An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Cahergal, Tuam, County Galway
Uimhir rolla: 17807R
Date of inspection: 15 October 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Cahergal National School was undertaken in October 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Music. 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.
Cahergal NS is one of two schools in the rural parish of Killererin, near Tuam in county Galway. The school enjoys a very good reputation in the locality and is particularly active in environmental initiatives and local studies, areas that are beyond the scope of this report.
The quality of the school accommodation is an important contextual factor in this evaluation. The main school building was constructed in 1952. It contains three small mainstream classrooms as well as toilets, a small staffroom and two very small administrative areas that were formerly cloakrooms. Prefabricated buildings are used for a fourth classroom and for the school’s special-educational-needs team. The challenges presented by a shortage of space have been addressed with some success to date due to the commitment and creativity of the teaching staff. The provision of a new six-teacher school was sanctioned by the Department of Education and Science in 2007 but there has been no further progress to date. An engineering appraisal conducted in 2008 identifies health-and-safety issues arising from the condition of the roof of the main building.
Despite having anticipated the provision of a new building for many years, the board of management and staff have continued to invest time and effort in maintaining the existing building and the recreation area and are committed to making the best possible provision for the current school population. Standards of hygiene and tidiness in all areas of the school are high. Moreover, the dedication and professionalism of the teaching staff ensures that expectations and standards with regard to teaching and learning remain very high.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation.
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teachers on the school staff
Mainstream class teachers
Teachers working in support roles
The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam. The Catholic ethos is reflected in the school plan and the chairperson of the board supports this ethos through his regular classroom visits. A strong work ethic is an important element of the characteristic spirit of the school. This is clearly evident in the work of the teachers and pupils. While there is a good range of extra-curricular activities available, the principal and teachers place a commendable focus on teaching and learning and on the implementation of the Primary School Curriculum. This focus is reflected in the school’s mission statement.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly in accordance with the Department of Education and Science’s Constitution of Boards and Rules of Procedure. Minutes of all board meetings for the past three decades were available for inspection. Evidence indicates that the board of management discharges effectively the functions assigned to it by the Education Act, 1998. The board has recently overseen the resurfacing of part of the recreation area, and the painting and refurbishment of classrooms.
The current principal was appointed to the post in 2006. She oversees the day-to-day operation of the school as well as teaching two classes. The principal has completed various relevant courses through Leadership Development for Schools (LDS). She is committed to maintaining the school’s traditional work ethic and sets high expectations for teachers and pupils alike. Her personal vision for the development of the school includes increasing the involvement and participation of parents.
The deputy principal and special-duties teacher have specific whole-school responsibilities in addition to their class-teaching duties. Each of these posts involves a balance of curricular, organisational and pastoral duties. The list of duties attached to each post has been signed by the relevant post-holder. It is recommended that these post descriptions be signed also by the chairperson of the board of management and that they be reviewed regularly according to the changing needs of the school.
The effectiveness of the in-school management is reflected in the commitment and professionalism of the teaching staff, and in the very good quality of educational provision in the school. Staff meetings are held frequently both inside and outside of school hours. Teachers engage regularly in professional-development activities. Areas in which courses were undertaken recently include Mathematics, behaviour management and special educational needs. Music, and information and communication technologies (ICT) have been identified as areas to be addressed in the near future.
The school management was advised with regard to the proper maintenance of the current school register and the conservation and storage of historical school records.
There is evidence of effective communication between the school and its community. An induction meeting is held for parents of pupils enrolling in the school, at which they are given a pack containing key school policies and other information. Parent-teacher meetings are held in the first term of the school year and the school issues a written end-of-year report on each pupil. While the school does not have a parents’ association that is affiliated to the National Parents Council, a parents’ group has been set up as part of the effort to improve the school accommodation. The role of the group has broadened to include ongoing fundraising and the provision of assistance with extra-curricular activities.
The school provides an orderly learning environment. The teachers generally show great skill in managing the pupils and foster good habits with regard to behaviour and work. The school’s code of discipline includes strategies that are used to promote positive behaviour as well as strategies for responding to challenging behaviour.
The whole-school planning process involves collaboration between the teaching staff and the members of the board of management. There is evidence also of some parental involvement in the process.
The school plan includes policies for teaching and learning in each of the curricular areas as well as agreed policies and procedures regarding a range of organisational matters. The school plan for curricular areas is very good overall. There is evidence that the school policy on teaching and learning in each subject has been considered carefully. It is commendable that the plans are tailored specifically to the needs of this school and to the resources available locally. The plans generally capture the good practice observed during the evaluation and should assist the school in consolidating and developing this existing good practice. The organisational section of the school plan is also sufficiently specific to add value to the work of the school. The need for minor amendments to certain organisational policies was discussed at the post-evaluation meetings.
The quality of individual teacher written classroom planning observed during the evaluation was very good. It is evident from examination of written preparation and from observation of teaching and learning that the teachers give careful consideration to the content of the class programmes and the teaching approaches used.
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.
It is evident from observing Irish lessons that all of the teachers are becoming familiar with the communicative approach and that this approach is implemented to very good effect in some cases. The pupils are immersed in Irish during the Irish lesson in the majority of classes and the language is used regularly for communicative purposes outside of the formal lesson. There is good use of pair work and there is a commendable emphasis on fostering the pupils’ fluency and confidence in some of the classes. There is good attention to the use of verbs in the middle and senior classes, which is of value to the pupils in formulating sentences. As a result of this good practice, most of the pupils are enabled to speak Irish confidently and effectively for communicative purposes. There is a systematic and effective approach to the development of Irish reading and writing throughout the school.
The quality of oral-language development in English is good overall. A dedicated oral-language period is included in the weekly timetable for each class as part of the time allocation for English. There is also effective use of opportunities for language development in other curricular areas. Teachers show great skill in the area of vocabulary development in particular. From infants to sixth class, pupils encounter a rich variety of rhymes and poetry that contribute to the enrichment of their vocabulary. It is recommended that teachers adapt their teaching and questioning approaches in some cases, with a view to improving pupils’ confidence and fluency in speaking English.
The quality of the school’s provision for English reading is very good. There is a carefully-considered and well-structured whole-school approach to the development of the pupils’ phonological awareness and word-recognition skills. The learning-support teacher supports the implementation of the school programme through in-class work with senior infants. There is a very good range of printed material in each classroom, which supports the development of the pupils’ reading skills. The school also provides a good range of activities to enable pupils in each class to experience the pleasure and purpose of reading. There is very good use of large-format books to teach the conventions of reading and as a basis for language activities in the junior classes. Class novels are used effectively in the middle and senior classes. An attractive, well-organised pupils’ library is provided in each classroom. Pupils complete interesting exercises and activities based on books that they have read. Pupils in the middle and senior classes write book reviews. A range of appropriate methodologies was used by teachers during the reading lessons observed. When questioned, pupils generally showed a very good understanding of the fiction and poetry that they had encountered. The school uses initiatives such as dedicated silent-reading periods, book fairs, visits by authors and reading-buddy programmes to promote positive attitudes towards books and reading within the community.
In standardised tests in English reading administered at the end of the last school year, the performance of pupils is close to national norms. It is recommended that the school examine the data on whole-school attainment in reading over a number of years with a view to evaluating overall school achievement in this area and making improvements as necessary.
The school makes very good provision for the development of the pupils’ writing skills. There is a well-structured whole-school approach to letter formation and the pupils learn to write fluently in a cursive script. Each teacher provides opportunities for pupils to develop their writing ability in a range of forms and genres. There is evidence of good attention to the writing process and the pupils’ written work is displayed and celebrated throughout the school. There is very effective use of strategies to develop the pupils’ vocabulary prior to writing activities.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good. In all of the classrooms, there is very good use of illustrative materials, which makes it easier for pupils to understand and remember key concepts and procedures. There was good structure and progression in the lessons observed. Each teacher demonstrated the ability to use a variety of teaching approaches effectively. There is a well-structured whole-school approach to the teaching of mathematical language and effective use of visual aids to scaffold the pupils’ use of the relevant vocabulary. Practical whole-class and pair activities, and resources such as loop cards and target boards are used skilfully in all classrooms to enable the pupils to achieve relevant curriculum objectives. There is effective use of structured play in the infant classes to consolidate early mathematical activities.
Most of the pupils have developed good habits regarding the recording of mathematical work in their copies, and there is evidence of careful monitoring by the teachers. During the evaluation, pupils generally responded very well to questioning on a wide range of topics although there was evidence that further work on problem solving would be beneficial in some cases. Throughout the school, there is an appropriate emphasis on mental arithmetic. Overall, the evidence indicates that the Primary School Curriculum is being implemented very effectively. The quality of the school’s work in Mathematics is reflected in the very good performance of pupils in standardised attainment tests.
The quality of teaching and learning in Music is very good. There is evidence of breadth, balance, continuity and progression in the school programme. There is effective development of the pupils’ singing ability. There is a commendable whole-school approach to the teaching of singing. The inclusion in the school plan of a list of core songs for each class level ensures that pupils learn to sing a broad, varied repertoire of songs in both English and Irish. The school plan sets out a core list of songs that are to be learned at each class level. Teachers are careful to ensure that each song is sung in a suitable key. Pupils learn to recognise and sing the intervals between different notes. Kodaly hand-signs are used throughout the school to lead the pupils in vocal work. There is good attention to the pupils’ breathing and vocal technique. The school choir performs occasionally at Mass and at events organised for the local senior citizens.
Pupils in all classes use percussion instruments regularly for rhythm exercises and to accompany vocal and instrumental performances. Pupils from first to sixth class are taught to play a broad repertoire of songs accurately on the tin whistle. Pupils are enabled to respond with understanding to various types of music and can discuss orchestral music in a way that demonstrates their familiarity with the various instruments and the language of music. The musical literacy components of the music lessons observed were taught with good skill and understanding and it is evident, from pupils’ responses to questioning, that their ability to read and compose simple pieces of music using standard notation is very well developed. The school organises visits to the school by musicians as a means of promoting an interest in music and an understanding of musicianship.
Standardised tests are administered to all pupils in English reading and Mathematics. The Middle-Infant Screening Test is used for the early identification of pupils with difficulties in particular areas. Each class teacher administers various teacher-designed tests and keeps samples of pupils’ work. At the end of each month, each teacher records the portion of the class programme completed during that period. These are kept on file in accordance with the requirements of the Department.
The quality of the school’s provision for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) is very good. The school’s SEN team comprises one full-time learning-support/resource teacher, one learning-support/resource teacher who is shared with two other local schools and a part-time resource teacher. There is evidence that the work of the team is co-ordinated in a way that brings most benefit to the target pupils. In some cases, pupils are withdrawn from class to receive supplementary teaching. In other cases, supplementary teaching is provided in the pupil’s classroom. There is a well-judged combination of individual and group work. Each of the SEN teachers prepares for her work in a professional manner. Individual programmes of work are planned for each pupil. These are very clear in their identification of the pupils’ needs, the learning targets to be met and the strategies to be used to enable the pupil to achieve these targets. There is evidence of good communication and collaboration among the SEN teacher, class teacher, parents and relevant health professionals in the composition and review of the individual programmes. Short-term planning and the maintenance of progress records are undertaken in a professional way.
Each of the SEN teachers addresses the motivational dimension of pupils’ learning difficulties effectively. They cultivate a warm, positive relationship with their pupils and provide a welcoming and stimulating learning environment in the rooms in which they work. The teachers use a range of diagnostic instruments, teaching strategies and learning materials with skill and understanding. It is clear that they are well-informed about the needs of the target pupils and that they are very committed and professional in their work.
There are no children of the Traveller community enrolled in the school at present. Nor are there any pupils with English as an additional language. The school ethos promotes respectful interactions between all members of the school community. The operation of a book-rental scheme reduces book bills substantially for parents.
The school has strengths in the following areas.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management, during which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, March 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management and staff would like to thank the inspector for the professional and courteous manner in which the W.S.E. was carried out and also welcomes the very positive findings of the report. We are particularly pleased that the report acknowledges the challenges presented by the shortage of space in Cahergal N.S., and that due to the commitment and dedication of the staff the standards of teaching and learning remain very high.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board of Management welcomes the recommendations and suggestions which will further enhance the learning process in the school.
It is intended to incorporate all WSE recommendations into the development plan for the school.