An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Whole School Evaluation
Rathcormac, Co. Cork
Uimhir rolla: 17609N
Date of inspection: 27 November 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Bhríde, Rathcormac. 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 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 is an eleven teacher, co-educational primary school under the patronage of the Bishop of Cloyne. It is situated in the village of Rathcormac, a rapidly developing area which has become a dormitory town for Cork city. The school caters for boys and girls from junior infants to sixth class and currently has an enrolment of 225 pupils. Since the last report was conducted in 2002, pupil numbers have almost doubled and continue to increase. As the school was built originally to cater for sixty pupils, existing facilities are not adequate. Most pupils are accommodated in temporary classrooms. During the evaluation meetings, the need for a new school was highlighted as a key issue by all partners.
The school maintains close links with the community and much credit is due to the principal, staff, board of management and parents for the dedicated manner in which they work together to provide for the educational needs of pupils. They succeed admirably in providing pupils with a positive learning environment. Also, they give pupils many excellent opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities and a wide range of worthwhile initiatives, including Léargas funded Comenius projects.
In collaboration with all partners the board of management successfully secured a suitable site for a new school which has been purchased by the Department. The board has also submitted an application to the Department regarding its prioritisation for a new school. Members of the board work assiduously on behalf of the school and they discharge their duties effectively. Meetings are convened frequently and minutes and school accounts are maintained carefully. The chairperson of long standing visits the school on a regular basis and is commended for his commitment to his duties. The board is involved in policy formulation and policies are reviewed and ratified on a regular basis. As the school employs a number of special needs assistants and a part-time classroom assistant, it is recommended that a policy on the deployment of these key personnel be formulated in order to build on existing good practice.
The school is led capably by a hard-working principal. Her effective style of leadership is guided by her clear vision for the school which is characterised by a deep commitment to the educational needs of the pupils and to working in collaboration with all partners. She has successfully put organisational structures in place to facilitate the development of leadership throughout the school and to ensure that the expertise and talents of staff are respected and fostered. She is very effective in giving leadership in learning and teaching through taking on an extensive range of teaching duties in addition to her other leadership and management responsibilities. An effective in-school management structure is in place and it is apparent that high levels of teamwork underpin the success of the school. The special duties allocated to the in-school management team are defined clearly. Team meetings are convened outside school time regularly in order to set targets and review progress on a systematic basis. It is evident that the in-school management team makes an impressive contribution to the administration of the school.
The school has many talented and hard-working staff with expertise in a wide range of areas. High standards are in evidence in many areas of the curriculum. The voluntary contributions of staff also significantly enhance the learning experience for pupils, particularly in the areas of sport and music. A strong emphasis is placed on professional development and many teachers have undertaken or are currently involved in post-graduate studies. This reflects positively on the learning culture among the staff team. Also commendable are the class rotation system in place and the active participation of the school in the Pilot Project on Teacher Induction. The special needs assistants attend to the additional needs of pupils in their care in a very conscientious manner. The board employs a secretary and additional ancillary staff who also make a significant contribution to the work of the school.
The staff has compiled a wide range of material resources and the classrooms present as stimulating places of learning. During the evaluation, much effective practice in the deployment of these resources during well-structured classes was observed. However, it is apparent that in some classrooms the manner in which hands-on resources for pupils are organised merits further attention in order to facilitate greater use of active learning methodologies, particularly in the teaching of Mathematics and the languages.
This is an open, welcoming school which encourages parental involvement. Exemplary structures such as “Book Bags” are in place to support parental involvement in their children’s learning. The school facilitates the communication of pupils’ progress through annual Parent/Teacher meetings and the issuing of school reports that include the results of standardised tests. Parents are also welcome to consult on their children’s progress with individual teachers. The school has an active parents’ association which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. Parents work in a very dedicated manner to support the school and are commended for the considerable contribution they make. During the evaluation, parents’ representatives reported that they were very satisfied with the educational provision in the school but concerned about the lack of progress in relation to the provision of a new school building.
Teachers have established many sound structures to promote good learning and behavioural patterns among pupils. Many pupils demonstrate positive learning dispositions and are highly motivated and keen to display the learning they have mastered. Their behaviour during the evaluation was excellent.
The school presents a comprehensive school plan that embraces organisational and curricular elements of the school’s work and is relevant to pupils’ needs and the school context. There is clear evidence of collaboration with relevant parties in the ongoing development and review of the plan. Policies are discussed and ratified appropriately by the board. The school principal and staff engage in a critical review of the work of the school and curriculum implementation and this leads to the identification of priorities and appropriate action.
Some of the curricular plans such as English and Mathematics are of a high quality in that they clearly reflect curricular principles and teaching methods. They also provide useful guidance to staff for the implementation of the curriculum. As a developmental point, it would be worthwhile as part of curriculum review to extend this commendable practice in all curricular areas.
In collaboration with the staff, the principal and the in-school management team conscientiously attend to the implementation of the school plan. This is evident in the implementation of whole-school planning initiatives in classrooms such as the development of a reading culture, the promotion of free writing and a whole-school approach to Science and Drama, all of which impact positively on pupils’ learning. In order to develop practice further, the staff could usefully focus attention on ensuring greater linkage between curricular planning and its implementation in the classroom.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
There has been commendable work in the development of agreed classroom planning approaches which has contributed to the promotion of consistency throughout the school. Teachers conscientiously provide long-term and short-term planning with useful support documentation. In many instances, teachers’ planning includes clearly outlined and useful programmes of work that are linked to the curriculum. Teachers’ short-term planning is particularly effective where the learning intention is outlined clearly and it is recommended that this commendable practice be adopted by all teachers. The importance of clarity regarding pupils’ learning in oral language was particularly highlighted during the evaluation.
All teachers provide monthly records of the content and activities that have been completed. As a point of development, the teaching staff is advised to consider further the structure of the monthly progress record and its potential as a tool for promoting improvement in teaching and learning.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Teachers are clearly committed to providing pupils with a broad curriculum. Good quality whole-class teaching is observed in many classrooms. There is much evidence of group work, active learning methodologies and structured play-based approaches which provide pupils with highly engaging learning experiences. However, in some classrooms an overemphasis on teacher talk greatly limits pupil participation levels and the use of methodologies which provide pupils with opportunities to take a more active role in their learning should be extended. Also, greater emphasis on differentiated learning approaches is recommended.
Tá an-mholadh ag dul don bhfoireann as an obair shonrach atá déanta acu chun teagasc agus foghlaim na Gaeilge a fhorbairt. Moltar go speisialta an aird a dhíríonn siad ar ionchur teanga cumarsáide oiriúnach a sholáthar dá gcuid ceachtanna. Léiríonn a lán daltaí cumas creidiúnach chun an teanga a mhúintear sna ceachtanna a úsáid agus éiríonn leo stór deas rann a aithris go líofa. Meastar go bhféadfaí breis deiseanna cainte a thabhairt do na daltaí chun a gcuid scileanna cumarsáide a fhorbairt a thuilleadh. Chuige seo b’fhiú don bhfoireann béim bhreise fós a chur ar úsáid an chur chuige chumarsáidigh, go háirithe maidir le trí thréimhse a bheith sa cheacht agus machnamh a chaitheamh ar ghnéithe d’ábhair eile a theagasc trí Ghaeilge. Aithnítear agus moltar an obair fhónta atá sa phlean scoile chun tacú le hoidí an cleachtas seo a fhorbairt.
Maidir le teagasc na léitheoireachta agus na scríbhneoireachta, cuireann roinnt oidí prionta bunaithe ar na ceachtanna comhrá ar fáil chun tacú le foghlaim na ndaltaí. Moltar an dea-chleachtas seo agus b’fhiú é a leathnú. Moltar chomh maith na samplaí deasa de scríbhneoireacht na ndaltaí a chonacthas ag rangleibhéil éagsúla. Cé go léann agus go scríobhann roinnt daltaí téacsanna éagsúla go measartha cruinn is léir, áfach, go bhfuil gá le cur chuige níos structúrtha maidir le teagasc na léitheoireachta agus na scríbhneoireachta. B’fhiú go mór teagasc scileanna na litearthachta a fhorbairt ar bhonn níos sistéamaí agus deiseanna níos rialta a thabhairt do dhaltaí chun úsáid a bhaint as na heiseamláirí teanga a fhoghlaimíonn siad d’fhonn téacsanna éagsúla a scríobh.
Teachers deserve much credit for the impressive work they have undertaken to develop the teaching and learning of Irish. Particular praise is due for the attention they have focused on providing a suitable language input for their teaching. Many pupils demonstrate a creditable ability to use the language practised during the lessons and to recite poetry with fluency. It is advised that pupils be given more opportunities to use the language in order to promote further development of their communication skills. To this end, it is recommended that staff direct more attention to the use of the communicative approach, particularly with regard to having three phases in the language lesson and give consideration to teaching aspects of other subjects through Irish. The valuable work included in the school plan to support the development of this practice is acknowledged.
With regard to the teaching of reading and writing some teachers provide print based on language classes to scaffold pupils’ learning. This is commended as good practice and could beneficially be extended. Also, praiseworthy are the attractive samples of pupils’ writing observed at a variety of class levels. While some pupils read and write a variety of texts with a reasonable degree of accuracy it is apparent that a more structured approach to the teaching of reading and writing is necessary. It is recommended that specific reading and writing skills be taught in a more systematic manner and that pupils be given greater opportunities to use the language exemplars they have learned to write a variety of texts.
At a number of class levels, pupils discuss and recite a range of suitable poems with clarity and expression. In other instances, teachers place emphasis on the development of children’s oral language skills across the curriculum which is characterised by lively oral interaction between teacher and pupil. In the interest of progression, however, there is need for teachers to identify and implement the learning objectives of discrete oral language activity more clearly.
There are some considerable strengths in the teaching of reading throughout the school and this is reflected in the high levels of interest among many pupils. Many teachers use the key approaches from the Primary School Curriculum (1999) at whole-class level to good effect during reading lessons. Of note is the development of pupils’ phonological awareness, sight vocabulary and comprehension strategies. At particular class levels, teachers extend pupils’ reading experiences through the use of paired reading, print in the environment and modelling of the reading process. This work is particularly of value when pupils are given the opportunity to discuss and respond critically to their reading material, as is the practice in some classrooms. Other commendable practices include station teaching of specific skills and the organisation of reading groups.
However, there is need to extend and build on all of these commendable practices throughout the school. In particular, there is need to ensure that all reading lessons are structured appropriately and provide for teaching of the key skills in a targeted and differentiated manner. It would be of particular benefit if the use of active learning methodologies and language experience charts was extended. In some classrooms there is a need to pay more focused attention during instruction to providing for the learning needs and participation of pupils with learning difficulties.
The standard of English writing and penmanship is commendable in many classrooms throughout the school. In these instances, teachers set clear learning targets, pupils’ written work is corrected carefully and the teachers provide constructive feedback for improvement. Some high quality samples of pupils’ free and creative writing were observed during the evaluation and it is evident that these pupils are well positioned to enhance their competence in writing for different purposes and audiences. However, the over-reliance on textbook activity in some instances detracts from the development of pupils’ ability to write independently and meaningfully. In the interest of further development and progression, there is need in these instances to consistently model penmanship, link writing, reading and oral work and develop pupils’ creative writing skills in a structured manner
Some examples of very good practice in the teaching of Mathematics at whole-class level were observed during the evaluation. Very good practices noted included the use of active learning strategies and attention to the development of mathematical language. The use of station teaching to address pupils’ needs at particular levels was very effective. There was also appropriate emphasis in many classrooms on the use of talk and discussion, the development of mental skills and linkage of mathematical concepts with the environment and real life experiences. As a developmental point, all of these practices could now be extended in all classrooms, particularly the use of concrete materials. In addition, there is need to ensure that all teachers retain responsibility for the learning of pupils with learning difficulties within their classrooms and consider how to promote a more systematic approach to differentiation throughout the school.
Pupils in many classes are making commendable progress in the development of their knowledge and understanding of key concepts in Mathematics. Pupils’ written work is recorded accurately and corrected carefully throughout the school. Pupils in many classes show high levels of interest in Mathematics and participate enthusiastically in the lessons. However, there is need to pay further attention throughout the school, in accordance with the intentions expressed in the school plan, to the development of pupils’ estimation and problem-solving abilities.
There is much praiseworthy practice in the teaching of History throughout the school and many pupils show a good knowledge and understanding of the topics covered. Well-told stories, opportunities to sequence events, the use of timelines and linkage of the programme with pupils’ experiences and local history, provide an excellent grounding for the development of the key concepts underpinning the history curriculum. There is also commendable work at some class levels in developing pupils’ skills as historians with regular opportunities provided for them to research and work collaboratively. As a development point, there is need to extend these good practices throughout the school, particularly in terms of beginning with pupils’ prior knowledge, engaging pupils in an active manner and ensuring a balance between teacher and pupil input. The manner in which the pupils record their work at particular class levels could also be further developed in order to enrich and extend their learning.
There is very good development of key concepts and skills in Geography in many classes and pupils in these classes show a good ability to discuss the work that they have undertaken to date. Good practices noted include the use of active learning approaches to develop pupils’ investigative and mapping skills. There is also some evidence of effective integration with other areas of the curriculum, which helps pupils to consolidate their learning and apply their skills in key areas such as Mathematics. However, there needs to be greater progression in the development of pupils’ knowledge and skills throughout the school, something that could now be considered in the context of the whole-school review process.
Effective practice in the teaching and learning of Science is observed throughout the school. Commendably, the school has completed successfully a one-year programme of professional development in Science which has had a positive impact on pupils’ learning. Pupils are eager to display the learning they have mastered and in many instances, demonstrate an impressive knowledge of key scientific concepts. Their ideas are used skilfully as a starting point for scientific activity and their ability to work collaboratively is cultivated carefully. Greater emphasis on the development of pupils’ skills to record their work would further enhance the good work in evidence. In conjunction with the school Comenius project, staff members have initiated a range of impressive environmental projects and are actively involved in the Green Schools programme.
Teachers are to be commended for the high quality work undertaken in the area of Visual Arts despite considerable space restrictions. Attractive displays of pupils’ work feature prominently throughout the school and greatly enrich the quality of the learning environment. Pupils are provided with a broad programme and are afforded opportunities to actively explore and experiment in both two and three dimensions. A variety of effective stimuli is deployed skilfully and the work is integrated to very good effect with other curriculum areas. In many classrooms, pupils experience a balance in making art and looking and responding to art. Pupils enjoy their work and there is evidence of progression in the development of their skills.
There is effective implementation of many elements of the music curriculum in the school. In particular, pupils achieve a very high standard in singing and sing a range of suitable songs tunefully. The singing of rounds and tin whistle playing in the senior classes is a welcome addition to the pupils’ repertoire. Many pupils have opportunity to participate in the school choir as an extra-curricular activity which greatly enhances their educational experience in music.
Teachers in a number of classes facilitate the listening and responding activity skilfully and pupils show a very good ability to discuss and reflect on pieces played in class to date. Pupils in some classes get worthwhile opportunity to engage in composition activity. There is also some good development of musical concepts and pupils’ music literacy. The praiseworthy work in evidence during the evaluation should now form the basis for more systematic development of the music concepts and the implementation of all strands of the music curriculum.
Impressive work in the implementation of the drama curriculum is in evidence. Effective structures have been put in place to promote Drama for all teachers and all children. Discrete time is allocated and overall pupils are provided with a broad range of good quality dramatic experiences. In many instances, pupils’ ability to enter physically, emotionally and intellectually into the drama world is most admirable. At a variety of class levels, teachers have established good quality drama contracts in their classrooms and make successful use of them during their lessons to create a safe environment in which pupils’ ideas, feelings and experiences can be expressed. The systematic implementation of a range of carefully planned strategies which maximise pupils’ participation was also one of the many commendable features of best practice observed.
Physical Education is accorded high priority in the school. Swimming classes are availed of locally for all classes for a nine-week period. Coaches from the local GAA club provide skill training in Gaelic games on a weekly basis for second to sixth classes. In addition the board of management employs a dance teacher to provide instruction in modern dance to all classes. Weather permitting teachers organise classes in a wide variety of games. During the evaluation, much good practice was observed and both boys and girls were actively involved and clearly enjoying their physical activity. The commitment of the school to providing pupils with a varied programme despite lack of suitable facilities was very evident. In view of the fact that the curriculum provides for one hour for Physical Education and that a number of external personnel are simultaneously involved in the delivery of the programme, it is recommended that the school review provision particularly with regard to the pivotal role of the class teacher.
This is a health promoting school and the positive learning environment contributes significantly to pupils’ social, personal and health development. Commendably, the various elements of the curriculum are taught over a two-year cycle to ensure the provision of a broad and balanced programme. In addition, common themes are agreed at whole-school level. Teachers make good use of a wide range of suitable resources. During the evaluation, well-structured lessons with high levels of pupil participation were observed.
The school engages in a range of assessment activity particularly with regard to monitoring pupils’ learning in English and Mathematics. This is reflected in the use of a number of formal and informal assessment approaches. While the assessment is mainly used for summative purposes, there is some very good formative use of assessment data that could now be extended in the practice of all teachers. Of particular note is the systematic approach to the analysis of standardised test results by the school principal in collaboration with staff members that, in turn, informs whole-school decisions in relation to support and intervention for pupils. Some class teachers also commendably use assessment information to identify areas of difficulty and adapt teaching accordingly.
The school maintains careful records of individual pupils’ progress, mainly in the form of pupil profiles and there are systems in place to facilitate their transfer and storage. In order to enhance the usefulness of this commendable system, the school might further consider the manner in which individual pupils’ progress is recorded. As part of its ongoing review of the school plan, the school is also advised to update its whole-school approach to assessment and reporting in the context of DES circular 00138/2006 and the guidelines on assessment provided by the NCCA Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum: Guidelines for Schools.
There is some high quality support provided for pupils with special educational needs. The school has developed a useful whole-school special educational needs policy in line with the Department’s policy that is implemented in many instances. Individual planning by teachers where effective is characterised by clarity of learning objectives and a high degree of relevance and challenge for individual pupils. The extension of this commendable practice in the development of learning programmes for all pupils in this context would greatly benefit their learning and facilitate the monitoring of their progress.
A warm and positive atmosphere underpins pupils’ learning. The learning-support rooms are well organised, attractively decorated and well resourced. Where effective teaching was observed, the teacher showed high levels of commitment to pupils’ learning and used a range of resources to motivate pupils and support the implementation of their individual or group learning plans.
There has been significant development within the school in the provision for special educational needs pupils as is evident from the innovative intervention strategies such as Reading Recovery and intervention sheets that have been put in place in recent years. While the main organisational approach used to support pupils with special educational needs is withdrawal from class and implementation of individual and group programmes, commendable steps have been taken to provide in-class support such as Station Teaching.
Diagnostic tests and psychological reports are used to good effect to identify pupils’ needs and inform the development of learning programmes. There is also some effective monitoring and recording of pupil’s progress and it is clear that many pupils are making appropriate progress. Where effective monitoring of progress is observed, there is ongoing recording of assessment data arising from the use of appropriate teacher-designed tasks, a practice that could now be usefully extended.
Structures are in place to co-ordinate provision with class teachers and other support teachers. Class teachers meet with members of the special education needs team and class teachers retain copies of the pupils’ education plans. However, it is not clear that some individual pupils’ needs are being met in a structured and systematic manner within the classrooms and there is need for closer co-ordination between mainstream and support teachers. In particular, there is need for mainstream teachers to plan more systematically for the provision of differentiated activity for these pupils within classrooms. In the context of Circular 02/05, the practice of withdrawing a group for mathematics instruction under the full care of the LSRT should be reviewed.
A number of pupils receive additional language support in English. Appropriate procedures are in place for the selection of pupils for this support. Support is mainly on a withdrawal basis. Group learning programmes are provided which for the most part identify suitable learning targets for defined periods. Procedures are also in place for the assessment of the pupils’ progress in the long-term.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, May 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Scoil Bhríde welcomes the report and its affirmation of the school and its stake-holders. We would like to acknowledge the courtesy shown by the inspection team during the evaluation and the professional manner in which the inspection was conducted. We and the staff have studied the report. We find it very thorough and very positive. It reflects the hard work, commitment and dedication of all the staff in Scoil Bhríde in providing a high standard of care and education to our children.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Post evaluation meetings were held with the Staff and Board of Management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The Board acknowledges the recommendations of the report which will be integral to the schools’ programme planning for the future