An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Gabriel’s National School
Kilconnell, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway.
Date of inspection: 16 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Gabriel’s National School. 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, and the school’s board of management and representatives of the parents’ association. 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.
St. Gabriel’s National School is a co-educational primary school with an enrolment of 117 pupils. It is situated in the village of Kilconnell in Co. Galway, approximately 14 kilometres from the town of Ballinasloe. The school is staffed by a teaching principal, six assistant teachers, a special needs assistant and a part-time secretary. Four teachers have responsibility for mainstream classes while three teachers work in the support-teaching roles of learning-support teacher, learning-support/resource teacher and resource teacher for Travellers. The school also avails of the services of a visiting resource teacher. Both the learning-support teacher and the resource teacher for Travellers also provide a service to other schools in the area. Enrolments in St. Gabriel’s have increased significantly since the last school report was issued in 1998 and another mainstream teacher will be appointed for the school year 2007/8. As the school is already experiencing a deficit of permanent classroom accommodation, the future accommodation needs of the school are of major concern to the board of management.
St. Gabriel’s N.S. is located in the Parish of Aughrim and is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Clonfert. The school’s philosophy and ethos are based on the principles and tenets of Christian religion and on Irish cultural traditions. Foremost among the school’s stated aims is the creation of a school environment conducive to enabling pupils attain optimum personal development in life. There is a very strong sense of team spirit in the school and the board of management, staff and parent body are to be commended for their contribution to a positive, caring school atmosphere in which the individual needs of pupils are addressed through the provision of a rich variety of educational experiences.
The board of management is properly constituted and functions in accordance with the Rules and Procedures of Boards of Management, (November 2003). Board meetings are convened at least once a term during which an open agenda allows matters to be raised and freely discussed. The business of meetings is carefully recorded. Minutes indicate that reports from the school principal and financial statements constitute regular components of meetings and that board members assume individual responsibility for a variety of tasks in support of the work of the school. Recent meetings have focused on environmental issues stemming from the school’s involvement in the Green Schools Initiative and on matters pertaining to health, safety, maintenance, accommodation and school policy. It is suggested that meetings should also incorporate periods dedicated to the study and discussion of pertinent Departmental circulars and recent legislation. While the board reports that it reacts to situations that arise, thereupon agreeing policy and action, it has identified priorities for the current school year, which include the procurement of additional classroom accommodation, the development of indoor facilities for Physical Education and the resolution of parking difficulties in the vicinity of the school. It is also seeking to enhance the use of computers as tools for teaching and learning in the school. It would be of value now to extend the school’s action plan to cover a three-year period and to identify timeframes for the completion of prioritised tasks relating to all aspects of the work of the school.
The board recognises its statutory obligations and the school plan incorporates appropriate policies on health and safety, enrolment, attendance, discipline, and child protection. The board participates in policy development and has actively engaged with the parent body in formulating policy on such areas as relationships and sexuality education, healthy eating and substance use. The school plan is available for viewing and copies of a number of policies have been disseminated among the parent body. Consideration should now be given to establishing formal structures to facilitate further involvement of the parent body in future policy review and formulation. The school is complying with departmental regulations as regards class size, the retention of pupils, the length of the school year and the school day. Records of school attendance are carefully maintained and indicate good levels of attendance among the pupil body. Specific aspects relating to the organisation and deployment of staff in support-teaching roles should now be addressed by the board.
The board ensures regular communication among its members and maintains good levels of communication with the parents’ association and the general parent body. Parent representatives on the board attend parent association meetings, and frequent notes and letters are issued to inform the parent body of forthcoming school events and activities. A school newsletter is issued periodically and the possibility of adapting this to incorporate an annual report on the work of the school is being considered by the board. Information nights on particular topics are organised from time to time and formal parent-teacher meetings are held once a year. Parents are welcome to meet teachers at other times and school progress reports are issued on an annual basis. There is evidence of very open communication among the staff members and this is supported and enhanced through the use of a dedicated staff notice board and the organisation of staff meetings each term.
The board identifies the commitment of the staff and the good relationships which exist among staff members as strengths of the school. The board expresses a high level of satisfaction with the standards being achieved in the school and cites the ease with which pupils transfer to second level institutions and the positive feedback received from parents as measures of the school’s performance. Members of the board give generously of their time, knowledge and skills in the interest of the school and are to be commended for their own levels of commitment in seeking to participate in and support the work and life of the school.
The in-school management team consists of the principal, deputy principal and two special duties teachers. The principal communicates effectively with the board of management, discharges the duties of the post of principal in a committed and professional manner, and elicits high levels of collaboration from the staff in relation to curriculum implementation and pupil management. An open, positive, friendly school atmosphere is fostered in which teachers share expertise and display an enthusiasm for exploring new methodologies and for participating in and engaging with new initiatives and programmes to promote learning. The principal competently performs daily administrative and organisational tasks, successfully progresses the whole-school planning process and promotes a school climate in which the contribution of all staff members is valued and acknowledged and the needs of pupils are caringly addressed.
The deputy principal and special duties teachers ably carry out duties in support of the principal and of the overall work of the school. The duties assigned to the post-holders relate to official record-keeping, school time-tabling, discipline, supervision, information and communication technologies, teacher absences, provision and care of teaching resources, development of curricular and organisational policy, and the organisation of sporting activities, competitions and church events. The board is advised to establish a practice of periodically assessing the school’s needs and of reviewing duties attached to posts of responsibility in order to ensure that the duties continue to address the changing prioritised needs of the school. Duties relating to organisational, pastoral and curricular areas should be clearly defined with curricular duties serving to support change in each curricular area in turn. Review dates or dates relating to the review of certain aspects of the duties attached to posts should form part of the school’s three-year strategy development statement.
The school’s 117 pupils are divided among four mainstream teachers in the following dual-class groupings:
Junior / Senior Infants 30
First Class / Second Class 29
Third Class / Fourth Class 29
Fifth Class / Sixth Class 29
A full-time resource teacher, a shared learning-support/resource teacher, a shared resource teacher for Travellers and a visiting resource teacher provide supplementary teaching for pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs. Supplementary teaching is provided in a combination of settings incorporating in-class support and support in one-to-one or small group settings. While the staff is to be commended for the variety in organisation, a restructuring of the supplementary-teaching service is required in order to ensure that pupils are catered for in a fully inclusive and integrated manner. It is advised that in line with Special Education Circular SP ED 02/05 and Special Education Circular SP ED 36/06, the school should adopt a team approach to the organisation of the service and should view its caseload of pupils in its totality when collaborating with other schools in allocating teachers and times.
In addition to the teaching staff, a special needs assistant works in consultation with the teachers to support inclusion and to provide effectively for the care needs of one pupil identified with special educational needs. A part-time secretary provides valuable support for the staff and the school premises and environs are maintained to a high standard with the daily assistance of the school cleaner and the occasional employment of local personnel and contractors. As part of a Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) initiative, an external tutor is providing coaching in football and hurling for all pupils from third to sixth class. Another external tutor provides tuition in speech and drama on a fee-paying basis. In this regard the board of management is requested to regularise the situation being mindful of its responsibility to promote equality of access to and participation in all activities organised during the school day.
The staff displays a keen interest in ongoing professional development. Individual members have attended a variety of courses to enhance their knowledge and skills and to develop expertise in specific areas. While there is no established practice to ensure that teachers gain experience at different class levels and in different roles in the school, teachers may request a change of class level or role if desired. It would be of benefit now for the school to broaden its policy on staff development so that it indicates how staff members may be encouraged to gain a variety of experiences within the school setting and beyond, and how they may be supported in undertaking further courses of study relevant to the school context. The staff development policy, as a component of the school plan, should provide a framework for the dissemination and sharing of newly acquired knowledge and skills among the staff. It should also facilitate the provision of feedback to the board on the future direction of staff professional development.
The school building dates from 1895 and was extensively refurbished and extended in 1989. It now provides three mainstream classrooms, a learning-support room, a general-purposes room, a very small secretary’s office, toilet facilities, a storage area and a small staff room which is also used for learning-support and resource teaching purposes. A prefabricated unit provides a fourth mainstream classroom and a learning-support/resource room. The school has good outdoor facilities including a store and shelter, a hard-surface play area, an enclosed basketball court, a grassed area and a large pitch. With the imminent appointment of another mainstream teacher, the school will require additional classroom accommodation and more storage facilities in the near future. The board is advised to assess the future long-term accommodation needs of the school in the light of local housing development and projected population growth in the area in support of an application to the Department for additional accommodation.
The board is very conscious of its responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment for both the staff and pupils. Recent work in this regard has included resurfacing play areas, erecting new fencing, upgrading goalposts, negotiating the positioning of flashing lights outside the school and investigating the source of recurring dampness in areas of the school building. While the school occupies a large site, access to the grounds is by way of a narrow entrance. Parking in the vicinity of the school is limited and the board is currently investigating alternative procedures to alleviate difficulties occurring at pupil set-down and collection times.
The board of management has invested in a good range of teaching and learning resources, including computer hardware and software, to support activity-based learning in each of the curricular areas. The resources are used to good effect in conjunction with an array of charts, games and materials designed and produced by the teachers. Classroom and corridor displays incorporate photographic records of school events and activities. Examples of project work, art and writing contribute to the creation of an interesting, attractive learning environment. The board is cognisant of the ongoing need to replenish and augment teaching and learning resources to support future curriculum innovation and implementation. The board has identified the promotion of a greater use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in teaching and learning as a priority for the future.
The school has an active and interested parents’ association which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. Parents have actively supported the school’s involvement in the Fionn Science Project, the Green Schools Initiative, church and community events and many fund-raising activities. A newly elected committee plans to meet once a month and has identified a number of areas on which to concentrate future efforts. These areas include supporting the school in maintaining its green flag status, in participating in sporting activities, in developing the school’s book rental scheme and in pursuing the acquisition of appropriate permanent accommodation.
The association communicates readily with the board of management through the parent representatives on the board. Meetings with the school principal are also facilitated if required. In addition to the use of notes, letters and newsletters as a means of communicating with the general parent body, a school-designed pupils’ journal is very effectively used to maintain regular home-school links at class-based levels. Parents have been involved in the formulation of some school policy documents. The representatives of the association express a willingness to engage in future policy development and review, and a readiness to heighten awareness among the general parent body of the value and importance of parental involvement in the work of the school.
High standards of behaviour are expected from the pupils in the school. School rules and procedures are implemented in a consistent manner and pupils respond positively to them. Pupils interact in a courteous manner and show high levels of respect for one another, the members of staff and the school environment. A positive atmosphere conducive to learning is evident throughout the school. Teachers place particular emphasis on developing discussion and communication skills during classroom activities and pupils are developing good levels of confidence and self-esteem.
The staff is engaging conscientiously in the school planning process and has availed of opportunities to work with other schools on drafting policy documents. Policies are discussed and ratified at board level and the school plan is available for viewing. Copies of a number of policies have been circulated to parents. In order to enhance the overall consultative nature of the whole-school planning process, emphasis needs to be placed on promoting greater understanding of the role of parents in policy development and curriculum implementation, and on increasing their involvement in the planning process.
The contents of the school plan are presented in an accessible format. The school’s philosophy and aims are clearly articulated and a wide range of organisational and administrative policies relevant to the school has been developed. Policy statements coherently address such issues as enrolment, attendance, behaviour and discipline, inclusion, learning-support, assessment, access to records, staff roles and responsibilities, equality of opportunity, relationships and sexuality education, health and safety, anti-bullying, adult bullying and sexual harassment, management and staff development, home/school/community links, certified accounts, substance use, staff meetings, school tours, homework, mobile phones, supervision and ICT. 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, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (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 the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Significant progress has been made in developing curricular policies in English, Gaeilge, Mathematics, Science, Music, the Visual Arts and Social, Personal and Health Education. Future reviews of these policies should seek to mediate the curriculum more clearly for implementation in the context of the school and to document the selected and modified content which will then inform individual teacher planning. Methodologies and approaches are clearly identified in many of the curricular policies and it would be of benefit to adopt a similar strategy in detailing the programme in all curricular policies. In seeking to increase the use of ICT as a tool for teaching and learning, it is suggested that the school plan should indicate how ICT can be used to support teaching and learning in each of the curricular areas.
All teachers prepare long-term and short-term plans and they maintain a monthly account of the work completed at each class level. While topics for exploration are identified in individual curricular areas, all teachers are encouraged to link work clearly to the different strands and strand units of the curriculum. It would also be of benefit to state intended short-term learning outcomes in the form of objectives and to match assessment techniques to them in order to support the measurement of achievement and to inform ongoing classroom planning. Consideration should also be given to ensuring that teacher planning addresses the individual components of such curricular areas as Social, Environmental and Scientific Education while recognising the integrated nature of the components. Comprehensive individual pupil learning plans and individual education plans are prepared for pupils experiencing learning difficulties and for those identified with special educational needs. All teachers’ timetables are organised to facilitate the implementation of curriculum plans. However, the withdrawal of pupils to facilitate the provision of supplementary teaching needs to be reviewed in order to ensure compliance with the Learning-Support Guidelines (2000) and to promote an integrated and inclusive approach to the provision of supplementary teaching.
Teachers employ a good variety of methodologies, strategies and approaches to present the curriculum at all class levels. Regular group work is organised and pupils are given opportunities to participate in paired work, independent learning and project work. Significant emphasis is placed on the development of communication skills and the majority of pupils engage confidently in talk and discussion. The use of the local environment as a starting point for learning is a praiseworthy strategy employed widely throughout the school. Classroom activities are skilfully linked and integrated to accommodate learning. While classroom practice is guided to some extent by the school plan, teaching and learning would benefit from clearer curriculum policy statements. The daily differentiation of the curriculum for pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs poses a challenge for the school and is being consciously addressed with the support of the school’s supplementary teaching team.
Pupils, in general, display a positive attitude to school and are regularly affirmed and supported in their efforts and achievements. Both teachers and pupils are to be commended for the standards achieved in the presentation of work. Pupils develop a neat cursive style of writing and high standards of presentation are evident in their copybooks and in the work on display.
Tá foireann na scoile báúil don Ghaeilge agus tá an cur chuige cumarsáideach i réim i mórchuid na ranganna sa scoil. Leagtar béim chóir ar éisteacht ghníomhach chun tuiscint a chothú agus dírítear aird ar eiseamláirí d’fheidhmeanna teanga faoi leith le linn do chomhrá, ceistiú, drámaíocht, aithriseoireacht agus amhránaíocht a chur ar siúl. Baintear feidhm thairbheach as cairteacha, micreafóin, ábhar nithiúil, comhráite réamhdhéanta agus cluichí chun na daltaí a spreagadh chun cainte. Tugtar go coinsiasach faoi chumas na ndaltaí chun ceist a chur a fhorbairt i roinnt ranganna agus déantar caint leanúnach a chleachtadh go torthúil i ngach rangsheomra. Ar an iomlán, léiríonn na daltaí tuiscint ar réimse maith foclóra ag na rangléibhéil dhifriúla agus cumas i láimhseáil na mbriathra de réir mar a théann siad in aois sa scoil.
Baintear úsáid éifeachtach as leabhair bheaga féindéanta i ranganna faoi leith chun gnéithe den labhairt, den léitheoireacht agus den scríbhneoireacht a nascadh go rathúil. B’fhiú an cleachtas seo a scaipeadh i measc na rang-ghrúpaí difriúla sa scoil agus áiseanna tarraingteacha eile idir phictiúirleabhair, páipéir ghrinn, leabhair mhóra, fíorleabhair agus sraitheanna de leabhair léitheoireachta a chur ar fáil chun a thuilleadh tacaíochta a thabhairt don chlár léitheoireachta. Bunaítear an obair scríofa ar ábhar na cainte agus ar chleachtaí tuisceana agus gramadaí. Tugtar faoi scéalta a scríobh i gcuid de na ranganna. Ba luachmhar a thuilleadh deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí scríbhneoireacht phearsanta a chleachtadh agus tuairiscí gearra dá gcuid féin a scríobh chun neamhspleáchas a bhaint amach sa scríbhneoireacht.
Tá tús maith curtha le forbairt an phlean scoile sa Ghaeilge. Moltar athbhreithniú a dhéanamh air anois chun clár soiléir forchéimnitheach a chinntiú don scoil i labhairt, léamh agus scríobh na Gaeilge. Ba thairbheach ag gach rangleibhéal fothéama a aimsiú faoi na mórthéamaí agus clár cinnte a leagan amach a thabharfadh treoir shoiléir do na hoidí maidir le réimse na teanga ba chóir a thabhairt faoi agus na téamaí difriúla idir láimhe acu. B’fhiú freisin an cur chuige i dtaobh na léitheoireachta agus na scríbhneoireachta a shoiléiriú agus raon na straitéisí gur féidir a úsáid a chlárú chun éagsúlacht agus forchéimniú cuí a chur i gcrích ar bhonn scoile.
The staff is well disposed toward the teaching of Irish and the communicative approach is to the fore in the majority of classes in the school. Appropriate emphasis is placed on active listening to foster understanding and attention is focused on exemplars of particular language functions during the course of conversation, questioning, drama, recitation and singing. Beneficial use is made of charts, microphones, concrete material, pre-prepared conversations and games to encourage the pupils to speak. Pupils’ ability to pose questions is conscientiously developed in some classes and continuous speech is practised productively in every classroom. Pupils, on the whole, display understanding of a good range of vocabulary at the different class levels and an ability to handle verbs as they get older in the school.
Effective use is made of little homemade books in certain classes to link aspects of speech, reading and writing successfully. It would be worthwhile to spread this practice among the different class groupings in the school and to provide other attractive resources including picture books, comics, big books, real books and series of graded readers to support the reading programme further. Written work is based on the topics of conversation and on comprehension and grammar exercises. Story-writing is undertaken in some of the classes. It would be of value to provide the pupils with more opportunities to practice personal writing and to write their own short reports in order to achieve independence in writing.
A good start has been made on development of the school plan in Irish. It is recommended that it now be reviewed in order to ensure a clear progressive plan in oral language, reading and writing. It would be advantageous at each class level to identify sub-themes under the major theme headings and to lay out a distinct programme which would provide clear guidance to the teachers as regards the range of language to be undertaken as the different themes are addressed. The approach to reading and writing should also be clarified and the range of strategies documented in order to achieve appropriate variety and progression on a whole-school basis.
The programmes planned at each class level reflect the key principles and emphases of the English curriculum as highlighted in the school plan. The pivotal role of oral language as a key integrating factor is clearly recognised throughout the school. Praiseworthy attention is given to the development of listening and communication skills and to motivating pupils to ask questions. Pupils are encouraged from an early stage to respond clearly and confidently to both teacher and pupil questioning. Visual stimuli and brainstorming techniques are used to good effect to explore, question and discuss a range of themes. Pupils are exposed to a broad range of rhymes and poems, and recite a suitable selection at most class levels. Pupils also exhibit great pride in orally presenting their own poetry.
Reading and writing are effectively linked with oral language activities at all class levels. The majority of pupils read with competence and approach reading material in other curricular areas with confidence. Print-rich classroom environments are purposely developed to support the early acquisition of a broad sight vocabulary and to provide stimulation for reading and writing as pupils progress through the school. The development of phonemic and phonological awareness is addressed in a well structured manner and simple word dictionaries are successfully used in junior classes to extend vocabulary. Reading material is clearly differentiated in the early stages and a paired-reading programme has commenced in the infant classes. It is intended to extend this to more senior classes in the near future. In the interest of continually striving to raise reading standards, the staff is encouraged to facilitate the reading of differentiated texts at all class levels through the regular organisation of group work. In addition to class readers, class novels are also used to provide pupils with opportunities to respond to a shared text. Classroom libraries provide a further source of supplementary reading materials in the form of narrative, expository and representational texts.
Pupils are provided with regular opportunities to express their thoughts in writing and to develop functional, narrative, descriptive and creative writing skills. Samples of work incorporate news, diary entries, poetry, story, reports, book reviews and project work. Significant use is made of dictation to develop pupils’ spelling capabilities. Careful attention is given to letter formation in the junior classes and to the development of a cursive script at senior class levels. Written work is recorded in a very neat manner at all class levels and is regularly monitored.
Mathematical concepts and skills are developed systematically and explored effectively in all classes in the school. Strong emphasis is placed on developing understanding of mathematical language and the school is to be commended for its engagement with parents in promoting consistency in the use of language for common mathematical procedures. Labelling, displays of pupils’ work and charts, and the use of dedicated mathematical areas assist in the creation of appropriately rich mathematical environments. A good range of commercial and teacher-designed materials is available to encourage active engagement of pupils and the use of guided-discovery methods. Co-operative, whole-class, group and individual settings are employed. The development of computational and problem-solving skills is addressed throughout the school and a variety of successful strategies is used to aid memorisation and recall of number facts. Pupils display a high level of interest in class activities and are confident and secure in the use of mathematical terminology. Pupils respond well to oral questioning, exhibit good understanding of mathematical concepts, generally recall number facts swiftly and record their work in a neat manner.
The school has engaged with the ‘cuiditheoir’ service in relation to the teaching of Mathematics and has explored new strategies to enhance teaching and learning in this area of the curriculum. The whole-school plan in Mathematics should now be reviewed and developed to reflect the good practices in operation in the school and to provide clear guidance as regards the progressive nature of the programme from class to class. The plan should clearly identify the variety of experiences to be engaged in at each class level. It would be of benefit to include specific mathematical trails and detail how the local environment will be used as a context for teaching and learning Mathematics.
The staff has availed of in-service in History and the history curriculum is being implemented at all class levels. The selection of topics to be studied tends to be influenced to a large extent by the textbooks in use at the various class levels. At the same time, aspects of local history are identified and explored through discussion, questioning, project work and independent research. A sense of time and chronology is carefully cultivated by engaging pupils from an early stage in appropriate story-sequencing activities and in chronicling significant events in their personal lives and in the lives of their families. Pupils retell traditional stories ably, refer to aspects of local folklore with interest and display a good understanding of the origins of local festivals. They describe clearly the ruins of a nearby monastic settlement and provide detailed accounts of early monastic life and associated stories. Later periods of history involving famine and land conflict are recounted competently and compared with present day life. The work in History is integrated skilfully in particular with English, Geography and the Visual Arts.
A school plan in History should now be developed in order to guide the selection of content, strategies and approaches appropriate to the dual class settings in operation in the school. The plan should seek to progress understanding and to develop the pupils’ skills and concepts through the investigation of people and events of historical importance in Ireland, Europe and the wider world. The gradual acquisition of copies of historical documents, photographs, periodicals, old newspaper articles, appropriate books, charts and old maps will be necessary to support development of the pupils’ skills of observation and enquiry.
Pupils are exposed to a broad and balanced curriculum in Geography as they proceed through the school. Seasonal change is observed, discussed and recorded at all class levels. Aspects of life at home and in the community are examined and a sense of space is developed through the use of pictures, charts, photographs, models and maps. Pupils progress from mapping aspects of the immediate and local environment to interpreting mapping symbols representing features of the wider environment and of distant lands. Pupils display a firm knowledge of the natural features of Ireland and of a wide range of other countries. Praiseworthy emphasis is placed on developing communicative skills at all class levels through providing pupils with opportunities to summarise discussions and present completed tasks. Linguistic and cultural differences are explored extensively at senior level through project work and through the teaching of French. A series of focused lessons has enabled pupils to converse confidently in French on a number of topics with appropriate regard to pronunciation and accent. Pupils are also enabled to develop an understanding of their role in caring for the environment through the school’s participation in the Green Schools Initiative. The current class-based programmes in Geography will provide a firm basis for the future development of a whole-school plan in Geography. This plan should seek to develop, in particular, the skills pertaining to fieldwork and graphicacy while expanding the pupils’ knowledge and understanding of place, space and environment.
The staff exhibits a very positive attitude to this curricular area and the school has previously participated in the Fionn Science Project. Teachers are now exploring a variety of topics under the four strands of the science curriculum. While class programmes tend to be textbook driven, pupils are afforded opportunities to go on nature walks, to engage in fieldwork and to carry out simple investigations. A range of resources is available to promote active engagement with materials and to support the development of observational and investigative skills. Nature/investigation tables or specific science areas are a feature of each classroom. Activities are planned clearly and, in some classrooms, are particularly well focused on developing the skills of enquiry. In other classes pupils are guided ably in discussing and exploring human development and growth. Pupils also give very good accounts of the work done in relation to the study of animal life, trees, plants and mini-beasts. Activities under the strand Environmental Awareness and Care are closely aligned with the school’s participation in the Green Schools Initiative which involves pupils in recycling, composting and energy conservation. Further development of the whole-school plan in Science is now required to support the development of the full range of scientific skills and to provide clearer guidance as regards how particular themes are to be developed and explored as pupils progress from class to class.
The elements of art are explored through a variety of activities which span all strands of the visual arts curriculum. Pupils are guided skilfully in the use of a range of materials, media and techniques. Samples of work are displayed attractively and include drawing, painting, collage, printing, modelling, pottery and construction. The work on display reflects the creative nature of the learning process and the individual imaginative capabilities of the pupils. Pupils discuss their work with enthusiasm, pride and confidence. Portfolios and photographic records are maintained as a record of work completed and as a means of assessing pupil progress. A team approach to the teaching of art is adopted at particular class levels and pupils are provided with opportunities to work with professional artists and potters. Emphasis is also placed on the use of the Visual Arts in the real world with pupils being involved in poster and flag-making for community events. The whole-school plan in the Visual Arts references the content of the programme in general terms. Further development of the plan is necessary to reflect clearly the experiences being afforded the pupils in the school and to provide guidance to teachers in preparing balanced programmes of activity, which incorporate appropriate opportunities for pupils to look at and respond to their own art and the art of others. To assist in achieving an appropriate balance between making and doing and looking and responding, such resources as magnifying glasses, prints of art works, art books with appropriate illustrations and sections on artists and different art forms are required.
The elements of Music are explored through a wide range of activities at each class level. Pitch, rhythm and music literacy are approached initially through the use of rhyme, body movement, pentatonic tunes and hand-made and commercially produced percussion instruments. Elements of the Ward Music-Training System are used effectively to progress literacy skills in the senior classes and to develop singing technique. The manner in which songs in both Irish and English are carefully selected and skilfully linked with the literacy and instrumental programmes at particular class levels is to be commended. The repertoire extends to include call-and-response songs, rounds, song with ostinati, partner songs, unison and two-part songs, and songs from other traditions. Song singing is sometimes accompanied by staff on the keyboard or by pupils playing instruments. The song selection at senior level incorporates the repertoire of the National Children’s Choir in which the school has participated for a number of years. Tin whistle is taught from 1st class onwards and pupils learn to play a lovely selection of tunes. Pupils are also provided with opportunities to explore sound and to listen and respond to appropriate pieces of music. Future collaborative planning should seek to reflect in the school plan the school’s current programme in Music and to outline clearly a whole-school co-ordinated approach by clarifying the content under each of the strands of the music curriculum for each class grouping.
Implementation of the curriculum in Drama is being informed by the current programme of in-service provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP). While discrete time is timetabled for Drama, most teachers adopt a mainly integrated approach to engage pupils in make-believe play and role-play. Gesture and mime are used to good effect to enhance comprehension of poetry and story. Drama is regularly used as a teaching strategy to encourage pupils to communicate through the medium of Irish. The school participates regularly in the Galway Arts International Festival for Children.
4.6 Physical Education
The general-purposes room, the newly surfaced and fenced-in basketball court and the school pitch are utilised to implement planned programmes in Physical Education for each class grouping. An ample range of equipment is available to support a wide variety of activities. Lessons are carefully structured to incorporate appropriate warm-up and cool-down activities. Partner work, group and whole-class activities are capably managed to promote full participation and high levels of co-operation and enjoyment. A number of teachers use Irish intermittently in the course of instruction and this practice is commendable. The skills of Gaelic games are developed successfully in a planned progressive manner with parental support and the assistance of a GAA coach. Pupils are encouraged to participate in inter-school games and in community events. The school also organises an aquatics programme each year.
A positive caring school atmosphere underpins and supports the implementation of the school’s programme in this area of the curriculum. Many objectives are approached in a cross-curricular manner with aspects of such programmes as Stay Safe, Action for Life, Alive-O and Walk Tall being explored at each class level. Class discussion, question and answer, brainstorming and poetry are used effectively to raise issues relating to friendship, relationships and healthy living, to provoke thought and to develop decision-making capabilities. The quality of interaction and of pupils’ contributions during the observed lessons deserves praise. The work is very well integrated with other curricular areas, particularly with English and Science.
The school has worked in association with other schools in the area to develop a policy on assessment. Teacher observation, checklists, reading logs, work samples, portfolios, standardised tests, diagnostic tests and teacher-designed tests are among the assessment modes used to monitor achievement and to identify pupils with learning difficulties. Results of assessments are also regularly used to mediate the curriculum and to inform planning of whole class, group and individual work. Progress reports are issued to parents/guardians at the end of each school year and the results of standardised testing in English and Mathematics are explained as part of the annual parent/teacher meetings. With the current programme of curriculum implementation nearing completion, emphasis should now be placed on positioning assessment at the centre of learning. It is suggested that greater use should now be made of objective-based planning in the mainstream classrooms to provide an appropriate framework for developing assessment procedures.
The school is fortunate to have a very committed and experienced team of supplementary teachers, most of whom have engaged in professional development directly focused on the education of pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs. The team works in close collaboration with class teachers and is developing a programme of provision to meet the specific needs of the pupils in the school. Strong emphasis is being placed on early intervention and on parental involvement. A programme of paired-reading has commenced in the infant classes and it is hoped to extend this to 1st and 2nd classes in the near future and to implement the Forward Together programme with the support of parents.
Under the general allocation system, the school has a learning-support teacher on staff who provides supplementary teaching to seventeen pupils, eleven of whom receive support in both literacy and numeracy. The teacher is shared with two other schools in the area and spends two days a week in St. Gabriel’s. The remainder of the general allocation is catered for by a second teacher who is based full-time in the school. This teacher gives learning-support in literacy to thirteen pupils, provides resource teaching to three additional pupils and has responsibility for the early intervention programme in literacy at senior infant level. A third teacher visits the school four days a week to provide supplementary teaching to three additional pupils identified with special educational needs. It is recommended that the supplementary teaching team should also include the support teacher for Travellers and that the service be reviewed to take into account the full complement of teachers and a fully integrated caseload of pupils.
Comprehensive individual learning programmes informed by the results of standardised tests, diagnostic tests or psychological reports are prepared for each pupil in consultation with the class teachers. Multi-disciplinary teams have been formed in some cases and the respective individual education programmes have been informed by special programmes provided by other professionals such as speech therapists and occupational therapists. The teachers meet with some parents at the beginning of the school year and a further opportunity for consultation with parents is provided during annual parent-teacher meetings. It is recommended that the review of the individual education programmes be co-ordinated within the school and that parents are formally consulted and involved in the preparation of all individual programmes.
The supplementary teaching team prepares clear objective-based teaching notes focused on prioritised learning needs identified in the pupils’ individual learning programmes. Members of the team provide in-class support in addition to withdrawing pupils from class individually and in small groups. A wide range of effective teaching strategies is employed to facilitate understanding and progress, including commendable use of the senses. Pupils’ work and progress are carefully monitored and recorded. Samples of work are maintained and dedicated copies and folders are used to inform mainstream teachers of the work completed, the objectives achieved and the progress made. The support teachers have regular contact with the class teachers and discuss pupil progress often on a daily basis.
The school policy on learning-support and special education clearly delineates staff roles and responsibilities in relation to screening, identifying and providing for pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs. It is intended to review the policy in the light of recent Departmental circulars and in particular to incorporate into the policy the staged approach to intervention. Further development of the supplementary teaching service in the school should seek to address the co-ordination of the service regarding the deployment of staff, the review of individual education plans and the formalisation of consultations with parents. The provision of appropriate accommodation for supplementary teaching purposes is also a matter that requires attention.
A support teacher for Travellers is based in the school. The teacher also provides a service to two other schools in the area. Four pupils from the Traveller community avail of the service in St. Gabriel’s and receive supplementary teaching that is mainly focused on supporting their mainstream class programmes. A number of the pupils also attend one of the other support teachers in the school. In the interest of integration and continuity of provision, it is recommended that the Traveller support service be organised in conjunction with the other support services in operation in the school. The pupils’ learning programmes, in addition to addressing aspects pertinent to Traveller culture, should focus more clearly on the pupils’ prioritised learning needs as identified through the school’s agreed assessment procedures.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school is characterised by a very warm and caring atmosphere which promotes open and respectful communications among its staff and pupils.
· The school greatly benefits from the combined experience, knowledge and skills of the members of the board of management who give generously of their time to provide effective support for the work of the school.
· The school enjoys the support of an interested body of parents who have formed an active parents’ association.
· Teachers are to be commended for the provision of a well balanced curriculum and for the achievement of good standards in all curricular areas.
· Praiseworthy emphasis is placed in each curricular area on fostering the skills of communication.
· Commendable efforts are being made to implement early intervention programmes and to engage in a variety of practices to support pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs.
· Pupils in this school are very well behaved, friendly and courteous and engage actively in all classroom activities.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The board of management should pursue a planned programme of development to provide for the future accommodation needs of the school.
· The board of management should extend the period of its action plan and should develop it to include timeframes for the completion of tasks pertaining to organisation, review of posts of responsibility, policy development and curriculum implementation.
· The board in consultation with the parents’ association should establish practices to encourage and facilitate greater involvement of the parent body in policy formulation.
· In developing the remaining curricular policies and in reviewing existing curricular policies, emphasis should be placed on clearly identifying the selected content and on detailing the variety of methodologies, approaches and strategies to be employed.
· Is gá raon de leabhair oiriúnacha sa Ghaeilge a chur ar fáil chun tacú leis na hoidí clár léitheoireachta a chur in oiriúint do raon na gcumas éagsúil i ngach rangsheomra. There is need to provide a range of suitable books in Irish to support the teachers in adapting a reading programme for the range of abilities in each classroom.
· There is a need to review the management and organisation of the supplementary teaching services operating in the school.
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.