An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Clonown National School
Clonown, Athlone, County Westmeath
Roll number: 16427C
Date of inspection: 04 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 29 June 2006
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Clonown 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 inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, and the school’s board of management. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment 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.
Clonown National School is a rural, two-teacher school situated near the banks of the River Shannon, seven kilometres from Athlone Town. The school was built originally in 1920 and it was fully refurbished in 1960. It has a current enrolment of 33 pupils comprised of 10 boys and 23 girls. It is anticipated that pupil numbers will remain at this level in the near future. Pupil attendance is very good. Clonown NS is a Catholic school under the patronage of the Bishop of Elphin. The philosophy of the school, as outlined in the mission statement, respects diversity of beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life. The school’s ethos promotes the development of self-esteem and the education of the whole child, while respecting the individuality of each child. This is the first whole school evaluation conducted in the school and the first school report furnished since 1996.
The board of management is properly constituted and it functions in accordance with Department of Education and Science (DES) regulations. Meetings are held regularly, at least once each term. An agenda is drawn up and formal minutes are recorded. The chairperson of the board maintains regular links with the principal between meetings. A review of the minute book indicates that the board is actively involved in the management and maintenance of the school and members are kept informed about school events. Procedures are in place to track income and expenditure on a regular basis and the treasurer presents a financial report at each meeting. The maintenance programme is reviewed regularly and the building and grounds are kept in excellent condition. Currently, through negotiations with the Building and Planning section of the DES, the board is seeking additional ancillary accommodation, including a principal’s office and a special education room. The board ensures that the school complies with DES regulations in relation to the length of the school year and the school day, the deployment of teachers, class size and the retention of pupils.
The principal of the school has acted in that capacity since 1977 and the school is efficiently organised on a day-to-day basis. Clear communication is established with parents and with the board of management and it is evident that the school has been established as a central part of the local community. The duties of the principal are carried out in a professional and conscientious manner, and a stress-free work atmosphere has been created. The principal is very familiar with the needs of the pupils and additional resources and materials are sought to support teaching and learning. A pro-active role is adopted in relation to whole-school planning and priorities for development are identified.
The principal is diligently assisted in the day-to day management of the school by a deputy principal. Duties attaching to this post are carried out in a manner that supports the principal and that ensures that policies and procedures are followed carefully. Formal staff meetings are held once per term and an agenda is agreed in advance. Issues discussed include progress of pupils, planning of policies, organisation of up-coming school events, and management of teaching aids and resource materials. In order to build upon existing good practice pertaining to school management and administration, and to add to the effectiveness of staff meetings, it is recommended that discrete time be set aside for the monitoring of curriculum implementation and teaching methodologies on a regular basis. It is also recommended that formal minutes of meetings be recorded.
There are two mainstream class teachers, including the principal, and two part-time special education teachers (SETs) in the school. Classes are arranged according to numbers of pupils. At present, the junior classroom has pupils from junior infants to second class, and pupils from third to sixth class are grouped in the senior room. In order to ensure that class teachers get a variety of teaching experience, they exchange classes for some strands of the Music and Science curriculum on a weekly basis. The board of management has also arranged for three visiting tutors to provide instruction during school hours. These provide tuition in instrumental music, Gaelic football and some aspects of Physical Education (PE). Careful consideration is given to timetabling these activities and all pupils have access to them. The content of the programmes covered is suitable for the age and ability levels of the pupils and they derive both educational benefit and enjoyment from the activities. However, the portion of the programme covered by these tutors is not usually recorded in the monthly progress records and it is recommended that accurate records be maintained in each area.
The school building consists of two mainstream classrooms and separate toilet and cloakroom areas for boys and girls. There is also a small special education room and a staff room. Outside, there is a shelter and both tarmacadam and grass play areas. The grounds are decorated with two very attractive murals. There is a lovely school garden, which is obviously a source of great pride to the pupils and teachers. Visitors from other schools and teachers form other countries have visited the garden and pupils have given guided tours. This imaginative use of the school environment is praiseworthy. The inside of the building is cleaned twice weekly to a very high standard and pupils are encouraged to keep their classrooms neat and tidy. The board ensures that maintenance matters are attended to with care, and health and safety issues receive close attention. Recently, the roof and windows have been replaced. The central heating system has been upgraded and new blinds have been installed. The school also has a part-time secretary who provides much valuable administrative assistance.
There has been considerable investment in information and communication technology (ICT) in recent years. Each classroom is equipped with networked desktop computers and printers and all computers have broadband Internet access. Very good use is made of these resources to support teaching and learning. The learning environment in each classroom is print rich. There is a wide variety of teacher-made charts and posters and there are many samples of pupil work on display in classrooms and on corridors. There are many concrete materials available, particularly for Mathematics, Science and Music and these are used effectively. Each classroom has a plentiful supply of books and parallel readers, and the infants and junior class pupils have access to big books and picture books suited to their age.
Clear links have been established between school and home and parents are very supportive of the school. When they enrol pupils they receive a pamphlet with general information about school procedures. There is a community newsletter in which the school is invited to publish information about projects and upcoming events. Parents are welcome to meet teachers by appointment during the year to discuss pupil progress and to raise any issues of concern. Parent-teacher meetings are held for all classes during the first term each year. Clear procedures have also been established regarding the processing of complaints. Although the school does not have a parents’ association at present, the board of management has indicated that it will support parents to set up an association if they wish to do so.
Pupil behaviour is managed effectively and clear procedures have been set out in the school’s code of behaviour. The code is implemented in accordance with the Equal Status Act. Interactions between pupils and teachers are pleasant, courteous and respectful and the dignity of the person is always emphasised.
A cyclical process of school planning has been established. The principal has worked together with principals in other schools and planning advice has been sought from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP), School Development Planning Support (SDPS), and the Regional Curriculum Support Service (RCSS). The teachers and the board of management draft the school plan collaboratively. The teachers identify planning priorities and they prepare draft policy statements. These drafts are discussed at board of management meetings, and amendments are made where necessary. Final policy statements are endorsed by the board and, in some instances, review dates are noted. 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, September 2004) and Child Protection: Guidelines and Procedures (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. Among the other policies that have been adopted are behaviour management, school attendance, enrolment, special education, health and safety, complaints procedures, and everyday school routines.
The organisational policies are stated clearly and unambiguously and, consequently, they inform practice throughout the school in an effective manner. Copies of the school plan are available in the office and each teacher also has a copy. Some policies have been distributed to parents, and parents are welcome to view the school plan during parent-teacher meetings. However, the role of the general parent body in policy formulation should be reviewed in order to afford them a more collaborative role prior to the ratification of policy at board of management meetings. It is also recommended that a system for disseminating final policy statements to parents should be set up.
The curriculum section of the plan contains policy statements for Irish, English, Mathematics, Science, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), and Visual Arts. Some preliminary work has also been done in relation to planning for Music and Physical Education (PE). In the completed plans, reference is made to the strands and strand units of the curriculum areas, available resources are listed and some general guidelines on assessment of pupil learning are included. It is anticipated that policies on the remainder of the curriculum areas will be developed in line with in-service provided by PCSP.
All teachers prepare written schemes of work, both long-term and short-term. Some schemes are very closely aligned to the school plan; curriculum content is carefully sequenced and there is planning for continuity and progression. In these schemes, consideration is given to teaching methodologies, and collaborative group work, pair work, and project work is used regularly. Consideration is also given to monitoring and recording pupil progress. This approach to planning is commended. The extent to which some individual teacher planning is referenced to curriculum policies in the school plan or to the Primary Curriculum varies. While consideration is given to the general material to be taught, planning is sometimes based primarily on the content of pupil textbooks and workbooks, and teaching objectives are less emphasised. It is recommended that a whole-school approach be taken in relation to both long- and short-term planning to help ensure that the good practice identified is extended to all curriculum areas. The weekly timetable should be reviewed and the minimum amount of time to be devoted to each curriculum area should be allocated. The timetable will then assist in ensuring that a balanced, integrated curriculum is provided more consistently throughout the school. At the end of each month, a written summary of the work covered in all curriculum areas should be provided.
Ta an-spéis ag na múinteoirí sa Ghaeilge agus éiríonn go breá leo an Ghaeilge a mhúineadh ar bhealach taitneamhach, éifeachtach. Baintear úsáid as staitéisí difriúla chun suim na ndaltaí a mhúscailt agus úsáidtear pictiúir, postaeir, luaschártaí, agus bréagáin chun fóclóir nua a mhúineadh. Leagtar dea-bhéim ar fhorbairt teanga ó bhéal agus ar leathnú foclóra agus léiríonn na daltaí dul chun cinn créidiúnach. Déantar cúram ceart de na gnóthaí réamhléitheoireachta sna bunranganna. Sna ranganna eile, tá forás breá le sonrú ar an léitheoireacht agus éiríonn go maith leis na daltaí ceisteanna a chur agus a fhreagairt agus comhrá a dhéanamh ar ábhar na scéalta. Tá cnuasach breá rann agus dánta ar eolas ag na daltaí i ngach rang agus aithrisíonn said go bríomhar iad. Sna meanranganna agus na hardranganna, scríobhann na daltaí abairtí agus altanna beaga ar bhonn rialta agus déannann said saorscríbhneoireacht ó am go chéile chomh maith. Baintear úsáid fhónta as an nGaeilge mar theanga chaidrimh i rith an lae.
The standard of teaching and learning in English is high at all class levels. Pupils at infant level receive a very solid foundation in reading readiness and letter-sound relationships are well taught. Phonological and phonemic awareness is further developed in the junior and middle classes and word recognition skills are extended gradually. There is a plentiful supply of library books in each classroom and pupils are encouraged to read for pleasure and to read a variety of texts. Pupil progress in reading is closely monitored and reading material is suited to their age and ability levels. There is a significant emphasis on oral language development and pupils express themselves with confidence. A wide variety of poetry is taught and pupils recite their poems and rhymes with enthusiasm. Pupils in middle and senior classes compose their own poems and they use appropriate vocabulary and good sentence structure to discuss the works of poets and authors. The learning environment in classrooms and along the corridors is print rich and many samples of pupil writing are displayed. The development of a clear style of handwriting is gradually progressed throughout the school. In middle and senior classes, pupils write in a variety of genres and for various audiences. Good use is made of ICT in the development of writing process.
Pupils receive a very solid foundation in Mathematics in infant and junior classes, and this foundation is developed systematically and sequentially as they progress through the school. A suitable programme of work is followed, and a good balance is maintained across the strands of the curriculum. Evidence from pupil copybooks and workbooks indicates that aspects of number, measures, data, basic algebra and shape and space are taught. Written work is monitored regularly and corrected carefully. During the evaluation, pupils demonstrated a good understanding of the topics they had studied. They explained accurately the processes involved in working out their problems and they were able to estimate and perform mental arithmetic tasks with ease. Overall, the quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good. Lessons are well structured and pupils have frequent opportunities to handle concrete materials. Close attention is paid to pupil progress and understanding during lessons. Pupil errors are analysed and additional help is given to pupils who have difficulty with concepts or problem solving.
Some elementary lessons are taught at infant and junior class levels in History and the content of these lessons is generally based on the pupil textbooks. Pupils explore the concept of chronology through the use of story and the completion of worksheets on life in the home, family histories and significant personal events. A more detailed programme is taught in middle and senior classes. Information about early people and ancient societies, and continuity and change over time is gathered through the use of textbooks, library books and collaborative projects. A significant emphasis is placed on the study of local history and this is gradually expanded to include aspects of national and international events. Good use is made of ICT in these classes to develop pupil research skills and some historical evidence is used to encourage pupils to make simple deductions and to appreciate that evidence may be interpreted in a number of ways. When the school plan for History is developed, it is recommended that the various aspects of local history to be explored and the general content to be taught at each class level would be clarified. The methodologies to be employed in developing pupil skills of working as historians, and the range of assessment approaches to be used would also be addressed at whole-school level.
At infant and junior class level, pupils are introduced to the study of Geography in an incidental way. Group discussion and stories about the weather, families and the local community, the different types of homes, life in school, and how people are employed locally form the basis of the programme. In middle and senior classes, a more comprehensive programme is taught. Pupils explore aspects of human and natural environments and some elementary work is done in the development of geographical skills and concepts. Pictures, maps, globes and ICT are used to support teaching and learning and to hone pupils’ research skills, and much information is learned based on suitable topics in the textbook. Very good use is made of the locality of the school as a starting point for the study of the geography of the area and pupils have opportunities to explore and investigate the environment systematically and methodically. In the lessons observed, pupils engaged enthusiastically with the tasks they were set and they demonstrated a good knowledge of the subject matter taught. Throughout the school, there is a commendable emphasis on environmental awareness and care. Pupils and teachers have worked collaboratively to gain Green Flag status, and a new project is undertaken every second year to maintain this. Through the integration of the Geography and the SPHE programmes, pupils’ understanding of citizenship and human interdependence is developed. To ensure that all strands of the programme are taught at each class level, and to ensure that children have access to a comprehensive range of geographical ideas and concepts from a wide range of environments, it is recommended that a school plan for Geography be developed.
The quality of teaching and learning in Science is very good. The lessons observed during the evaluation demonstrated that effective teaching methodologies are used and suitable content is selected for the different class levels. Pupils use appropriate vocabulary to discuss the topics they have studied and the experiments they have carried out. There is a strong emphasis on discovery learning, and pupils are challenged to make sense of the things that happen during Science lessons. A comprehensive list of equipment for Science is included in the school plan and good use is made of these resources. Very good use is also made of ICT as a research tool, and pupils make powerpoint presentations to parents and other visitors on many aspects of the areas they have explored in Science. There is particularly focused progression and continuity in the environmental awareness and care strand of the programme. In reviewing the school plan for Science, it recommended that the content of the programme be reviewed in order to ensure that a broad and balanced programme in each of the other strands is provided at each class level.
Ample opportunities are provided at each class level for pupils to explore the strands of the Visual Arts programme. Judicious use is made of a range of materials and resources to develop pupils’ skills in both making art and in looking and responding to art. In general, there is a good balance between 2D and 3D work. Various thought-provoking stimuli are used as a starting point for many of the lessons and pupils clearly derive enjoyment and benefit form the programme provided at each class level. Individual talent is fostered and all pupils are exhorted to explore their creative abilities. In recent years, visiting artists have worked with children to paint external murals and to demonstrate specific craft techniques. This approach is commendable. Classrooms and other areas in the school are decorated tastefully with samples of pupil work and individual pupil portfolios are also used in the senior room to compile representative samples of completed work. It is advised that such portfolios would be maintained for all pupils.
A highly commendable approach is taken to the teaching of Music and a high standard of pupil learning is evident. The work of each class teacher is complemented by tuition provided by a visiting tutor and this arrangement helps to ensure that a broad and balanced programme is provided. Pupils at all class levels have a wide repertoire of songs in both Irish and English, which they sing in a melodious and cheerful manner. Regular activities in listening, responding, performing and composing are included. All pupils from first to sixth class learn to play an instrument, and the quality of performance given by the school band is impressive. Tunes are accompanied by pupils playing drums, tin-whistle, fiddle, keyboard, percussion instruments and accordions. The pupils participate in the local annual music festival, Féile Ceoil na Scoileanna, and they clearly delight in this opportunity to perform publicly.
A range of effective starting points is used in Drama education. Pupils are encouraged to experiment with various situations and to work and perform creatively. In general, Drama is used as a cross-curricular approach to various subject areas, and pupils use role-play and mime to improvise responses to poems, nursery rhymes and fairy tales, as well as real life situations. A school play is presented each Christmas and particular attention is paid to pupil enjoyment and the development of self-esteem. Parents are invited to attend and they assist with the organisational arrangements. It is anticipated that a whole-school approach will be adopted to the teaching of Drama as a discrete activity within Arts Education when teachers complete the national programme of in-service provided by the PCSP.
Overall, the school is commended for its approach to Arts Education and for the effort it makes in ensuring that the aesthetic aspects of each child’s development are nurtured.
Although the school does not have a general purposes room, good use is made of the outdoor play areas in providing a broadly based Physical Education (PE) programme. Lessons observed were well structured and appropriate emphasis was placed on pupil participation, safety and enjoyment. There is a good range of large and small equipment available and, despite the lack of indoor facilities, a conscientious effort is made to foster appropriate skills acquisition and to teach a range of team games. Visiting coaches supplement the programme provided by the teachers and all pupils in the relevant classes have access to the extra tuition provided. Pupils are encouraged to participate in the Community Games on an annual basis and in the five-a-side mixed Gaelic football league.
Throughout the school, pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil contact and relationships are open and interactive and are indicative of the success with which the programme in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is implemented. The general climate of the school reflects a healthy attitude towards the development of pupils’ skills and attitudes. Children’s efforts are rewarded and their achievements are celebrated. There is a genuine concern for the welfare of pupils and a comprehensive code of behaviour has been developed and implemented successfully and sensitively. Aspects from various suitable programmes such as Stay Safe and Walk Tall are taught regularly in each classroom, and appropriate themes are discussed at each class level. Many other elements of the curriculum contribute successfully to the children’s personal and social development, including aspects of health education within SESE.
The teachers are commended for their systematic approach to assessment. The mainstream class teachers and SETs co-operate effectively to ensure that a comprehensive whole-school approach is taken. Teacher observation is used to monitor pupil engagement with tasks and to identify areas of difficulty. Much useful information is gained from the monitoring of written work and homework completed by pupils. Evidence from pupil copybooks indicates that written work is corrected carefully. Various teacher-designed tasks and tests are used at regular intervals in many of the curricular areas. Standardised assessment instruments are used annually to monitor and record pupil achievement in literacy and numeracy. These tests perform both formative and summative roles, and they are also used to identify those pupils in need of supplementary teaching. The information gathered is used in a constructive way to provide pupils with appropriate reading programmes and to organise differentiated learning tasks in Mathematics. The teachers exchange assessment information informally with each other on an on-going basis. Pupil profiles are compiled and formal reports are prepared at the end of each school year. Copies of these reports are retained in the school.
A comprehensive school policy on special education has been adopted in which the roles of the board of management, the class teachers, special-education teachers (SETs) and the principal are set out. There is regular and purposeful collaboration between the teachers in the implementation of the policy and effective links have been established with outside agencies, where required. Parents are informed of the concerns of the school about their child’s progress and parental approval is sought to proceed with the administration of diagnostic assessments. Individual profiles and learning programmes (IPLPs) are developed for each pupil selected for supplementary teaching and the need for clear and realistic learning targets for each instructional term is acknowledged. Formal meetings are held between the SETs, class teachers and parents when IPLPs are being devised and later to review pupil progress. Detailed programmes of work are prepared. Careful records of pupil progress are maintained and, in conjunction with class teachers, each SET monitors and reviews the IPLPs regularly. While some supplementary teaching takes place on a withdrawal basis either individually or in small groups, a concerted effort is also made to provide support in the classroom in collaboration with class teachers, and this approach is praiseworthy. Early intervention strategies are employed for pupils in infants and first class who are experiencing difficulty in literacy and numeracy. During the evaluation, suitable intervention programmes and teaching approaches were observed. Pupils were intellectually challenged in an appropriate manner and they engaged purposefully with the tasks they were set. A very good variety of resources is available to support teaching and learning in special education, and, although the rooms used for withdrawal support are very small, good use is made of the available space. A range of diagnostic tests is used in identifying pupils’ strengths and aspects for development and good use was made of graded reading material, computer programmes and games and parallel readers during the evaluation. To build upon the effective practice observed, it is advised that the SETs would meet formally as a team during the year to plan collaboratively and to review progress.
The school’s enrolment policy articulates clearly the right of access for all pupils, regardless of social background, race, creed or culture. The dignity of all individuals is respected and the caring attitudes of the pupils and staff ensure that all pupils participate fully in the life of the school. Individual difference is celebrated and there is a strong emphasis on the development of socially aware children who respect the beliefs and customs of others.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· The board of management is well informed and pro-active in managing the school.
· The duties of the principal are carried out in an effective, caring manner, and a positive school climate has been established. In-school management structures are efficiently organised.
· Effective procedures are in place for supporting positive pupil attendance and pupil attendance is very good.
· Much valuable work has been done to date in developing the school plan and the documented organisational policies are very effective in ensuring the smooth running of the school on a day-to-day basis. However, a more consultative role for parents in the planning process is required.
· The teaching staff works collaboratively and effectively to provide for pupils’ educational, social and pastoral needs. Particular attention is paid to the development of pupil self confidence and social awareness, and to fostering supportive relationships among pupils.
· All teachers prepare schemes of work and maintain records of progress. While a number of these schemes and records are comprehensive in nature, others require clearer linkage with the structure and content of the Primary Curriculum.
· A wide range of useful resources and concrete materials is provided to support teaching and learning and very good use was made of these during the evaluation.
· A considerable investment has been made in ICT and pupils are encouraged to use the available technology in an interesting and educational manner.
· The quality of teaching and learning is particularly effective in nurturing literacy and numeracy
· An innovative and activity-based approach is taken to the teaching of various aspects of Science, and innovative and productive use is made of the school environment.
· A broad and varied programme is taught in Music and the emphasis on musical appreciation and instrumental music is noteworthy.
· Effective supports are in place for pupils with special educational needs. The quality of teaching and learning observed was very good, and appropriate teaching methodologies were used.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The allocation of discrete time during staff meetings for curriculum development would help facilitate discussion on curriculum implementation and teaching methodologies. The maintenance of formal minutes of meetings is also recommended.
· Parents should be afforded a more collaborative role in developing the school plan prior to the ratification of policies at board of management meetings and a system for disseminating final policy statements to parents should be established.
· A whole-school approach is required in relation to both long- and short-term planning. Allied to this, the weekly timetable should be reviewed and the minimum amount of time to be devoted to each curriculum area should be allocated.
· At the end of each month, a written summary of the work covered in all curriculum areas should be provided, including the portion of the programme covered by visiting tutors.
· In developing the school plan for History and Geography and to build upon the effective practice observed, the various aspects of the local area to be explored should be clarified. Consideration could also be given to the general content to be taught at each class level, the methodologies to be employed in developing pupils’ skills of working as historians, the development of their geographical skills and concepts, and the range of assessment approaches to be used.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Board members were pleased with the report. I as Principal would like to commend the Inspectorate for the professional way in which it conducted the WSE.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The SETS meet formally as a team to plan and review progress
Folders have been ordered to keep portfolios in the junior room (of Art work)