An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Whole School Evaluation



Diffreen National School

Manorhamilton, County Leitrim

Uimhir rolla:  17125O


Date of inspection: 24 November 2008





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






Whole-school evaluation


A whole-school evaluation of Diffreen National School was undertaken in November 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 and Mathematics. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.



Introduction – school context and background


Diffreen National School is a two-teacher, co-educational school situated in the parish of Manorhamilton/Kilasnet, ten kilometres west of Manorhamilton town in Co. Leitrim. Enrolment is stable and attendance of pupils is consistently good. The original school building was constructed in 1936 and extended and renovated in 2006. The school participates in the School Support Programme of Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), an initiative of the Department of Education and Science to address educational disadvantage.


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




Pupils enrolled in the school


Mainstream classes in the school


Teachers on the school staff


Mainstream class teachers


Teachers working in support roles


Special needs assistants




1.     Quality of school management


1.1   Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Kilmore. The school’s mission statement outlines a commitment to the holistic development of each pupil in a nurturing and mutually respectful environment. This ethos is reflected in the wide range of curricular and extra-curricular activities which are provided in a spirit of sincere partnership with parents. High expectations for pupil enrichment and pupil attainment permeate all activities and relationships to create a vibrant, positive school climate.


1.2 Board of management

The board of management is properly constituted and is supportive of the work of the school. Meetings of the board are convened regularly and members complete tasks assigned to them competently and enthusiastically. Minutes of board meetings and financial records are carefully maintained. It is recommended that external certification of accounts be commenced. The board of management is advised to issue a yearly report to the parent community on the operation of the school with particular reference to the achievement of objectives identified within the school plan. The chairperson of the board of management is a regular visitor to the school and staff and parents value the practical and pastoral support he provides.


Board members are to be commended for the way in which they have devised working groups in collaboration with the parents’ association to further the various developmental projects which they have prioritised. These priorities include the improvement of the school football pitch. The work of the previous board of management in procuring a school extension is acknowledged. The board has been involved in discussing and ratifying some whole-school policy documents. Priorities for further developments in this area were highlighted at the post-evaluation meeting.


1.3 In-school management

The in-school management team consists of the principal and one special duties post-holder. The teaching principal manages the day-to-day organisation of the school in an enthusiastic, effective and efficient manner. She is dedicated to the progressive development of the school and has set organisational, curricular and pastoral priorities. She actively promotes teamwork and the empowerment of colleagues/staff in the realisation of this vision. The high levels of co-operation between the principal and special duties post-holder ensure a positive, purposeful learning climate within the school. Effective distributed leadership is also reflected in the shared curricular development responsibilities and in the collaborative culture with has been nurtured with the parent community. The special duties teacher carries out a clearly delineated and balanced remit of duties with considerable care and innovation.


1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The parents’ association, which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council, is very supportive of the principal, school staff and board and is actively involved in many aspects of the school’s organisation. Parental involvement in curricular activities such as paired reading and the school garden project are to be highly commended. Significant support is provided by parents to the school through their involvement in costume-making workshops and assistance with transport for pupils participating in extra-curricular activities. Parents are involved in decision making through their representation on the Green Schools committee and also through the collaborative subgroups with the board of management to address the improvement of school facilities and fundraising. An annual meeting takes place between the parents’ association and the staff where mutual priorities for the following school year are discussed. It is recommended that the effective collaboration already established be further developed to include parental involvement in the formulation and review of school organisational and curricular policies.


Positive channels of communication are in evidence between the school, the parents’ association, the parent community and the board. Parents are updated on their children’s progress through formal and informal parent-teacher meetings and end-of-year written reports. They are kept informed of school activities through the circulation of regular newsletter and notices. Plans to develop a school website will further enhance the sharing of information.


Management of pupils

The quality of pupil management is excellent. The pupils respond positively to the respectful, caring behaviour that is modelled by the school staff. The concern of teachers and the special needs assistant for both the education and welfare of their pupils was clearly evident during the visit.



2.     Quality of school planning


2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The quality of whole-school planning is good.  A three-year developmental plan outlines the major organisational and curricular priorities of the school. The action plans which are currently being implemented indicate a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning within the school community. Engagement of staff in the preparation of a comprehensive range of curricular and organisational policies is commendable with the draft policies for English, Maths and information and communications technology particularly worthy of note. Further involvement of all partners in policy formation and review is now recommended. A significant number of draft policies have yet to be discussed and ratified by the board of management. It is recommended that all policies brought before the board are signed and dated at ratification stage with review dates included. The board is advised to review aspects of the health and safety policy to ensure greater clarity for all partners regarding the transport arrangements for pupils attending events during school hours.


The quality of classroom planning is very good. All teachers provide thorough long and short term plans for all curricular areas with due regard for progression from class to class and the varying learning needs of pupils. Clear learning outcomes are identified and appropriate provision is made for integration and linkage to support the consolidation of pupils’ learning within a broad and balanced curriculum. A wealth of teaching resources are prepared to support teaching and learning in all settings within this school community. Consultation among teachers and with parents, together with appropriate assessment information, informs the planning process for supplementary teaching in literacy and Mathematics.


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



The overall quality of teaching and learning in English is very good. A comprehensive whole-school plan for English supports the implementation of a rich, balanced programme. Discrete oral language lessons focus on the development of specific oral language skills and vocabulary extension within the multi-class situation. Co-operative group work and purposeful pair work are facilitated with great skill by each teacher to provide a wealth of opportunities for pupils to engage in a variety of talk and discussion activities across all curricular areas. A very good emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ higher-order thinking skills throughout the school. The development of listening skills in the infant and junior classes is particularly praiseworthy. Pupils can recite and discuss an appropriate range of poetry and rhyme.


A variety of successful strategies has been put in place to promote pupils’ interest in reading. Parental shared reading programmes and buddy programmes are particularly praiseworthy. Class libraries contain an attractive range of carefully graded books to ensure pupils enjoy a variety of reading material at their appropriate ability levels. Each teacher provides a print-rich environment and ably facilitates a language experience approach to literacy development. Pupils’ phonological skills and phonemic awareness are developed in a structured manner. Very good use is made of the large-format books in infant and junior classes as a springboard for developing pupils’ vocabulary, comprehension and prediction skills. It is recommended that the teaching of formal reading for most pupils be delayed until senior infants. Creditable emphasis is placed on the systematic development of sight vocabulary in all classes. Reading skills are appropriately extended as pupils progress through the school. The majority of pupils read with a level of accuracy, fluency and comprehension appropriate to their age and ability. An examination of standardised assessments reflects significant progress for the majority of pupils. The productive exploration of the novel in senior classes is laudable and more extensive use of novels is recommended to address the wide range of interests and abilities in the middle classes.


Pupils’ written work in a variety of genres is of an impressive standard and is displayed and celebrated within the school. Process writing is a particularly praiseworthy. Paired-writing activities between senior and junior classes are commendable. Independent pupil learning is promoted to good effect through use of dictionaries and editing checklists. Sufficient emphasis is placed upon the conventions of grammar and punctuation. Pupils are afforded regular opportunities to use information and communications technology (ICT) to present their work. Further use of ICT as a medium for developing spelling strategies was discussed with staff at the post-evaluation meeting.


3.2 Mathematics

The teaching of mathematics is undertaken diligently throughout the school and pupils’ attainment is good. A whole-school emphasis on the consistency and clarity of mathematical language together with the commitment to embed pupils’ mathematical learning in real-life experiences and in their immediate context contributes to the considerable progress being made. Interactive white boards and digital media are used effectively to introduce mathematical concepts and to consolidate learning in all strands in both classrooms. Well structured, activity-based group and pair activity ensure differentiated learning of a high quality. Effective use of concrete equipment such as manipulatives, stile trays and loop games is evident, particularly in infant and junior classes where early mathematical skills such as matching, comparing, classifying, ordering and sequencing are firmly established. Pupils in middle and senior classes demonstrate good recall of basic facts and articulate their reasoning of mathematical problems using carefully taught problem-solving strategies. Further development of these pupils’ estimation skills across all strands is recommended. Pupils in all classes demonstrate age-appropriate understanding of place value and number operations. A range of mathematics trails has been developed within the school. Innovative in-class support by the special education teacher enhances the quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics.


3.4 Assessment

The teachers are commended for the detailed analysis of the results of standardised testing in literacy and Mathematics and their usage of this data to inform whole-school planning and teaching. Tracking of individual pupil progress could be further enhanced by co-ordinating the various teacher checklists in use. It is recommended that the school now further develops assessment of how pupils are learning so that the good practices of differentiated teaching already established can be extended. The use of running records to support the development of literacy skills was discussed with staff at the post-evaluation meeting. It is now timely that opportunities for pupil self-assessment be further developed. Staff are encouraged to proceed with the use of oral language indicators as specified in the DEIS strategic plan. The compilation of pupil portfolios and the close monitoring of pupils’ copybooks and workbooks are laudable practices. A range of diagnostic testing is carried out conscientiously in the supplementary teaching context.



4.     Quality of support for pupils


4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The quality of provision for pupils with special educational needs is very good. Mainstream class teachers differentiate their teaching styles and lesson content to cater for the various levels of ability in their classes. The shared learning-support/resource teacher prepares comprehensive individual profile and learning programmes for each pupil in consultation with the parents and class teacher. Lessons are well structured and delivered in a competent and caring manner. Innovative and well planned in-class support is a key feature of provision. The special needs assistant discharges her duties conscientiously for the pupil in her care.


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

The shared rural co-ordinator appointed under the DEIS initiative works in the school one day a week. She provides a programme of activities which are of a very high quality and which contribute significantly to this school’s positive developments. Parental involvement in weekly school-based shared-reading Súgradh le Chéile workshops and a range of courses impacts positively on pupil learning and on home-school collaboration. Home-visits, transfer programmes and a toy library service have been successfully established within the school community. The co-ordinator works well with the other teachers to support pupils’ development through buddy writing schemes, literacy and phonological development activities, the Green-School Programme and the Discover Science programme.



5.     Conclusion


The school has strengths in the following areas:


·         The school is characterised by a vibrant, positive school climate and a strong sense of community.

·         Effective distributed leadership combined with the professionalism of the whole staff ensures learning is celebrated and promoted at every level within the school community.

·         Co-operative and collaborative group work of a very high quality was observed in all classes.

·         Parental involvement in school activities is a dynamic feature of Diffreen National School.

·         The holistic development of pupils is facilitated through the effective delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum and also through an extensive range of extra-curricular activities which are organised by the school.



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


·         Further engagement of the board of management and parents in the whole-school planning and review process is recommended.

·         It is advised that further attention be given to the development of pupils’ estimation skills across all strands of the mathematics curriculum in middle and senior classes.

·         The teaching staff is encouraged to explore aspects of formative assessment which would enhance pupil progress and differentiated teaching even further.


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 March 2009