An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballina, Co. Mayo
Date of inspection: 19 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of Scoil Íosagáin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Scoil Íosagáin is located within the town of Ballina, sharing a campus with Scoil Chroí Íosa GNS. It caters for boys from infants to first class from the immediate locality and is the main feeder school for Scoil Phádraig na mBuachaillí.
Enrolment in the school has suffered a downward trend in the recent past. It has had access to the Home-School-Community Liaison Scheme since 1998, has participated in Giving Children an Even Break and is a member of the Targeting Educational Disadvantage Project in conjunction with the Mercy Sisters and Mary Immaculate College. It has currently been classified as a DEIS Band One school and now has a staff of four mainstream teachers with access to five support teachers. The school was built in 1939 and is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Killala.
The staff constantly strives to provide a school environment which embeds the principles of equality and inclusion. Teachers live out the mission statement of providing an educational experience that values and supports all children ensuring they achieve their full potential. During the course of the evaluation, the atmosphere and climate of the school proved to be positive, respectful and caring and is a commendable feature of the school. The last school report was completed in 1998.
The board of management is properly constituted and generally meets twice a term. Roles have been effectively delegated and are clearly defined. The chairperson meets with the principal on a very regular basis and is active in supporting the work of the school. This informed board has been involved in the formulation of the school plan and signs off on all policies. It has notably produced policies on enrolment, code of behaviour, attendance, health and safety and home-school-community links. It ensures continuity and progression from meeting to meeting and is proactive in anticipating and meeting the needs of the school. It has a clear vision for the school and is open to changing structures. The board could further support the school by continuing to improve the quality of the school building and engage in a refurbishment programme to include plumbing and a new staffroom. Concern is also expressed regarding the school bus timetable which does not synchronise fully with the school timetable. The support of the Trustees in providing training for board members was acknowledged.
A close working relationship exists between the board and the staff of Scoil Íosagáin. The board expressed deep satisfaction with the dedication of the teachers and the quality of teaching and learning in the school. In particular it praised the diverse ways in which the staff meets the needs of pupils with different learning needs.
The principal is an effective, hard-working and committed leader who promotes open communication and strong in-school and home-school links. She has a clear vision for the school and executes all duties with care and consideration and is highly regarded by her staff. She displays professionalism and commitment in her running of the school and ensures harmony in the school working environment. The principal is particularly effective in leading change, in supporting positive pupil behaviour and attendance, in assisting the inclusion of all pupils into the school and providing access to appropriate support for pupils with different needs. She is currently initiating a nurture programme in conjunction with Scoil Chroí Íosa.
Among the in-school management team, which comprises deputy principal and three special duties posts, there is a strong sense of collegiality. All members of the team display enthusiasm and openness in meeting the diverse needs of the pupils. The duties attached to the posts of responsibility are of an organisational and pastoral nature and should be reviewed to reflect the needs of the school in managing curricular change. Very open procedures exist for communication of in-school management with the remainder of the teaching staff.
Strong efforts are made to ensure that parents and the wider community are involved in the life of the school through induction meetings, parent-teacher meetings, school masses and concerts and through newsletters. Staff meetings are held once a term and staff members are encouraged to contribute to the agenda. The role of special needs assistants in the school should be reviewed to ensure their skills are fully utilised.
The dedication and teamwork of the staff is the main resource in the school and leads to a very positive school climate. Ancillary staff is active in supporting the work of the teaching staff and has positive interactions with the pupils in the course of the school day.
The school building currently houses four mainstream classrooms and three support classrooms which are adequately resourced. The board has commented on the high running costs of the school and there are still many areas of the school that need urgent upgrading. There are three classrooms without hot water, toilet facilities need to be upgraded as a matter of urgency and a ramp which has been recently constructed does not facilitate safe wheelchair access.
Materials for the implementation of the primary curriculum are stored centrally thus ensuring they can be used regularly. It is suggested that more effective, structured use be made of resources throughout the school day. The school has a general purposes room that is used regularly for Physical Education activities, assembly and school concerts. It has also developed a school museum in the corridor which is a worthy resource in an infant school. Considerable recent investment has been made in the area of information and communication technology (ICT) by the board although as yet there is little evidence to suggest that it is used in a systematic, developmental way to either teach new skills or support teaching and learning in individual classrooms.
The school has clear procedures for communicating with the parent body, through annual parent-teacher meetings, informal interaction with parents at the school gate, newsletters, induction meetings, school masses and concerts. All opportunities are maximised to share school developments, curricular developments, school policies and individual pupil progress with parents. Teachers encourage parents to come into the school to discuss any issue concerning their child.
The home-school-community liaison teacher is active in promoting the parents’ room in Scoil Chroí Íosa, running courses, visiting homes and liaising with other professionals in the field. The parents’ room houses a library, cooking facilities and a computer. She promotes active co-operation among home, school and relevant community agencies e.g. St. Vincent de Paul Society, Money Advice and Budgeting Service, Youth Action Ballina, Mayo Women’s Refuge and Support Service, Ballina Neighbourhood Youth Project, Adult Basic Education and Literacy Service, Local Employment Network Service, FÁS, Youthreach and St. Catherine’s Training Centre and Playschool for Travellers. The school is part of the Department of Social and Family Affairs’ lunch scheme which parents can choose to avail of for their children. There are excellent procedures in place for meeting with other home-school-community liaison teachers in the general Ballina area (both at primary and second-level) and in the wider West of Ireland area. Agenda for such meetings are clearly laid out and promote networking, sharing of experiences and providing a unified and integrated service to families.
While the school has not got a parent association, the parent body is welcome to join the parent association of Scoil Chroí Íosa, the girls’ school on the campus. Parental involvement in school planning, at any stage of the planning process, would further enhance home-school links. The school is held in high esteem within the community.
The school has prepared a clear, well-defined code of behaviour which promotes a positive approach to behaviour management which is reviewed regularly. Rewards are used appropriately and consistently. Pupils are well behaved in class and those exhibiting challenging behaviour are dealt with in a structured and compassionate way although this area now needs to be addressed in the current code of behaviour. The management of transition times during the school day would help to prevent behavioural problems. Interactions between teachers and pupils are very positive and promote the intrinsic value of each child. Children are adequately supervised during break times. Consideration should be given to implementing a support programme for pupils who are not promoted to the next class level with their peers.
An excellent school plan exists which continually refers to the school context. It contains realistic, specific and appropriate plans and policies which support the workings of the school. A school booklet, which publishes a number of the key messages from many policies, is given to new parents. Arrangements need to be set in place to circulate school plans to the general parent body by making it accessible to them on a structured basis to allow comments to be received and noted. A highly commendable, structured approach to planning is undertaken with clear planning priorities for the year set out in a planning diary. This refers to the type of activity to be undertaken, the personnel involved and a clear time-frame for the conclusion of such activities. This school year, priorities include review of the code of behaviour, literacy, assessment, record keeping and review of the curricular plans for Social, Personal and Health Education, Science and Gaeilge. It is clear that the school plan is developed through a participative and consultative process and is under regular review.
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, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (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.
Each teacher has a copy of the curricular plans in her classroom for easy referral. Due consideration for the implementation of these plans should take place as a matter of priority, particularly with reference to ensuring active methodologies are used and developed throughout the curriculum.
All teachers provide written preparation both of a long-term and of a short-term nature on a commonly agreed planning template which ensures the execution of a broad and balanced curriculum for its pupils. Teacher planning is done according to the strands and strand units of the primary curriculum, although clearer objectives and a focus on methodologies and differentiation would greatly enhance teaching and support assessment. It is also suggested that teachers place more of an emphasis on language development across the curriculum and plan for this accordingly when addressing the issue of literacy in their planning activities. Progress is recorded by each teacher at the end of the month and submitted to the principal where it is kept on file.
Planning by support teachers is of an exemplary nature, with a structured approach to providing relevant activities for different needs and documenting progress academically, socially and emotionally.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The most defining feature of this school is the quality of relationships between staff and pupils. Each teacher promotes the ethos of inclusion, respect and care. An atmosphere of industry exists in each room. The quality of pupils’ learning is good, evidenced through their oral and written work. This could be further raised by use of a greater variety of teaching methodologies and by differentiating pupil work. Teachers rely heavily on teacher-directed methods and pupils would benefit greatly from a more active based approach to learning. Teachers use the principle of integration effectively throughout the school. The level of self-esteem of the pupils and their readiness to engage appropriately with class visitors is commendable. Some excellent practice was observed in classrooms where teachers communicated high expectations to pupils, gave clear explanations of the objectives to be achieved prior to each lesson and made skilful use of higher order questioning during lessons.
Roghnaítear eisimleáir teanga bainteach le saol na scoile chomh maith le riachtanais bunúsach cumarsáide na ndaltaí ar scoil. Baintear úsáid as bogábhar tacaíochta chun na spriocanna teanga a mhíniú agus a dhaingniú agus tugtar deiseanna do na daltaí nathanna a chleachtadh taobh istigh de chlár teoranta teanga. Baintear úsáid as puipéid, geáitsíocht, lipéid, pictiúir, comhráití réamhdhéanta, drámaíocht, rainn, amhráin bheaga agus roinnt cluichí cumarsáide chun feidhmeanna teanga a chleachtadh agus tá dearcadh dearfach á chothú i leith na teanga. Tugtar cleachthaithe do na daltaí freisin ceisteanna bunúsacha a chur agus a fhreagairt. Is gá áfach structúir níos cinnte a chur faoin réimse seo curaclaim, aithint uile-scoile a cheapadh do na cláir teanga a bhéas le teagasc ó rang go rang, leathnú foclóra, nathanna uaschéimithe teanga agus míreanna cumarsáide a aithint go forásach ar bhonn scoile ionas go mbeadh cinnteacht leis an gceimniú gnóthabhála teanga a bhéas le baint amach ó rang go rang. Moltar freisin an teagasc a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge agus módh an aistriúcháin a sheachaint mar chleachtas. Tugtar faoi fhorbairt tuisceana sa teanga trí scéalta agus eachtraí a léamh do na daltaí agus is fiú breis leabhair leabharlainne sa Ghaeilge a chur sna leabharlainn ranga chun an cleachtas seo a threisiú. Leantar clár leathan réamhullmhúchán don léitheoireacht féin agus cothaítear foirfeacht éisteachta agus grinneas súl sna gníomhaíochtaí seo. D’fhéadfaí anois deis na cumadóireachta a thapú sa réimse seo agus leabhair bheaga eachtraíochta a chruthú bunaithe ar imeachtaí ranga.
Age appropriate language exemplars are selected that reflect school context and the pupils’ needs for communication as a basis for language instruction in Irish. Suitable pedagogic supports are used to explain and reinforce language objectives and pupils are afforded opportunities to practice specific linguistic units within a restricted language register. Use of puppets, mime, labels, pictures, prepared conversations, drama, rhymes, songs and communicative games allows the practice of language objectives and a positive attitude is fostered to the language. Pupils receive opportunities to pose and respond to basic questions on classroom related activities. It is recommended however to amend the school response to this curricular aspect, to identify the language content and structure that needs to be covered in an incremental fashion from class to class to ensure that an agreed and definite language area is covered within identifiable timeframes. It is recommended also to refrain from using translation as a carrier of meaning during instruction. Language comprehension is suitably developed through story telling and adventure and appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of auditory and visual discrimination skills. Additional investment in suitable library acquisitions in Irish would support this approach. Opportunities for pupils to produce their own books based on class activities should now be considered.
A broad English programme is provided in the school which places due emphasis on oral language, reading and writing. A comprehensive pre-reading and pre-writing programme exists and is implemented with good results. Teachers link previous knowledge with the material being taught and consistently refer back to the pupils’ own experiences. Lessons were well structured and well paced in all cases although classroom environments could generally be further enhanced to support language development across the curriculum.
Oral language competency is developed using story, poetry and talk and discussion but would benefit from having discrete oral language time on the timetable with a carefully structured whole-school approach to language development. In tandem with this, the pupils would benefit from the methodical and deliberate development of listening skills as this is a consistent area of concern reported in the analysis of the Middle Infant Screening Test.
Writing is taught in a very structured fashion with due emphasis on early skills such as hand-eye co-ordination, gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Teachers have succeeded in getting pupils to use a correct pencil grip in all classes from junior infants. Writing activities are corrected, dated and include positive feedback. Letter formation is taught systematically at all levels and the promotion of independent writing could be developed further by furnishing charts with frequently used words on the classroom walls.
Comprehensive resources are available and used in all classes for the teaching of reading, from big books and phonic schemes to class libraries. The regular reading of stories to these young boys successfully promotes the attraction of reading as a valuable and enjoyable activity, engages them in the concept of reading and fosters collaboration in reading aloud. A proportion of pupils display difficulty with reading and would benefit from a differentiated approach to the teaching of reading. The school actively encourages parents to engage in reading with their children through such schemes as Reading Recovery, Shared Reading and CAPER (Children and Parents Enjoying Reading), which continue to yield positive results. Support teachers embrace in-class support for the teaching of phonological awareness and this is successfully employed at junior infant level. Considering its success, it is recommended that this approach be used at all class levels, in a carefully planned and structured way. The teaching of phonics is yielding good results and some teachers develop this area of English in other subject areas.
Pupils’ progress is carefully monitored through a variety of assessment procedures including teacher observation, questioning, written tasks, correction of copies and books and the use of standardised tests.
The teaching of Mathematics is done through a very structured approach which balances the strands and strand units. Teachers have shown very good use of material resources to demonstrate new concepts and as manipulatives to support pupil work. All classrooms have a designated Maths area, either as a discovery table or as a display area on the wall and excellent priority is given to social maths. Pupils would benefit from the differentiation of tasks and teachers could best facilitate this by less reliance on the textbook. For the teaching of mental maths, teachers should formulate a structured, developmental whole-school approach to this area.
An appropriate emphasis is placed on the teaching of personal history, the celebration of feasts and festivals and developing in pupils a sense of the past. The use of photographs and other visuals greatly enhances learning in this area and teachers make very effective use of story. History is taught sequentially and sensitively. Pupils enjoy engaging in the activities and can answer questions succinctly. Some teachers promote language development in this area and it is recommended that this strategy be embraced by all teachers.
The children’s interest in the physical world is promoted through the teaching of Geography although more use should be made of the local environment. Teachers actively encourage the development of children’s knowledge and understanding of the natural and human environment. Very close links are fostered between Geography and Social, Personal and Health Education.
A good balance between content and skill development is evident in the teaching of Science. The school museum has an exhibition of the seashore and individual teachers have nature tables with seasonal flowers, fruits and leaves. Considering the age of the pupils in the school, emphasis should always be placed on interactive activities that promote understanding of science in the world, where possible based on the interests of the children, rather than on the textbook. Where this was observed, pupils were stimulated, engaged and challenged. There is considerable scientific expertise on the teaching staff which should be harnessed to raise attainment levels in this area.
All pupils engage enthusiastically with the Visual Arts curriculum which promotes skill development and self-expression. A wide range of artistic activities can be seen both inside and outside of the classrooms. Teachers have planned for a broad artistic experience for their pupils in the course of the year, providing a balance between 2-d and 3-d art. Teachers could further develop this area by including ‘looking and responding’ into each of the lessons they teach, either using the work of the pupils or that of celebrated world artists and crafts people.
There is evidence of excellent practice in the teaching of Music. Pupils in every class have a repertoire of songs to sing, they engage appropriately with body percussion, tuned and untuned percussion and can listen and respond well to music. Simple rhythm is taught effectively and excellent use is made of action songs for the young boys. Pupils clearly enjoy the very broad musical experiences afforded them by the school. The school has a school anthem which is sung at assembly. This not only promotes the teaching of singing throughout the school but also instils pride in the school community. Despite being a junior school, the boys have their own school choir for school masses and concerts which is a very positive feature of the school.
While teachers have not yet availed of in-service in Drama, they are succeeding in promoting elements of this curriculum. It is used to enrich understanding, to inspire, to promote sensitivity to others and to engage in discussion. Excellent practice in this subject area was evidenced by giving time to the discussion of the drama activity and the range of feelings and emotions experienced.
4.6 Physical Education
A whole-school plan in this area of the curriculum has been developed which lays down the basic principles of participation and enjoyment of physical activity. Adequate resources for the teaching of Physical Education are available in the school and for this reason should be utilised to their full potential. Pupils wear appropriate clothing for classes and avail of quite structured lessons. Teachers may consider the breadth and balance of the subject currently on offer and should continue to promote clear routines for the teaching of Physical Education in the interest of safety and time management.
A very high quality of teaching and learning is evident in Social, Personal and Health Education through discrete time, integration with other curricular areas and through the general atmosphere of the school. In the very caring relationship that exists between pupils and teachers, self-esteem is promoted. It is further enhanced through the code of behaviour, through the supplementary teaching structures and through the use of assembly. The supportive school ethos underpins all activities in the school and positive reinforcement is a part of the school experience for every child. The staff has developed definite modules for the teaching of self-esteem and assertiveness, tailored to suit the school context factors. The support teachers are also involved in in-class support for the delivery of a module on social skills. The plans to establish a nurture group are further evidence of the commitment to the full and harmonious development of all pupils, particularly those who are most vulnerable.
Very satisfactory evidence was provided to show that assessment is an ongoing, informative activity in the school. Teachers assess informally on a day to day basis through observation and correction of written work and assigned tasks. Standardised tests in English are administered to pupils in senior infants through the Middle Infant Screening Test. It is strongly suggested that teachers examine the overall results of such an assessment to inform planning for literacy and promoting learning skills at all class levels.
There is commendable support for pupils in the school with special educational needs from the principal and class teachers to the skilled support teachers. The school’s commitment to special needs is documented in an excellent learning support/special needs policy. This clearly defines roles and outlines the procedures to be followed for the prevention of learning difficulties, early intervention and both in-class support and withdrawal of pupils as models of support. All pupils in junior infants benefit in phonics from the team-teaching of a support teacher and class teacher. Based on both teachers’ observation over the course of the year, pupils are selected for supplementary support. Pupils in first class experience the same team-teaching format for Mathematics. The resource teacher teaches modules on social skills in classes that most benefit from such an intervention. Early intervention is managed through CAPER (Children and Parents Enjoying Reading), in-class support and withdrawal of small groups of children. The school is currently engaged in the Reading Recovery Programme which is targeting the lowest achieving six year olds in the school and already is yielding very positive results.
Communication between class teacher and support teacher is very structured through monthly meetings and through the sharing of progress reports. In developing education plans, the HSCL teacher, the SNA, the principal, parents and other professionals where possible give input. Such plans are reviewed termly and are informed by the very detailed progress reports kept by the support teachers which focus not only on academic performance but also on behaviour, social skills, interests, demeanour, concentration, motivation, attitude to work and attendance. A defining feature of all support classes is the very positive and open relationship between teacher and pupil. All support classrooms are organised in exemplary fashion to support and inspire the work of the pupils. A range of diagnostic tests is used by the support teachers to contribute to specific targets for individual pupils such as QUEST, Jackson phonics and Phonological Awareness Screening. Pupils experience high levels of success through the structured and scaffolded approach to literacy and numeracy in such settings. Methodologies are all activity based, with a strong focus on multi-sensory approaches. The use of ICT is evident.
The other supports for pupils in Scoil Íosagáin include home-school-community liaison (HSCL) and a language support teacher. The school has clear policies on the HSCL scheme and an intercultural policy for ensuring equality of access and participation for international pupils. Use could now be made of the community education officer of Co. Mayo VEC to provide further educational supports for parents of international children attending this school. Inclusion is the key principle underpinning all supports in these areas and it ensures that the dignity and self-esteem of pupils is maintained at all times.
The home-school-community liaison teacher has established clear links with the senior boys’ school and with other schools in the locality. She meets regularly with outside agencies and is active in meeting the needs of the parents of the school. Home visits are an important feature of her work and the quality of her relationship with parents is paramount in all interactions.
The language support teacher withdraws pupils in small groups and focuses on positive relationships within the support classroom coupled with language development and supporting the work carried out in the mainstream classroom. The school has resources from Integrate Ireland Language and Training which support the work of this teacher. Pupils observed in this setting were happy, co-operative, well spoken and engaged in all activities.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.