An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Scoil Náisiúnta Doire Uí Bhriain

Doire Uí Bhriain, Baile Locha Riabhach, Contae na Gaillimhe

Uimhir rolla: 14425L

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Conclusion

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Scoil Náisiúnta Doire Uí Bhriain was undertaken in April 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Drama. 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.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

Scoil Náisiúnta Doire Uí Bhriain is a two-teacher mainstream primary school located sixteen kilometres from the town of Gort and in the parish of Ballinakill in Co. Galway. The school opened in its present location in 1895 and has always operated as a two-teacher unit. A major refurbishment was carried out in 2006 with the aid of devolved funding from the Department of Education and Science. Two spacious classrooms, a large general purposes room and ancillary accommodation were added at that time. In addition to the many uses to which the general purposes room is put by the school, this fine facility is being made available to local voluntary groups for meetings and other events. Current accommodation for education is spacious, well-maintained and highly attractive. The current enrolment of twenty seven pupils has increased somewhat in recent years and should remain close to present levels for the foreseeable future. While average annual attendance figures are reasonably good, there is room for improvement, an issue that might now be pursued through the development of a formal written attendance strategy.

 

The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

27

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

2

Mainstream class teachers

2

Teachers working in support roles

4

Special needs assistants

0

 

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

The school operates under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Clonfert. The school’s clearly worded mission statement emphasises the spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual development of its pupils in a caring atmosphere. The mission statement also emphasises the school’s intention to operate with the full co-operation of parents and the wider community. The essence of this characteristic spirit is borne out in the manner in which teachers and parents work harmoniously on a day to day basis to ensure the perpetuation of a happy and stimulating atmosphere where the self-esteem of all is fostered. While the school professes a strong commitment to its Catholic ethos, pupils of other denominations and none are welcomed. 

 

1.2 Board of management

The board of management is properly constituted and meets on a regular basis. Board decisions are recorded and the accounts for the previous year were certified as required by legislation. The board is justifiably pleased that its efforts to provide a modern, spacious and highly suitable educational facility have come to fruition. Among the key strengths of educational provision, as enunciated by board members, are the very good relations between the school, the parent body and the wider population. The school is perceived by board members as continuing to be the focal point in the life of this rural community, as it has been in the past. Being in a position to host the annual Christmas concert in December 2008, for the first time in its own newly built and spacious general purposes room, was described as a source of particular pride and satisfaction for the school. The board is also hugely appreciative of the very noteworthy contribution made to the development and maintenance of facilities in the school by the Rural Social Scheme, which operates under the auspices of The Department of Rural, Community and Gaeltacht Affairs. The board is to be affirmed for its enthusiasm in overseeing these developments. However, in fulfilment of its mandate of overseeing teaching and learning in the school, it is recommended that the board takes a more rigorous approach to its recording of the ratification of policies, particularly those with legal implications. It would also be prudent for the board to establish a formal process of whole-school review using the Department’s publication, Looking at Our School, the current external evaluation and monthly progress records as a basis for evaluating progress in policy implementation and setting down priorities for the immediate future.

 

1.3 In-school management

The principal was appointed in 1973 and in the intervening period has given loyal and dedicated service to leading and managing educational provision in Scoil Doire Uí Bhriain. There is widespread appreciation of the unselfish manner in which he has carried out his role, a role that has changed much over the years, in its breadth and complexity, and one that in former times involved many duties now devolved to others. The building and maintenance of good relations with colleagues, pupils, parents and community underpins this principal’s personal philosophy and approach to leadership. The principal displays consistency in his administration and in his curricular leadership, placing high quality social development and pupil learning at the forefront of the values he espouses. He displays very good empathy with parents and pupils. In keeping with the aims of the primary curriculum, he places a particular value on the preparation of pupils for their subsequent education and for lifelong learning. The principal has a particular interest in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and has prioritised further development of the school’s ICT infrastructure with a view to enabling greater integration of ICT in teaching and learning.

 

The principal receives valuable assistance in his role from a capable and hard-working deputy. Through regular informal discussion and timetabled staff meetings they achieve mutual understanding and as a result, a whole school approach is adopted to the broad range of curricular, administrative and pastoral issues that arise. However, it is recommended that a formal designation and regular review of post holder duties would give even greater cohesion to in-school management at this juncture.

 

1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Very positive relations exist among school, home and community. In the absence of a parents’ association a parent representative on the board of management met with the reporting inspector and indicated unqualified satisfaction with educational provision in the school. It was indicated that parents greatly appreciate the efforts made by staff to ensure that their children have opportunities for involvement in activities such as games and swimming which sometimes involve travelling considerable distances from the school. The pupils’ journal is the principal medium of ongoing communication between school and home. Informal contact between teachers and parents is regular and frequent. It was reported that parents’ concerns are dealt with expeditiously and in an open and welcoming fashion. Formal parent teacher meetings are held in September and parents receive written reports at the end of the school year. Standardised test results as well as the results of teacher designed tests are reported to parents.

 

1.5 Management of pupils

As observed during the evaluation period, pupils in this school are very well behaved, confident and welcoming of visitors. The teachers’ respectful and caring attitude towards their pupils is a key factor in cultivating the positive atmosphere which pervades the school.

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

Considerable efforts have been made to address the challenges of planning for organisation and curriculum in a multi-class two-teacher school. Curricular policies, based on the principles of the Primary Curriculum, have been devised for all subject areas. It is planned to review the Physical Education policy in the short-term to allow for broader implementation of curricular strands and thus take advantage of newly developed facilities. A broad range of organisational policy documents and statements of current practice is included in the school plan. Policy has been devised on a comprehensive range of issues such as enrolment, behaviour, healthy eating, acceptable use of the internet and assessment. The policy making process usually involves drafting of documentation by the principal with assistance from the deputy. Parental and board involvement in policy formation has centred mainly on the areas of behaviour and discipline and healthy eating.

 

Good practice in relation to planning and recording of progress was observed in the junior section of the school. Comprehensive and systematic long-term and short-term planning provides clarity in regard to learning objectives and clearly outlines the implementation of the strands and strand units of the curriculum. Planning in the senior section is traditional in approach and does not always adequately reflect the depth and quality of work carried on. To ensure coherence and the more effective monitoring of progress across classes, the adoption of a similar whole school approach to planning and monthly reporting would be beneficial at this stage.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Language 

 

Gaeilge

Is léir go bhfuil dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge ag na hoidí i scoil Doire Uí Bhriain. Múintear an Ghaeilge go tuisceanach, díograiseach sa dá rangsheomra agus cúitíonn na daltaí meon diongbháilte na n-oidí. Cinntítear go bhfuil taitneamh agus beocht mar chroílár foghlama na teanga agus dírítear aird chuí ar na snáitheanna uilig sa teagasc.

 

Leagtar béim fhónta ar fhorbairt scileanna cumarsáide sa scoil. ‘Sna naíonáin agus ‘sna bunranganna baintear feidhm thairbheach as raon leathan modhanna múinte agus déantar an teagasc a bheoú le scéalaíocht, filíocht, rainn, amhráin agus agallaimh bheirte. Cruthaíonn na daltaí ‘sna meánranganna agus ‘sna hardranganna go bhfuil leibhéil inmholta sroichte acu i dtuiscint agus i labhairt na Gaeilge. Cothaítear scileanna réamhléitheoireachta agus léitheoireachta go céimniúil ‘sna bunranganna agus léann na daltaí ‘sna méanranganna agus ‘sna ranganna sinsearacha go cruinn soiléir agus le tuiscint ghéarchúiseach ar ábhar na léitheoireachta. Tugtar faoi bhunscileanna na scríbhneoireachta a fhorbairt go córasach sa seomra sóisireach, faoi mar a leagtar síos i gCuraclam na Bunscoile. ‘Sna meán agus ‘sna hardranganna déantar cuid mhaith gníomhaíochtaí scríbhneoireachta atá bunaithe ar na téacsleabhair agus tá na daltaí ag dul i dtaithí ar scríobh i nGaeilge de réir a chéile. Cláraítear an obair scríofa go slachtmhar, néata agus baineann na daltaí caighdeán maith amach san obair seo. Déantar monatóireacht chúramach ar obair scríofa na ndaltaí agus tugtar aiseolas cabhrach dóibh faoina saothair. Déantar measúnú ar dhul chun cinn na ndaltaí sa Ghaeilge trí scrúduithe gearra rialta a thabhairt do na daltaí.

 

Chun tógáil anois ar an dea‑chleachtas sa Ghaeilge moltar béim níos mó a leagan ar mhuinín na ndaltaí sa chumarsáid a fhorbairt a thuilleadh agus deiseanna breise a thabhairt dóibh saorscríbhneoireacht  a chleachtadh.

 

Irish

The positive attitude to Irish of the staff in Scoil Doire Uí Bhriain is quite apparent. Irish is taught with understanding and enthusiasm in both classrooms and the pupils reciprocate the positive attitude of the teachers. It is ensured that enjoyment and liveliness are at the heart of the language learning experience and that all of the strands are given due attention in the teaching. 

 

A sound emphasis is placed on communicative skills throughout the school. In the infants and junior classes a broad range of methodologies is effectively used and teaching is enlivened through the use of story, poetry, rhymes, songs and pair work. The pupils in the middle and senior classes prove that they have reached commendable levels of understanding and fluency in their receptive and expressive Irish. Emergent and further reading skills are systematically developed in the junior classes and pupils in the middle and senior classes read accurately and clearly and with an insightful understanding of the content of the reading material. Basic writing skills are suitably developed in the junior room, as recommended in the Primary Curriculum. In the middle and senior classes a good amount of writing activities, based on textbooks, is undertaken and pupils are becoming used to writing in Irish by degrees. Written work is neatly presented and good standards are being achieved in this area. The pupils’ written work is carefully monitored and they are given helpful feedback on their work. Pupils’ progress in Irish is assessed through the frequent administration of short tests.

 

In order to build on the existing good practice in Irish, it is recommended that increased emphasis now be placed on the development of pupils’ communicative skills and that they be given extra opportunities to practise free-writing.

  

English

Commendable standards in English are achieved throughout the school. Oral language is appropriately emphasised and the majority of pupils express themselves coherently and confidently. In the junior classes large format story books provide the stimulus for engaging in language and drama activities in which the teacher and pupils take on various roles. Phonics and phonological awareness are systematically taught and a shared reading programme has been introduced. The learning support teacher organises an early intervention programme in senior infants using the Phonological Awareness and Training (PAT) programme. Supplementary reading material (The Oxford Reading Tree) is being introduced to the junior classes. Libraries in both classrooms feature a good supply of up-to-date and stimulating reading material. Standards in reading have been carefully monitored for a number of years using the Drumcondra reading tests.

 

A good standard is evident in English writing throughout the school and handwriting skills and neatness receive particular attention. During the evaluation period, pupils in both classes were completing entries for the Write A Book project. They take considerable pride in this work and discuss their books with enthusiasm. In keeping with the recommended approaches underpinning the English curriculum, this exercise provides particular opportunities for the drafting and editing of work, for the development of word processing skills and for focusing the written language on the needs of various audiences. To enhance existing good practice at this point it is recommended that a greater variety of writing genres be explored and that poetry and class novels be given greater prominence in the English programme.

 

3.2 Mathematics

The overall standard of Mathematics achievement in the school is very good and this is reflected in the outcomes of the annually administered standardised tests. Both teachers are adept at handling multigrade classes and have devised strategies to ensure that programmes are completed in a very satisfactory manner. Where possible, common strands, strand units and themes are simultaneously developed to appropriate levels among the various ranges of age and ability. Purposeful use of concrete materials and a thorough grounding in important mathematical terms ensure that pupils in the junior section are given a good foundation in Mathematical concepts and skills. In the senior classes, the quality of pupils’ recording of their work is particularly praiseworthy and this work is carefully monitored and affirmed. In addition to the use of standardised tests, the progress of pupils in senior classes is monitored regularly through the use of teacher designed tests, thus ensuring frequent revision and consolidation of work completed.

 

3.3 Drama

A policy for Drama which incorporates the aims, principles and methodologies of the drama curriculum has been finalised and is at an early stage of implementation. Nevertheless good progress has been made, particularly in the junior classes, in setting aside discrete time for process drama in which pupils are given opportunities to explore feelings, knowledge and ideas through improvisation. Drama is also used as a methodology to enliven and enhance the teaching of other subject areas. Much energy and time has been expended on the annual staging of a Christmas concert. Typically this involves all pupils in plays, music and dance and is an occasion of coming together and celebration for the entire community. It should now be possible to build on existing good practice and place a greater emphasis on giving pupils opportunities to engage with process drama in every class.

 

3.4 Assessment

A comprehensive policy on assessment was drafted by the staff in 2008. The assessment policy has positively influenced the good assessment practice, embracing formative and summative assessment that has been developed in the school over a number of years. Ongoing assessment is carried out through observation, careful monitoring of pupils’ work, effective questioning and self-assessment. Teacher designed tests are used to regularly monitor pupil progress in a range of curricular areas in the senior classes. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered in classes from first to sixth at the end of the academic year and results are tabulated, analysed and reported to parents. Early screening for learning difficulties is undertaken through use of the Belfield Infant Assessment Profile and the Middle Infant Screening Test. Further diagnostic testing is carried out by the learning support teacher. Test outcomes inform the provision of early intervention to address literacy deficits and the provision of learning support for those pupils identified as part of the staged approach. To build on existing good practice the staff might usefully consider exploring further the potential of formative assessment as an aid to tracking learning as it occurs.

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

Provision for pupils with special needs is undertaken by a shared learning support teacher who is based in a neighbouring school. Resource teaching hours are provided by two visiting teachers, one part time teacher and one from a second neighbouring school. The school also has the services of a shared language support teacher who is based in a third neighbouring school. The principal is commended for his organisation and co-ordination of this service. The manner in which the teachers concerned facilitate intricate time tabling arrangements is highly praiseworthy.

 

All teachers providing learning support and resource teaching work conscientiously to meet the needs of pupils and this support is reflected in the steady progress achieved by pupils as a result of well-delivered learning interventions. Consultation and collaboration between class teachers, parents and individual members of the support team is ongoing and productive. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and group Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs) are drawn up as appropriate. All support is delivered on a withdrawal basis and involves a range of methodologies adapted to the abilities, needs and interests of pupils.

 

In keeping with departmental recommendations, it is recommended that the first formal review of the school’s learning support policy should now revisit the approaches currently operating in the school with regard to IEP/IPLP design and review, regular assessment, recording of progress and mode of delivery of support. Considering the complexity involved at present, it would be prudent for the board to investigate the possibility of re-organising provision for pupils with special needs with a view to achieving greater coherence in the organisation of that provision.

 

4.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

Should educational disadvantage present among pupils, the teachers deal with such issues sensitively. In such instances, grant aid provided by the Department and board of management resources are used to subvent costs so that all pupils have equality of access to the full range of school activities. There are currently no pupils from minority groups enrolled in the school. 

 

 

5.     Conclusion

 

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

 

 

The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:

 

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

Published October 2009