An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
SN na Páirce
Park, Youghal, County Cork
Date of inspection: 23 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Park NS. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for its further development. During the evaluation, the inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the acting principal, the acting principal together with the temporary assistant class teacher, the school’s board of management and a parents’ representative. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. He interacted with pupils and teachers and examined pupils’ work. He reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management 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.
Park NS is a two-teacher school with a shared learning support teacher service serving a rural community in the parish of Killeagh, East Cork. The school is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic bishop of Cloyne. The school can trace its origins back to the 19th century and the present building was opened in 1951. The current enrolment is 18 pupils and enrolment has remained stable around the 16 to 18 pupil mark over the past number of years. This school is near the N25 road between Cork and Waterford along which there is unprecedented residential development at present. Schools off this road are experiencing increasing enrolments and it is expected that these developments will have a beneficial effect on Park NS in the future.
During the WSE process, a number of changes were ongoing in the school. A new chairman of the board of management was appointed in September 2006. The principal of the school moved to a larger school in October 2006 and a member of staff was appointed acting principal. A new temporary assistant class teacher had also been appointed and the board had advertised for a permanent principal. The interviews were to take place before December 2006. By the time of the post-evaluation meetings in January 2007, the board had advertised, held interviews and ratified the appointment of a permanent principal and a permanent assistant class teacher. Naturally, these changes were a cause of anxiety during the WSE process and certain worries were expressed as to the future of the school. Both the board and the parents were assured that these personnel changes were part of a normal cycle. It was coincidental that they happened to occur during the WSE process and the changes did not point to any inherent difficulties within the school.
The board of management is composed of two representatives of the Patron, two parents’ representatives, the two permanent teachers and two community representatives. The Chairman is nominated by the Patron. The board meets on a regular basis and in recent years the board has been very involved in updating the school buildings. Kitchen areas, windows, outdoor basketball area and indoor and outdoor storage areas have all been modernised and the board is ever vigilant to maintain the overall attractive appearance of the building. The board has ratified the necessary administrative policies for enrolment, behaviour, safety, Children First and internet acceptable use. The Board is currently reviewing the school’s security arrangements. Curricular policies for all areas of the curriculum have been ratified.
The minutes of the board of management meetings are maintained with great care and the new chairman has instituted a wise policy of sending an agreed report after each board meeting to the parents. Into the future it is advised that the teachers provide the board with an annual update on learning progress in the school.
The new permanent principal who had been in an acting capacity during part of the WSE process is keen to lead and develop the school into the future. Over the past four years she worked closely with the previous principal in developing school policies and is keen to build on the positive developments that have taken place over the past four to five years. She has set goals to begin a review of curricular and administrative policies. In taking these steps, the principal is advised to make contact with the Department’s School Development Planning service and the Misneach school leadership development service.
The school is fortunate in that it has two very dedicated and enthusiastic members of staff who are both new to their positions and who are anxious to build on the positive legacy of predecessors. The two classrooms, though small, are adequate for the school’s current enrolment. The staffroom is used as a principal’s office and is also used for the shared learning support service. A kitchen area has been developed and this has become a valuable facility for the staff and for cookery lessons with the pupils. The outdoor play areas are well maintained and the school is cleaned daily. The board has spent Department funds wisely to ensure the school has very good Information Communication Technology (ICT) hardware and software. The classrooms are well stocked with books and suitable educational aids and are decorated in a bright and cheerful manner with visual material created by the teachers and pupils.
There is no parents’ association in the school. This school caters for 11 families and this facilitates a judicious mix of the formal and the informal when managing relationships and communication within the school community. The previous principal prepared a comprehensive document which summarises school policies and rules and this is sent to all new parents. Formal parent-teacher meetings are held annually after school hours and parents receive annual reports on children’s progress in classes from first to sixth. It is intended to add infants to the list of recipients of reports from this year onwards.
Pupils in this school are confident, respectful and cheerful. The pupils and teachers interact in a courteous and friendly manner and there is a strong ethos of mutual care evident in the classrooms.
Whole-school planning is undertaken in the first instance by the teachers and subsequently discussed by the board. The curricular plans already ratified by the board were specific to the needs of the school. In the new context that has emerged in recent weeks in the school, the teachers will initiate a process of review of existing plans. This will be done to ensure policies reflect the changed circumstances in terms of school personnel.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of Departmental guidelines.
Both permanent staff members in the school are dedicated and committed teachers. They seek through careful planning to ensure that pupils are provided with the optimum quality of service. The principal has developed very comprehensive planning templates based on the curriculum to guide her work and the new class teacher has embarked upon the preparation of clear long-term and short-term planning notes to aid continuity in the pupils’ learning for the remainder of the year.
The parents, the board and the pupils can be assured that the quality of teaching in this school is of a high standard. Pupils are challenged in a way that ensures high levels of motivation and interest in the work. The curriculum principles of differentiation, integration, environment-based learning and guided activity feature strongly in the work of the teachers. The implementation of these principles has an overall positive effect on the quality of learning and pupils’ achievement. In both classrooms, the teachers make good use of the school’s ICT resources. Pupils use these resources in work on aspects of English, Mathematics and Social Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE). In the infants/junior classes, pupils use ICT to reinforce basic skills in English and Mathematics, while in the middle/senior classes, ICT is used to develop dedicated skills, such as making Powerpoint presentations for SESE projects.
Múintear an Ghaeilge le cúram agus le suim sa scoil seo. Tá raon an-mhór de rainn ar eolas ag na naionáin/bunranganna chomh maith le raon inmholta d’amhráin. Sna ranganna seo leagtar béim choinsiasach ar ghníomhaíocht sa bhfoghlaim agus sníomhtar an ghníomhaíocht isteach i múineadh foclóra, abairtí agus amhránaíochta go sciliúil. Leantar leis an gcur chuige seo sna meánranganna/hard-ranganna agus le linn cuairte don Mheasúnú Scoile Uile bhí cluichí ar siúl chun ceisteanna a mhúineadh agus bhí scéalta curtha de ghlanmheabhar ag na páistí chun comhthéacs a thabhairt do mhúineadh na teanga. Cuireadh an obair sna scéalta agus an obair ar fhoghlaim cheisteanna le chéile go proifisiúnta le hobair bheirte agus le drámaíocht. Is léir ón gcur chuige uile-scoile seo go mbaineann na daltaí torthaí deimhneacha amach san ábhar.
(Irish is taught with care and with interest in this school. The pupils have learned a wide range of rhymes and a praiseworthy range of songs in the infant/junior classes. In these classes a suitable emphasis is placed on active learning and activity is woven skilfully into the teaching of vocabulary, sentences and song. This approach extends into the middle/senior classes and during the WSE classroom visits, games were taking place to develop questioning skills in Irish and stories were memorised to provide a context for learning. The overall work in the learning of stories and the promotion of question skills was brought together professionally in pair work and drama. It is quite clear that this whole-school approach ensures positive achievement for the pupils in the subject.)
By the end of the first term, it was planned that pupils in the infant/junior classes would have learned 21 rhymes. The pupils were well on their way to achieving this target during the in-class phase of the WSE. In addition, skilful use is made of literature and story to bring together the diverse skills of the English curriculum and this approach provides a scaffold and a context to encourage reading and writing. The infant/junior classes practise reading in this context on a regular basis and have followed up this work with stimulating writing activities. The literature based approach to English is replicated in the middle and senior classes. Class novels are a central feature of the work and use of the dictionary helps develop skills of independent reading. Oral language skills are developed through discussion of the novel and through follow-up drama activities. During class visits the pupils demonstrated confidence in reading and confidence in discussing the themes and issues emerging from the novel. The pupils’ writing is inspired by themes and issues that emerge from the novel. Overall, pupils display a high degree of confidence in oral English due to the imaginative programme provided. Some time should now be devoted to the development of handwriting skills in the school.
In the infant/junior classes, resources are used wisely to enhance understanding of concepts. There is a suitable emphasis on oral and mental mathematics. Pupils work in groups and the tasks are differentiated to suit the age ranges in the classroom. Pupils displayed sound skills in number matching, ordering and correspondence as well as a concrete understanding of number value. In the middle and senior classes, the topics are related wisely to the children’s environment and the pupils displayed sound understanding of the concepts of measures, money, shape and number. The teacher is careful to ensure concepts are understood clearly by all pupils and differentiated work is undertaken to reflect the wide range of age and ability in the classroom.
A History Corner in the infants/junior room stimulates interest in this subject and makes the learning concrete for all pupils. During the WSE visit the pupils were working on a very interesting “Schools of long ago” module and the teacher had provided interesting artefacts and pictures to illustrate points of learning. In the middle and senior classes, the achievements of women in Science were studied by the pupils as was the history of energy and power. This use of history to provide a background for later work in Science is commendable.
In the infants/junior classes, the children’s story “The Jolly Postman” was used to positive effect to develop pupils’ mapping skills and their understanding of maps and place. The teacher had integrated this story expertly with Visual Art as part of a cooperative project. This work was extended with classroom plans and maps. In later classes, pupils undertake interesting projects on the strand unit – People and Other Lands. During the WSE, it was observed that pupils were engaged in preparing Powerpoint presentations for a project on Tunisia. This project arose from work on their class novel and when questioned, the pupils displayed sound command of the facts that they had garnered from their research.
The teachers have adopted an inclusive and very interesting whole-school approach to teaching Science. Pupils gather together from both classrooms for work in Science and both teachers organise group work and experiments together. Pupils derive great benefit from this approach. The school is now taking part in the Discovering Science Programme and the teachers are using this programme to enhance interest in Science on a whole school basis.
During the WSE class visits, work in clay, fabric/fibre, 3D shape, construction and painting was on display in the infants/junior classroom. In addition, work in Art was integrated wisely with SESE by means of cooperative pupil engagement to produce displays on topics such as “Animals that Hibernate”. In the middle/senior classes, pupils have learned to discuss the work of renowned artists in a knowledgeable and confident manner.
In the infants/junior classes, the pupils have learned a praiseworthy range of action songs and have learned to accompany songs with percussion instruments. Pupils’ abilities in singing are extended in the middle/senior classes and the pupils learn to play the tin whistle with skill and enthusiasm.
The teachers integrate Drama with language lessons in a beneficial manner.
The school is currently in receipt of cuiditheoireacht from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) in aspects of the Physical Education (PE) curriculum. The pupils in the middle/senior classes are concentrating on dance which can be undertaken easily in the classroom. The school has put an outdoor storage unit in the playground for its Physical Education equipment and the teachers make very good use of the school’s outdoor facilities for PE. As the enrolment in this school is low the classrooms are used for limited indoor PE sessions.
The lessons in Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) focus very wisely on the immediate and broader environments of the pupils in the school. Safety in the home and outside have been covered with the infant/junior classes while the senior classes have developed a class charter of responsibilities and have discussed the issue of citizenship in the context of a multi-cultural Ireland. The pupils were confident in proffering opinions on these topics. The promotion of healthy eating is a strong whole-school theme in SPHE and during the WSE, the pupils, under teacher guidance, were making very good use of the school’s kitchen facilities to prepare healthy fruit lunches.
The Drumcondra Reading Tests and the Sigma T tests for Mathematics are administered in December and June in the school with help from the Learning Support teacher. These tests are used mainly to identify pupils with specific learning needs. Teachers also employ observation and classroom based testing to assess progress as well as the MIST test and specific spelling tests. The small nature of the school allows the teachers to know each pupil individually and therefore meet learning needs in an individual way.
There are no pupils with special educational needs per se in the school. However, a learning support teacher based in a neighbouring school comes to Park NS for 5 hours every week to support some pupils who have difficulties with spellings. These pupils work with the teacher on a range of strategies which are designed to develop skills in areas of identified need. The teacher brings many years of experience to this task and pupils benefit from the support. It is advised that the progress of these pupils is discussed formally at the end of the year by the teachers involved in order to review strategies and to facilitate joint planning for the following year.
There are no pupils from minority or disadvantaged groups in the school.
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.