has been employed and science corners are maintained in classrooms.
It is evident that there is a strong interest in the local environment in this school and appropriate emphasis is given to the study of environmentally based topics such as combating island erosion. Pupil interest in local history and geography is enhanced through the use of local historical documents and booklets, and especially, through the use of locally referenced literature. Activity and group based learning are fostered and a sense of community and place is cultivated in the pupils.
Pupils have been afforded opportunities and experiences, such as the inter-generation project, to work as historians through the use of historical evidence and artefacts and through employment of structured interviews about past times. The use and study of personal timelines, exploration of personal dates and chronological events, local place names, story and questioning techniques are to be commended. These have all enhanced pupils’ understanding of the concept of time and ICT serves to consolidate research and presentation aspects of the programme.
A range of effective stimuli and starting points is employed for purposeful teaching and pupils are active in exploring, experimenting, expressing and enjoying art through the six strands. There is evidence of creativity and effective practice in balancing two-dimensional and three-dimensional media and pupils have handled a wide variety of art materials and tools. Samples of work, including mobiles, underwater project, fabric and fibre pictures, drawing, paint and colour, print and clay, are attractively displayed. Pupils talk about and discuss their work with enthusiasm and confidence and demonstrate an admirable understanding of concepts and skills.
The staff of the school recognises the importance of Music. Elements of a balanced curriculum programme and a variety of teaching approaches must now be recorded in the school plan. Different musical experiences, including singing, rhythm and percussion work are offered and are integrated creatively with other aspects of the curriculum, including Visual Arts, SPHE, poetry and activity songs. Song-singing is developed at every class level with pupils able to sing a range of songs in Irish and English. Listening to music is a strong element of the pupils’ musical experience and they have enjoyed exposure to many composers. Visiting teachers work with the pupils on instrumentation and this work is enhanced and consolidated very well in the classrooms. Percussion instruments are used to good effect as a backdrop for choral presentations and pupils obviously enjoy their experiences.
Drama enhances the teaching and learning and is employed in an integrated way with other curriculum areas. Pupils are provided with suitable opportunities to improvise, to respond creatively to various situations, to invent, to explore and to assimilate experiences through role play and imaginative development. Opportunities to work as teams are developed and the skills of communication and co-operation are fostered. Very effective use of drama is utilised to afford communication opportunities as Gaeilge in the senior classes.
Physical Education has a place of importance in the work of the school although priority is placed on games played on the community pitch. A comprehensive programme needs to put in place including provision for athletics, games skills and aquatics. Beanbags, hula hoops and balls are utilised and a rota of swimming classes is organised on the mainland. Pupils are involved with community games, inter-school competitions, sports for all day and Cumann na mBunscoil competitions. These activities are an integral part of school-life and are of great benefit to the pupils.
A positive climate and atmosphere are fostered and the school promotes the achievement and maintenance of a balanced and inclusive learning environment. The aim of the school includes acknowledgement of the dignity of the individual and the development of confident, competent and caring citizens who respect themselves and others. High standards and expectations are promoted and effort is recognised and rewarded. Pupil achievements are celebrated through project and photographic displays in classrooms and in the common room and there is an emphasis on reinforcement of positive behaviour. Integration with music, visual arts, geography and language is promoted and pupils develop a caring framework of skills, attitudes and values. Consultation with parents in relation to an action plan and review of the policy concerning Relationships and Sexuality education has begun and it is intended that these will be in place in the near future.
A variety of assessment approaches is used including teacher observation and teacher-designed tasks and tests. All school tests are based on the content of the taught programme. Non-standardised tests include word recognition, book reports, spellings, tables, questionnaires, written activities, class profiles, socialisation checklists, projects and homework. Results are filed in class record books and these form the basis for parent-teacher discussion at meetings. Individual pupil records are maintained and report cards are posted at the end of the school year. Standardised objective testing is carried out in English and Mathematics annually and the results are recorded. MIST and BIAP are also utilised in junior classes. The close collaboration and co-operation between the support teacher and mainstream teachers is to be commended, particularly in the areas of target setting and differentiated programme planning for individual pupils.
A commendable approach in co-operative and consultative supplementary teaching strategies is implemented, with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention. Roles, responsibilities and duties for the identification of individual pupil needs and the implementation of individual learning strategies are outlined and individual, pair and group work as well as class work are practised. Adequate supplies of resource materials are available. Teachers develop positive relationships with pupils and there is evidence of reflection, of consultation and of collaboration with the mainstream teachers. Detailed files and individual educational plans are maintained for each pupil. Target periods are set and regular reviews are conducted. Work progress records and timetables are carefully maintained. The role of parents is recognised and they are actively involved with their children’s work and have regular meetings with teachers. Procedures adopted by the school for the provision of support for pupils with learning difficulties are consistent with the recommendations of Circular 24/03 of the Department of Education and Science together with the Learning-Support Guidelines. Priority is given to pupils who are performing at or below the 12th percentile on standardised tests in English and Mathematics.
Every effort is made to engage all pupils in activities which will develop their potential. Pupils are well-motivated with a positive self-image and attitude towards learning. A caring atmosphere is promoted in the school and an attitude of mutual respect is encouraged. Pupils are afforded many opportunities to participate in a range of extra-curricular activities through funding from the ‘Giving Children an Even Break’ scheme. These include field trips and a variety of sporting events, music, art and drama, and parents are encouraged to visit the school and to develop good relationships with them.
The principles of inclusiveness, equality of access and participation are promoted in this school, together with respect for diversity of values, beliefs and traditions.
A home-school partnership policy, which relates to the characteristic spirit of the school, has been established, approved and ratified. Formal parent-teacher meetings are held annually, homework notebooks are maintained and written reports are furnished at the end of the year. Consistent encouragement and motivation is provided for the pupils and a positive disposition to homework is cultivated.
The following are among the main strengths and areas for development of the school 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 with the board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.