An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Birdhill National School
Birdhill County Tipperary
Date of inspection: 29 May 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Birdhill NS. 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 parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors 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.
Birdhill NS is a seven-teacher school situated near the village of Birdhill, in Co. Tipperary. The school serves families from Birdhill, Newport and the surrounding areas. Since the last evaluation in 2000, the enrolment figures have increased substantially. Attendance rates at the school are good. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Cashel and Emly. The school mission statement reflects its Catholic ethos and also promotes partnership between the school, parents and the wider community in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The school motto of “Soar like an Eagle” reflects the commitment of the entire school community to promote the potential of each pupil as fully as possible.
The board of management is properly constituted and it meets regularly throughout the year. All meetings of the board are appropriately recorded. The board of management has developed a mission statement for the school that assigns a central role to the spiritual and educational development of the child. The board sees its role as assisting the staff in providing a high quality education for all pupils under its care. In pursuit of this aim, the board reviews relevant departmental circulars. It liaises frequently with teaching staff and also communicates with parents through newsletters and the parents’ representatives on the board. The board of management regularly reviews all school policies and it amends them as necessary.
The board of management highly commends the quality of teaching and learning provided by all staff in the school. Board members praised the dedication, expertise and diligence of the staff in their efforts, not only to achieve high academic standards but also for the efforts undertaken by teachers to assist pupils’ social and emotional development. The board is currently overseeing an extension to the school which will enhance educational provision. It is recommended that the board ensures that appropriate accommodation is provided for the delivery of special education programmes as part of the extension.
It is now timely for the board to consider the creation of a strategic plan. Such a plan would set out targets for the entire school community with regard to curricular development, parental involvement, inclusive education and improving the overall learning outcomes of the pupils on a continuing basis.
The in-school management team consists of the principal, deputy principal and two special duties post-holders. Duties are clearly defined and contracts are in place. The principal provides the school with effective leadership and has developed very good working relationships with the chairperson of the board of management, members of the board, the teaching and ancillary staff and with parents. Since her appointment, she has prioritised the development of a caring and stimulating learning environment and it is evident from the atmosphere in the school that she has succeeded in implementing this objective.
The principal has introduced the whole school planning process to this school and has suitably engaged the partners in this process. To date, a number of very relevant administrative and organisational policies have been created. Plans in all curricular areas have been developed. Due emphasis is placed on using the local environment to enhance teaching and learning experiences for the pupils.
The responsibilities assigned to the middle management team include curricular, organisational and pastoral duties. These duties are executed diligently and conscientiously. It is recommended that the duties are reviewed annually to ensure that they meet the immediate priority needs as identified by the school community. Each member of staff takes an active part in running the school and in promoting the welfare of the pupils.
The school is well resourced. There is an ample supply of books, charts, musical instruments, scientific and audio-visual equipment. The resources are managed well, accessible for all pupils and carefully stored. There is a need however, to re-examine the provision of information and communication technologies [ICT]. There is limited access to ICT equipment throughout the school. It is important the pupils have ready access to digital cameras, projectors and scanners as part of the active learning experience. It is recommended that, as part of its strategic plan, the board prioritises this aspect of its resource expenditure in the years ahead.
Policies such as the Code of Behaviour and Discipline are distributed to parents. Parents are enabled to discuss their children’s progress at parent-teacher meetings, which are held annually and also with teachers by appointment at other times during the year. School reports are sent to parents at the end of the academic year and a copy is filed in the school.
There is a need for the school to include the parent body more centrally in the work of the school. Significant goodwill and support are apparent. The school must work to harness this positively in relation to teaching and learning opportunities for pupil benefit. Central to this is the creation of a Parents’ Association. The whole school community must seek to ensure that the role of the parents in the school is defined and that appropriate parental inputs are facilitated on an ongoing basis.
A strong sense of mutual respect is evident in the school. Pupils’ behaviour during the evaluation was excellent. The quality of engagement between the staff and the pupils was high. Given the experience of the school with the Green Flag programme, it is now timely to consider the development of a student council which could be used as a means of including the pupils in the decision-making processes of the school.
The standard of whole school planning in this school is very high. Curricular plans are detailed, relevant to the various class groupings and linked to the Primary Curriculum 1999. The school is commended for the range of plans developed administratively and in relation to the curriculum. These documents are comprehensively laid out with clear reference made to the learning experiences that are intended for each class group. The plans are supported by a very thorough plan for the treatment of pupils with special education needs. However, there is insufficient evidence of meaningful linkage between the whole school plans and the individual planning documents.
All teachers provide long and short-term planning and monthly progress records are also maintained. The quality and detail of this planning varies from teacher to teacher. There is a strong emphasis on the content of the programmes being taught in each teacher’s planning. In the most effective planning observed, there is clear development of the strands and clear delineation of the programmes to be used in developing the strands. This planning also has clear objectives which give very appropriate guidance on the content, methodologies and assessment strategies to be used. It is recommended that teachers’ planning should now focus on the objectives of the lessons and give a greater level of detail on the expected specific learning outcomes. This would lead to more effective teaching and would ensure maximum continuity and progression in the tracking of pupils’ learning. A common approach to classroom planning at a whole school level should be developed. Classroom timetables are clearly laid out and reflect Department of Education and Science guidelines.
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 2004). 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.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Overall, the quality of teaching in this school is good. In some classes, there are clear examples of excellent practice. In such settings, the pupil is seen as the active participant and the materials used for each lesson are practical and relevant. Teachers engage the pupils with clear direction, achievable learning targets and good questioning. Discipline is easily maintained and there is a diligent and happy atmosphere. Pupils in these classes learn easily and appropriately. Differentiated targets are set out to suit all learning styles and outcomes are measured regularly. There is a need to ensure that this good practice is extended to all classrooms. It is vital that the learning experience for all pupils is set in an active context where the pupil can co-operate, analyse and share what is learned. It is recommended that the particular talents of all teaching staff be better utilised among all classes to ensure that this activity-based approach to learning is available to all pupils.
Tá dearcadh an-dearfach i leith na Gaeilge mar theanga bheo á chothú sa scoil. Is léir go ndéanann na hoidí an-iarracht atmaisféar fabhrach don teanga a chruthú, ionas go mbaineann na daltaí taitneamh as an bhfoghlaim. Saothraítear go díograiseach i múineadh an chomhrá, idir fhoirmiúil agus neamhfhoirmiúil agus tá ard-chaighdeán sroichte ag na daltaí i gcoitinne.
Baintear dea-úsáid as cluichí, rainn, amhráin agus as acmhainní oiriúnacha chun cumas cainte na bpáistí sa teanga labhartha a fhorbairt. Tá úsáid fhorleathan á bhaint as ceisteanna agus freagraí agus tá tuiscint mhaith ag na daltaí ar an ngnéith seo den chlár. Moltar tuilleadh béime a leagadh ar fhorbairt chumais chumarsáide na bpáistí eatarthu féin. Bhainfeadh na páistí a thuilleadh tairbhe as an teagasc dá leagfaí béim ar ghrúpobair chun leathnú a dhéanamh ar an obair bheirte atá á chur i gcrích go dílis sna ranganna. Léann na daltaí go cruinn agus léiríonn siad a dtuiscint ar an ábhar léitheoireachta trí cheisteanna a fhreagairt ó bhéal. Tá an scríbhneoireacht bunaithe, don chuid is mó, ar an ábhar léitheoireachta agus ar na ceachtanna comhrá agus scríobhtar píosaí cruthaitheacha freisin sna samplaí seo. Déantar maoirseacht rialta ar obair scríbhneoireachta na ndaltaí agus tá caighdeán maith le feiceáil san obair seo.
The school has developed a whole school plan for English based on the principles, strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum 1999. This plan represents an agreed approach to the teaching of English in a broad and, in general, a balanced way. In this plan the aims and objectives for each strand are appropriately developed, strategies and methodologies for teaching are listed and there is some guidance on how the plan can be adapted for children with special educational needs. The oral strand of this plan should be further developed in order to ensure that the school has a cohesive strategy in place to develop this curricular aspect. At present teachers’ long-term and short-term planning reflects, to various degrees, the emphases of the school plan. The staff might usefully consider reviewing their own individual planning to ensure that it is better aligned with the school plan.
Whole class teaching is the predominant strategy used to support pupils’ learning during oral, reading and writing activities. There is also some good use of group teaching and individual tuition during lessons. In general lessons are well paced and well structured. There is some good differentiation of learning tasks in evidence which appropriately take into account individual differences.
In all classes, pupils are encouraged to talk about a range of everyday experiences and feelings, tell stories in their own words and answer questions about them. Language and vocabulary acquisition is also developed across all curricular areas. In some classes, there is very good development of the oral strand of the English curriculum. In these classes, pupils are given opportunities to engage in talk and discussion, debate and word games, recite and compose poetry and develop their understanding of language through Drama. In these classes, the pupils’ confidence and competence in using language is well developed. To assist in the development of the oral strand of the curriculum across the whole school, discrete oral language lessons should be developed and taught regularly in all classes. These lessons should focus on the development of particular skills.
Pupils throughout the school have developed a good standard of reading. Pupils in the infant and junior classes are introduced to print and print media in a very methodical way. Picture books, large format books, labels and theme charts are used effectively during lessons. Throughout the school, a graded reading scheme is used in conjunction with supplementary readers. Pupils in the senior classes are introduced to novels and these texts are used successfully to support cross-curricular integration with other subjects. Overall reading attainment levels are high and by the time they are ready to transfer to post-primary schools, pupils in the senior classes have developed a deep appreciation of literature. In all classes, pupils are encouraged to read widely and good use is made of the library material available in each classroom.
There is a commendable emphasis placed on providing a print rich environment in the corridors and public areas of the school. This is also evident in most of the classrooms where pupils’ projects and pupil writing in a variety of genres are displayed. This work is of a very good standard especially in the senior classes. Pupils are given opportunities to develop skills of drafting and redrafting. In all classrooms, high frequency words and common sight words are displayed and are used effectively by pupils during writing activities. Due care is also taken to develop the pupils’ use of writing conventions. Handwriting is appropriately developed throughout the school. In some classes, there is good use made of ICT to assist in the development of the writing process. This is an area that should be further developed.
The teaching of Mathematics is undertaken conscientiously at all class levels. Mathematical concepts are competently developed in all classes and the pupils have achieved a good level of understanding of the concepts being explored. The pupils are encouraged to develop appropriate mathematical language and are able to discuss mathematical concepts with confidence. Pupils exhibited a satisfactory understanding of number and place value. Regular revision is undertaken and the work is well consolidated. It is recommended that emphasis now be placed on other areas of this curriculum, such as problem solving and the further development of mathematical concepts through the use of the local environment, real life situations, mathematical workshops and trails. In some classes, structured and concrete materials are used very effectively and it is recommended that these approaches are promoted to a greater degree in all classes. A good standard of presentation of written work is in evidence in all classes throughout the school.
4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education
The quality of teaching and learning in History is very good. Many appropriate approaches including discussion, story, use of timelines and project work are effectively used by the teachers. The pupils are developing the skills of the historian especially those of using evidence, time and chronology and cause and effect. The pupils have studied a range of people and events with impressive displays of knowledge evident. Pupils are experienced in discussing the various topics covered and share ideas with each other freely. The pupils have a good understanding of family, local, national and world history. In some classes, project work is of a very high standard.
A broad and balanced curriculum is being presented which ensures that the pupils have access to a wide range of geographical ideas and concepts. Pupils are afforded the opportunity of becoming familiar with the skills, knowledge and concepts that are linked with topics from human and natural environments and with seasonal changes. In the recent past, the school has won a number of local environmental awards. When the present school building re-development is completed, the school intends providing further opportunities for pupils to actively care for their immediate environment. Elements of the physical and human geography of Ireland, European countries and the wider world are examined using textbooks, a range of resources and wall-maps. Pupils are encouraged to develop a sense of place. They engage well with good question and answer sessions and display a co-operative approach to activity work. Teachers suitably develop a range of topics and overall a very good standard of achievement results from the learning processes being presented.
Science is taught to a very good standard in this school. The exploration of basic scientific concepts forms the basis of the learning activities in this curricular area. Pupils are appropriately encouraged to explore and cultivate an appreciation of, and respect for the diversity of living and non-living things. Pupils take part in a range of experiment-based activities covering the various curricular strands. Illustrative and concrete materials are used in a productive manner during lessons. Nature tables and discovery areas are also in evidence in most classrooms. There is also evidence of appropriate printed materials in the pupils’ immediate environment, which focus on the scientific skills being developed. In the lessons observed, the pupils were encouraged to work scientifically and to record and discuss their findings.
There is a need for the school to introduce ICT as a central learning tool in SESE. Pupils now need to develop the capacity to research, analyse and present information using the technology available.
A range of activities in Visual Arts is undertaken throughout the school and pupils are given opportunities to develop their skills in a number of the strands of the curriculum. In many cases, the children’s artwork is integrated with other areas of school work and is attractively displayed throughout the classrooms and corridors of the school. It is recommended that teachers ensure the relevance of the topics covered in the teaching of the Visual Arts to the overall learning targets for the pupils.
Pupils have developed an excellent capacity to express ideas, feelings and experiences through music. All pupils are suitably motivated to develop their musical potential to a very high standard and they have acquired commendable musical skills. All musical concepts are very well developed and all strands and strand units are aptly expanded, especially the strand units of Performing, and Listening and Responding. Pupils use a range of standard notation to explore and record simple rhythm and pitch phrases. Pupils are actively engaged in exploring a variety of sound sources and pupils are developing an admirable awareness of dynamics, phrasing and expression. Pupils recall and perform expressively musical phrases and pieces using a very wide range of instruments. Pupils have achieved a very creditable standard in the performance of a range of suitable songs.
In Drama, various elements are explored effectively. Pupils give imaginative responses to prompts as they enter appropriately into the dramatic context while engaging in enjoyable exercises. Drama is used to facilitate activities in many curricular areas.
The school is commended for its efforts in promoting the physical, social and emotional development of the pupils in the area of Physical Education [PE]. Pupils experience enjoyment and achievement through movement and they interact and co-operate well with others during the activities organised. Care is taken to ensure that all pupils develop agility, alertness, control, balance and co-ordination through movement. The pupils have developed an appropriate sense of care while engaging in all activities and safety is of paramount importance. There is an emphasis on minor games and routines. Other strands of the curriculum are also taken into account and implemented. The activities in the curricular area of Physical Education are organised and efficiently monitored at all class levels. The school has expressed its intention to re-develop the play areas to the rear of the school as part of the current re-development programme. This will provide an appropriate space for the effective delivery of the PE programme.
The Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum is implemented effectively in the school and SPHE issues are also addressed on a cross-curricular basis. The school promotes the personal development and well-being of the pupils in a caring manner. The success of this aim is evident in the pleasant learning environment established in the school, the good relationship and communication among all the stake holders and pupils’ sense of happiness and courteous behaviour towards teachers, each other and visitors. In enabling the pupils make informed decisions about social, personal and health issues, excellent use is made of a range of teaching methodologies including circle time. It is appropriate now for the school to use the good practice in this area as a motivating factor in the development of the student council.
Teachers use a variety of formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate pupils’ progress, including teacher-devised tests and tasks and the monitoring and correction of the pupils’ written work. Homework and copies are corrected diligently. In some classes, teacher-designed tests are used regularly to assess the pupils’ progress across all areas of the curriculum. Teacher observation is the assessment tool most frequently used to evaluate the achievement of pupils. There is now a need to maintain some records of these observations. Formal standardised tests, the Sigma-T and the Drumcondra Primary Reading Test are administered from first class upwards to provide additional assessment information. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is utilised to identify pupils requiring early intervention and additional support. The results of these tests are used appropriately to inform teachers on the progress of pupils and to identify pupils who may need additional learning support. A variety of diagnostic tests is used to identify each pupil’s specific needs. Records of standardised and diagnostic tests are retained in the school and parents are kept informed of pupil progress at the annual parent teacher meeting and at other times, if deemed necessary. Some teachers have developed portfolios of samples of pupils’ writing and of other work undertaken by the pupils. There should be further expansion of assessment strategies in the school. These could include the expansion of portfolios and the development of a check-list for use in areas such as SPHE, PE and Drama. The use of portfolios and checklists facilitates peer-assessment and pupil self-assessment, thus widening the range of assessment strategies employed by the school. It is also timely now for the school as a whole to examine how short-term assessment for learning can be used to maintain an understanding of pupil progress in English and Mathematics. This work must link with the monthly reporting template that will be developed in order to ensure that progress is monitored and analysed. Overall progress trends for the pupil cohort must be a cornerstone of the strategic plan to be developed as part of the evaluation’s recommendations.
The school has support from full time learning support and resource teachers. A part-time resource teacher for Travellers delivers programmes of work each week. The special education team carries out its duties with a commendable sense of care and professionalism. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are available for all pupils. These are based on the results of standardised and diagnostic tests, teacher observations, tests and inputs from parents and pupils. In these IEPs, pupils’ strengths are identified, areas for development are clearly set out, goals are established and clear learning outcomes are presented. These plans are reviewed during the year.
Appropriate adjustments are made to goals outlined in the IEPs and progress and achievements are noted. It is recommended that these reviews be highlighted in the IEPs. There is some very commendable use of ICT in this area. Following the re-development work in the school, more appropriate space will be available for the further use of ICT and differentiated strategies as part of the work of the team.
The strategic plan for the school must consider how best to promote an inclusive approach to the learning needs of the pupils experiencing difficulty. Significant planning is required to ensure that appropriate targets, methodologies and assessment strategies are selected for this work. Sufficient reportage and discussion on the results of these approaches is necessary and the board of management must be kept informed of progress made. It is vital that the positive pupil progress arising from the excellent work being carried out by the special education personnel in support settings is replicated in the mainstream classrooms. This can be achieved through the implementation of a rigorous policy of purposeful inclusion.
In this school, a very good community spirit is evident and emphasis is placed on good neighbourliness and on caring for each other. Where necessary, care is taken to ensure that all pupils can take part in activities such as games, school tours, swimming and other school initiatives.
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.
Published October 2008