An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

SN Ráth Chaoimhghin

Clonmel, County Tipperary

Uimhir rolla: 17542H

 

 

 

Date of inspection:  02 May 2007

  Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008

 

Whole-school evaluation

1.     Introduction – school context and background

2.     Quality of school management

2.1 Board of management

2.2 In-school management

2.3 Management of resources

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

2.5 Management of pupils

3.     Quality of school planning

3.1 School planning process and implementation

3.2 Classroom planning

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

4.2 Language

4.3 Mathematics

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE)

4.5 Arts Education

4.6 Physical Education

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

4.8 Assessment

5.     Quality of support for pupils

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 


Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of SN Ráth Chaoimhghin. 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 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 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.

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

SN Ráth Chaoimhghin is situated less than 2 kilometres west of Clonmel on the main Clonmel-Cahir road and serves a distinct catchment area in the parish of Rathkeevin/Lisronagh/Powerstown. This parish is within the diocese of Waterford and Lismore and the patron of the school is the Roman Catholic Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. The school has a permanent staff of 6 teachers that includes 5 mainstream class teachers, including the principal, and a full-time learning support teacher. In addition, the school has access on a part-time basis to a resource teacher for special needs education who is based in a neighbouring school within the parish. The school has an enrolment of 118 pupils and this figure has shown very little variation over the past five years, ranging from a minimum of 115 pupils to a maximum of 118 pupils. It is expected that the enrolments for both the new school year and the year after will remain constant at around 116 pupils.

 

SN Ráth Chaoimhghin has strong historical roots in the parish which are maintained in a very real way with the present school. Across the road from the present building stands the original Rathkeevin National School which received its first pupils on the 19th of October 1868. The local community has maintained this building in good repair and it now serves as a community hall, but it was used as a classroom from 1868 to 1945 and from 1999 right up to the end of the 2005-2006 school-year. The original enrolment of the school consisted of 22 pupils, 14 boys and 8 girls, and the grandfather of the present treasurer of the board of management was among that first cohort of pupils.

 

Over the past three years, the school has undergone a series of major changes, including the doubling of staff from three teachers to six teachers. The new principal and the board of management have had to manage the ongoing change in the school and in addition move negotiations along with the Department of Education and Science on a proposed extension. The extension was officially opened in November 2006 and the old school building was finally vacated after 138 years of both continuous use as a school to 1945 and use again from 1999 to June, 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

 

The board of management fulfils its administrative duties conscientiously and discharges its overall responsibility to support the work of the school in a positive and pro-active manner. The board’s level of positive and pro-active support has been very much in evidence in recent years. In the last three years the board has met, on average, seven times a year. Much of the work has been taken up with organising local funding for major capital works in the school. The board and the parents’ association were very involved in the local efforts to raise Euro 60,000 for the extension and was also involved in raising Euro 80,000 to purchase adjoining land to the school. In addition, the board has been involved in ongoing staff appointments over the past three years.

 

The chairperson ensures positive links between the school community and the board are in place through weekly visits to the school. These channels of communication are further enhanced by means of the principal’s report and the treasurer’s report given at every meeting of the board. The board is very fortunate that the treasurer is an accredited financial advisor and advises the board on accounting procedures and undertakes audits of the board’s accounts. External certification is also obtained. Other areas of responsibility covered by members of the board include health and safety, secretarial duties and liaison with parents. Members of the board have been provided with training by the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore.

 

While very much engaged in building projects and staffing appointments over the past three years, the board has not neglected its duties with regard to policy formulation and ratification. During this board’s particular watch, policies on special educational needs (SEN), the duties of a special needs assistant (SNA), child protection, communication, discipline, enrolment, anti-bullying, exemption from the teaching of Irish, transition to post-primary, induction of new teachers, substance abuse, homework, equality and finally health and safety have been ratified. Curricular policies for all areas of the curriculum have also been ratified over a four-year period.  

 

The board and its caretaking and cleaning staff are to be complimented on the high standard of internal and external maintenance in the school. During the WSE the assistance of the Department of Education and Science (DES) was acknowledged in ensuring all maintenance and structural problems were addressed during the refurbishment and extension. The school secretary maintains files on how all DES grants and on other school income have been spent and provides the school with a very efficient and professional service. The grounds of the school are maintained very attractively by the caretaker who recently established a school garden and each class has responsibility for an area of the garden.

 

This very pro-active board of management is now considering the next major project for the school which is the provision of a school sports hall.

 

2.2 In-school management

The present principal of the school was appointed in 2004 and became immediately involved in negotiations with the DES regarding the proposed extension and refurbishment. The work involved in advancing the project placed extra burdens on the principal as he also had classroom duties to fulfil. The principal supported the board and parents in their fundraising efforts and has played a key role in appointing new staff to the school over the past three years. While being centrally involved in staffing and building matters, the principal has also been very keen to ensure that the daily administration of the school continued successfully and he has also sought to ensure his classroom duties are fulfilled conscientiously. The principal is very keen to promote curricular development in the school and has given this area serious thought and research. Now that infra-structural and staffing matters have been dealt with very successfully, the time is right to concentrate on curricular development within the school. The Whole School Evaluation (WSE) has come therefore at an opportune time in the life of SN Ráth Chaoimhghin as the school prepares to enter a new phase in its development. The principal is keen to lead in this new phase with the same enthusiasm as has been evident over the past three years.

 

The principal is supported in his role by a dedicated and enthusiastic in-school management team comprised of principal, deputy principal and a special duties post. The team meets on a regular basis and the duties for both the deputy principal post and the special duties post are laid out under the recommended headings of administration, curriculum and pastoral care. The deputy principal’s duties include the organisation of all school tours and transport for swimming, sports and religious services. The curricular area involves Gaeilge and the pastoral area centres on the school’s involvement in local quizzes. The special duties post is focused on the appearance of the school, the coordination of ordering books for classroom libraries, the upkeep of a teachers’ library and the promotion of interest in books in the school. The dedicated work undertaken for all these areas of responsibility enhance the life of the school and ensure that the pupils’ educational experiences are holistic. These duties are subject to review by the board.

 

2.3 Management of resources

The school is fortunate that it has dedicated and enthusiastic members of staff who bring a blend of dedicated experience and fresh enthusiasm to their roles. The principal in managing this resource is aware of the need to vary teaching opportunities for staff and is also aware of whole school needs when deploying staff. The work of the teachers is supported by a capable team of ancillary staff members. The secretary provides valuable administrative support to both the principal and staff while the caretaker and school cleaner ensure the school building is very well maintained. The special needs assistants work carefully and considerately with pupils and liaise effectively with both principal and class teachers. The classrooms are well stocked with library books and with suitable educational aids. Teachers make good use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and over the coming year it is the intention of the principal to devote more time to updating current resources in this area with the aid of the parents’ association. The school has availed of the Department’s School Development Planning Service for Music and it is recommended that this service is availed of again as the school works on its review of curricular policies.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The chairman, the board and the principal give positive leadership in the area of communication with the whole school community. During the WSE it was very obvious that a strong sense of community exists between staff, pupils, board and parents’ association. This sense of community is helped by the termly newsletter which is sent to all parents from the school and which keeps the whole school community up to date with school events and achievements. Parent-teacher meetings are held every November and in addition the school welcomes parents who want to discuss particular issues regarding their children. Individual attention is supplemented further by the homework diary and the summer reports. The school takes great care with its filing system on pupils and all documents regarding pupils are maintained securely in the secretary’s office.

 

Within the staff, communication processes are given priority and this is aided by the regular staff meetings, use of a staff notice board and a very efficient system of a staff correspondence corner in the staffroom.

 

The parents’ association is very active in support of the school and has provided the school with valuable fund-raising support in recent years. In addition the association organises the school sports’ day with the support of the staff. During the WSE, the parents’ association representatives expressed satisfaction with standards of teaching and learning in the school and expressed their support for the school. The association representatives were very happy with and were positive in their remarks about communication processes in the school.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

Both the parents, teachers and the pupils themselves are to be complimented on the latter’s courteous behaviour. During classroom interaction with teachers and inspectors as part of the WSE process, it was clear that pupils in this school combined courtesy with self-confidence. The school has its required safety, supervision, discipline and behaviour policies in place in order to guide its management of the pupils. These policies are both required and are important. However, pupils in this school are influenced far more by the overall ethos of respect for others, cheerfulness and self-confidence which characterises the interaction between pupils, teachers and ancillary staff in the school.

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

Within the context of personnel changes and the building programme over the past three years, the staff and the board are to be complimented on their efforts to maintain updated and useful policies to aid consistency in teaching and learning and to aid the administration of the school. Some curricular policies have been updated within the past two years. The school’s Music policy was formulated as part of a planning day in 2005 with the help of a Cuiditheoir from the Department’s School Development Planning service. This plan contains among its headings two very useful items – an audit of music resources in the school and a core curriculum of songs for each class grouping. The History and the Geography policies were formulated in 2006 and both these policies contain commendable emphasis on the richness of this area in terms of historical and geographical resources. Audits of these resources within the plans have enormous potential to aid the work of classroom teachers. Policies for Gaeilge, Mathematics, Visual Arts, SPHE Science were formulated between four to five years ago and it is now the intention of the principal to initiate reviews of these policies. During discussions with the principal around curricular planning matters as part of the WSE process, it was felt that the school’s policy review should incorporate the very valuable elements of the Music, History and Geography policies, namely, the concepts of core curricula for class groupings, audits of resources and relating the curricula to local circumstances. It is therefore recommended that the staff begin this task by devising a long-term plan whereby one/two subjects are earmarked for review each year over the next few years.

 

The staff, the board and the parents’ association have cooperated commendably to develop, sanction and make available a wide range of administrative policies. These policies have already been listed under the board of management heading. In addition, 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.

 

 

 

 

3.2 Classroom planning

The teachers’ fulfil their obligations under Rule 126 by preparing long-term and short-term schemes of work. Teachers submit their monthly reports to the principal and these are maintained in a central file as required by Departmental regulations. For the coming year the staff is considering sharing views and developing common formats for both short-term schemes of work and for the monthly report. It is recommended that this task is undertaken in tandem with the curricular policy reviews that are planned.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The parents and the board can be assured that overall standards of learning in the school are of a high standard. Every year the school conducts standardised testing of all pupils to assess progress in English and Mathematics. The results of these tests show that the majority of pupils are performing above average in these areas of the curriculum. In addition, when pupils were questioned in class during the WSE process, they demonstrated their knowledge and understanding with confident replies. The pupils’ written work as well as finished products in many areas of the curriculum demonstrated a breadth of achievement in learning.

 

The teaching in the school is characterised by a successful blend of both focused outcome approaches and stimulating active approaches. Teachers are aware of the need to engage pupils in learning activities in a positive and challenging manner. This was evident during the WSE as teachers made use of ICT, data projectors, powerpoint presentations and outdoor activities to make the teaching process active and engaging.

 

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Sna ranganna luatha (naoínáin-rang ) múintear raon mhaith rann agus amhrán agus léiríonn na daltaí tuiscint an-mhaith ar an teanga. Leanann na daltaí treoracha gan stró agus bíonn an Ghaeilge in úsáid go minic i rith an lae. Baintear dea-úsáid as spreagthaigh shúl, as drámaí beaga agus as cluichí beaga do ghrúpaí. Níos déanaí sa saol scoile, cuirtear leis an tuiscint an-mhaith ar an teanga. I ranganna áirithe cuirtear béim inmholta ar cheisteanna ó na daltaí agus ullmhaítear ceachtanna dea-chéimnithe agus múintear an teanga go héifeachtach díreach. Múineadh amhráin agus dánta mar chuid de na ceachtanna agus nasctar an comhrá, an léitheoireacht agus an scríbhneoireacht go cumasach. Baintear ard-chaighdeáin amach sa scríbhneoireachta ó thaobh néatachta agus éagsúlachta de. I ranganna eile cuirtear béim inmholta ar litriú agus ar chruinneas. Freagraíonn na daltaí go taitneamhach eolach. Baineann na daltaí taitneamh agus tairbhe as na cluichí teanga a úsáidtear. Baintear ard-chaighdeáin amach sa Ghaeilge i gcoitinne sa scoil seo.

 

 

 

 

Irish

In the early classes (infants-second) a wide range of songs and poems is taught and the pupils display a sound understanding of the language. Pupils follow directions in Irish without difficulty and the language is used frequently during the day. Teachers in this section make good use of visual stimuli, drama and group games to teach the language. As pupils progress to a later stage in school life, the pupils’ basic understanding of the language is enhanced. In certain later classes, there is a praiseworthy emphasis on teaching pupils to ask questions in Irish and progressive lessons are devised that incorporate sound direct teaching methods. Again songs and poems are taught as part of language lessons and conversation, reading and writing are combined effectively. High standards are achieved in handwriting and in the variety of topics treated. In other classes, there is a praiseworthy emphasis on spelling and accuracy. Pupils respond in Irish in a pleasant and knowledgeable fashion. Pupils derive benefit from the language games used in these classes. Overall high standards are achieved in the teaching and learning of Irish in the school.

 

 

English

In the early classes there is commendable emphasis on reading aloud in groups and on word study. The pupils have the benefit of a print rich environment and a wide range of library books are available. Library time for ten minutes a day was observed as a feature in one classroom. The pupils have learned an extensive range of poems and rhymes and engage in regular practice of writing skills. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is used to enhance the English programme in this section of the school.  From third class onwards use is made of class novels to enhance reading skills in the school. This is very good practice and the school is urged to continue with this approach to reading development. Pupils read well and respond well to points raised in the novels and it is clear that thought has gone into the choice of novels for the classes and that pupils are encouraged to reflect upon what they are reading. Neat handwriting is also a feature of the work of pupils in later classes and there is variety in writing tasks offered and many tasks are linked to Social, Environmental and Scientific Education. In some later classes there was evidence that pupils had read a range of library books and that other challenging reading material was presented to the pupils. In some classes much attention is paid to word study, grammar and spelling. Creative writing is displayed and pupils use the internet for research purpose. Overall pupils attain high standards in reading and writing in this school.

 

 

4.3 Mathematics

In the early classes Mathematics and English are linked to seasonal events. The language of Mathematics for the early classes has been agreed at staff level. Paired work and good teacher-led discussions aid learning in a fruitful manner. In the later classes the teaching of Mathematics is undertaken with commendable clarity. In some classes concepts are taught using whiteboard for exposition, followed by practical work with equipment and the pupils’ understanding is tested at the end of the lesson. Pupils have good grasp of tables and a good grasp of basic Mathematical facts and concepts.  Exercise copybooks are neat and pupils take care when working on tasks. Overall the teaching of Mathematics is resourceful and pupils learn well from the extensive range of techniques that the teachers can draw upon.

 

 

 

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE)

 

History/Geography

The programmes in History and Geography are interlinked in a commendable way in this school. In addition, this interlinking is very much focused on the rich array of both historical and geographical resources available around the school. In one particular class, quizzes are used to enhance knowledge in all aspects of SESE.  Story is used throughout the school to make History real and interesting for the pupils. The topics undertaken in many classrooms were noted for their relevance to the pupils and while a topic such as The Family done in early classes has universal relevance, a topic such as Transport done in later classes has particular relevance to Clonmel which was the home town of Bianconi – the founder of public transport in Ireland. These topics are made interesting by the teachers through use of museum visits, showing historical photographs, use of video and data projector. The school maintains good links with the County Museum in Clonmel, the Clonmel Library and the County Library in Thurles.

 

For Geography, pupils have made records of weather conditions and have made classroom maps. Junior classes have undertaken important work on interpreting road signs.

 

 

Science

The most recent notable feature in the work of the school on Science has been the creation of a school garden. The garden has been prepared very attractively by the caretaker and it has been sectioned so that each classroom grouping has responsibility for a specific area of the garden. Planting has already been undertaken and it is intended that pupils will grow vegetables and flowers. Practical work in the garden will be followed up by theoretical work in the classroom. The ongoing involvement of the pupils, teachers and the caretaker in this project will bring many benefits to Science teaching in the school. Present work in Science noted during the WSE included the use of classrooms quizzes to revise knowledge learned, direct lessons on animal life and plant life and pupils being given opportunities to work in groups at different stations.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The evidence of work in the Visual Arts throughout the school points to interesting work in drawing, painting and construction. It is now an opportune time for the school to look at its policy in Visual Arts and to explore the concept of a core curriculum in this area to ensure the full breadth of strands are covered on a whole school basis. In view of the commendable work done by the school in utilising the locality as a resource in SESE, the school should now explore possibilities in the area, particularly the vibrant Arts Centre in Clonmel, in order to develop a comprehensive programme in Visual Arts. The local area would be very useful in developing a comprehensive programme in Responding to Art.  

 

Music

In the early classes, there is an appropriate emphasis on teaching a wide range of songs to the pupils. In one class the teacher uses the internet to find songs from different cultures and this adds to the repertoire of songs completed by all pupils in early classes. In addition, aspects of music teaching such as the exploration of dynamics and percussion are linked beneficially to the teaching of song. In later classes, songs continue to be taught by class teachers but the more technical side of the Music curriculum is taught by an external coach. This coach delivers a programme in reading music, teaching the recorder and use of percussion instruments. This work was observed during the WSE and was found to be of a good standard. The class teachers should now consider incorporating aspects of Responding to Music into their schemes of work.

 

 

 

 

4.6 Physical Education

The pupils of the school are very fortunate that an excellent playing field has been added recently to the school’s infrastructure. During the WSE, it was noted that pupils are making very good use of the facility and involvement in sport is very much promoted in the school. Both the principal and the deputy principal encourage and facilitate involvement in every way possible. For example, the deputy principal has as part of her duties the organisation of buses to ferry pupils to inter-school league games and to swimming lessons. The principal facilitates parental involvement in games teaching in the school. In particular, one parent is a qualified soccer coach and helps organise soccer coaching sessions with all the pupils and other parents. The principal also maintains contact with the local GAA club and the local rugby club who provide coaching for the pupils. The work of the external GAA coach was observed during the WSE process. Basic skills of passing, lifting and using both right and left hand/feet were taught expertly by the coach. The coach encouraged all pupils including special needs pupils to participate and to join local clubs. Class teachers were present at these sessions.

 

One member of staff has particular expertise and skill in Gaelic games and pupils derive benefit from the input of this teacher. As has already been mentioned, the board of management is now considering the next major project for the school which is the provision of a school sports hall. Such a facility would be a tremendous asset to a school which devotes so much time and energy to the promotion of sport and games. In the absence of a sports hall, Moyle Rovers GAA Club provide support by allowing the school avail of their facilities.

 

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

The school operates a very interesting merit award scheme. Every month recognition is given to pupils who are chosen by staff for their efforts in school under the following headings: manners, neatness of work, efforts in class to perform to the best of one’s ability, commitment to the school and overall work in class. This scheme encourages pupils to have a positive attitude to their peers, their teachers and their work.

 

4.8 Assessment

The range of assessment tools used in the school includes Micra T and Sigma T, MIST, Belfield, Jackson Phonics, Dolch and RAIN. These tests are supplemented by weekly in-class tests in Mathematics and spellings. All files on pupils are maintained centrally and are treated as confidential documents.

 

During the WSE it was clear that pupils who display ability are challenged by the tasks given to them as part of classroom work and that pupils who require additional support are given support commensurate with their needs. It is now an opportune time for the staff to discuss further the effect and impact of assessment on teaching and learning.

 

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The school has a full-time learning support teacher and a part-time resource teacher visits the school. Pupils are screened at infant level by means of the MIST test. Once pupils are deemed to need learning support both the principal, the deputy-principal, the SET and the class teacher confer before consulting the parents. The school emphasises early intervention by means of different programmes such as the Forward Together programme and the PAT programme. The learning support teacher prepares detailed short term plans and the teacher makes extensive use of appropriate web sites in order to generate resources. It would be beneficial if the results of standardised testing were summarised every year and examined at whole school level. Comparisons could be made with previous results and discussion around these results could form the core of discussions around the effect and impact of assessment on teaching and learning.

 

Two pupils receive resource support. Both pupils have a special needs assistant (SNA) assigned to them. These pupils are withdrawn from class and receive one-to-one support. The SNA comes with these pupils to the resource room. The needs of both pupils are very different and in one case it is very wise to have the SNA present while the pupil works with the resource teacher. The teacher has geared her programme to the specific needs of the pupils and both pupils derive benefit from the patient work of the resource teacher and the special needs assistants.

 

5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

Over the summer, the school has received tuition hours for Traveller education through a local arrangement brokered by the Visiting Teacher for Travellers.

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

·         The board, the staff and the parents’ association work effectively together for the good of the school.

·         The school has developed helpful communication processes to encompass the whole school community.

·         The whole school community is to be commended for its fundraising efforts to ensure the extension, refurbishment and purchase of an adjoining field were completed successfully.

·         The school has a committed staff who challenge pupils in many areas of the curriculum and who have ensured that pupils have achieved very positive results in Irish, English and Mathematics.

·         The commitment of the school to sport and its focus on local resources for the teaching of History and Geography is praiseworthy.

 

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 staff review some of its curricular policies, in particular Arts Education to ensure the full breadth of strands are covered on a whole school basis. The review of policies should incorporate principles of core curriculum development and local resource audit.

·         The school should devise a long-term plan whereby one/two subjects are earmarked for review each year over the next few years.

·         It is recommended that planning for common formats in monthly reports should be undertaken in tandem with the curricular policy reviews that are planned.

 

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.