An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Michael’s National School
Clerihan, Co. Tipperary
Roll number: 17486A
Date of inspection: 30 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
Whole School Evaluation
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Saint Michael’s National School, Clerihan, Clonmel, County Tipperary (Saint Michael’s NS). 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’ 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 inspectors 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.
Saint Michael’s NS is a co-educational primary school serving Clerihan village and its hinterland. Clerihan is on the outskirts of Clonmel and is undergoing the same major growth that many villages in contemporary Ireland are currently experiencing. A number of new housing developments have been completed in the village in recent years and further developments are planned. The school’s very dedicated board of management, under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, and aided by a committed parents’ association, has spent time and resources on preparing the school for this growth. At the time of the Whole School Evaluation (WSE), there were 148 pupils enrolled in the school with a full-time staff complement of 7, including the teaching principal. It is expected that this number will rise to 163 pupils next year and into the future staffing may rise to 8 -10 teachers.
The programme of education in Saint Michael’s NS is based on the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and teachers further enhance provision for pupils through after-school activities in sport. There is a laudable emphasis on sport and teams in the school. The overall quality of the service provided is recognised by the local community and there is a strong demand for places in the school. Moreover, parents have made considerable voluntary contributions to the school’s infrastructural development in recent years.
The board fulfils its duties conscientiously and ensures that the buildings and their surrounds are very well maintained. The infrastructure of the school has been a major preoccupation of the board in recent years as it prepared for the growth in the school-going population of Clerihan. This issue is elaborated upon later in this report. The board complies with its statutory obligations and has the required policies in place for admissions, health and safety, bullying, code of discipline and homework.
The board’s accounts are maintained with diligence but are not audited externally and it is now recommended that a form of external audit is initiated. Rates of attendance at school are very high due to strong parental support of pupils and the board ensures that teachers are deployed appropriately. The regulations regarding class size are upheld as far as possible. The board complies with Department of Education and Science regulations as regards the length of school year and the school day. It was noted during the WSE that externally sourced tuition is provided in the school on a voluntary basis by a parent and on a fee-paying basis by a tutor. The pupils are taught by the external tutors in classrooms under the overall supervision of the class teacher. This matter was discussed at the post evaluation meetings with the staff and with the board, and the school authorities are aware of their obligation to provide free access to a broad primary curriculum.
The principal of this school has both administrative and teaching duties. He seeks to ensure that his class responsibilities are given priority during the school day with much administrative work being undertaken after school. The principal plays a prominent role in supporting school sports and teams and also devotes after-school time to their facilitation. He has key roles in the development of policies in the school. With regard to school organisation policies, he initiates the process by preparing a draft policy for discussion by the staff and subsequently by the parents’ association. The initial impetus for preparing curricular policies comes from curriculum inservice days and ideas are discussed at staff level before the principal drafts and edits the policies. Issues around the growth of the school, building projects and school extensions have occupied much of his time in recent years and he supports the board and its chairman in every way possible to ensure that the necessary building is undertaken.
There are three posts of responsibility in the school comprising a deputy principalship and two special duties posts. These teachers have special responsibility for promoting information technology, safety and science in the school. They also support liturgical celebrations, school book fairs and girls’ school teams. It is now time to review the working of this aspect of management. In order to create an in-school management team, it is necessary to initiate management team meetings comprising the principal and the post-holders in order to discuss roles and duties. Responsibilities within the team should be composed of curricular, organisational and pastoral elements. The roles should be defined and recorded, ratified by the board and explained to the staff. Post-holders who have curricular functions as part of their responsibility should initiate policy development in their respective areas as well as promote developments in that area. This latter aspect of the role is being carried out conscientiously by post-holders at present. Some of the very useful tasks that have been undertaken include: organising the installation of broadband for the school, the creation of a networked computer system, developing computer skills within the staff, the development of a policy for the use of computers, the organisation of fire drills, demonstration of fire equipment, the creation of an internal safety checklist, the organisation of an annual book fair, involvement in school building committee, initial work on a school plan for Science, organising Science materials in the school and organising girls’ sport.
The staff, which is the school’s prime resource, is committed to both the school and to the children. The teachers are aware of the need to ensure that they are updated on current developments in education and therefore all teachers regularly undertake professional development courses. Material resources are readily available to teachers and Departmental grants have been supplemented by parental financial contributions. The internal and external condition of the school is very attractive and presents pupils with a pleasing learning environment. Everyone connected with the school is to be complimented on the high standards of maintenance achieved.
As has been mentioned elsewhere in the report, the board and the parents have been very involved in recent years with catering for the increasing school-going population in Clerihan. The present school building was constructed in 1996 with two classrooms. An extension of one permanent classroom was added in 1999. By 2000, it was clear that the number of pupils coming to the school would increase considerably in a few years and the board, with foresight, decided on a policy of expansion. The board sought to develop the school with permanent classrooms rather than undertake a piecemeal development with temporary facilities.
In order to meet the needs of Saint Michael’s NS, the Department of Education and Science (DES) proposed to fund two temporary classrooms for the school. This offer was unacceptable both to the board and the parents and in November 2002 a delegation from the board of management met with DES officials to press the case for a permanent school extension. As a result of this meeting the DES offered the board a grant of €170,000 to begin the construction of a two-classroom extension, in lieu of two temporary classrooms. The board was convinced that a four-classroom extension was needed to cater for future growth. The school also needed a principal’s office, a secretary’s office and a staffroom. As the board had sanction for a two classroom extension only, if it wanted to build extra facilities, it would have to fund any such project itself. The board obtained costings and found that it would have to raise €130,000 to add to the Department’s grant to build four permanent classrooms. The board weighed up its options carefully and decided to alter the plans. It was decided to build four permanent classrooms and convert an existing classroom into a principal’s office, a secretary’s office, a staffroom and a linking corridor between the new extension and the existing school. The board would use Department funds to build two classrooms and it would fund the third classroom and the fourth room, converted to ancillary use, by means of other financial arrangements.
Subsequently, the board, with the support of the parents, decided to proceed with the full project in 2003. The board obtained finance to supplement the Department’s grant and proceeded with a building project consisting of four permanent classrooms. Within a short time, as the board had predicted, all the classrooms were occupied and now both the parents and the board have to repay the finance obtained for this project. Both the parents association’ and the board feel that this is an unfair burden to bear and they feel that the DES should at least pay the rent that would now have to be paid on a temporary classroom. The board, despite having proceeded without sanction, feels its decision was justified and that events have borne this out. The board is in correspondence with the Department seeking to resolve the matter.
The board is now concerned that further housing developments are taking place in Clerihan and new demands for access to the school will arise very soon. It is proposed to build almost 500 houses in the village and again this will have implications for the school. The board also feels strongly that a general purposes room should now be built for the school. It has sought help for such a proposal from the DES and has prepared plans for a building. Already, the board has begun a new round of fund raising to implement its plan. The proactive ethos of this board is to be complimented and where it sees a need in the school, it engages willingly and actively in tasks to meet that need.
The board keeps parents informed of administrative policies and of relevant items in the school plan through regular contact with the parents’ association and by sending copies of some policies to all its constituent families. Further communication takes place through notes to school, homework diaries and the signing of copybooks. At the preliminary meeting with representatives of the parents’ association the view was expressed that the school is very accessible for all parents and in general parents were happy with the positive collaboration between themselves and the board. It was noted that the board did not examine curricular policies and information on these policies was not conveyed to parents in a formal manner. Into the future, curriculum policies pertaining to Saint Michael’s NS should be placed on the agenda of board meetings and mechanisms for conveying information on these policies to parents should be explored. In general, the current communication channels in the school are working to the benefit of all and parent teacher meetings enhance this communication in a formal manner.
The school planning process is organised in general under the overall direction of the principal and important steps have been taken to set out the main policies and procedures which guide the operation of the school. Among the main policy statements documented are school vision and mission statement, an enrolment policy and a health and safety statement. There is also a written policy for conduct in sports activities and the school has, through consultation with relevant parties, formulated a valuable policy on homework. There are also policies on discipline and school rules and on learning support and resource teaching. Curriculum policies have been developed for each of the curriculum areas.
In due course policies will be reviewed in the school and the implementation of the earlier recommendation on the institution of in-school management team meetings should facilitate such review. It is advised that such reviews be preceded by discussing at staff meetings the existing practice in the school in terms of methodologies and targets. When the review is complete the in-school management team can then discuss the next stages and take decisions in consultation with the whole staff.
Policies in the school ensure that all children are welcome. At a whole school level it is evident that a climate of warmth and support is promoted and there is sensitivity to individual needs. The school plans to review its written enrolment policy in order to ensure its obvious welcoming spirit is reflected in its documentation.
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, 2004) 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.
The principal maintains all policies in the school plan and teachers ensure that the school plan is implemented through full compliance with Rule 126 governing preparation for schoolwork and progress records. Meritorious long-term and short-term schemes of work are being prepared by many teachers. These schemes demonstrate high levels of dedication on the part of the teachers and the delineation of specific objectives in keeping with the revised curriculum results in focused learning opportunities and activities for the pupils. The teachers also keep records of work done on a class basis. Teachers retain these records in their folders and copies should now be forwarded to the principal on a monthly basis for central filing within the school.
Sna naíonáin agus sna bunranganna múintear an Ghaeilge go taitneamhach spraoiúil. Tá raon an-leathan de rannta múinte ag na hoidí agus baineann na daltaí an-taitneamh as an modheolaíocht ghníomhach atá in úsáid. Sna naíonáin bhí na páistí in ann ceisteanna a chur agus orduithe a thuiscint agus bhí fearas in úsáid go ceirdiúil chun cluichí teanga a imirt. I gceachtanna áirithe, sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna, forbraítear an teanga le modhanna díreacha a chothaíonn tuiscint, cruinneas agus cumas labhartha. Múintear graiméar na Gaeilge go beacht sna hardranganna agus sroichtear caighdeán ard cruinnis sa teanga labhartha agus scríofa dá bharr. Tríd an scoil ar fad aithrisítear cnuasach deas de rainn agus d’fhilíocht go beoga. Tá samplaí creidiúnacha scríbhneoireachta le sonrú sna rangsheomraí. Moltar na hoidí as an dea-chúram a thugtar don léitheoireacht, don litriú agus don fhoghraíocht sna ranganna uilig. Léann na daltaí le brí agus le cruinneas agus pléann siad ábhar na léitheoireachta go han-chumasach.
High standards are achieved in English throughout the school and teachers, pupils and parents are to be complimented on the high level of cooperation between them that ensures such standards are maintained. An extensive programme in oral aspects of English is undertaken throughout the school and pupils are well able to express themselves on a broad range of topics of interest. All classes have a regular experience of rhymes and poetry, and the examples of the original poetry written by pupils are particularly praiseworthy. Pupils enjoy reciting and writing their own poetry. Pupils read text material fluently according to their ability and good classroom discussions are generated. In the infant and junior classes teachers demonstrate a good understanding of how to teach phonics including phonological awareness, the blending of sounds in words for reading and segmenting words into sounds for spelling. There is a print rich environment available to the pupils in these classes and the written work is attractively displayed. From infants’ classes onwards, pupils are using the computer to draft stories and this work adds immensely to the overall high standards in writing achieved in the school. In the middle and senior classes children undertake creative writing activities on a broad range of themes. Neat handwriting is encouraged in the regular writing activities undertaken by the pupils. This aspect of writing is encouraged by the school’s participation in handwriting competitions. Opportunities for children to draft and edit their own writing are facilitated by the use of computers in junior, middle and senior classes. This work has been compiled and presented very attractively in several classes and the pupils take pride in their efforts. The newly-installed network system offers teachers exciting opportunities to develop this aspect of written work even further. Independent reading for pleasure is encouraged at all class levels and good use is made of classroom libraries. In addition the school organises a range of stimulating activities throughout the year to maintain the pupils’ ongoing interest. The school deserves much praise for this approach as pupils from their first year in infants to their final year in senior classes learn to appreciate the joy of reading. Some of the activities are class based and some are whole school based. These activities include: ‘book of the week’, the school book fair, visits by authors, visits by infants to Clonmel library and the mentoring scheme for junior readers. As a result of this approach many pupils give excellent oral accounts of books they have read, and in some classes this work is further developed through book review writing activities.
The school gives a lot of attention to routine number work and standards are sound overall. The majority of pupils are developing a good knowledge of basic skills, including mental work. Mental work is used to revise number concepts and many pupils calculate mentally with high levels of accuracy. The pupils use fractions and graphical representation competently and written work is mainly accurate and well presented. Accurate marking and the use of both motivational and helpful comments by some teachers increase pupils’ confidence and promote success. There is a good supply of materials which are regularly used in some classrooms and tasks are well matched to pupils’ abilities and needs. In some classes estimation and practical work are integrated to great effect in lessons and pupils form sound working habits in Mathematics because of this emphasis. In some cases more thought could be given to the applications of Mathematics in a variety of real life situations and across the curriculum. It is recommended therefore, that Mathematics be used more extensively to enrich and vary the learning experiences of the pupils in History, Geography and Science. In the future the use of new standardised tests in Mathematics will enable teachers to make secure assessments about pupils’ progress and inform future lesson planning.
In some of the classes projects are used to integrate many aspects of SESE. In the senior classes pupils maintain these projects in project books and they are very well researched and presented. In other classes pupils are involved in preparing Sherkin Island projects. Participation in credit union quizzes and science quizzes enables the pupils revise and reinforce learning in all aspects of SESE.
The methodologies and spirit of the History curriculum were demonstrated during the WSE process in very stimulating lessons. Pupils were working as historians – using resources, working from and examining evidence carefully in order to formulate answers to questions. The evidence consisted of photographs and material from contemporary sources. The use of story and books of a historical nature in order to bring narrative sequence to historical facts is commendable. In addition heritage tours organised by the school provide pupils with concrete experiences of History. The school has recently embarked on creating a giant-size outdoor historical timeline painted onto a temporary partition that divides the school from building work on one of the new housing estates in the village. This work integrates Art and History in a very tangible way and is being created by the pupils under the supervision of the teachers. It adds immensely to the visual impact of the school’s environment and is a valuable learning resource. It is to be hoped that when the building work is complete, the school will find some way to retain it.
Teachers challenge pupils with interesting content, activities and a variety of resources in Geography. The school has invested in atlases, maps and reference books and teachers use them well. Information technology is beginning to have a stimulating impact on the school through the use of geographical software. In some cases pupils could begin to engage in regular measurement of weather features and the implications of the facts gathered could be explored in Geography lessons.
The school is developing its Science programme and pupils are very interested in this aspect of the curriculum. Science lessons are well planned, with clear learning objectives and teachers provide a range of relevant, motivating tasks for the pupils. Practical work often draws on pupils’ own experiences, involving pupils in an active way at all stages and promoting the skills of scientific investigation. Nature tables are used wisely in many classes to generate interest in the natural world. In this school a good foundation of knowledge and understanding of the basic skills of scientific enquiry are being laid and reinforced through activities such as the school Science quiz.
The pupils are enthusiastic and keen to undertake practical and creative work. In junior classes pupils show their awareness of the artistic through practical activities. Their knowledge of Art is extended by experimenting with a range of media, tools and techniques through drawing, painting, modelling, printmaking, collage, textile and clay work. Pupils in middle classes can demonstrate a broader appreciation of Visual Arts through continuing practical activity. Pupils in senior classes have begun to develop some elements of a personal style of expression and samples of work on display are very impressive. Art is used to illustrate topics in other subject areas and this approach provides good cross- curricular links. The displays in the classrooms demonstrate care with the tasks undertaken and high standards of achievement.
In the teaching of Music the emphasis is placed on listening, song-singing and performing. In general pupils sing unison songs accurately and expressively showing good control of pitch, dynamics and rhythm. In many classrooms the children are taught a wide variety of lively tuneful songs from different styles and cultures. In some classes pupils are given opportunities to learn about, explore and enjoy the Music from a variety of cultures and times. Some teachers use compact disks to support the teaching of songs.
It is noted that the work in Drama is both formal and informal and many of the teachers are commended for their imaginative approach in this area. Drama is used to enhance the work in some areas of the curriculum and the children enjoy the opportunities provided. In some classes Drama was observed as playing a very useful role in the teaching of Gaeilge and History and all teachers are encouraged to utilise Drama regularly for those two subjects in particular. The Drama programme has contributed to the children’s ability to develop confidence in expressing and communicating their own ideas and feelings through imaginative role-play and movement. An external tutor is also employed to assist in teaching Drama. Pupils were observed as they engaged in enjoyable relaxation exercises and they were encouraged successfully to give imaginative responses to prompts. The pupils were enthusiastic about expressing their emotions through mime and role play. The ongoing programme of inservice for teachers in the revised curriculum will focus next on the area of Drama. It is anticipated that this will provide teachers with additional confidence to develop the drama programme further.
Pupils work enthusiastically in Physical Education activities. They thoroughly enjoy all their work and co-operate well with each other. Staff members provide support for a number of extra-curricular activities and give substantial amounts of their personal free-time to school teams. There are teams in the school for Gaelic football, hurling, soccer, girls’ football, camogie and athletics. The school participates in inter-school competitions and everyone becomes involved in the annual sports day. The school has established links with outside individuals and agencies providing specialist coaching to the pupils and the teachers report that they take responsibility for all matters involving childcare and discipline during these external coaching sessions. A parent offers dancing and movement to Music sessions to the infants classes on a voluntary basis. This activity was observed during the WSE process and the tuition provided was of a high standard. The pupils participated eagerly and the class teacher was present. Swimming is arranged in the swimming pool in Clonmel.
In addition to dedicated SPHE lessons, the school is involved in a number of activities that contribute greatly to the pupils’ understanding of issues around SPHE. These activities include the school’s involvement in the Green Flag project thereby inculcating values around protection of the environment. The school also has a healthy lunch campaign and pupils’ confidence is enhanced by the school’s involvement in woodwork classes organised for senior classes at the Tipperary Institute in Clonmel. Circle time is very well organised in some classes and very good strategies are implemented to develop the pupils’ abilities to express feelings and develop listening skills.
Standardised testing in English takes place every year and standardised testing in Mathematics will resume when the new tests geared to the Curriculum (1999) are published this year. It is advised that the results of the tests are analysed and discussed at staff level in order to inform planning. Teachers also engage in continuous testing of spellings and tables in order to monitor individual progress in these aspects of English and Mathematics.
At whole-school level teachers accept first-line responsibility for teaching all pupils in class and they also accept responsibility for enhancing the learning of pupils with either special educational needs (SEN) or learning difficulties. The school has developed a whole-school policy to encompass both of these categories and at individual teacher level it is evident that an environment of positive support prevails and there is sensitivity to individual needs.
The school has a full-time special educational needs teacher (SET). The SET provides tuition to pupils in English and in Mathematics. In terms of supporting these pupils within the combined SEN and learning support context, a high degree of interest and skill is in evidence and the success in motivating pupils to pursue their individual programmes is admirable. A wide range of teaching materials is used and the work is suitably enhanced by the employment of computer technology. A number of relevant professionals have been consulted in order to develop individualised pupil learning plans (IPLPs) and individualised education plans (IEPs) for the pupils. The teaching is supported by a range of useful resources including customised reading programmes and elements of the wider curriculum are used to support the learning. Weekly planning and progress records are maintained. Selection procedures adhere to Department of Education guidelines. Initial screening takes place in infant classes to identify those pupils presenting with difficulties. The SET reports that parents are consulted and informed of their children’s progress on an ongoing basis. Joint planning could now be further extended and involve special education teacher, class teacher and principal. It is recommended that a higher level of consultation and co-operation is maintained between the class teachers and the SET. In accordance with guidelines of the Department of Education and Science more extensive provision should now be made for intensive prevention and early intervention programmes particularly at infant level and junior class level.
The school participates in the Department’s school completion programme and some pupils avail of this service.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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.