An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Saint Feichin’s National School

Abbey Loughrea

Co. Galway

Uimhir rolla: 16596C

 

 Date of inspection: 29 April 2009

 

 

 

 

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 Saint Feichin’s National School 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

Saint Feichin’s National School is a two-teacher, Catholic, co-educational primary school in the south east of County Galway, proximate to the towns of Loughrea, Woodford and Portumna. It is located in the scenic village of Abbey at the foothills of Sliabh Aughty. In spite of population decline, the school has maintained relatively consistent enrolment over the last number of years and its own projections indicate that enrolment is expected to remain at a similar level in the future. The school was built in 1922 and extensive renovation, ground works and building works were carried out in 2007. This well-planned work resulted in the provision of bright, roomy accommodation with attractive features internally and externally. The car-park area is spacious and the operation of a one-way system for the entrance and exit of traffic helps to ensure pupils’ safety. As part of the works carried out, the school yard was resurfaced and accordingly, pupils now have access to well-maintained recreational space.

 

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

28

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

2

Mainstream class teachers

2

Teachers working in support roles

3

Special needs assistants

1

 

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

The school’s mission statement is to nurture a positive, co-operative educational environment. In support of its Catholic ethos, liturgical celebrations are held to mark significant occasions. The school expresses ‘the hope that achievements of our pupils will enhance their self-esteem and furnish their parents, teachers and community with the reward of satisfaction gained from participation in education at St. Feichin’s National School.’ In fulfilment of this aim, it is noted that many initiatives are undertaken to ensure a beneficial, reciprocal relationship among the pupils, the school and the community. The considerable dedication to the development of the school’s natural environment is praiseworthy and this contributes greatly to the picturesque village. In 2008, the school received high commendation for its presentation in the Tidy Towns Competition. The level of involvement in the Green-Schools programme is creditable. Participation in this initiative is at an advanced stage and at the time of the evaluation the school was aiming to secure its fourth green flag.  School and community-based fundraising events are well supported and the success of these events has engendered a sense of pride and co-operation among all partners.

As the current staffing arrangement is relatively new, it is now advised that the principal and staff take some time to jointly consider the school’s mission statement and statement of ethos. This will help to ensure that the stated aims of the school in these areas continue to permeate aspects of life in the school. 

1.2 Board of management

The board of management is commended for the efficient and competent manner in which it manages the school. All members are committed to their assigned roles. The board is in the fortunate position of being able to draw on the considerable experience of some of its members. The chairperson and the principal maintain a good working relationship by communicating frequently.

 

As well as overseeing the day-to-day management of the school, the board recognises the importance of long-term strategic planning. A three-year development plan, which outlines priorities for development in aspects of the curriculum, the school building and organisational matters, is devised and implemented. This is commendable practice and it is now advised that the progress being made in these and other areas, be communicated to parents in the form of an annual report.  School accounts are maintained and financial reports are delivered at meetings. At the post-evaluation meeting, it was confirmed that it is the intention of the board of management to have these accounts certified in the future.

 

Currently, the board’s priorities include ensuring that the school continues to attract new pupils, the re-roofing of part of the school building, the drainage of adjacent pitches and the purchase of resources. The board is very satisfied with the school’s reputation locally and with the level of participation in local and national events. It is reported that the school has a pivotal role in the local community and this is a source of pride. The teaching staff, the refurbished building and the external environment are regarded as significant strengths of the school. Board members are keen to ensure that pupils continue to benefit from participation in a variety of events and they offer practical assistance to help to achieve this. They are involved in organising school concerts and in organising the transportation of pupils to the swimming pool on a rota basis. The board also organises and supports novel fundraising events. 

 

All school policies have been ratified and good efforts are made to support teachers in the implementation of policies. Classrooms are well maintained and well resourced and the board is commended for its work in this regard.  

 

1.3 In-school management

The principal is commended for her work in the school. In addition to her role as principal, she also has responsibility for teaching a multi grade mainstream class. She balances all aspects of her role well and demonstrates good levels of organisation and efficiency.  Over the course of the evaluation, various personnel expressed the view that since her appointment as principal, a sense of stability and continuity has underpinned the running of the school.

 

Under her leadership, school documentation is well organised and carefully compiled. She oversees the planning process well and good efforts are made to ensure that all planning is undertaken collaboratively. The internal decision-making process is very democratic and as a result it is evident that relationships and levels of co-operation among all personnel are very good. 

 

As curriculum leader, she outlines priorities and targets for development in aspects of the curriculum and she sets out realistic timelines for achieving these aims. It is now advised, that in addition to this planning process, the principal aims to develop opportunities for reflection and review by all staff.  In the future, the challenge for the principal is to oversee a revision of the format of individual teacher’s planning to ensure that it is objective-based rather than text-book based.

 

The principal is committed to making sure that all pupils reach their full potential academically and that during their time in the school their strengths will be nurtured and their needs will be met. As a means of determining the effectiveness of the school, she monitors the results of standardised tests and gives due regard to feedback received from secondary schools. Very good efforts are made to give pupils opportunities to take part in a range of events, activities and initiatives. The principal is commended for initiating and maintaining links with schools in the local community and for the school’s level of representation in local and national events

 

The special-duties post holder is highly supportive of the work of the principal and they have developed a good working relationship. A range of curricular, organisational and pastoral duties is undertaken in accordance with Circular 07/03. The duties are reviewed regularly and the teacher fulfils her roles effectively. Her co-ordination of the school’s participation in the Green-Schools programme is impressive.

 

1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

A sense of collegiality and unity of purpose underpins relationships among all personnel at the school and there is agreement that needs and the safety of the pupils are to be prioritised at all times.

 

Relationships and communication among the staff are good. Formal meetings are held once per month and to facilitate this frequency, an appropriate number of meetings are held outside of school time. A wide range of issues is discussed at meetings and minutes of the decisions taken are recorded. Good efforts are made to communicate with parents. Annual parent-teacher meetings are held. Parents and teachers also have opportunities to meet informally at in-school events. It is reported that teachers willingly facilitate extra meetings where parents wish to discuss particular concerns.

 

The parents’ association is strongly supportive of the work of the school and there is frequent communication with the general school body. The manner in which their meetings are organised is impressive. Effective mechanisms for communicating with the principal and the board of management are in place. The association hosts an evening for the parents of new junior infants each September and this is indicative of the inclusive nature of its work. It is evident from events in the past, that their work motivates and encourages all parents to support the school in practical ways. Their activities include fundraising, catering, school maintenance and accompanying and transporting pupils to and from events. It is now advised that consideration be given to the benefits of being affiliated to the National Parents’ Council (NPC).

 

1.5 Management of pupils

Over the course of the evaluation, the majority of pupils were very well behaved. For the most part, they co-operate and interact well with their teachers and peers, particularly where lessons are well planned and appropriately differentiated to meet their needs. It is recommended that the school now aim to increase the levels of engagement of a small minority of pupils. This will be achieved by placing greater emphasis on ensuring that all teaching is planned taking cognisance of the spectrum of pupils’ needs. Pupils demonstrate pride in their work and in their school and local environment. This is particularly evident in the standard of the work that is on display throughout the school and in the commitment to projects which focus on the maintenance of the environment.

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The quality of planning at whole-school level is good.

The approach taken to the process of planning is good. Plans in curricular areas are devised collaboratively by teachers. These are subsequently distributed to the parent body who are invited to offer feedback either directly or through the parents’ association. Ratification by the board of management follows a process of deliberation and discourse. Organisational policies are clearly laid out, well presented and dates for review are set. This is good practice.

In accordance with Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools, long-term and short-term schemes are prepared by teachers. Teachers also compile monthly progress reports in the form of Cuntais Mhíosúla. The approach taken to classroom planning is inconsistent and the quality of planning varies from fair to good. In some curricular areas, teachers’ planning, in its current form, has little impact on teaching and learning. Some plans are repetitive and do not indicate continuity and progression. The challenge for the school now is to review the process of classroom planning and to ensure that a consistent approach is adopted.  It is advised that in place of text-book based planning, teacher’s plans clearly outline how content objectives from the curriculum will be taught. The methodologies to be used should be carefully considered and documented as part of this planning. In addition, it is recommended that an outline of how lessons will be differentiated in the multi-class setting, for pupils with special educational needs and for more able pupils, be included in plans.

 

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

Tugtar faoi mhúineadh na Gaeilge go coinsiasach sa scoil seo agus tá dearcadh dearfach na n-oidí i leith an teanga le sonrú. Sa dá sheomra, cloítear go dílis leis an nGaeilge i rith an teagaisc agus is inmholta mar a sheolann na múinteoirí an Ghaeilge isteach i ngnáthchaint an lae. Láimhsítear na ceachtanna Gaeilge go cumasach agus coimeádtar luas bríomhar iontu. Tugtar an-deiseanna do na daltaí tabhairt faoi ghníomhaíochtaí simplí chun a gcuid scileanna éisteachta agus labhartha a fhorbairt idir ghníomhaíochtaí uile-ranga, ról-imirt, obair i bpéirí agus i ngrúpaí. Úsáidtear áiseanna mar phictiúir, bhréagáin, luaschartaí agus ábhar dhílis chun iad a mhealladh chun foclóir agus nathanna cainte a chleachtadh. B’fhiú anois aire bhreise a dhíriú ar idirdhealú san ullmhúchán gearrthréimhseach agus sna ceachtanna, chun freastal ar an éagsúlacht leathan cumais sna ranganna.  Sna hardranganna, tá dul chun cinn  maith á dhéanamh agus labhraíonn alán daltaí go leanúnach mar gheall ar ábhair simplí. Chun a líofacht a fhoirbairt a thuilleadh, moltar dul siar rialta a dhéanamh ar an bhfoclóir, na briathra agus na nathanna cainte a múineadh cheana féin.

Sna bunranganna agus sna meánranganna, baintear feidhm bhreá as téacsleabhair, leabhair mhόra agus leabhair leabharlainne chun tús a chur leis an léitheoireacht. Léann na daltaí sna hardranganna le tuiscint agus moltar an tslí go ndéantar ceangal cuí idir príomhghnéithe an churaclaim.  Sa dá sheomra, aithrisíonn siad rainn agus filíocht agus baineann na daltaí uile taitneamh as sin. Sna hardranganna, léiríonn na daltaí tuiscint mhaith ar na dánta.

Sa scríbhneoireacht, tugann daltaí sna ranganna naíonán agus sna bunranganna faoi chleachtaí bunúsacha le learáidí simplí. Is léir go mbaineann siad taitneamh as na gníomhaíochtaí seo agus go bhfuil siad brόdúil as a gcuid oibre. Sna hardranganna, leagtar béim ar an scríbhneoireacht fheidhmiúil agus déantar monatόireacht chruinn ar an obair seo. Tugtar deiseanna do na daltaí leabhair a scríobh ar an ríomhaire agus is inmholta mar a bhaintear úsáid as teicneolaíocht an eolais agus na cumarsáide (TEC) chun iad a spreagadh. Moltar anois, an chlár scríbhneoireachta a leathnú chun tuilleadh deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí tabhairt faoin scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach.

 

Irish

Irish is conscientiously taught in this school and the teachers’ positive attitude towards the language is apparent. In both rooms, Irish is used consistently throughout teaching and the manner in which teachers integrate Irish into normal daily conversation is commendable. Lessons are capably managed and a lively pace in maintained. Pupils are given many opportunities to engage in simple activities to develop their listening and speaking skills, between whole-class activities, role-play, working in pairs and in groups. Resources such as pictures, toys, flashcards and concrete materials are used to encourage them to practise vocabulary and phrases. Paying additional attention to differentiation in short-term plans and in teaching would now be beneficial, in order to address the wide variation of ability in the classes. In the senior classes, good progress is being made and a lot of the pupils speak continuously about simple subjects. In order to further develop their fluency, it is recommended that the vocabulary, verbs and phrases which have already been taught be revised regularly.

In the junior and middle classes, good use is made of text books, big books and library books to commence reading. The pupils in the senior classes read with understanding, and the manner in which aspects of the curriculum are suitably linked is praised.  In both rooms, they recite rhymes and poetry and the pupils enjoy this. In the senior classes, the pupils demonstrate good understanding of the poems.  

In writing, the pupils in infant and junior classes engage in basic exercises with simple illustrations. It is evident that they enjoy these activities and that they are proud of their work. In the senior classes, an emphasis is placed on functional writing and this work is carefully monitored. The pupils are given opportunities to write books on the computer and the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to stimulate them is praiseworthy. It is now recommended that the writing programme be extended to afford pupils more opportunities to engage in creative writing.

 

English

The teaching of English is good.

 

A good range of contexts is used in the teaching of oral language. Rhymes, poetry and newspaper reports are used to stimulate pupils and to encourage them to engage in discussions. In the junior classes, the inclusion of play activities as a basis for discussion would be beneficial. Lessons are very well paced and structured and the pupils engage readily in conversation. An emphasis is placed on encouraging pupils to be articulate and to carefully sequence oral reports. Pupils’ vocabulary is extended and in this regard, teachers carefully differentiate for the varying levels of ability. Lessons are enlivened by the use of strategies such as ‘hot-seating’ from the Drama curriculum. The school could now aim to build on this good practice by creating even more opportunities for each pupil to listen and to speak throughout lessons. This may be achieved by placing less emphasis on whole-class discussion and by allowing pupils to work in pairs and in small groups.

 

A graded reading scheme is used to systematically develop reading skills throughout the school. In addition pupils choose books from a very good range of supplementary readers and library books which are sourced annually through the County Library exchange scheme. Commendably, the school uses approaches such as ‘Children and Parents Enjoy Reading’ (CAPER) as a means of encouraging paired-reading in the home. This motivates pupils to read in the home environment as well as giving parents an opportunity to monitor pupils’ progress. In junior and middle classes, the use of more big books will help pupils to develop a greater awareness of the conventions of print as well as allowing for enjoyable whole-class reading experiences. In both rooms, levels of comprehension and the pupils’ ability to interpret texts are good. The strand unit Emotional and imaginative development through language is well developed through reading and writing poetry. Pupils demonstrate a good appreciation of the poems they have learned. In addition, very good efforts are made to use poetry in other subject areas. This novel approach to lessons appeals to the pupils.  

 

Standards in writing are good. Throughout the school, handwriting skills are very well developed and the teachers and pupils are commended for the standards that are achieved. Early writing skills are well taught and work in copy books is of a very good standard. In both rooms, good emphasis is placed on functional writing. Some opportunities are given for pupils to write creatively. They write simple poetry and their work is displayed in the school environment. It is now recommended that work in creative writing be further extended to ensure that pupils are enabled to write more lengthy passages in this genre. Providing pupils with an audience for their work would also be helpful. 

 

3.2 Mathematics

In both rooms, the teaching of Mathematics is good and pupils are competent in concepts that have been taught. The whole-school plan for Mathematics is informed by the Primary School Curriculum (1999). Pupils are assessed regularly and results indicate that the majority achieve good standards.

 

A notable feature of the teaching of Mathematics is the manner in which pupils are given opportunities to actively engage with and discuss topics frequently throughout lessons. As a result of this good practice, pupils demonstrate a clear understanding of concepts. They have a positive attitude towards the subject and the majority attempt challenging material with confidence. The use of appropriate vocabulary is emphasised and the cross-curricular approach taken to lessons is commendable. In particular, the integration of aspects of English and Science with the teaching of Mathematics is good.

 

Oral work and learning by rote are appropriately emphasised and pupils demonstrate good ability to recall material. The development of mathematical skills, especially the skills of reasoning and estimation is good. Through the simulation of real-life situations, pupils are afforded opportunities to use Mathematics in practical ways. Concrete materials are well used in this regard. In both rooms, there is some scope for the development of a number–rich environment. Providing a Mathematics corner to facilitate both guided and independent investigation would also be beneficial. 

 

Over the course of the evaluation, it was noted that some activities in Mathematics lessons are protracted and as a result of this, a minority of pupils find it difficult to concentrate for the entire duration of the lessons. While the multi-class setting is well managed in both rooms, further grouping of pupils for some activities is advised. This will allow pupils to address suitably differentiated questions regardless of their present class level, and to work at a level that is commensurate with their ability. It will also allow for more challenging material to be used with those pupils who demonstrate very good ability in Mathematics. Some pupils’ level of engagement in lessons would also be improved by provision of in-class support by the learning-support teacher. 

 

3.3 Drama

The school’s general purpose area is spacious and it is used by both teachers for the teaching of Drama. The quality of the lessons observed in Drama varied from fair to good and it is now recommended that this curricular area be addressed as a priority.

 

There is scope for development in lesson content, pace and structure. In the junior and middle classes, topics that are of interest to the pupils are used as stimuli for dramatic activities. An emphasis is placed on the strand unit Exploring and making drama and throughout lessons pupils engage to varying degrees in make-believe play and simple improvisations. From now on, placing an increased emphasis on the strand unit Reflecting on drama will help pupils to develop a greater understanding of the content of lessons. At some class levels, lessons comprise a series of unrelated drama games and consequently there is a lack of development over the course of lessons. This lack of structure and progression results in pupils being reluctant to take part in activities and in addition, some pupils do not co-operate well with their peers. It is now recommended that the creation of a safe environment for drama should be prioritised in order that pupils are free to express themselves without inhibition.

 

The school is currently working on the completion of the whole-school plan for Drama. In the course of this work, it is recommended that teachers engage with the fundamentals of the drama curriculum, in particular the prerequisites for making drama and the elements of drama.

It is also advised that teachers, in the course of their planning, should carefully consider and outline how the content objectives of the drama curriculum can be taught in a manner which is conducive to exploration and learning through drama. 

 

3.4 Assessment

A whole-school assessment policy is provided and this gives details regarding the range of assessment that will be used throughout the school.

In both classrooms frequent spelling and tables tests are carried out. Teacher-designed tasks and tests are used to monitor pupils’ progress in a range of curricular areas. Work samples are also maintained in individual pupils’ folders. Written work is very well monitored and is used as a further means of assessing pupils’ comprehension of topics which have been taught.

At Senior Infant level, the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is administered. It is now recommended that the staff consider the benefits of a follow-on programme such as the Forward Together programme. The Drumcondra Primary Reading and the Drumcondra Primary Mathematics tests are administered each year. The results are analysed and, in conjunction with teacher observation, are used to identify pupils who would benefit from learning support. 

A very good range of diagnostic tests is used to clarify the specific nature of pupils’ needs. Results are carefully scrutinised and tabulated and these are also used for comparative purposes in tracking individual pupil’s progress over a period of time.

Throughout the school, good emphasis is placed on the use of assessment to inform further teaching and learning. This is commendable practice. In the long-term however, teachers are advised to avoid the practice of over-emphasising one aspect of the curriculum to the detriment of others. Instead, they should aim for a balance in the teaching of all aspects of the curriculum.  

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

Good support is provided for pupils with special educational needs.  

 

Resource teaching is provided by two teachers, one of whom operates in a part –time capacity and another who is shared with and based in a nearby school. Learning support is provided by a teacher who is also based in a nearby school. All three teachers contribute well to the teaching of pupils with special educational needs.  The special needs assistant (SNA), is commended for her diligence in her role.  It is evident that all personnel are committed to addressing the needs of pupils in an affirming, encouraging manner. Pupils are praised regularly and their work is displayed and celebrated throughout the resource room and school environment.

 

Most of the support is provided in a well organised, attractive room, which the three teachers share on a rota basis. The school’s general purpose area, the external environment and the locality are also used for activities. The school is commended for the wide range of resources and materials which have been sourced for use with the pupils. ICT is very well used to extend and consolidate pupils’ knowledge and skills.

 

The teachers plan for the use of a variety of methodologies and approaches and it is evident that all are aware of the strengths and needs of the pupils. Lessons address learning targets which are comprehensively outlined in Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs). The class teachers and to a lesser extent, the pupils’ parents are consulted in relation to the compilation of these plans. Good teaching and learning was observed during the evaluation period. Lessons are well organised and the allocated time is used productively. Accordingly, good progress is being made by most of the pupils. In some cases, daily notes which detail the teacher’s observations of pupils’ progress and level of engagement are kept. In one instance an insufficient use of concrete materials and visual cues was noted in the teaching of Mathematical concepts. It is advised that more effective use of the available resources will greatly improve learning outcomes in this area. Additionally, in the teaching of English, more careful selection and use of a smaller amount of tasks and materials would be of greater benefit to pupils.

 

Pupils are withdrawn from the mainstream classroom for all support.  Some support is offered on an individual basis and where deemed to be beneficial, pupils work in pairs or in small groups. It is now recommended that due consideration be given to the re-organisation of timetables to facilitate team-teaching and the provision of in-class support to pupils. 

 

 

5.     Conclusion

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

·    The work of the school is overseen by a very good board of management and an effective principal.

 

·    The emphasis placed on the maintenance and development of the school’s natural environment is commendable.

 

·    A strong sense of partnership and co-operation among all personnel contributes greatly to the positive atmosphere within the school. Additionally, the sense of community spirit which pervades many aspect

   of school life is admirable.

 

 

 

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, November 2009