An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Athlacca National School
Kilmallock County Limerick
Uimhir rolla: 17155A
Date of inspection: 14 November 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Athlacca 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.
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
Athlacca National School is a three-teacher school, situated in the village of Athlacca, County Limerick. The school is located approximately twenty miles from Limerick city. The mission statement of Athlacca National School is clearly outlined in the school’s planning documentation. The aim of the school is ‘to maximise the talents of all pupils, to provide them with a sound academic education and to open their eyes to the world around them.’ It is further outlined that the school endeavours ‘to give all children a solid religious and moral education within the Catholic ethos of the school and to help them establish a faith in God that will grow and develop.’ The aspirations outlined in the school ethos were in evidence during the course of the evaluation.
The board reports that it convenes regularly, approximately five times per year, and it also indicates that attendance at board of management meetings is very good. The board is properly constituted, financial matters are managed very effectively and documentation relating to the minutes of the board’s meetings is accessible and is recorded in a clear, efficient manner. It was also highlighted that the principal provides a report to the other members of the board of management at every meeting, through which they are updated on matters pertaining to curricular or organisational areas, special educational needs and policy-making issues. Frequent communication and contact between the chairperson of the board and the school has also been established. These features of good practice are acknowledged and commended.
Current issues which have been discussed at board of management meetings include the ongoing maintenance of the school building, monitoring the school’s resource needs, the appointment of staff, the ratification of school planning policies and also ensuring the continued provision of community support to the school. Board members reported that issues of concern pertained to the replacement of pupils’ toilet facilities, the refurbishment of floor covering areas and the re-surfacing of the school yard. Board members have had the opportunity of availing of training, as appropriate to their role. It was further outlined that the current priorities of the school’s board of management relate to ensuring that the school staff continues to be supported in its work, that procedures regarding the enrolment of pupils are in place and that policy formation is continually addressed.
The board has ensured that appropriate procedures are outlined regarding the enrolment of pupils with special educational needs within the school’s Special Needs Policy. It is now recommended that a review of the section in the school’s Enrolment Policy regarding the enrolment of children with special needs be undertaken to ensure that statutory obligations pertaining to the Education Act (1998) and the Equal Status Acts (2004) are fulfilled.
The board stated that it was very satisfied with the achievement of pupils. The strengths of the school were cited as the positive working climate and the clear, open communication structures which have been established within the school; the good staff relations and the place of the school within the local community; the happiness, confidence and self-esteem of pupils; the high academic standards and pupil readiness on transition to post primary school. The caring atmosphere that exists throughout the school was also emphasised.
In order to further enhance the quality of the education provision within this school and to reinforce the board’s role in outlining how the school’s priorities might be resourced, implemented and evaluated, it is now advised that the board of management formulates a long term action plan. This plan would identify realistic and achievable targets, within the overall vision for the school, and would also detail a realistic timescale for achieving these objectives.
The in-school management team in Athlacca National School comprises the teaching principal, the deputy principal (acting) and one special duties post-holder (acting). The principal recently assumed leadership of the school in October of this school year and she is currently defining and establishing her leadership role in the school. It is evident that she demonstrates very high professional standards and she has a clear vision for the future of the school. She displays very good organisational ability and she has overseen the development of the whole-school planning process. As an instructional leader, it is apparent that the principal understands that she has a pivotal role to play in leading learning in the school and she strives to ensure that the pupils aspire to high academic standards. The principal has already developed very effective management systems and very clear lines of communication among all the stakeholders in the school. She possesses a deep knowledge of the school community and also displays a genuine interest in and concern for the welfare of the pupils. She promotes positive behaviour and attendance by pupils and provides access to appropriate support for pupils. It is also evident that the principal is building on the strong collaborative work ethic and team culture which currently exist within the school.
The principal is supported very productively in her work by the in-school management team, whose duties are currently under review, due to the recent changes in the school’s staffing arrangements. These duties should continue to be matched to the priorities and developing needs of the school and should aim to facilitate the process of school self-evaluation. It is advised that the work of the in-school management team would also continue to contribute towards leading teaching and learning within the school, to assist in evaluating the effectiveness of learning outcomes and to identify and encourage the development of aspects of effective practice. The duties of the in-school management team are being formulated in a collaborative manner, at present, and they include curricular, organisational/administrative and pastoral responsibilities. Regular communication systems exist and staff meetings are now also convened on a once-per-term basis and as necessary.
The support given by the ancillary staff and secretarial personnel in undertaking their roles in a professional and diligent manner is also acknowledged.
A Home School Links Policy is presented in school planning documentation and this feature of good practice is commended. This policy outlines that ‘good home-school links contribute greatly to the quality of education received by the child.’ The parents’ association in Athlacca National School is affiliated with the National Parents’ Council (NPC) and it has a newly-established committee. The parents’ representatives present at the pre-evaluation meeting outlined that they proposed to convene meetings on a regular basis. It was reported that the parent body supported the work of the school by organising fundraising activities and by giving general assistance at school-related events. It was further reported that there is an ‘open-door’ policy in the school and that all members of the teaching staff are very approachable. It was also outlined that parent-teacher meetings are convened on an annual basis, where oral reports on pupils’ progress are given. Written reports on pupil progress are also issued at the end of the school-year. The good levels of transition between the playschool and Athlacca National School were also noted. The parents’ representatives outlined that they hoped to develop further links between the general parent body and the teachers. It was hoped that the system of issuing a school newsletter would be initiated. It is now recommended that strategies be devised to ensure that parental contribution and input into the school planning process is extended, as appropriate.
The mainstream classes in this school are organised in three combined class groupings of junior/senior infants, first/second/third and fourth/fifth/sixth class pupils. Classroom activity and pupil behaviour are very effectively managed in all class settings. The pupils are very well-behaved, courteous and are eager, enthusiastic and engaged in their learning. The school ethos is manifested through favourable teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil interactions, productive classroom management procedures and a positive learning atmosphere. It is evident that an atmosphere of mutual fairness and respect prevails throughout the school.
The quality of whole-school planning is good, in general. The development of the school planning process is managed collaboratively and much of this work has been undertaken in the recent past. Nineteen policy statements are presented, which deal very comprehensively with specific organisational areas of the school, while plans pertaining to most of the curricular areas have also been devised. All policies are reflective of the school context and are signed by the chairperson of the board of management. These features of good practice are commended.
Curricular plans have been devised in nine curricular areas, at present. It is advised that the curricular areas of History and Geography be prioritised for formulation in the short term and also that the process of devising a policy in Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) be initiated as soon as possible. A timeframe for review of most of the curricular plans is included in school planning documentation. Consideration should now be given to prioritising the review of the curricular policies, which have been already identified for revision during the current school year by the school staff. This will assist in evaluating the effectiveness and impact of the curricular plans on the quality of teaching and learning within the school. These polices could also present a suitable range of teaching approaches, assessment strategies and could indicate how resources and materials might be utilised to ensure that the objectives of the curriculum are achieved by pupils throughout the school. These curricular policies should continue to offer guidance at each class level in relation to the strands, strand units, objectives, teaching strategies, learning experiences and content to be addressed, so that continuity and progression throughout the school is ensured.
The quality of classroom planning is very good. All teachers provide very comprehensive long-term planning which refers to the principles and structure of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and which guides and informs classroom activity. A common approach for short-term classroom planning has been recently devised and is used very effectively by all mainstream class teachers. This approach allows for the clarification of focused learning outcomes within a specific time-bound period, where the learning objectives, the methods and resources to be utilised and the content of lessons are clearly outlined. It is evident that much consideration has been given to the development of a consistent approach to individual teachers’ short term preparation and members of the teaching staff are commended for their diligence in this regard. A section on the common short-term planning template is also utilised to complete the monthly progress record, where teachers provide reflective commentary on progress achieved. The features of good practice, in relation to individual teacher planning, are highly commended.
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.
It is now recommended that the identification of the DLP and the deputy DLP be updated and amended to reflect the current personnel within the school.
A curricular policy is outlined in English in school planning documentation and is to be reviewed at the end of the current school year. It is recommended that the review of this curricular plan would outline how a programme of work, pertaining to the incremental development of the three strands of oral, reading and writing be delineated in the school’s curricular policy in English. An analysis of how the four strand units will be incorporated and implemented in teaching and learning in the school at each class level should also be included. This would aim to ensure that there is a planned, systematic progression of teaching and learning of English throughout all class levels in the school.
Learning environments are well organised in a print-rich and attractive manner. During the course of this evaluation, clear lesson structure was observed during lessons in English and there was evidence of effective management, pacing and development of activities. Pupils engage in effective oral interaction with teachers and their contributions are invited and encouraged appropriately. Pupils display an ability to work independently and their application to tasks, activities and behaviour is very effectively managed. At all class levels, a range of poetry is studied and pupils are encouraged to recite a variety of poems with good expression. Discrete oral language activities are also implemented very productively in classrooms and are linked, in some instances, with other curricular areas.
At infant class level, good attention is also paid to the development of emergent reading and writing skills. Activities addressing phonic work, functional work and grammar are also being effectively developed at all class levels. Commercial textbooks are used throughout the school, novels are also utilised and a good range of books is provided in classroom libraries. Pupils read competently and fluently, in general and it is evident that they are motivated and encouraged to read frequently.
The quality of pupils’ writing is good, in general. There is evidence of very good outcomes regarding pupils’ written work and the regular correction and monitoring of this work is ensured. Very good samples of pupils’ personal and creative writing are displayed in all mainstream classrooms. It is also evident that a variety of writing genres is explored and that good emphasis is placed on the writing process.
During the post evaluation meeting with the teaching staff, opportunities were provided to discuss the analysis of pupils’ attainment in literacy throughout the school. The results of assessment tests should now continue to be used to inform the implementation of differentiated activities and to ensure that these are matched to pupil need and ability, as appropriate. The practice of collaboration between mainstream and support teachers in implementing an in-class intervention model of support should also be considered, as appropriate.
A comprehensive curricular policy in Mathematics is presented in the school plan and the documentation outlined in this regard is informed by the Primary School Curriculum, 1999. Reference is made to the language of Mathematics throughout the strands at various class levels, and also to approaches to teaching tables and number operations. This curricular plan is due to be reviewed at the end of the current school year. It is advised that the curricular objectives pertaining to the five strands of the curriculum be detailed at each class level. This will enable the teaching programme and the learning experiences in Mathematics to be planned and implemented in a systematic manner throughout the school.
Good practice in relation to the teaching of Mathematics was observed throughout the school. Lessons in Mathematics are structured and developed in an effective manner and pupils’ application to tasks is managed skilfully. Concrete materials and mathematical resources are employed, as appropriate, while active learning strategies are also promoted. It is important to ensure that continued emphasis is placed on developing pupils’ higher order thinking skills and on extending their engagement with problem solving activities. Group teaching approaches are undertaken in all classes and suitable emphasis is placed on the implementation of a variety of strands and also on the acquisition of number concepts and skills. Pupils’ written mathematical assignments in copybooks are neatly presented. During the post evaluation meeting with the teaching staff, opportunities were provided to discuss the analysis of pupils’ attainment in numeracy. The results of assessment tests, pertaining to pupil achievement in this regard, should continue to be used to inform teaching and learning activities in Mathematics.
Active collaboration in Mathematics between mainstream and support teachers is evident. This practice allows for the implementation of a withdrawal model of support in Mathematics, where pupils’ needs in this curricular area have been identified. This feature of good practice is commended.
An Assessment and Reporting Policy is included in the school plan. This policy outlines a range of continuous assessment strategies undertaken in the school including teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and test, pupil projects and portfolios, self-assessment by pupils and the maintenance of pupil profiles and samples of pupils’ work. Standardised tests, including the Micra-T and Sigma-T, are administered on an annual basis. Results of assessment tests are recorded in a methodical manner and are maintained securely within the school. Data yielded from these standardised tests are analysed at staff level and assist in informing decision-making regarding pupils in need of support. This feature of good practice is commended. Diagnostic testing is also undertaken in some settings. These include the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST), the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability and Quest tests. The Forward Together Programme has been implemented in the past, as appropriate.
A detailed and very comprehensive Special Needs Policy is presented in school planning documentation.
The support teaching provision / team in this school consists of two teaching posts, one full time learning support/resource teaching (LSRT) position and one resource teaching post, which is shared with Effin National School. Two special needs assistants are also employed and their work is undertaken in a diligent and sensitive manner.
Due to recent changes in staffing arrangements in the early part of the current school year, the support teachers have been recently appointed to the school staff and are currently establishing awareness in relation to the role of support provision. It is anticipated that further changes in teaching personnel will occur in the short term, in relation to the shared resource teaching post in the school.
During the lessons observed in the support areas, it was evident that very positive teacher-pupil interactions were being established. Pupils were regularly affirmed for their efforts, effective communication skills were apparent and teaching activities were well-paced and clearly-structured. Productive use was also made of commercial materials, concrete resources and information and communication technologies (ICT) equipment. A variety of teaching approaches was undertaken and pupils were withdrawn from mainstream class settings on an individual, group or whole-class basis, as appropriate. The development of literacy, language, Mathematics, social and behavioural skills is addressed in these support settings Consideration should now be given to implementing an in-class model of support between mainstream and support teachers, as appropriate, as identified at whole-school level and matched by pupil need.
It was reported that the process of devising Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for pupils in the current school year is ongoing and is at an early stage of development, at present. There was evidence of very clear and detailed documentation in relation to the pupils’ IEPs from the previous school year and it is advised that a similar format be adopted when formulating IEPs for pupils on the current caseload. The sharing of teacher expertise and dissemination of good practice among existing staff members is recommended in this regard. It was reported that parental and pupil input is sought and ensured during the development of the IEP process. These approaches are commended.
Good quality planning templates are presented regarding support teaching provision. It is important to ensure that reference continues to be made to the priority learning needs of these pupils and that long-term and short-term planning continues to be directed at target-based planning and on the attainment of focused learning objectives to be achieved within a specific time-bound period. Daily timetables, records of attendance and pupil portfolios of work are maintained. Strategies to record pupil progress on a regular basis, relating to the evaluation of the targets achieved, are also addressed.
Efforts are made to ensure that the education provision in this school is tailored appropriately to all pupils’ needs and abilities.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The school ethos and the aims of its mission statement are manifested in the positive school atmosphere and are in evidence in the daily operation of the school.
· The principal demonstrates very high professional standards and she has a clear vision for the future of the school.
· The commitment, diligence and the collaborative work ethos of the teaching staff are evident.
· The very good quality of teaching that is delivered by staff members is apparent.
· The staff displays a good awareness of pupil needs and a genuine concern for pupil welfare.
· Pupils are very well-behaved, eager, enthusiastic and are engaged in their learning.
· A good work ethic and positive learning atmospheres have been established in all settings.
· There are high levels of support provided by the secretarial and ancillary staff.
· The board of management and general parent body actively support the work of the school.
· The organisational policies and the curricular planning documentation, which have been developed and formulated to date, are comprehensive.
· Very detailed and high quality short-term planning documentation is presented in individual teacher preparation.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· It is recommended that the board of management formulates a long-term action plan. This plan would identify realistic and achievable targets, within the overall vision for
the school, and would also detail a realistic timescale for achieving these objectives.
· It is advised that the board undertakes a review of the section in the school’s Enrolment Policy regarding the enrolment of children with special needs, to ensure that
statutory obligations pertaining to the Education Act (1998) and the Equal Status Acts (2004) are fulfilled.
· It is recommended that the identification of the designated liaison person (DLP) and the deputy DLP be updated and amended to reflect the current personnel within the
school, in accordance with the requirements of the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001).
· It is advised that whole school planning policies continue to be reviewed on a phased basis, as prioritised and identified at whole-school level.
· It is advised that the practice of implementing in-class models of support would continue to be undertaken on a whole-school basis and matched to identified pupil
need, as appropriate.
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 January 2009