An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Scoil Iarfhlatha Naofa

Gearrbhaile, Mionloch, Co. na Gaillimhe

Uimhir rolla:  17863E

 

Date of inspection: 4 December 2008

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Conclusion

School response to the report

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Scoil Iarfhlatha Naofa was undertaken in December, 2008. 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 History.  The board of management 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.

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

Scoil Iarfhatha Naofa is a co-educational primary school located in the town land of Garbally, approximately 5 kms from the village of Menlough in Co. Galway. It is one of three schools in the parish of Menlough under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam. Pupil numbers have increased in recent years and projected figures indicate that this trend is expected to continue. The pupils are divided into three classes comprising junior and senior infants, first to third class and fourth to sixth class respectively. The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

67

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

5

Mainstream class teachers

3

Teachers working in support roles

4

Special needs assistants

3 (including 2 work-sharing)

Part-time secretary

1

Part-time cleaner

1

 

The school provides the base for a home-school-community rural co-ordinator under the scheme Giving Children an Even Break. As Scoil Iarfhlatha Naofa has not been included in the newly integrated School Support Programme, the school is due to lose this particular support shortly.

 

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

The school espouses a Catholic ethos which is supported by established school practices, regular visits from the chairperson of the board and the involvement of pupils in church-related community events. The school aims to provide a broad range of educational experiences to enable the pupils to develop as balanced, confident, happy and contented individuals with respect for themselves, others, the property of others and the environment.

 

1.2 Board of management 

At the time of the evaluation the board of management had just completed its first year in office. The board is properly constituted and meets on average six times a year. Minutes of meetings are carefully recorded and financial records are maintained in a manner which enables individual grants and other funding to be tracked. A treasurer’s report forms part of the proceedings of meetings and accounts are certified each year. A formal report from the principal should also form part of the agenda for each board meeting. Some members of the board have served on previous boards and many have availed of the training provided for new boards.

 

The board recognises it statutory duties and the requirement to comply with departmental regulations and guidelines. A school plan has been formulated which includes appropriate policies on admissions, enrolment, health and safety, behaviour and child protection. The board is advised to review the school’s attendance policy in order to ensure that it provides appropriate strategies to address attendance issues arising in relation to a small number of pupils. The board’s attention is also drawn to the criteria pertaining to the appointment of staff. It is recommended that the board should engage actively with other boards of management responsible for appointments to shared-teaching positions. The board is to consider adapting the school’s practice of issuing end and beginning of year letters to the parent body as a means of providing a formal report on the operation and performance of the school as required under Section 20 of the Education Act 1998.

 

The board is cognisant of the importance of staff development and is supportive of staff pursuing further studies. The school has participated in the Reading Recovery training programme and the board is currently facilitating block release for approved studies in special education. The school engages with the Professional Development Support Services (PPDS) in relation to whole-school and classroom planning, and curriculum implementation. A staff meeting is organised at the beginning of the school year to enable staff to plan and discuss organisational and curricular matters. The benefits of organising staff meetings on a more regular basis as provided for in Circular 14/04 should now be considered. It would also be of value to expand the policy statement on staff development so that it reflects fully the school’s commitment to continuous professional development. This policy, among other things, should make reference to the manner in which teachers may be facilitated in experiencing a variety of roles in the school and in teaching at different class levels.

 

The board members bring a wealth of personal expertise to the school and provide a high level of support for the principal. Recent work, managed and assisted by the board, has included painting the exterior of the school, fitting a kitchen, installing a suite of computers, providing a new playground and car park, marking the yard and sourcing personnel to seal floors. The board is very conscious of its responsibility to provide a safe working and learning environment. Fire safety issues have recently been addressed; parking guidelines have been discussed with the parent body and safety procedures are in place for the arrival and departure of the school bus. The school site is positioned along a straight stretch of road where vehicles travel very quickly. While road signage is in place, the board should investigate what further action can be taken to highlight the position of the school and the need for motorists to slow down.

 

The school is commended for the manner in which the premises has been maintained and upgraded over the years. The main school building dates from 1952 and provides two mainstream classrooms, an office, toilet/cloakroom facilities and a classroom which serves as a staff room, store, computer room and resource-teaching room. Temporary accommodation, located at the rear of main building, provides a large mainstream classroom and a learning-support room. Among the board’s priorities for the future is the provision of permanent accommodation to comprise a classroom, additional toilet facilities and an appropriate indoor area for Physical Education. The board’s short-term priorities include drainage of the school pitch and the provision of external lighting. The school has an action plan and this should now be developed to include all areas of work in the school and the proposed timeframes for such work. 

 

The board identifies the dedication, commitment and generosity of the staff and the level of care provided to pupils with special educational needs as strengths of the school. The board is very satisfied with the manner in which the curriculum is taught and praises in particular the standard of Irish attained by the pupils. Individual members, drawing on their own experiences, express the opinion that pupils are happy in the school, that their strengths are identified and developed, and that they are very well prepared for transition to second level education.

 

1.3 In-school management

The in-school management team comprises the teaching principal, the deputy principal and one special duties teacher. The principal is highly committed and works very diligently to encourage high standards of teaching and learning in the school. Regular contact is maintained with the board of management and with the parent body and an appropriate vision for the school is shared with all parties. The principal effectively leads the planning process and facilitates staff engagement with PPDS advisors as a means of supporting professional development and enhancing curricular provision. The deputy principal and special duties teacher provide a high level of support for the principal in all areas of school life. All post holders collaborate very effectively in developing policy and in promoting good classroom practice. They openly embrace change and very astutely select and implement new teaching methodologies and approaches.

 

The duties attached to the posts of responsibility span such areas as supervision, first aid, pastoral care needs, on-line claims, purchase of school requisites and resources, development of the school’s Garden of Remembrance and the promotion of new initiatives and practices pertaining to specific curricular areas. The board is advised to review the duties attached to posts of responsibility on a regular basis and to establish a practice whereby the post-holders provide an annual report to the board on developments in relation to the performance of their duties.

 

1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

A parents’ association was formed in the school in 2006. It is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council and committee members have attended training seminars. The association meets on a regular basis in the school and communication with the board is facilitated by the attendance of board members at the association’s meetings. Draft school policy documents are made available to the association and parents have been involved, in particular, in the development of the healthy eating policy and the policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education.  

 

Parents actively support pupil involvement in numerous activities including swimming, science projects, the Green Schools initiative, Scór na nÓg quizzes, and a range of essay, book, poetry and art competitions. Parents assist with the maintenance of the school premises and play an instrumental role in supporting the use of technology in the school. Parents are also involved in coaching games, in organising training sessions in the local village hall and in providing transport to sporting fixtures. School masses and concerts are regular features of the school calendar and are strongly supported by the parent body. After-school activities and fundraising initiatives are among the most commonly raised matters at meetings and constitute the association’s current priorities.

 

A number of effective practices are in place to ensure meaningful communication with the parent body. A school calendar is issued each year and parents are informed in a timely manner of other events and developments. Homework journals are used to very good effect to maintain regular contact with individual class teachers. Parent-teacher meetings are held twice yearly during which parents receive an oral account of pupil progress. It is the school’s intention to issue written reports this year. Parents report that communication in the school is open, that staff members are very welcoming and that any difficulties are dealt with promptly. 

 

 

1.5 Management of pupils

The school aims to provide a safe, secure and happy educational environment for the pupils. Teachers set high expectations in relation to pupil behaviour and a gentle, consistent form of discipline prevails throughout the school. Pupils are praised regularly and are very well behaved. They are interested in their work and are involved in a broad range of activities. While the majority of pupils maintain good patterns of regular attendance, the attendance record of a number of pupils is a cause for concern. The school has forwarded relevant details to the National Education Welfare Board and intends working in conjunction with the school’s designated education welfare officer to develop specific strategies to encourage and support the regular attendance of the pupils in question.

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The teachers have worked collaboratively with other schools and have consulted with the PPDS in drawing up elements of the school plan. The whole-school planning process normally involves the teachers formulating draft policies which are then made available for viewing or are circulated to parents prior to their presentation to the board for discussion, amendment if necessary and ratification. The school plan is presented in an accessible format and incorporates clear statements on each curricular area and on a broad range of organisational matters. As a means of involving parents more actively in the process, consideration should now be given to engaging the parents’ association more formally in any future reviews or further development of the school plan.

 

In general, the quality of teacher planning is very good. There is a need, however, to change the focus of planning in some instances and to move from statements of teacher intention to statements of objectives written in terms of the learning outcomes for the pupils. This should serve to inform selection of appropriate assessment techniques and to aid evaluation of the effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies employed. An agreed template is in use for mainstream planning and this should be further adapted to facilitate the planning of differentiated programmes in the dual and multi-grade class situations.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

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.

 

 

3.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Language

 

Gaeilge

Tá teagasc na Gaeilge ar ard-chaighdeán sa scoil. Is amhlaidh a bhíonn meascán de mhodhanna agus de straitéisí in úsáid i ngach seomra ranga a chinntíonn éagsúlacht inmholta i gcur i láthair na gceachtanna. Cuirtear raon d’áiseanna tarraingteacha ar fáil agus déantar na hilranganna a láimhseáil go cumasach. Baintear feidhm chiallmhar as cluichí teanga maille le tascanna éisteachta, rólimirt, comhráite réamhdhéanta, drámaíocht agus obair bheirte chun tuiscint teanga a chothú agus réimse leathan foclóra a chur i seilbh na ndaltaí. Tugtar deiseanna rialta do na daltaí, ó na naíonáin ar aghaidh, ceisteanna a chur agus a fhreagairt agus caint leanúnach a chleachtadh.

 

Aírítear idir amhráin, dánta, leabhair bheaga, leabhairíní féindéanta, teácsleabhair, agus fíorleabhair i measc na n-ábhar léitheoireachta sa scoil. Déantar tascanna léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta a idirdhealú go héifeachtach agus is leas leis na daltaí an deis a fhaigheann siad chun scríbhneoireacht phearsanta a chleachtadh ag rangléibhéil áirithe. Tá córas soiléir i dtaobh múineadh na gramadaí agus tugtar faoi go neamhfhoirmiúil agus go foirmiúil ó na bunranganna ar aghaidh. Is inmholta mar a bhaintear leas as téacs na filíochta agus na n-amhrán chun teanga a shaibhriú agus cruinneas a chothú. Ní dhéantar faillí, ach oiread, ar ghnéithe eile d’fheasacht teanga ná d’fheasacht cultúir. Déantar logainmneacha a iniúchadh agus cuirtear ar chumas na ndaltaí cnuasach breá de phoirt a sheinm go ceolmhar ar na feadóga stáin.

 

Ar an iomlán, léiríonn na daltaí an-tuiscint ar an teanga, muinín i mbun labhartha agus léitheoireachta, agus an-chumas i mbun scríbhneoireachta. Ba thairbheach anois réimse iomlán na hoibre sa Ghaeilge a chlárú sa phlean scoile. B’fhiú chuige sin fothéamaí a cheapadh faoi na mórthéamaí teanga ag gach rangleibhéal, na gnéithe difriúla d’fheasacht teanga agus d’fheasacht cultúir a chlárú agus achoimre ar an gclár gramadaí a leagan amach.

 

Irish

The teaching of Irish is of a high standard in the school. An assortment of methodologies and strategies is used in each classroom which ensures praiseworthy variety in the presentation of lessons. A range of attractive materials is provided and the multi-grade classes are handled capably. Language games are used sensibly in addition to listening tasks, role-play, pre-prepared conversations, drama and pair work to develop understanding and to enable the acquisition of a wide range of vocabulary. Regular opportunities are provided from the infants classes onwards to pose and answer questions and to practise continuous speech.

 

Songs, poems, little books, small homemade books, textbooks and real books are among the reading materials in the school. Reading and writing tasks are effectively differentiated and pupils benefit from the opportunities they get to practise personal writing at certain class levels. There is a clear system in relation to the teaching of grammar and it is undertaken informally and formally from the junior classes onwards. The way in which poetry and the words of songs are used to enrich language and to develop accuracy is commendable. Other aspects of language and cultural appreciation are not neglected either. Place names are investigated and the pupils are enabled to play a lovely collection of tunes musically on the tin whistle.

 

On the whole, the pupils demonstrate very good understanding of the language, confidence in speaking and reading, and a high level of competency in writing. It would be of benefit now to record the full extent of the work in Irish in the school plan. Towards that end, sub-themes should be formulated under the major language themes at each class level, the different aspects of language and cultural appreciation should be recorded and a summary of the grammar programme laid out.

 

English

The school plan provides very clear guidance in relation to the teaching of English. In line with the plan, oral language, reading and writing activities are closely linked at each class level and are very effectively integrated with other curricular areas. Discrete oral language lessons are very capably structured in the junior and middle classes. Praiseworthy attention is given to vocabulary extension and to the conventional use of language in social situations at senior level. An extensive range of poetry is explored throughout the school and pupils are provided with opportunities to respond to poetry in different ways and to explore a variety of poetic techniques. Very effective use is made of discussion and questioning to develop higher-order thinking skills.

 

Large books, the classroom library, a variety of reading schemes and an array of very attractive materials are used to address the needs of emergent readers and to engage them in the reading process. Mainstream and support teachers collaborate very effectively in many instances to develop sight vocabularies and to enhance phonological and phonemic awareness. New words are approached with confidence at all class levels and pupils display a very clear understanding of letter-sound relationships. Pupils are provided with regular opportunities to read and to respond to different genres of literature at various levels of complexity. While there is scope in some instances to develop a more expressive style of reading, most pupils read very competently and standardised test results are very good.

 

Due attention is given to fostering pupils’ interest in writing and samples of work completed include stories, poems, letters, diary entries, book reviews, project work and functional writing. Pupils benefit from the experience of making their own individual books and from participating in Write-a-Book projects. While written work is presented very neatly, the school should now seek to develop a whole-school approach to the teaching of handwriting to ensure the use of a cursive style as recommended in the curriculum.

 

3.2 Mathematics

Instruction in Mathematics is very effectively organised throughout the school. Maths-rich classroom environments contribute significantly to the effectiveness of the teaching. The quality and attractiveness of the charts and materials prepared by individual teachers is to be commended. Lessons are very well paced and activities are capably differentiated with a variety of worksheets being used to guide hands-on practical experience. Numbers rhymes and songs are used to very good effect to consolidate early understanding. The language of mathematics is appropriately emphasised and pupils are secure in their use of language as they carry out common procedures in the middle and senior classes. Pupils, in general, use estimation skills very competently; they recall number facts swiftly and accurately, and have a sound understanding of the concept of place value. The pupils display a very positive attitude to Mathematics at senior level and many clearly enjoy the challenge of problem-solving. The effectiveness of the school’s programme in Mathematics is reflected in the pattern of very good scores achieved in standardised testing.

 

The teachers should now agree a whole-school approach to the use of maths copies and should seek to include in the school plan the full range of successful strategies being used at the different class levels to aid memorisation and recall of number facts. While a wide selection of mathematical resources is centrally stored, it is recommended that each classroom should have an adequate supply of regularly used mathematical resources.

 

3.3 History

The school adopts a cross-curricular approach to the teaching of History and topic investigations are particularly well linked to the content of the school’s programmes in Geography, Science and English. Historical knowledge, concepts and skills are developed through a broad range of activities and the use of a variety of teaching styles. A range of attractive books, illustrations and materials is used effectively to introduce the pupils to story, myth and legend and to engage them in beneficial sequencing activities. Pupils at all class levels engage in the process of collecting, examining and exploring evidence. Clothing, household objects, farm implements and other artefacts form a very interesting evidential base for discussion and activity.

 

Strong emphasis is placed on the study of personal, family and local history in the school and the spiral nature of these studies is to be commended. Appropriate attention is drawn to buildings of historical interest in the proximity of the school and to big houses, castles and monuments further afield. The support of the local community is drawn upon in sourcing information, maps and model constructions. These resources are used to very good effect to stimulate interest in place names, to inform pupils of former local landlords of national repute and to enhance investigation into life in the past at home, in school and in old farm estates in the area. The historical contexts of songs and poems are also carefully examined to gain an insight into past events and attitudes. Further development of the school plan in History should promote a more extensive and purposeful use of timelines and should serve to clarify the topics to be covered under the strand units each year in the dual and multi-grade class situations.

 

3.4 Assessment

Observation, questioning, discussion, textbook assignments, checklists, reading logs, teacher-designed tests and tasks, and the regular correction of homework are among the assessment modes used to monitor pupil progress. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered annually and the results are used to inform classroom planning and the selection of pupils for supplementary teaching. A range of diagnostic tests is available to aid more detailed investigation of learning difficulties. Feedback to parents is provided at parent/teacher meetings held twice a year and it is intended to commence issuing written reports on pupil progress at the end of the current school year. The school should now focus on agreeing whole-school assessment procedures to provide for both assessment for learning and assessment of learning across all curricular areas. The specification of clear learning outcomes as part of teacher planning would benefit this process.  

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

To assist with the education and care of pupils with special educational needs, the school draws on the services of two learning-support/resource teachers and three special needs assistants. One learning-support/resource teacher is based in the school and provides a daily service to Scoil Iarfhlatha Naofa and to another school in the area. The second learning-support/resource teacher visits Scoil Iarfhlatha Naofa once a week for a four hour period. Two of the special needs assistants operate a work-sharing arrangement which is reported to be working effectively.

 

Support provision is organised mainly on a withdrawal basis, with only a small element of in-class support. The provision is focused on language and literacy and incorporates a well organised early intervention programme. For the most part, individual pupils, small groups and single-class groupings are withdrawn and guided through carefully planned programmes of activity in line with their identified learning needs. The programmes are appropriately informed by results of standardised tests, diagnostic tests or psychological reports and are prepared in consultation with class teachers and other professionals involved with the pupils. Individual programmes are discussed with parents during parent-teacher meetings held twice a year. The duties and responsibilities of the special needs assistants are appropriately documented and are fulfilled in a caring and responsible manner.

 

The learning-support/resource teachers should now strive to work in conjunction with the other support teachers in the school in order to provide an integrated programme of support. Working as a team, the teachers should aim to extend the services to provide regular support in both English and Mathematics and to increase, where appropriate, the levels of in-class and cross-curricular support. There is a need to co-ordinate the planning of individual pupil programmes, to agree a format for individual teacher planning and to ensure that all teachers have a clear teaching role. It would also be of benefit to review the school’s policy on special education with particular reference to circulars SP ED 24/03 and SP ED 02/05.

 

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

The school has a welcoming and caring ethos which is reflected in the efforts being made to ensure that all pupils have an equal chance to access, participate and benefit from the educational provision in the school. The school currently receives a DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) non-specific grant which is used appropriately to support provision and to enable full pupil participation in all school activities. To inform future practice and to strengthen the development of an intercultural society, the school should formulate a policy on intercultural education with reference to the 2005 publication by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment entitled “Intercultural Education in the Primary School: Guidelines for Schools”.

 

The school is the base for a home-school-community rural co-ordinator provided under the scheme Giving Children an Even Break. This support is shared with four other schools with the co-ordinator spending one full day in each school. Pupils in Scoil Iarfhlatha Naofa are withdrawn from class individually or in groups of two and receive supplementary teaching focused on enhancing language skills, promoting understanding of Mathematics and developing computer literacy. No programmes involving parents are in operation at present but it is intended to commence a shared-reading programme with parental support in the forthcoming term. It is recommended that the co-ordinator’s timetable be reviewed and that the time spent in each school should be organised in proportion to the level of enrolment and the level of identified need within each school. The teacher should seek to establish stronger links with the parent body and to initiate programmes to support parents in furthering their children’s engagement in education.

 

A number of pupils from the Traveller community are enrolled in the school. Consequently the school avails of the additional support of a resource teacher for travellers. The teacher visits the school four days a week and works in conjunction with class teachers to assist with work in literacy and numeracy. Pupils are again withdrawn individually or in groups of two. Taking into consideration the number of support teachers working in the school, the current level of withdrawal and the incidence of pupils attending more than one support teacher, it is strongly recommended that the work of the support teachers be streamlined and co-ordinated in a manner which best meets the needs of the pupils. The school is advised to adopt the concept of a special education support team which draws on the skills of all the specialist teachers without making artificial distinctions between them as advocated in Circular SD ED 24/03.

 

5.     Conclusion

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:

 

 

 

 

 

Published October 2009

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

             We accept the content of the report.

 

 

Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection