An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil Náisiúnta Chuilinn Uí Chaoimh
Lislehane, Cullen, Mallow, County Cork
Roll Number: 17171V
Date of inspection: 23 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Cullen 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 inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ 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 inspector 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Cullen National School is located one mile outside the village of Cullen, County Cork. It is one of four schools in the parish of Millstreet and it serves a well-established rural community, catering for both boys and girls. At present, this three-teacher school has an enrolment of 58 pupils from a total of 33 families. Enrolment in the school has remained constant over the past few years reflecting little change in demographic trends in the locality. However, it would appear from the previous school report submitted in 1995 that the school’s catchment area is experiencing a slight increase in population.
The school community strives to provide a caring, happy and secure atmosphere for pupils where their holistic learning needs are identified and addressed. A warm and welcoming atmosphere was evident during the period of inspection. This characteristic spirit of the school is reflected in the daily positive interactions among pupils and teachers. Pupils enjoy school and their levels of attendance are very high.
The school is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kerry. The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly. The frequency of meetings has increased recently as a result of progress being made in relation to the new school building. The agenda for meetings is agreed in advance and circulated to board members. Financial statements are furnished and it is reported that accounts were audited last year. It is clear that the board of management is keenly interested in promoting the welfare of the school and it exhibits a willingness to discharge its role in a conscientious manner. The board is most supportive of the work of the school and co-operation between school and community is fostered assiduously. The board of management is very proud of its achievements to date with regard to the number of activities and local events in which school and community have been closely engaged.
The board of management engages in matters pertaining to school maintenance, safety issues, the acquisition of a new school building and supporting the principal and teaching staff. Primarily, the board of management has directed its attention to the development of organisational policies. It is now considered advisable that, in collaboration with the teaching staff, the board becomes more actively involved in the development of curricular policies, in their ratification and review.
The in-school management team consists of the principal and the deputy principal. The teaching principal is very conscientious in the discharge of her duties and steers the school purposefully forward. The leadership exercised in the school is sensitive to the needs of all pupils and displays commitment to their social and holistic learning needs. Both board of management and parents report considerable progress in recent years in the development of the school’s internal management. Clearly defined procedures are in place to support ongoing collaboration among board, parents and teaching staff. In her leadership role, the principal reinforces the strong links with the local community by fostering a spirit of inclusiveness in all aspects of school life. The principal is also to be commended for her commitment to the acquisition of a new school building with the on-going support of board and parents.
Duties for the deputy principal have been agreed. These duties are primarily of an organisational nature which the post-holder carries out conscientiously. In facilitating a productive matching of duties to a constantly changing school environment, responsibilities in matters curricular and pastoral should also be assigned and reviewed regularly. Currently no formal meetings are convened to discuss school matters. To this end, the in-school management team might usefully consider meeting regularly as a management team to facilitate collaborative decision-making and partnership. The development of a clear and open system of communication, equitable delegation of duties and further advancements in the development of a team approach would greatly enhance the overall organisation of the school on a daily basis.
All necessary resources, both material and personnel, are deployed effectively. Two shared special-needs teachers, both of whom are based in neighbouring schools, cater for the special educational needs of a number of pupils in the school. A part-time school secretary provides valuable administrative support to the principal. Management also employ a cleaner cum caretaker to maintain the school building. Both caretaker and secretary are to be commended for their contribution to school life. Expertise on the staff is used prudently to enhance certain areas of the curriculum particularly the area of Music. It is suggested that this practice be extended to include all classes and other curricular areas, where appropriate. Staff meetings are held infrequently. It is recommended that provision is made for regular staff meetings in accordance with Department and Science (DES) Circular 14/04.
With the support of the Schola Programme external personnel provide additional support in Physical Education (PE) and in Visual Arts. Pupils in the senior classes are taught Spanish and participate in an exchange programme. The introduction of a six-week transition programme, with emphasis on ICT skill development, has greatly supported pupils as they transfer to the local second-level school.
The school which was built in 1938 comprises four classrooms, cloakrooms, toilets and a small office. Currently three of the classrooms accommodate mainstream teaching while the fourth room serves as a learning support, resource, storage and staff room. An original cloakroom now accommodates the principal’s office. Indoors, the school is bright and pleasant. A high standard of hygiene, neatness and order is in evidence throughout the building. Classrooms are attractively decorated with commercially produced and teacher-made charts, pupils’ writing, artwork and projects. Corridors are also used as display areas where art work and projects are a prominent feature. Pupils’ recreational space outdoors is restricted. In the absence of a field and hall, regular use is made of the local GAA facilities. Necessary improvements are carried out on a regular basis, the most recently completed maintenance programme being the resurfacing of the school yard and the replacement of retention walls. The Department of Education and Science informed the school authorities of their successful application under the Devolved Grant Scheme, an initiative that allows small primary schools undertake building and modernisation works on a devolved basis. The board of management is confident that, with the recent acquisition of a green field site close to the village of Cullen, the building project will be completed by 2008.
An appropriate variety of teaching and learning resources is available in the school and is used to considerable effect. Each classroom has a wide range of suitable charts, maps, posters on display which contribute to the creation of a stimulating learning environment. Resources have been purchased to support curricular delivery particularly in the areas of Mathematics and Science. The school has acquired a range of suitable PE equipment through its participation in the Buntús programme. A comprehensive inventory of all school equipment and books has been compiled. Some attention may now be directed to the provision of additional resources for the teaching of children with special needs.
It was clear from comments of representatives of the parents’ association who attended the pre-evaluation meeting with the inspector that the local community is very supportive of the school and that the school is viewed as an integral part of this rural community. The committee meets regularly and the principal is invited to attend the beginning of meetings. The association enhances the work of the school and supports it through such activities as the promotion of healthy eating policy, the organisation of swimming lessons and dance classes. These activities contribute greatly to the overall ethos of the school in providing every opportunity for children to develop their full potential. Fund-raising activities are also organised and monies raised are used to supplement ongoing maintenance costs and the acquisition of additional equipment.
Parents expressed genuine concern about safety matters both in the school environs and on the main road. While they have been successful in addressing some of these issues parents remain apprehensive about outstanding safety matters.
The school community recognises the value of good communication in building trust and respect between home and school and to this end careful attention is directed towards the further development of a productive and open home-school partnership. Parents are informed of their children’s progress by means of written reports and both formal and incidental meetings with teachers. Home-school links are promoted through the dissemination of some policies and the issuing of regular letters related to school matters. Parents speak positively of the progress that has been made in recent times with regard to policy development and the acquisition of a new school building and they look forward to supporting all aspects of school life.
The school has prepared a useful school plan, which outlines a range of organisational and administrative policies. Staff, board of management and parent collaboration in the formulation of some of these documents is commendable. While a comprehensive health and safety policy exists it is timely to review this policy in the light of recent structural improvements made to the school. 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 1999) 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.
Curricular policies are outlined in Gaeilge, English, Mathematics, Visual Arts, Science, and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). The whole-school planning process has been initiated with enthusiasm. Some of the above-named policies are incomplete and some individual long-term plans are included in the school plan in respect of some curricular areas such as Physical Education, History and Geography. It is the intention of the teaching staff to develop these plans more comprehensively in due course. SPHE has been prioritised for immediate review with the support of the Irish Rural Development Programme (IRD) and the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN). It is recommended that curricular policies should be developed in a collaborative manner. Any review of policies should result in concise, comprehensive and user friendly documents to support effective implementation. The delineation and delegation of specific tasks to staff members would greatly enhance continuous planning and systematic review.
Individual teacher planning is undertaken in the form of long-term and short-term preparation. All teachers’ timetables are organised to facilitate the implementation of curriculum plans and appropriate attention is afforded to linkage and integration within and between subjects. It is evident from an examination of individual teacher planning that pupils experience a broad and balanced curriculum. Some teachers utilise the school plan as their long-term schemes of work. A close relationship should exist between the school plan and teachers’ planning but each teacher’s planning should show how the overall plan is adapted to meet the pupils’ specific learning needs. It is advised that a consistent approach to individual teacher planning be promoted throughout the school.
Monthly progress records, in the form of Cuntais Mhíosúla are maintained by individual teachers. These monthly records are almost a duplication of teachers’ short-term planning. Consideration should be given to devising a more serviceable system of monitoring completed work. The creation of a common school-designed template would greatly enhance the overall recording of learning objectives achieved.
Tá feidhm thairbheach á baint as an gcur chuige cumarsáideach chun an Gaeilge a chur chun cinn tríd an scoil. Éiríonn leis na hoidí suim na ndaltaí i bhfoghlaim na Gaeilge a mhúscailt agus a bpáirtíocht sna ceachtanna a chothú trí úsáid cheardúil a bhaint as straitéisí éagsúla ar nós drámaíochta, agallaimh beirte, filíochta, rann, rólghlacadh, puipéad agus cluichí. Sna hardranganna, is ealaíonta go deo mar a chothaítear muinín agus cumas labhartha na ndaltaí le linn cleachtaí na n-agallamh beirte.
Úsáidtear áiseanna closamhairc agus ábhar corpartha go cumasach chun scileanna éisteachta na ndaltaí a fhorbairt agus chun a dtuiscint ar an teanga a éascú. I gcoitinne, léiríonn na daltaí cumas maith tuisceana agus is inmholta mar a chuirtear ar a gcumas ceisteanna a chur agus a fhreagairt. Leathnaítear foclóir na ndaltaí go céimniúil agus caitear dua le múineadh nathanna cainte. I gcoitinne tá caighdeán labhartha creidiúnach sroichte ag na daltaí ach b’fhiú iad a spreagadh chun a thuilleadh úsáide a bhaint as an teanga i gcomhthéacsanna cumarsáideacha le linn na gceachtanna comhrá.
Tá iarracht choinsiasach déanta prionta i nGaeilge a chur ar taispeáint i dtimpeallacht na scoile. Éiríonn go stuama le formhór na bpáistí an t-ábhar léitheoireachta a léamh le brí agus le tuiscint. Tá iarracht inmholta déanta an t-ábhar léitheoireachta sa Ghaeilge a leathnú. Ba thairbheach, anois, feidhm a bhaint as raon d’fhíorleabhair tharraingteacha idir bheag agus mhór, iris agus cineálacha difriúla téacsanna chun a scileanna léitheoireachta a chothú a thuilleadh.
Éiríonn leis na daltaí scríbhneoireacht fheidhmiúil de chaighdeán creidiúnach cruinnis a sholáthar. Déantar monatóireacht rialta ar an obair seo. Ní mór, áfach, próiséas na saor scríbhneoireachta a fhorbairt go córasach agus deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí smaointe a ghiniúint agus a dhréachtú le cur lena gcumas cumarsáide scríofa. Múintear an fhilíocht go céimniúil agus is léir go mbaineann na daltaí tairbhe nach beag as an saothar seo. Nasctar an fhilíocht go buntáisteach leis an léitheoireacht agus leis an scríbhneoireacht.
Appropriate attention is paid to the development of children’s oral language skills, and opportunities for engaging in discussion across a wide range of curricular areas are fully exploited. Development of pupil’s confidence through expressing their views on a range of topics is central to the oral language lesson. Poetry is presented in a stimulating manner and children engage actively during these lessons by reciting a range of rhymes and poems clearly and with expression. Basic reading skills are well taught and the reading culture that has developed throughout the school is praiseworthy. Pupils in junior classes, where a print-rich environment is created, display age-appropriate phonological and phonemic awareness. A good knowledge of frequently used words and proficiency in word identification strategies was also noted. Activities for reading readiness provide a foundation for the teaching of reading through the use of large format books, experience charts and a good selection of age-appropriate reading books. A more extensive use and development of these strategies would possibly eliminate the need to introduce a structured reading programme that is currently taking place in the infant class. Class readers are used extensively and in some classes this practice is supplemented by the novel. Choosing an age- appropriate novel for the individual classes is recommended. Many pupils are independent readers and read with high levels of fluency. This high standard is reflected in pupils’ achievement on standardized reading tests which are administered annually. Emphasis is placed on reading for pleasure, facilitated by the provision of well-stocked libraries.
Children engage in a range of writing activities, both functional and creative. In the junior classes written activity includes daily news. Book reviews, letter writing, daily news, poetry and stories are in evidence as well as comprehension and workbook exercises. An examination of pupils copybooks indicates that the process of creative writing activity is emphasised in the middle and senior classes. A variety of genre using an age-appropriate register of language was also noted. It is recommended that pupils in all classes be given further opportunities to write creatively on a regular basis and for a variety of purposes. While good penmanship skills present as a notable feature in some classes, it is recommended that a whole-school approach to fostering handwriting and presentation skills should now be adopted.
The teaching of mathematics is undertaken conscientiously at all class levels and teachers are to be commended for the standards that are achieved by the pupils as recorded on standardized tests. In general, lesson content is presented clearly with appropriate questioning. Emphasis is placed on active learning methodologies. A wide range of mathematical equipment is provided throughout the school and used effectively in the demonstration and in the teaching of concepts. Opportunities are provided for pupils to engage in worthwhile practical tasks with the effective use of co-operative, whole-class, group and individual settings employed.
Mathematical concepts and skills are systematically developed throughout the school. Pupils in the junior classes display considerable understanding of number. Plans are in place to further develop mathematical language in order to ensure continuity and progression in all classes. To further develop pupils’ mental processing skills it is recommended that emphasis be placed on oral mathematics across all strand and strand units on a regular basis. Work in Mathematics is generally well presented. Through observation and teacher-designed tests pupils’ attainment is monitored and recorded diligently.
Story is used to good effect as a stimulus for discussion on a variety of topics in History. The teaching of History is enriched by the inclusion of many local topics and traditions. It is evident that the pupils’ interest in the locality and their sense of place and time are considerably enhanced through studies of local historical sites and buildings. Project work is used effectively to integrate history with other aspects of the curriculum. In some classes a wide range of resources and historical documents is used judiciously in the promotion of historical concepts while in other classes commercial texts form the basis of the programme. To ensure the development of a broad range of knowledge and skill, a whole-school policy outlining content, approaches and methodologies is recommended.
Teachers’ notes indicate that a range of suitable topics are examined during the Geography lesson enabling pupils to acquire factual knowledge while also developing a range of appropriate skills. A variety of methodologies are used skilfully. The effective use of photographs to stimulate discussion is a noteworthy feature of the programme. Considerable emphasis is placed on the local environment particularly in the senior classes. Aspects of the lives of people in other countries and their environments are also studied. Pupils display appropriate skills in sourcing information and presenting such information in project format.
The examination of teachers’ preparation and the observation of lessons indicate that content is well planned and a range of effective methodologies is used to encourage pupil participation and active learning in the area of Science. In general, pupils demonstrate good understanding of scientific concepts and their application. Appropriate emphasis is placed on skill development through the facilitation of independent investigation. Integration of this subject with other aspects of the curriculum is praiseworthy.
Activities in the Visual Art programme are organised with competence, skill and enthusiasm. The development of pupils’ imagination and creativity across the strands and strand units is commendable. Pupils are provided with regular opportunities to explore, design and create using a range of media and techniques including drawing, painting and printing. A further outcome of the IRD programme is evident in some fine examples of construction work undertaken by senior classes. Work in fabric and fibre could be explored further throughout the school. Themes for work are drawn from seasonal events, elements of the pupils’ experiences and work in other areas of the curriculum. Learning about the work of artists could receive greater attention supported by suitable displays of artist’s work in the school environment. Staff might also gainfully explore the language of art and art appreciation in a review of this subject area.
The teaching of Music throughout the school is highly commendable. Middle and senior classes are taught the recorder. Short periods of daily practice greatly augment pupils’ achievement and interest in the Music curriculum. Some of the pupils in the senior classes are also members of the local pipe band, which fosters and complement the overall musical ability of the pupils. Staff ensure that performance and listening and responding to Music are central features of the programme. Lessons were observed where children were actively involved in the learning process in a very positive manner. The pupils sing a range of songs tunefully in both Irish and English tunefully. Work in the area of rhythm, notation and the use of percussion instruments is of a high standard. As a developmental issue, staff might usefully undertake a review of songs taught throughout the school and decide on a core compilation to become part of each pupil’s repertoire. Annual school concerts, participation in local feiseanna, community events and liturgical ceremonies enhance pupil’s opportunities to perform publicly.
Dramatic activities are skilfully integrated with curricular areas and their value as a learning tool is acknowledged throughout the school. Pupils’ understanding is enriched and their confidence and expressive abilities in language are promoted through good practice in drama. The skilful use of agallamh beirte, Christmas plays and participation in community events, succeeds admirably in fostering pupils creativity in the area of drama. Pupils spoke with pride about their successes in both local and national quiz competitions.
The current physical education programme is supported by an external tutor from the IRD programme. It is evident from teacher’s planning that lessons are well-structured with clear objectives. Planning documents also indicate that children are exposed to a wide variety of physical activity including dance, game and aquatics. Pupils develop a sense of cultural pride by learning a selection of Irish dances. Team games also feature on the physical education programme, supported by the local GAA club and by parents. School teams participate successfully in inter-school tournaments. Swimming lessons organised by parents, augment the schools provision for P.E. It is planned that the range of Physical Education experiences will be extended with the introduction of volleyball in the forthcoming term.
In general, the characteristic spirit of the school is reflected in classroom atmosphere and through pupil/teacher interaction. Teachers demonstrate a strong commitment to fostering a school environment that promotes respect and mutual understanding. Pupils are encouraged to be confident, competent and caring individuals. This positive disposition is reciprocated in the co-operation which pupils offer to teachers. The school has developed some aspects of the SPHE programme. Further work in this area is planned in conjunction with a number of other schools in the locality. Topics based on feelings, food and nutrition, safety and healthy eating are explored in a sensitive manner. Teachers effectively employ participative teaching and learning approaches which promote pupils’ confidence and self-esteem in a positive manner.
Teacher observation, teacher-devised tests and monitoring of pupils written work are some of the assessment modes used regularly throughout the school. These are complemented by the administration of formal and standardized tests namely Micra-T and Sigma-T from first class upwards. The MIST test is also administered to pupils in senior infants to assess pupil attainment in literacy and to identify those pupils who may require supplementary support. In addition, teachers maintain records of individual achievement on class tests and other aspects of the curriculum. Formal procedures have been recently established to record pupil progress as they move through different classes. As a further development of assessment procedures, the school might usefully direct attention to the plotting of trends and the creation of a whole-school perspective on pupil achievement in literacy and numeracy, and use the analysis to devise future programmes of learning.
The teachers who cater for the needs of pupils with special educational needs were appointed to these posts in September 2006. Their work is characterised by detailed planning aimed at addressing the identified needs of individual children. Suitable education plans are prepared for individual pupils and some detailed individual records are maintained. Individualised, structured and purposeful teaching strategies are adapted appropriately and suitable resources are deployed to support learning. Most pupils are making good progress in accordance with their own competencies and abilities. However, it is suggested that all pupils’ learning targets are reviewed at suitable intervals in collaboration with class teachers and parents. Records of progress should also be documented systematically in the case of each individual child. Diagnostic tests are used purposefully to aid in the identification of learning difficulties and support the preparation of specific learning programmes. Working with special needs pupils in the classroom is a relatively new feature of the learning support programme and it is intended to extend this practise to other classes and also to implement an early intervention programme. It is recommended that a whole-school policy on the provision of support for pupils with special educational needs should now be prepared.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development of the school identified in the evaluation:
· Pupils display exceptional mannerly behaviour, ably supported by a teaching staff who are dedicated to the holistic development of each individual pupil.
· A broad and balanced curriculum is made available to pupils and staff are committed to its effective implementation.
· The effective teaching and learning in the areas of Mathematics, English and Music has led to high standards of achievement in these areas.
· The emphasis which is appropriately placed on the local environment provides a context for extending knowledge to include regional, national and international dimensions.
· The school is seen as an integral part of the community and strong links have been established through the promotion of a wide range of local activities and events.
· The board of management is truly committed to the work of the school and the members have expressed their full support for the development, ratification and review of school policies.
· Individually, teachers work diligently and in a very professional manner while more collaborative approaches would greatly enhance a team spirit.
· While much of the work with regard to policy development is praiseworthy, it is both appropriate and timely that a systematic review of policies would commence.
· Teachers’ planning is generally satisfactory but attention could now be devoted to the development of a consistent approach to planning and to the recording of learning objectives achieved.
· The special education programme is characterised by some excellent planning and preparation but would be enhanced greatly by the development of a comprehensive whole-school policy.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The development, ratification and review of policies by the board of management, in collaboration with teaching staff, would gainfully contribute to whole-school planning.
· The further development of strategies to enhance a cohesive team approach should be established.
· Policies contained in the school plan warrant review and consolidation.
· A whole-school approach to teachers’ planning and progress records should be explored to facilitate the effective implementation of the school plan.
· A whole-school policy on the provision of support for pupils with special educational needs should be prepared.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.