An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballina, Co. Mayo
Uimhir rolla: 14923E
Date of inspection: 09 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Keenagh 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 inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and representatives of parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning, interacted with pupils and teachers and examined pupils’ work. School planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation were reviewed. 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.
Keenagh NS is located in a very rural community to the west of Crossmolina, nestled in bogland and resting under the shadow of the Nephin Mountains. It is an area without much development in the past number of years which is reflected in a decreasing enrolment trend. It is an amalgamation of three schools since the 1970s. It caters for boys and girls from infants to sixth class. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Killala. The last inspection of the school was carried out in 1997. In the meantime there has been a change of principal and the school staff has been reduced to two class teachers and a part-time support teacher. The school maintains careful attendance records and reports regularly to the Education Welfare Officer. Attendance in the school is very good.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly, with at least one meeting per term. There are specific roles assigned to members of the board and duties are carried out accordingly. Some members have availed of training organised by the Catholic Primary School Managers’ Association. It is strongly recommended that the board appoint a deputy chairperson to act as chairperson when required.
Agenda for meetings are provided and minutes are taken. The board supports the school on many levels: health and safety issues, the upkeep of the school building and the development of the school grounds. It is very appreciative of the work of the school staff.
The school is managed very effectively on a day-to-day basis. School records are kept up to date. The principal is very hard-working, focused and professional in her management of the school. She promotes an atmosphere of openness and trust with staff members. She is very familiar with the needs of all pupils in the school and a very good relationship exists between her and the pupil population. The principal is ably assisted in the management of the school by the deputy principal who takes responsibility for a variety of curricular, organisational and pastoral duties. There are very regular informal meetings between staff members but formal staff meetings are rare and it is advised that such meetings be organised at regular intervals. This will facilitate time for the planning, implementation and review of the curriculum on an ongoing basis. As a team, the in-school management has an accurate picture of the school’s strengths and areas for development reflected in the yearly planning diary.
There are currently two mainstream teachers, each teaching four classes but with a large discrepancy in numbers of pupils in each classroom. Each school year should prompt the review of how classes will be divided to ensure more balanced pupil-teacher ratios. The school has access to a part-time special education teacher who works in the school two days a week, and to a part-time secretary who is shared with other local schools. The secretary carries out invaluable work in routine administration and greatly aids the work of the teaching principal. The board of management has facilitated the visit of another teacher to provide instruction in GAA skills which is organised through the Mayo County Board.
A new school was built in Keenagh in 1997 which houses two spacious classrooms, a general purposes room, a small library, store room, a toilet for disabled pupils and staffroom/office. The board of management recently organised for a large proportion of the school site to be covered in tarmacadam to ensure games and sports can be played in the yard at all times of the year. The school also has access to a grassy area which can only be used in dry weather. The board is currently putting plans in place to develop this area. An area of more immediate concern to the board is that of a leaking roof in the junior classroom which is being addressed at present.
The school is cleaned twice weekly and is maintained to a high standard. Photographs in the corridors provide access to a school time-line, a valuable resource for the teaching of history. Children’s art work also adds colour to the corridors and makes a welcoming first impression of the school. Because the school has a general purposes room it is recommended that this be made available to the local community when required as resources of this quality are rare in such a rural area.
A number of resources are available to support teaching and learning in Keenagh NS. These include televisions, videos, DVD-player, stereos, photocopier, laminator and well-stocked class libraries and school library, along with a selection of resources for the teaching of specific subject areas such as Mathematics and Music. Inventories are kept of the resources which are stored centrally to ensure their use is maximised.
The school has a clear policy on home-school communication. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually, usually in the first term. A written report is sent home to parents at the end of the year with a record of the child’s progress. The school’s nativity play is the main annual social event that involves the whole community.
There is a very active parents’ association in the school which does invaluable fundraising for the school and gives very concrete and practical support. The parents’ association is currently raising money for upgrading information and communication technology (ICT) facilities in the school and is engaged in fencing off the school’s playing area. The school operates an open-door policy with regard to parents’ concerns or complaints. Parents are welcome to phone the school or to meet with the class teacher or principal.
Pupils in the school are very friendly, welcoming, respectful and caring. There are no behaviour management issues in the school at present. The school has a code of behaviour which is stated in very positive terms, with clear expectations and in a language easily comprehensible to pupils. The senior classes discuss their own classroom rules as part of the Social, Personal and Health Education programme. Relationships in the school are excellent. Pupils are open with their teachers and clearly enjoy their time at school. Yard supervision is carefully carried out and pupils play in a specified area to ensure all pupils can be viewed at any given time. The level of support pupils have for one another is exemplary. They can regularly be seen helping one another out, particularly more senior pupils supporting the junior pupils. They have good self-esteem and are very independent in their work styles.
Considerable effort has been made to consistently develop the school plan and the staff is to be commended on engaging fully with the support services from the Primary Curriculum Support Service and School Development Planning Support. Planning days are utilised to formulate plans and policies and also to network with other small schools in the area. The staff engages in self-review through the use of a planning diary which is used to explicitly state the curricular and organisational areas to be developed in the school year. Current priorities include local history, Drama, English resources, ICT, healthy lunches and the review of health and safety.
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 and a deputy designated liaison person have been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
School planning could best be improved through the addition of whole-school approaches to each of the curricular plans to promote continuity and progression, through more concrete involvement of parents at the draft stage of policy development and the board needs to ratify all policies and plans as a matter of urgency. This will impact very positively on teaching and learning in the school.
Teachers provide clear outlines of work in the form of long-term schemes and short-term schemes which are ensuring pupils consistently receive a broad and balanced programme of work. The attention to cross-curricular themes is commendable and this is used very successfully by teachers in providing a rich, integrated approach to learning. Teacher planning would benefit from having more succinct objectives stated with clear strategies for differentiation of work for pupils with learning difficulties. Detailed monthly progress records are maintained by teachers and stored by the principal in the office. These provide additional evidence of the variety in content and activities in which the pupils engage. There is obvious progression and development from month to month.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The primary curriculum is being implemented successfully in Keenagh NS, most notably through the variety of teaching methodologies employed throughout each subject area. There is a strong emphasis on talk and discussion, group work, pair work, inter-class work, project work, whole-class teaching, pupil-directed learning, story, drama and ICT. Clear routines for engaging in different activities have been established which facilitate change of methodology with speed and ease. Because of this pupils are very active in their learning and show great independence in the classroom, which is essential in the multi-grade situation. The use of resources is also promoted in all teaching areas and greatly supports the work of the pupils. Charts, posters, books and concrete materials are used in exemplary fashion to facilitate understanding. Pupils display a natural curiosity for learning, they engage fully with all tasks and undertake activities with confidence and motivation. Standards in the school are good and pupils are achieving well in different subject areas.
Tá caighdeán na Gaeilge ar léibhéal ard sa scoil seo. Tá an cur chuige cumarsáideach in úsáid go han-éifeachtach sa dá sheomra. Múineann na hoidí trí Ghaeilge de ghnáth agus tá líofacht agus fuinneamh acu le múineadh na Gaeilge. Dá bhrí sin, tá tuiscint an-mhaith ag na páistí. Bíonn siad an-ghníomhach ina bhfoghlaim ag baint taitneamh as réimse leathan modhanna múinte. Tá rainn, amhráin, drámaíocht, obair i mbeirteanna, úsáid póstaeir agus úsáid rudaí nithiúla mar chuid den chlár. Tá tús maith ag rang a dó sa leitheoireacht agus sa scríbhneoireacht agus mar gheall ar an gcaighdeán atá acu sa Ghaeilge labhartha, moltar níos mó den dá shnáithe sin a chur chun cinn. Tá na páistí in ann cumarsáid a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge ó agallamh beirte sna bunranganna go achoimre a dhéanamh ar scéalta sna hardranganna. Moltar modh an aistriúcháin a sheachaint mar mhodh múinte mar tá an-thuiscint ag na páistí.
The level of Irish in the school is high. The communicative approach to language learning is used very effectively in both classrooms. Teachers usually teach the class through Irish and exhibit fluency and energy in their teaching. As a result, pupils have excellent comprehension skills. They are very active in their learning and enjoy a wide range of methodologies for teaching. These include use of poems, songs, drama, pair-work, use of posters and concrete materials. There is a good introduction to Irish reading and writing, although considering the high level of the pupils’ oral abilities, more of these strands could be taught. Pupils can engage in Irish conversation from sharing personal information in the junior classes to giving oral synopses of stories in the senior classes. The use of translation as a methodology should be avoided especially when one considers the high level of comprehension of these pupils.
There is evidence of very good provision for English through a systematic approach to the teaching of reading and writing, with noteworthy emphasis on a pre-reading and pre-writing programme. Class libraries are well stocked and pupils clearly enjoy reading. The skilful use of big books in the junior classes promotes discussion, comprehension, listening skills and interaction with the story although more of these books should be sourced. Pupils have the experience of reading and writing in a variety of genres and this is effectively structured and taught. It is recommended that teachers promote a more print-rich environment to facilitate independence in writing and to instil the concept of self-correction. Pupils’ written work shows structure, cognitive development and creativity although a whole-school approach to written presentation should be discussed. The school should consider more ways in which this work could be displayed and shared with a wider audience.
Oral language is taught through structured discussions, poems and rhymes. Pupils have developed excellent speaker-listener relationships and engage willingly in oral tasks. The pupils are exposed to a rich selection of poems for learning and for enjoyment in each class.
Mathematical concepts are clearly presented and reinforced through well-organised, practical activities both at whole-class level and during purposeful interactive activity. They are taught in a sequenced manner which promotes independent work skills through a well-balanced programme. Excellent emphasis is placed on the teaching of and appropriate use of mathematical language. Teachers engage pupils in very good discussion about problem solving and pupils are very open to teacher feedback on their work. All activities are supported by the use of concrete materials. ICT is also used to promote skill development in this area. Mathematics could be further enhanced through a whole-school approach to mental maths and through the engagement of the support teacher in the senior room during mathematics classes.
Pupils’ knowledge, skill development and interest in History show that the programme has been presented in a learner-friendly, developmental way. Teachers prepare engaging activities for the teaching of history with due emphasis on local history, although this is an area that is currently being developed. The successful use of photographs, time-lines and story are all aiding pupils to gain a sense of time and place. There is exemplary integration of themes in history with Geography, Science, Social, Personal and Health Education and Drama. Pupils are also exposed to a graded and appropriate language development in History.
The teaching of Geography is based on the local area and develops to a national and global programme. The curriculum is adequately supported with maps and photographs. Pupils engage in a wide range of activities including project work to develop a sense of place and space. Some of the Geography programme e.g. collecting data on weather is also developed in the support class.
The pupils are exposed to a broad scientific programme. They are clearly excited and motivated by scientific activities and engage fully in lessons. There is a good emphasis on learning about the local environment and the school is currently working on the Green Schools Project. Pupils are given adequate time during activities to make personal discoveries before formal teaching on the topic begins and pupils’ ideas then form the basis of teaching. Teachers cleverly use the multi-grade situation to pair younger pupils with older pupils for activities to support the learning and language development of the younger pupils.
The school corridor and individual classrooms provide excellent display areas for the artistic creations by the pupils and show the engagement with many of the strands. Art activities are often seasonal and add to the class atmosphere for such celebrations as the all-Ireland match, Hallowe’en and autumn. Pupils are competent in discussing their work from explaining how it was carried out to identifying the challenges faced in creating the art and presenting personal views on the finished product. Activities in the Visual Arts are very clearly explained by the teacher, with adequate demonstration and regular monitoring of the work to hand. Pupils would also benefit from an art appreciation programme with exposure to the paintings and creations of renowned artists and crafts people.
There is evidence of excellent practice in the teaching of Music. Pupils engage in appropriate listening and responding activities which appeal to the imagination. A vocabulary for musical discussion could be developed on a whole-school level to facilitate appropriate and accurate responses to music. Pupils sing a wide repertoire of songs in both Gaeilge and English and senior classes also have an international dimension to their selection of songs. Pupils perform their songs within the class, for visitors and at the annual nativity play. The teaching of music literacy is taught in an enjoyable way and pupils show a very good understanding of many of the musical elements. Because the standard of music is high in the school, it is recommended that an instrument such as tin-whistle be taught to the pupils to support their performance of chime bars and hand bells.
Drama is used in this school’s curriculum to enrich understanding in Music, History, Gaeilge and English. Teachers use discrete time for Drama to organise activities for pupils to explore feelings and promote sequencing and comprehension. Pupils can enter physically, emotionally and intellectually into the drama world and for this reason it is important that such activities are always discussed as a lesson closure. A formal drama is carried out in the form of the nativity play each December which involves all pupils in the school. This school performance is a highlight for the rural community in Keenagh.
Physical Education forms a basis for activities at break times. Where new skills and games are taught as part of the formal PE programme, pupils develop these independently during play times. The senior pupils in particular, show exceptional self-direction, sense of fair-play and inclusiveness. They thoroughly enjoy sports and perform well in local competitions. Classes are characterised by clear instruction, demonstration and procedures for forming lines and groups. Pupils can discuss their performance in games with confidence and the skills involved in different activities. PE could be further developed by having a clearer structure for skill development prior to the playing of a game.
The teaching of Social, Personal and Health Education is evident in the school atmosphere which is open and welcoming. Pupils present themselves confidently and engage appropriately with one another and with adults. General school and class organisation promote excellent relationships and very effective inter-class groupings promote a sense of understanding and support. The children are also exposed to a discrete programme in SPHE which encompasses all strand-units. The staff has worked out clear school rules, classroom rules, anti-bullying policy, Relationships and Sexuality Education programme, substance use policy and child protection policy which impact positively on the teaching and learning in SPHE.
The school engages in a number of assessment types. Pupil profiles are maintained by each teacher, formulated from teacher observation, test results, end-of-year reports and results in diagnostic and standardised testing. Teacher observation, when recorded, is particularly effective in presenting a progressive profile of each child. Teacher tests and tasks are also carried out regularly, particularly in the senior classes. They record understanding of topics covered which inform future teaching. The Middle Infant Screening Test is carried out on senior infant pupils annually and the Micra-T and Sigma-T standardised tests are administered on pupils from first to sixth classes. It is recommended that teachers analyse results of such tests, to create a school profile which will inform teaching. It is also recommended that a selection of diagnostic tests be used in the support class to gain more specific profiles of pupils and their learning needs. Based on the outcomes of standardised tests, teachers will need to differentiate work tasks for pupils who display learning difficulties.
A special education teacher works in the school two days a week and operates a withdrawal system of support for four pupils. Work with the pupils spans literacy and numeracy areas and has a very good emphasis on life skills and social skills. The programme laid out for these pupils is devised in conjunction with the class teacher and is flexible to meet the needs of pupils on a daily basis if problems are encountered in class and where possible is based on pupils’ interests. The programme is activity-based and ensures success. ICT is also used to motivate pupils and support their learning. An individual plan is formulated for each pupil, specifying learning targets, appropriate strategies and the role of the support teacher and the class teacher. There is a need to involve parents in the individual planning process and to be informed of the learning targets for their child. The support teacher communicates with the class teacher daily and they are open to the idea of team-teaching which would greatly benefit all pupils in the senior classes.
5.2 Other supports for pupils: (Disadvantaged, minority and other groups)
The school has currently no pupils from minority groups enrolled. There is an awareness of and openness to catering for pupils from diverse backgrounds through the Social, Personal and Health Education curriculum and the school welcomes all pupils through the enrolment policy.
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.