An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
The Don N.S. Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon
Date of inspection: 30 September 2008
A whole-school evaluation of the Don National School was undertaken in September 2008. 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 Science. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
The Don National School is a small rural school located six kilometres east of Ballaghaderreen. It caters for boys and girls from infants to sixth class. It is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Elphin. The school receives funding and the services of a co-ordinator under the initiative Delivering Equality of Opportunities in Schools (DEIS). Attendance in the school is very good.
The school’s vision is clearly presented in its mission statement which states that it ‘strives to promote a happy and positive educational environment’. The school supports the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion. The mission statement is reviewed regularly and communicated to the school community. Pupils recently participated in devising a new crest for the school. The Catholic ethos is valued and promoted throughout the school.
The school’s board of management has clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Decision-making procedures are open, clear and effective and are based on the needs of the school community. Financial decisions lead to clear improvements in the school’s facilities. The board is committed to supporting the work of the staff, both in curricular endeavours and in the area of whole-school planning. Policies are drafted through sub-committees which sometimes involve parents and board members. The school is maintained to a very high standard.
The quality of in-school management is commendable. The principal inspires and motivates her teaching team, the parent body and the pupils to strive for excellence. She has established a high level of personal credibility as principal. She exemplifies high professional standards. She has established a very positive and welcoming school climate. She has developed effective channels of communication and a culture of collaborative decision-making. Change is managed efficiently through regular staff meetings, clear action planning and effective development planning. The principal is also a very dynamic curricular leader. She monitors the quality of teaching and learning in the school in an open and sensitive manner.
The pupils are valued members of the school community. It is evident that they are well-motivated, happy learners. They are confident in their interactions with peers and teachers alike. The pastoral needs of pupils, including their emotional and social needs, are managed very effectively and sensitively. Pupils co-operate fully with the school’s rules. Teachers actively consult pupils on educational matters. Senior pupils are encouraged to work as yard mentors to support the new junior infants each year. All classes also have representatives on the Green School committee.
The quality of school planning is praiseworthy. The school-planning process is highly collaborative. It leads to a sense of ownership of and commitment to the school policies by all members of the school community. The structure and presentation of the school plan is commendable. All plans and policies reflect current practice and procedures in the school as a whole and in individual classrooms. A process folder is used to excellent effect to present action plans regarding current school priorities. Action plans set challenging but achievable targets with clearly outlined roles and responsibilities. All plans are reviewed on a regular basis. The results of the school’s self-evaluation show the staff has a very realistic understanding of its strengths and areas for development.
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.
There is a very effective whole-school approach to classroom planning. Comprehensive planning for each curricular area is evident. The planning is in accordance with the Primary School Curriculum, the school plan and the learning needs of pupils. Teachers plan for a wide range of learning strategies and resources to cater for different learning styles. It is recommended that further details regarding the specific adaptations to the curriculum that are required for individual pupils be furnished in teachers’ plans.
Múintear an Ghaeilge go han-éifeachtach. Bíonn an Ghaeilge in úsáid go han-chumasach ag na hoidí mar theanga bhainistíochta an ranga. Úsáidtear réimse leathan de ghníomhaíochtaí agus d’acmhainní chun an teanga a neartú. Sonraítear éagsúlacht agus cruthaitheacht sna modhanna teagaisc. Úsáidtear cairteacha, póstaeir, cluichí teanga, drámaíocht, filíocht agus amhránaíocht go han-éifeachtúil. Múintear na feidhmeanna teanga go torthúil trí obair bheirte. Múintear frásaí na seachtaine ar bhonn leanúnach tríd an scoil. Tá foclóir leathan á mhúineadh ag na hoidí. Moltar obair sa bhreis a dhéanamh ar úsáid chruinn na mbriathra.
Léann daltaí i ngach rang go muiníneach. Sonraítear neart ábhar clóbhuailte sa dá sheomra. Tá forbairt le sonrú sa léitheoireacht ó rang go rang. Úsáidtear leabhair mhóra sna bunranganna agus úrscéalta sna hardranganna go hinmholta chun na daltaí a spreagadh. Bíonn an-suim ag na daltaí sa réimse leathan d’ábhair léitheoireachta atá ar fáil sa leabharlann scoile. Tá caighdeán na scríbhneoireachta go maith. Leagtar béim inmholta ar éagsúlacht sna tascanna scríbhneoireachta. Cé go scríobhann na daltaí a leabhair féin moltar do na hoidí breis béime a chur ar scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach. Cothaítear feasacht chultúrtha sa scoil tríd an amhránaíocht, filíocht agus trí mhúineadh na feadóige. Tá dearcadh dearfach ag na daltaí i leith na Gaeilge.
Irish is taught very effectively. It is used very competently by the teachers as the language of the classroom. Teachers use a wide range of activities and resources to reinforce the language. There is variety and creativity in the teaching approaches used. Charts, posters, language games, drama, poetry and singing are used very effectively. The language functions are taught fruitfully through pair work. Weekly Irish phrases are taught consistently throughout the school. A broad vocabulary is taught by the teachers. It is recommended that additional work be done on the accurate use of verbs.
Pupils in each class read confidently. Print-rich environments are noted in both classrooms. There is clear development of reading from class to class. Big books in the junior classes and novels in the senior classes are used in a praiseworthy way to motivate the pupils. Pupils show great interest in reading the broad range of Irish books in the school library. The quality of Irish writing is good. Commendable emphasis is placed on providing a variety of written tasks. While pupils write their own books in Irish it is recommended that a greater emphasis is placed on creative writing. Cultural awareness is promoted throughout the school through singing, poetry and the teaching of the tin whistle. The pupils have a positive attitude to the Irish language.
The teaching of English is of a high standard. Lessons are focused and instruction is clear. Teachers effectively promote oral-language development through the selection of appropriate themes for discussion and the use of a variety of methodologies. Pupils are confident in their oral presentations. A suitable phonological-awareness programme is followed throughout the school. Poetry is used to enhance pupils’ expression and diction. Pupils enjoy the recitation and the writing of poetry.
The quality of pupil attainment in English reading is laudable. The teachers are to be commended for the emphasis placed on reading for pleasure through use of big books, class novels and supplementary books. A shared-reading programme for use between parents and their children is implemented throughout the school. Pupils have developed appropriate word-attack skills. They are consistently challenged to use sophisticated vocabulary. Information and communication technologies are used frequently to promote skill development.
The school creates many opportunities for pupils to write independently. An excellent emphasis is placed on the process of writing. Pupils publish their own books. The junior classes produce a book of nursery rhymes which is given to the enrolling infants each year. A wide range of genres is taught and developed throughout the school year. There is a structured approach to the teaching of spelling and grammar. There is also a whole-school approach to handwriting. Pupils at senior level have attained an individual cursive script.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is high. Teachers use an effective variety of activities with an appropriate focus on the use of concrete materials, including calculators. Pupils display competence across all strands. Pupils are interested in mathematical enquiry and their questions are welcomed. A commendable emphasis is placed on mental Mathematics. A whole-school approach to the teaching of problem-solving is implemented consistently. Teachers integrate Mathematics very successfully with other subject areas. Each classroom has displays to support the teaching and learning of Mathematics. Mathematics displays are also evident in the school corridors where the length and width of doors and windows are exhibited. A good emphasis is placed on skill development.
The quality of teaching and learning in Science is high. Teachers ensure that the content, teaching approaches, learning tasks and resources support pupil learning. Scientific skills are developed to excellent effect. Each classroom has an investigation table with current experiments, learning resources and items of interest on display. Teachers take pupils’ prior knowledge as the starting point for lessons. They relate all new material to the lives of the pupils. There is close observation of pupils as they engage with scientific investigations. Literacy and numeracy skills are further developed through the teaching of Science. A two-year plan is laid out and followed by each teacher. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on the local environment. The pupils enjoy nature walks in the locality. They display a very good knowledge of the flora of the area. The school is currently working towards its second green flag under the Green Schools initiative. It is also participating in the Discover Primary Science initiative.
The quality of assessment in the school is very good. Pupils’ work is carefully and consistently monitored. Teachers carry out routine tests and tasks to assess pupils’ knowledge. All written work is corrected by the class teacher. Portfolios, work samples and projects are also collated showing pupils’ development over a school year. Standardised tests are carried out twice yearly in the areas of English and Mathematics. These results are collated and discussed by the teaching staff. It is recommended that a whole-school approach to the assessment of other curricular areas be explored by the staff.
The school policy gives clear direction in relation to the school’s provision for support teaching. Pupils avail of support both within their classroom setting and on a one-to-one basis in the support classroom. Support teachers have excellent relationships with their pupils. They ensure that new content builds on pupils’ previous knowledge. They use computer programmes to excellent effect. Their planning is systematic and responds to the individual needs of pupils. Teachers acknowledge pupils’ strengths and areas of interest and identify targets for development. Parents and class teachers are actively engaged in the formulation of education plans with the support teachers. It is recommended that support teachers focus more on skill development in the support setting and engage in additional diagnostic testing.
The school avails of the services of a DEIS co-ordinator. She participates fully in school life and promotes equality of access and participation for all pupils in all school activities. Home visits form an integral part of her work. She involves parents in school activities. The programme set up for new parents each June is particularly commendable. She displays a very good knowledge of the Primary School Curriculum and supports class teachers in their work. The co-ordinator organises classes for parents to up skill them in areas of the curriculum. Irish classes last year were particularly successful. The co-ordinator liaises with a large number of external agencies to ensure the pupils are exposed to a very broad range of activities and experiences.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school’s board of management is very hardworking and committed to meeting the needs of the pupils, parents and staff.
· The parents are very supportive of the work of the school and engage readily with all educational initiatives.
· The principal is a very conscientious, hard-working and sensitive leader who exemplifies high professional standards.
· The school has a very dedicated and effective teaching and support staff which promotes best practice in all areas of school life.
· The quality of teaching in all areas is commendable with an appropriate emphasis on a variety of teaching methodologies. Pupils have attained high levels of competence in all curricular areas.
· Teachers provide very effective learning environments for their pupils. Classrooms and school corridors are clean and bright. Creative displays of photographs, pupils’ achievements, school activities and pupils’ work make the school a very welcoming and stimulating place.
· Pupil behaviour is excellent. Pupils present themselves as confident, hard-working and motivated learners who take pride in their school.
· Whole-school planning is praiseworthy. All written policies and procedures mirror the current practice in the school. The staff works consistently to develop the school plan.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a whole-school approach to the assessment of curricular areas besides English and Mathematics be explored by the staff.
· It is recommended that additional diagnostic tests be sourced by support teachers to promote further diagnosis of pupil learning needs.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management and staff wish to thank the Inspector for the professional, sensitive and courteous manner in which the WSE was conducted. We have greatly benefited from her professional and practical advice. We welcome the findings of the report as an affirmation of the work and dedication of the whole school community.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Following the recommendations in the report a whole school approach to the assessment of Gaeilge has commenced and other curricular areas will be explored on a phased basis. The support teachers have sourced additional diagnostic tests with a view to purchasing the most appropriate tests based on the learning needs of the pupils.