An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
St. Mary’s N.S.
Uimhir rolla: 17266J
Date of inspection: 9 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Mary’s N.S. Ballinagare. 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 parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with pupils and teachers and examined pupils’ work. The inspector reviewed school-planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with the holders of posts of responsibility. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
This school is located in Ballinagare, a small village
on the N5 in the parish of Frenchpark in west Roscommon. The school’s
traditional catchment area is predominantly rural. The current enrolment is 58
pupils. The school staff consists of three mainstream class teachers, a shared
learning-support teacher and a special-needs assistant. At present the school
is also served by a DEIS coordinator who is based in
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly, in accordance with the Department’s Constitution of Boards and Rules of Procedure. The board is supportive of the work of the principal and teachers. The board is actively involved in policy formulation and consults with parents when new policies are being considered. The board also co-ordinates regular fundraising events for the school.
The board is to be commended on the high standard of the school accommodation and especially on the recent extension to the building and other improvements to the school environment. Members of the board are justifiably proud of the school’s recent achievements. They are particularly appreciative of the positive, caring ethos that is fostered in the school by the teachers.
The existence of high morale, high performance levels and strong relationships is evidence of the excellent leadership skills of the school principal. She has a clear vision for the school and the ability to motivate others to work towards that vision. The principal’s own pedagogical expertise and her commitment to professional development are the basis for her strong curricular leadership.
The principal has delegated certain areas of responsibility to the deputy principal and special-duties teacher. Each of these posts includes an appropriate combination of curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities. All staff members have a whole-school perspective and a commitment to the aims of the school. This is reflected, for example, in the prevalence of team teaching and in the consistency of teaching approaches across the three classrooms.
The school building was constructed in 1939. The three-room schoolhouse was extended in 2004 to include a large general-purposes hall, kitchen, entrance hall and some administrative and storage areas. As well as being used for various curricular activities, the general-purposes hall is where the school’s central library and many of the school’s computers are located. It is also where one of the visiting resource teachers provides supplementary teaching. The school also has a temporary classroom, which is used by another visiting resource teacher.
The recreational area includes a good-quality hard court and a small games pitch as well as other play areas. The school is developing the site as a resource for learning. New trees have been planted on the site and raised beds have been put in place as the first steps towards a school garden.
The school is well-resourced in terms of information and communications technology (ICT). As well as a computer in each classroom and in the learning-support room, there is a network of five computers in the general-purposes room. The school also provides plenty of equipment and materials for the various areas of the curriculum. It is evident from observation of lessons that the teachers make effective use of resources to facilitate and consolidate the pupils’ learning. The school operates a book rental scheme with benefits for pupils and their parents.
The school’s most important resources are its human resources. It is clear that these resources are being developed and used to the benefit of the pupils. The principal and staff avail of many professional-development opportunities and the culture of the school encourages sharing of skills and knowledge. Theme-teaching is practised effectively in all classrooms at present as a result of one staff member sharing what was learned on a recent summer course. It is evident that the team-teaching arrangements that are in place for several aspects of the curriculum are a way of ensuring that the pupils get the maximum benefit from the combined knowledge and expertise of the teaching staff.
This school has strong positive relationships with its community. The principal and teachers have a clear vision of the school’s role in community development. The school’s focus on local studies is highly commendable. The class teachers and the DEIS co-ordinator work in partnership to develop the pupils’ knowledge of their local heritage and to foster pride in their local community. Parents are actively involved in the work of the school. They make a particularly important contribution to the organisation and management of extra-curricular activities.
The school uses the pupils’ homework journal as a means of communicating with parents regarding their children’s progress. Parent-teacher meetings are scheduled for the first term of each school year and a written report is issued at the end of the year. The parents’ representatives on the board of management report that parents are happy with the level of communication and consultation that exists with regard to school policies. The school has a structured induction programme for new junior infants that is implemented in conjunction with the DEIS co-ordinator.
The pupils in this school are highly motivated and consequently well behaved. This is largely attributable to the commitment and energy of the teaching staff and to the high quality of their preparation and teaching. Pupils are always engaged in worthwhile learning activities. The teachers’ experience and skill in managing pupil behaviour enables the school to provide an orderly learning environment in which pupils can engage in learning activities without distraction. The principal and other teachers communicate clearly to the pupils that they have high expectations for them with regard to learning and behaviour.
It is evident that the school-planning process has involved extensive collaboration within the staff and appropriate consultation with the board of management and parents. The school plan is divided into two sections. One of these contains the school’s organisational policies and the other contains policies and programmes for the curricular areas. It is recommended that a contents page be inserted into the plan to make the policies more accessible. Most of the organisational policies are commendably specific to the needs and resources of this school. The statement of the school’s aims and philosophy is clear and specific and it is evident from observation that it is being realised. The plan contains policies for all of the important organisational aspects of school life. The statements regarding theme teaching, purchasing of equipment, professional development, induction of infants and provision for special educational needs are particularly specific and well formulated.
Many of the curricular policies are also of a high standard. The Music plan is especially useful since it sets out benchmarks for pupil achievement in musical literacy in each classroom. It is recommended that all of the curricular policies be reviewed with a view to ensuring that they reflect and consolidate existing good practice. It is important, for example, that the plans for SESE describe how local resources are to be used in each classroom and what knowledge and skills the pupils are expected to have after completing each class level. By documenting existing good practice, the school-planning process can enable the school to maintain a high-quality service even if there are changes of personnel.
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.
All teachers prepare long-term and short-term schemes of work. These are generally comprehensive although the use of more specific learning outcomes in all short-term schemes would lead to even more effective teaching. There is a commendable focus on cross-curricular themes in long-term schemes. The quality of planning for some of the pupils with special educational needs is of a very high standard.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The overall quality of learning and teaching in this school is very high. Skilful whole-class teaching is complemented by regular opportunities for the pupils to work in pairs and small groups. Lessons are engaging and frequently involve practical activities for the pupils. There is effective use of a range of illustrative materials and other resources.
Team teaching enables pupils to benefit from the expertise of teachers other than their own class teacher. This is particularly evident in areas such as Music, Visual Arts and Science. Certain activities, such as cooking for Hallowe’en or Christmas, are done on a whole-school basis. The teachers’ participation in professional development is driven by the perceived needs of the school. This is indicative of the teachers’ identification with the aims of the school and is to be commended.
Déanann an scoil seo sár-iarracht an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn mar theanga bheo chumarsáide. Is léir ó bhreathnú ar cheachtanna agus ó cheistiú na ndaltaí go ndéantar forbairt an-éifeachtach ar fhoclóir, chruinneas agus líofacht na ndaltaí. Baintear feidhm as an gcur chuige cumarsáideach sna ranganna go léir.
Múintear na múnlaí éagsúla teanga go héifeachtach sa tréimhse réamhchumarsáide den teagasc. Úsáidtear raon leathan d’ábhair léirithe agus d’áiseanna foghlama le linn na hoibre. Baintear feidhm thairbheach freisin as an bhfilíocht agus an drámaíocht. San tréimhse chumarsáide, tugtar tascanna do na daltaí ina mbíonn orthu an Ghaeilge a úsáid i gcomhthéacs cumarsáideach. Léiríonn na múinteoirí dea-thuiscint ar phrionsabal an tumoideachais cé go mb’fhiú leanúint de ghríosú na ndaltaí chun an Ghaeilge a úsáid i mionchaint an cheachta Ghaeilge.
Déantar an-iarracht na daltaí a spreagadh chun an Ghaeilge a úsáid mar theanga chumarsáide taobh amuigh den seomra ranga. Is deas, mar shampla, an nós atá ag na múinteoirí abairtí a lorg ó na daltaí agus iad ag dul amach sa chlós agus arís agus iad ag teacht isteach. Is bealach simplí, éifeachtach é seo chun an Aimsir Fháistineach agus an Aimsir Chaite, faoi seach, a chleachtadh i gcomhthéacs cumarsáideach.
This school makes a commendable effort to promote the use of Irish for communicative purposes. It is evident, from classroom observation and from questioning of pupils, that there is effective development of the pupils’ vocabulary, accuracy and fluency. The communicative approach is employed in all classrooms.
The various language items are taught effectively in the pre-communicative phase of the teaching. A wide range of illustrative materials and learning resources is used. There is also effective use of verse and drama. In the communicative phase, the pupils are given tasks that require them to use the language in a communicative context. It is evident that the teachers understand the principle of immersion in language teaching. It is important, however, that they continue to encourage the pupils to use Irish for the incidental communication that occurs during the Irish lesson.
The school is to be commended for encouraging the use of Irish among the pupils outside of the classroom. It is useful, for example, that the teachers have a system of eliciting sentences from pupils as they go to the yard at break times and as they come back in. This is a simple, effective way of practising the future and past tenses, respectively, in a communicative context.
The quality of teaching and learning in English is very high. The teaching approaches used in all classes are highly interactive, which fosters the development of the pupils’ confidence and competence in oral communication. Much fine work is done to develop the pupils’ ability in individual and choral recitation. The pupils’ performances in this area are of a very high standard and it is evident that the pupils derive great benefit and pleasure from this work. It is possible that the school’s provision for oral language would be even stronger if each teacher set out specific oral-language objectives in his/her short-term planning. Oral-language development is one of several areas in which the DEIS co-ordinator makes high-quality provision that complements and supports the work of the class teachers.
The school provides excellent opportunities for the development of reading. All classrooms provide a print-rich environment in which pupils encounter text informally on a regular basis. Occasionally there is a need to use larger text in charts and labels and to use a handwriting style that is appropriate to the class level. The teachers use appropriate resources and activities to develop the pupils’ basic sight vocabulary and word identification strategies. Big books are used to develop knowledge of the conventions of print.
As well as teaching pupils how to read, the school is also successful in developing a sense of the purpose and pleasure of reading. All pupils have access to a wide range of real books in their classroom libraries. While further attention could be given in some cases to the organisation and presentation of these pupil libraries, they are a valuable resource in fostering the habit of reading for pleasure and for information. The setting up of a reading-buddies system between the classes in the school is to be commended as it is of great benefit to both the younger and older pupils. Pupils experience books in a variety of forms. Teachers read aloud to their classes regularly and pupils also listen to recordings of stories and poems.
There is a range of opportunities for pupils to develop their writing ability in functional and creative contexts. The pupils are confident and competent when discussing their own writing and that of established authors. Pupils have regular opportunities to respond to literature, through book reviews and through more creative exercises. The teachers use imaginative and effective pre-writing activities and the pupils’ written work is displayed and celebrated. The pupils encounter poetry on a regular basis and pupils in the senior classes show a good understanding of literary conventions. The school participates in the Write-a-Book project that is organised by the local education centre.
On the basis of lessons observed and pupils’ responses to the inspector’s questions, it is evident that the school makes very good provision for Mathematics. This area of the curriculum is generally taught in a commendably practical way. There is excellent use of mathematical equipment and other concrete materials. The pupils work in pairs and small groups regularly and are active in their own learning. There is an appropriate emphasis on mental arithmetic and mathematical language. It is clear that there is effective development of the pupils’ knowledge and skills in most of the curriculum strands. There is evidence of some scope for development with regard to the pupils’ experience of estimating and measuring weight. The pupils’ learning shows a high level of continuity and progression as they move from class to class.
It is recommended that the school administer annual norm-referenced tests in Mathematics to enhance the school’s capacity to assess, monitor and support pupil learning in this curricular area.
The school provides a rich and varied programme in History. In all classes, there is a commendable emphasis on local history. Continuity and progression are evident in the pupils’ learning as they move from an emphasis on personal and family history in the junior classes to stories, legends and topics of national and international importance.
The school has provided a museum within the school. This houses a collection of local artefacts and has immense potential as a learning resource. The teachers are to be commended on their use of hands-on activities to develop the pupils’ sense of History. Butter-making is just one of the many memorable and valuable learning activities experienced by the pupils. Displays of artefacts and historical records in classrooms help to reinforce what has been learned as well as stimulating the pupils’ interest in the past. The school’s DEIS coordinator, formerly a Dúchas heritage specialist, contributes significantly to the development of this aspect of the curriculum.
The teaching of Geography, like that of History, features a useful local emphasis. Again, commendable continuity is evident in the move from the local to the global as pupils move from class to class. Younger and middle classes have excellent opportunities to learn about local buildings and occupations. Weather observation and recording are practised in all classes. Appropriate progression is evident in the development of the pupils’ measuring and recording skills as they move up through the school. The school is justifiably proud of the major awards that it has won in the Building for the Future competition in 2004 and 2006 for projects on aspects of the local environment.
The school has made a good start to the implementation of the Science curriculum. Adequate resources have been acquired for all strands. The learning programme is generally broad and balanced. Good use is made of the local environment, including the school grounds. Many of the goals of the DEIS scheme are achieved through work on the local environment. Pupils keep a nature diary and seasonal displays are evident in all classrooms. While a preponderance of the work completed at the time of the evaluation is from the strand Living Things, there is evidence of good work also in the other strands of the curriculum. The school has just begun work on the Green Flag project.
The school implements a broad, balanced programme in the Visual Arts. There are opportunities for pupils to experience all strands of the curriculum. There is an appropriate balance of two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. The teachers deserve particular praise for the attention that is devoted to displaying pupils’ work in classrooms and corridors. A former teacher contributes to the programme by teaching needle work to senior pupils. The school has availed of Roscommon County Council’s Artist-in-Residence scheme to provide opportunities for pupils to work with pottery.
It is recommended that the school devote further attention and resources to the development of the pupils’ competence and confidence in describing their responses to works of art. An important aspect of this work will be the development of the pupils’ knowledge and vocabulary regarding media and processes used by artists as well as pupils’ ability to discuss the elements of visual art (as described in Primary School Curriculum, Visual Arts: Teacher Guidelines).
The school makes outstanding provision for this curricular area. The programme implemented is characterised by commendable breadth, balance, continuity and progression. The quality of the pupils’ performance in the various areas of music and their enthusiasm for singing and playing are indicative of exemplary practice. These high standards are to be found in all classes. Appropriate attention is given at all class levels to performance, composition, musical literacy and listening and responding. There is also excellent work done to develop the pupils’ vocabulary so that they can describe their responses to music and their musical preferences with confidence and competence. The consistent use of starting notes develops the accuracy of the pupils’ singing as well as their listening ability. By the time they reach the senior classes, the pupils’ sight-reading and performing are of a very high standard. Tin whistles, handbells and tuned percussion instruments are among the instruments used. A local dimension is evident in the pupils’ extensive repertoire of songs by Percy French. The enthusiasm towards singing that is evident in both boys and girls is further evidence of the high quality of the school’s provision for Music.
The school’s pupils have benefited in the past from tuition provided by the Roscommon County Youth Orchestra. The school organises an annual visit to a performance by the RTE Symphony Orchestra. A choir from the school performs at various local events. There is useful linkage with the dance strand of the Physical Education curriculum.
The school staff had not had their in-service training in Drama at the time of the evaluation. Drama is used extensively to support learning, however, most obviously in English, Irish and History. All teachers include Drama on their weekly timetable and plan and record progress in this area. The school organises regular trips to theatrical performances. Pupils put on dramatic performances for the school community at certain times of the year.
The school implements a broad programme in Physical Education (PE). Activities that are appropriate to the pupils’ stage of development are provided in areas that include games, athletics, dance and aquatics.
On the basis of a lesson observed, it is evident that the school has a good range of resources for this area of the curriculum, and that the pupils’ games skills are very well developed for their age and that lessons are prepared and managed in a professional manner
The school has a child-centred ethos and appropriate attention is given to the development of social and personal skills. The school implements a broad programme in Social, Personal and Health Education. Appropriate time is given to this curricular area in weekly timetables and the teachers’ preparation and planning for this area are satisfactory.
A range of assessment approaches is used by the class teachers to monitor the progress of individual pupils. Standardised attainment tests are administered annually in English reading. Further diagnostic tests are administered to pupils in receipt of learning support and resource teaching.
Each teacher keeps a monthly record of the work completed in his/her class. These are generally of a very high standard. As well as enabling the principal to monitor progression in the learning programme, the recording process is a type of formative self-evaluation for the individual teacher. Some of the progress records seen include a personal reflection by the teacher.
This is the base school for a learning-support teacher who is shared with another local school. There are also two resource teachers working part-time with pupils with special educational needs. There is evidence of some exemplary practice in the provision made by these three teachers. This includes the preparation of individual education plans that are comprehensive in scope but highly specific with regard to learning targets. These learning programmes acknowledge the interests and motivation of the pupil as factors in his/her school achievement. In literacy, for example, appropriate attention is paid to developing the pupils’ sense of the pleasure and purpose of reading as well as improving sight vocabulary and word-identification skills. There is effective use of ICT. The setting in which supplementary teaching is provided is stimulating and features displays of pupils’ work. Useful records of pupil progress are maintained. It is recommended that the good practice identified above be implemented in all of the school’s provision for pupils with special educational needs.
The school employs a special-needs assistant who supports the learning of certain pupils. It is evident that the post is well managed and that the skills of this important team member are used effectively for the benefit of the pupils.
The school has the services of a DEIS co-ordinator for one day per week. It is clear that the co-ordinator supports and enriches the work of the class teachers. The duties of the post are fulfilled in a way that supports the ethos of the school. For example, many of the objectives of the DEIS programme are achieved through work on aspects of the local environment.
There are five schools in the DEIS cluster. The co-ordinator spends an equal amount of time in each school. It is not clear that this is the most effective use of time since certain schools have greater needs than others. It is recommended that the current system for allocating the co-ordinator’s time be reviewed with a view to ensuring that the support provided is in accordance with the needs and existing resources of the particular school. The current strategy statement for the DEIS cluster was formulated in 1997. It is recommended that this be reviewed.
The co-ordinator’s activities include working with pupils, visiting homes of pupils, involving parents in the education of their children, staff development, preparing of resources and the organising of special projects. The co-ordinator has an important role in the school’s induction programme for new junior infants and in supporting pupils making the transition to post-primary school.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school has excellent leadership.
· There is a strong whole-school ethos. All members of staff identify with aims of the school and contribute significantly to the work of the school in ways that go beyond their immediate responsibilities.
· There is a commendable focus on local studies in the school and a strong sense of community.
· There is a commitment to continuous professional development and to the sharing of skills and knowledge among staff members.
· The school makes outstanding provision for Music.
· The school also makes very good provision for English and Irish.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the curricular aspects of the school plan be reviewed with a view to consolidating existing good practice and increasing the focus on the learning outcomes to be achieved at each class level.
· It is recommended that the good practice identified in provision for pupils with special educational needs be adopted by all of the school’s special-education team.
· It is recommended that the school administer annual norm-referenced tests in Mathematics
· It is recommended that the school devote further attention and resources to the development of the pupils’ competence and confidence in describing their responses to visual art.
· It is recommended that the allocation of the DEIS co-ordinator’s time between schools be reviewed with a view to ensuring that the support is available where the need is greatest.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
This was a very thorough, fair and constructive report. It contained no surprises as all its contents had already been outlined at post-evaluation meetings. It gave a balanced and fair overview of the workings and management of the school.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
1. With regard to the use of standardised Maths tests, the Sigma-T was not used in the last academic year as it had not been brought in line with the new curriculum guidelines by the publishers. It will be available in a new format in the coming weeks and has been ordered. Other assessments were used last year.
2. The issue of the DEIS co-ordinator’s time has been reviewed at cluster level and steps have been taken to allow more time in the school most deserving of this at the current time.
3. The recommendation re art appreciation has been taken on board. Posters and books have been ordered from ‘The National Gallery’ so as to supplement resources and to aid teachers in their guiding of children in this subject strand.