An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Brendan’s National School
Clonfert, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway
Uimhir Rolla: 17870B
Date of inspection: 18 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Brendan’s National School. 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 inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. 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 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.
St. Brendan’s National School is a five teacher co-educational primary school and is situated in a rural setting in east Galway adjacent to the river Shannon and approximately midway between Eyrecourt and Banagher. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Diocese of Clonfert and is one of two schools in the parish. The school caters for the education of pupils living in the neighbouring hinterland within a six kilometre radius of the school. Following the closure of Esker National School, a number of pupils travel from Esker parish, which is located at a distance of five kilometres from the school.
The school has recently experienced an almost complete staff change. Much credit is due to each member of staff for their joint efforts in supporting and enhancing positive professional working relationships. The staff succeeds in providing a well-ordered, caring and secure atmosphere and makes every effort to imbue in pupils a sense of respect for others and for school property. The school espouses a Catholic ethos and has due recognition for the creeds of others as expressed in the school mission statement. A warm, open and welcoming ethos pervades throughout the school and there is a strong focus on the promotion of a community spirit among staff members and responsible behaviour among pupils.
The last school report was issued in 1995 when the school was staffed by three class teachers and had 82 pupils enrolled. Enrolment has dropped since the last inspection due mainly to smaller family sizes. Current enrolment stands at 69 pupils and includes 36 boys and 33 girls. It is expected that enrolment trends will remain steady in the foreseeable future. Pupil attendance is carefully monitored and good attendance levels are maintained by the majority of pupils. The attendance of a considerable minority of pupils gives cause for concern. Formal meetings are held with parents in order to encourage improvement in attendance. It is recommended that a range of strategies and incentives be adopted and implemented to encourage more regular attendance by all pupils. Pupils transfer mainly to Banagher post‑primary school and it was reported that there is a smooth transition between primary and post-primary school.
The board of management provides supportive leadership to the school. The board is properly
constituted and functions in accordance with the Rules and Procedures of Boards of Management (November 2003). It was reported that the board usually meets approximately five times annually and emergency meetings are called if warranted. The chairperson makes frequent contact with the principal, visits classrooms and provides support in the promotion of a sense of citizenship. From discussions with the board it is evident that each member displays a keen interest in the work of the school. The size of the school facilitates regular informal contact between teaching staff and individual board members. Most members have availed of training sessions organised by Galway Training Centre and the Catholic Primary Managers’ Association (CPSMA). Board members appropriately share their personal experience and expertise and take responsibility for specific tasks to support the work of the school.
Agenda are circulated in advance of meetings and minutes are distributed among all members. The main business of the most recent meetings has included the sanctioning of new appointments, the purchase of physical education equipment, health and safety issues, school maintenance, discipline issues in the school yard, school outings, school visitors, administrative issues, extra-curricular activities and school projects such as the Green Flag and recycling initiatives. Financial accounts are carefully maintained and a financial report is provided at board meetings. It is advised that school accounts should be certified and audited on an annual basis. It would also be of benefit for board members to study and discuss the implications of recent legislation on the work of the board of management.
The board is vigilant in its responsibility in providing a safe and healthy working environment for both staff and pupils. The school building and environs are very well maintained and comfortable, well-ventilated and spacious accommodation is provided. Pupils are encouraged to wear slippers indoors and commendable work has been undertaken recently in the organisation of storage areas and in the cataloguing of equipment and teaching resources. A risk assessment of the school premises is conducted annually and all necessary maintenance adjustments are made. The most recent work carried out has included the installation of a new boiler, the replacement of gutters, the plastering of the shelter areas and the replacement of outdoor seating for pupils. The board of management is commended for the provision of very well maintained school facilities and for its commitment in supporting the continuous development of the school.
Appropriate efforts have been made to develop various policies in accordance with recent relevant legislation. Policies discussed and agreed by the board to date have been primarily administrative and include a health and safety statement, an enrolment policy, a code of discipline, a child protection policy and a policy for learning-support and special educational needs. The school is complying with regulations regarding the length of the school day and school year, deployment of teachers and maintenance of attendance records. The raising of parental concerns is facilitated at school and board levels. Parent-school communication is enhanced through the publication of termly newsletters, the distribution of information packs to parents of pupils following enrolment, the organisation of formal and informal meetings with parents and the issuing of annual pupil progress reports. It was reported during the whole-school evaluation that curriculum policies have not been reviewed or discussed by the board to date. It is advised that the existing policies developed be ratified, signed and dated to include a review date. It is also recommended that the board’s secretary should regularly record in the minutes the occasions when policies are presented to the board for discussion and ratification. It is suggested that a three-year action plan be developed by the board in order to prioritise tasks in relation to the systematic development and review of curricular and administrative policies.
Current priorities for the board include a successful resolution to the transport difficulties experienced in relation to the arrival and departure times of the bus service, the development, review and ratification of all school policies, the upgrade of the fire alarm system, the repair of the school roof, the construction of an enclosed corridor area, the further development of home-school partnership, the fostering of pupils’ sense of citizenship and an increase in the use of the local environment. Satisfaction was expressed by the board in relation to the standard of education provided by the school. It was reported that past pupils perform well in State examinations. The commitment, conscientious work ethic and dedication of the teaching staff were praised by the board. Approval was also expressed for the sport and speech and drama experiences provided, the approachable manner of staff and the co‑operation received from parents. The board should now consider the possibility of issuing an annual report on the operation of the school in line with section 20 of the Education Act, 1998.
A welcoming, collegiate and collaborative atmosphere permeates the school. The promotion of positive working relationships and a caring rapport among all members of the teaching and ancillary staff has been a key priority for the newly appointed principal. The principal provides effective leadership and is commended for her enthusiasm, hard-working and conscientious approach in developing efficient systems in order to prevent unnecessary interruptions to her teaching time in the classroom. The principal discharges her administrative duties in a proficient, organised and professional manner. Official records, filing systems and school registers are carefully maintained and accessible to relevant staff members. Every effort is made to support the newly qualified teachers employed. It was reported that all teachers will be given an opportunity to teach at different class levels in order to enhance their professional development. There is regular communication with parents and appropriate efforts are made to ensure that their concerns are promptly addressed. The principal is in the process of completing the Misneach Programme organised by the Leadership Development for Schools national initiative in order to further enhance her leadership and management skills. The deputy principal is shortly due to commence the Tánaiste Programme facilitated by the same agency. Attention now needs to be placed on the principal’s role in developing, monitoring and reviewing a whole-school co‑ordinated classroom planning system.
The in-school management team consists of the principal, deputy principal and a special duties post. All posts of responsibility have recently been reviewed and are clearly defined in the school plan. Duties assigned appropriately incorporate a mix of organisational, pastoral and curricular duties and include the updating of school registers, the co-ordination of English, sport and Physical Education, the regular updating of a school equipment inventory, sacramental duties, time-tabling responsibilities, the purchase of resources to support literacy and numeracy, the co-ordination of the Green Flag and recycling initiative and the tracking and analysis of standardised test results. The post-holders are commended for their eagerness, commitment and willingness to continue to make every effort to support the work of the principal and staff. It is advised that an annual review date for each special duties post should be incorporated in the school plan in order to address the changing prioritised needs of the school and to facilitate curricular change and development at whole-school level. It would be beneficial for each post-holder to provide an annual or bi-annual report to the board of management outlining plans in place and ongoing progress made.
The teaching staff comprises a teaching principal, two mainstream class teachers, a resource teacher and a shared learning-support teacher with Tiernascragh NS. Care is taken to ensure that pupils are equitably divided among mainstream teachers in dual or multi-grade classes. Six and a half hours supplementary teaching support is also provided by a teacher, who is in the process of seeking recognition by the Department of Education and Science. The board is reminded of its duty in line with Circular 0105/2006 to ensure that only fully qualified and recognised primary teachers should be appointed to support the needs of all pupils including pupils with special educational needs. Pupils are withdrawn by the support teachers from mainstream classes either individually or in small groups. It is recommended that, in line with Circular 24/03, consideration should now be given to developing a system of in-class support, in order to further enhance pupils’ teaching and learning experiences. One special needs assistant is appointed to support the needs of three pupils with special educational needs and makes a considerable contribution to the work of classrooms.
The school avails of the services of a drama tutor for three hours a week and as evidenced during the whole-school evaluation pupils greatly benefit from the quality of skills instruction provided in collaboration with class teachers. Pupils are currently charged a fee for this service. It is advised that the board either facilitates the availability of the service after school hours or alternatively devises strategies to ensure that all pupils can avail of this service without it being contingent on payment by pupils during the school day. The board also employs a hurling coach for two hours weekly to provide hurling training for all pupils from first class upwards. This service is funded by the Eyrecourt/Clonfert GAA Club. Pupils have access to swimming tuition on an annual basis for an eight week timeframe in Ballinasloe, which is located at an approximate distance of 20km from the school. It is the intention of staff to review the organisation of swimming lessons for the forthcoming school year.
The school is situated on a large site and was originally built as a two-classroom school in 1952. The building was extended to include four additional classrooms in the 1970s and the original two classrooms were converted into a general-purposes room. Since the last school inspection new PVC windows have been installed, modern classroom furniture has been provided and the classroom floor areas have been carpeted. Accommodation in the school now comprises four spacious mainstream classrooms, one of which serves as a learning‑support room, a small resource teacher’s room, a secretary’s office which also functions as the principal’s office, ample storage areas, staff and suitable toilet facilities. The general-purposes room also serves as a staff-room with a small kitchen area, and a support room, which is used to provide individual tuition for pupils requiring additional supplementary teaching. Excellent attention has been given to the maintenance of the school’s outdoor facilities, which include two outdoor shelter areas, boys’ and girls’ changing rooms, a large and medium-sized games pitch, a hard-surface play area and a basketball court. The staff has direct access to the local community hall, which is located within easy proximity of the school building. This provides another excellent facility for pupils during inclement weather conditions to facilitate the implementation of the physical education and drama curricula.
The diligence and valuable contribution of the ancillary staff in carrying out their duties is duly acknowledged. The school premises are properly cleaned three times weekly and a caretaker is employed for five hours weekly. The principal and staff are valuably supported by an efficient part-time secretary, who is employed for 13 hours each week. The board members, teachers, pupils and the entire school community are commended for their efforts in ensuring that high standards of hygiene, neatness and cleanliness are in evidence. The school environs are litter-free, organised and bright. All available space in the school is utilised to the optimum and the school is properly heated and ventilated.
The school is well-resourced in most areas, especially in relation to the provision of resources to support the science and physical education curriculum. The school has access to a plentiful supply of commercially produced charts in all classes and there is a variety of teacher-made illustrative materials in almost all classrooms. Resources are appropriately used in most curricular areas to support teaching and learning. Other material resources are provided such as a photocopier, televisions, videos, digital cameras, DVD players, maps, physical education apparatus, whiteboards, jigsaws, educational games, language aids and a large range of books. A book rental scheme is provided for the pupils. All classrooms are equipped with a desktop computer and printer and have access to broadband. Some teachers incorporate the use of ICT to enhance teaching and learning opportunities, particularly in the use of Microsoft Word and the internet. There is scope for development in the more regular use of ICT to mediate pupils’ learning in all classrooms. It is planned to increase the range of computer software to support class work. Learning material in classrooms is easily accessed by the pupils and shelving has been provided to facilitate classroom organisation. The general-purposes room is effectively used to display pupils’ project work. It was noted during the evaluation that there is an insufficient range of musical instruments and mathematical equipment to support the needs of pupils in classrooms. It is recommended that the supply of equipment should be extended to support the teaching of Mathematics and Music.
Conscientious efforts are made to foster positive relations with the parent body and the local community. In the absence of an active parents’ association, home-school links are developed mainly through informal contact, parent representation on the board of management, involvement in sporting activities and through regular correspondence between school and home. Parents are reported to be very willing to volunteer their support.
At the pre-evaluation meeting parents’ comments highlighted that the local close-knit community is very supportive of the work of the school. Parents praised in particular the approachable principal, the dedicated and vibrant teaching staff, the speech and drama classes provided, the academic achievement of pupils, the early intervention and support for pupils with special educational needs, the various projects undertaken and the pupils’ visual arts experiences. Parents are pleased with the opportunities for parental involvement in the life of the school through the termly newsletters, regular correspondence and the use of homework journals. Parents interviewed expressed satisfaction with the procedures in place to deal with parental concerns. It was reported that teachers make themselves available at mutually convenient times after school hours to meet with parents. Parent-teacher meetings are organised during the first school term. Lectures on various educational topics are arranged for parents on an annual basis in collaboration with Eyrecourt N.S.
All parents are acquainted with the school code of behaviour and discipline. It was reported that while parents have a strong interest in education, parental involvement in the formulation of school policies is limited to date. The parents interviewed noted that the parents’ association, which was originally established in 2003, was not active in recent years and was not currently affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. Parents interviewed would welcome the re-establishment of the parents’ association to facilitate the development of a meaningful communication structure to support the work of the principal and to facilitate greater involvement of parents in the whole-school planning and development process.
A caring orderly atmosphere is in evidence. Positive behaviour management strategies are promoted and pupils are encouraged to behave responsibly and courteously towards others. Pupils are praised regularly and are conscientiously encouraged to react respectfully towards other pupils’ efforts and inputs and to express their opinions in debate and discourse. The support of parents is sought in addressing behaviour management issues when they arise in line with the school code of discipline. The school implements appropriate steps to prevent bullying behaviour. Although it was reported that the management of behaviour in the yard occasionally was a cause for concern, it was noted during the school inspection that the pupils displayed courteous, friendly and respectful behaviour towards others, staff and visitors. It is intended to review the discipline policy to incorporate positive behaviour management strategies with a focus on the development of pupils’ social skills in an effort to further improve pupils’ behaviour in the school yard. The efforts made by pupils in keeping the school and its environs tidy and in the recycling of waste materials are commendable. Pupils in all classes make a good effort to respond to questioning and generally pay praiseworthy attention to the presentation of neat work.
Considerable work has been undertaken to date in relation to the development of school planning documentation, as required by section 21 of the Education Act, 1998. The school plan is clearly laid out in two separate files and includes administrative policies to guide the effective running of the school together with polices to support whole-school curriculum implementation. Commendable work has been undertaken in relation to the development of various policies in line with relevant legislation. Administrative polices have been developed in relation to health and safety, enrolment, attendance, induction of infants, supervision, homework advice to parents, healthy-eating policy and complaints procedure. A wide range of management policies has been developed including an anti-bullying policy, administration of medicines, an ICT and safe use of the internet policy, discipline policy and a mobile phone policy. A clear description of roles and responsibilities of each staff member is appropriately included. 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 provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Comprehensive policies have been developed in Irish, English, Mathematics, Social Personal and Health Education, Music, Visual Arts and Science. Curricular policies developed to date have been drafted mainly by teachers. Parents interviewed would welcome additional information in relation to whole-school curricular policies. It is intended that the remaining four whole‑school curricular plans in Geography, History, Physical Education and Drama will be developed prior to the end of the current school year. Teaching staff are due to receive in-service training in Drama during the current school year. The school has received professional advice in a number of curricular areas from the ‘cuiditheoireacht’ Regional Curriculum Support Service. The school’s mission statement, philosophy and aims are clearly articulated in the school plan and policies documented are clear, focused and relevant to the school. It is recommended that a three‑year strategy be developed in conjunction with the board of management to outline the major curricular and organisational priorities of the school and to set out procedures to ensure a greater involvement of parents in the planning process. The possibility of liaising with the re‑established parents’ association should be considered in ensuring that the entire parent body receive access to draft policies for their consideration and feedback, prior to final ratification and signing off by the board. It is recommended that each policy should be signed and review dates included. It is suggested that a brief information booklet should be developed for parents outlining a summary of school policies and procedures.
All teachers engage in regular long-term and short-term planning with reference to each subject area of the curriculum. There is considerable variation of style in the layout and quality of planning among teachers. Appropriate emphasis is placed on the setting of learning objectives and on the identification of resources, methodologies and assessment strategies in some classes while in other instances planning is predominantly based on the content of textbooks. Some schemes make clear reference to the strands and strand units of the curriculum and the skills to be developed among pupils. The use of ICT in presenting teaching and learning plans is very effective in some classes. It would be beneficial if clear classroom planning guidelines were provided as a guide in the school plan. Consideration should be given to identifying existing good practice in order to develop a systematic, consistent and practical approach to classroom planning that includes a specific reference to learning objectives, methodologies, content, resources, assessment and differentiation strategies in planning for each curricular area. Integration web diagrams could also be beneficially used to further promote a thematic and integrated approach to planning in specific curricular areas.
Individual learning programmes are developed and regularly reviewed for pupils with special educational needs and for pupils experiencing learning difficulty. It is recommended that each mainstream teacher should include a copy of the individual learning targets in their files in order to address pupils’ learning needs across a range of curricular areas. Such an approach would provide a clearer focus on learning outcomes, the monitoring of pupils’ progress and record‑keeping. Monthly progress records in the form of cuntais mhíosúla are comprehensive in nature and are maintained by individual teachers and filed in a central location. It was noted at the post‑evaluation meeting that a suitable cuntas míosúil template had been sourced and amended to support the implementation of this recommendation. Efforts in promptly implementing this recommendation are acknowledged.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
A variety of methodologies and approaches is implemented throughout the school. Teacher‑directed approaches, discussion, brainstorming techniques, whole-class teaching and some effective examples of pair work and group work are among the dominant methodologies utilised. There is a commendable emphasis on the exploration of the pupils’ local environment in all classes. Project work is used as an effective methodology in senior classes. Attention should now be given to the extended use of project work and co-operative group work to assist in the development of pupils’ higher-order thinking skills. The use of drama as a methodology to enhance pupils’ enjoyment in the teaching of oral language and reading in both languages should also be explored as a potential means for development. In general pupils display a keen interest in their work and standardised test results demonstrate that pupils are generally making very good progress in Mathematics and English. A small number of pupils require additional supplementary teaching support in Mathematics. Pupils make a very good effort to participate in discussions and pupils respond well to questioning in Social Environmental and Scientific education. Very good learning opportunities are provided in Drama, Physical Education and Social, Personal and Health Education, while there is scope for development in broadening teaching experiences and in consolidating pupils’ learning in Music and Irish.
Léiríonn an plean cuimsitheach scoile-uile go bhfuil dianmhachnamh déanta ag foireann na scoile ar aidhmeanna na scoile i leith na teanga a fhorbairt agus ar straitéisí éagsúla teagaisc chun í a chur chun cinn mar theanga chumarsáide. Tá pleanáil sásúil déanta ag na hoidí féin bunaithe ar an bplean scoile agus baintear dea-úsáid as prionta sa timpeallacht i ngach seomra ranga. Cuirtear lipéidí Gaeilge ar taispeáint i dtimpeallachtaí poiblí na scoile mar eiseamláirí don scríbhneoireacht agus don léitheoireacht. Baintear úsáid mhaith as puipéid, cairteacha léirithe agus cluichí cainte chun téamaí an churaclaim a mhúineadh i ranganna áirithe. Moltar feidhm níos leithne a bhaint as ábhar léirithe tríd an scoil chun foghlaim na Gaeilge a bhuanú agus chun tuiscint na ndaltaí a fhorbairt.
Tá sé mar sprioc ag na hoidí uile dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge a chothú agus cuirtear prionsabal an tumoideachais i bhfeidhm mar is cóir le linn an cheachta Gaeilge. Feictear go bhfuil líofacht mhaith cainte ag na hoidí sa Ghaeilge agus go n‑aithníonn siad go bhfuil gá le feabhas a chur ar chaighdeán na cumarsáide Gaeilge i gcoitinne tríd an scoil. Ar an iomlán, is léir nach mbíonn dóthain taithí ag na daltaí in úsáid na Gaeilge mar theanga chumarsáide agus nach mbíonn ar a gcumas ag cuid mhaith acu abairtí simplí a chruthú agus ceisteanna a chumadh. Moltar anois béim ar leith a chur ar úsáid na teanga mar theanga bheo agus na feidhmeanna teanga a mhúintear a úsáid i gcomhthéacsanna éagsúla. Úsáidtear obair bheirte chun na feidhmeanna teanga a fhorbairt go héifeachtach i gcuid de na ranganna. Ní foláir anois an cur chuige éifeachtach seo a scaipeadh tríd an scoil ar bhonn níos rialta chun leanúnachas agus forchéimniú sa teanga labhartha a chinntiú ó rang go rang. Tá sraith leathan rann ar eolas ag na naíonáin agus na ranganna sóisearacha agus cuirtear béim chuí ar luas agus rithim na teanga sna ranganna seo. Aithrisíonn na daltaí raon maith dánta agus amhráin sna ranganna eile. Ba thairbheach anois an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn a thuilleadh fós mar theanga bhainistíochta ranga agus caidrimh i ngach rangsheomra. Úsáidtear an Ghaeilge mar is cóir sna ranganna corpoideachais. D’fhéadfaí an dea-chleachtas seo a leathnú agus an Ghaeilge a úsáid sa cheacht ealaíne agus sa cheacht ceoil chomh maith.
I gcoitinne léann na páistí go cruinn sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna. Tugtar faoi deara go bhfuil tuiscint mhaith ag na ranganna a úsáideann téacsanna idirdhealuithe atá deartha i seomra ranga amháin. B’fhiú an nós imeachta seo a scaipeadh tríd an scoil. Tá easpa foclóra ag cuid de na páistí agus cruthaíonn an réimse teoranta teanga seo deacrachtaí tuisceana dóibh i dtaobh láimhseáil an ábhair léitheoireachta. B’fhiú scéim oiriúnach léitheoireachta sa Ghaeilge a roghnú le téacs simplí chun suim na bpáistí a mhúscailt sa léitheoireacht agus daingniú a dhéanamh ar na focail agus na frásaí nua roimh na téacsanna nua a léamh.
Cláraíonn na daltaí cleachtaí sa scríbhneoireacht fheidhmiúil ina gcóipleabhair atá bunaithe beagnach go hiomlán ar leabhair shaothair na ranganna. Cláraítear an obair scríofa go slachtmhar néata. Moltar deiseanna a thabhairt do na páistí an foclóir atá foghlamtha acu a úsáid i scéalta beaga. Ba thairbheach freisin tabhairt faoi thascanna oiriúnacha ina mbeirteanna nó i ngrúpaí beaga chun scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach a chleachtadh, ionas go mbeadh na daltaí sna hardranganna ábalta scríobh go neamhspleách sa Ghaeilge.
The staff has given careful consideration to the school’s aims to develop the Irish language and to use various strategies to promote the communicative aspect of the teaching of Irish as indicated in the comprehensive whole-school plan developed. Teachers provide satisfactory classroom planning in accordance with the school plan and a print-rich environment is appropriately used in each classroom. The labels on display in public areas of the school provide suitable exemplars for writing and reading. The themes of the curriculum are well taught in specific classes through the use of puppets, visual aids and language games. It is recommended that the use of visual aids should be extended to all classes in order to consolidate and support pupils’ learning of the language.
All teachers aim to foster a positive attitude towards Irish and the immersion principle is appropriately implemented during Irish lessons. The teaching staff has a good level of fluency in the Irish language and teachers recognise that, in general, there is a need to improve the pupils’ competence levels in communicating through Irish across the school. On the whole it is apparent that pupils do not have sufficient opportunity to practice communicating through Irish and some pupils have not mastered the ability to compose questions and simple sentences. It is recommended that greater emphasis should be given to the use of Irish as a living language with a particular focus on the teaching of the various functional language structures using different contexts. Pair work is effectively used in some classes to develop pupils’ understanding of various language structures. It would be of benefit to extend this effective approach on a more regular basis throughout the school to ensure continuity and progression from class to class in the development of pupils’ oral language competencies. Pupils in infants and junior classes can recite a broad range of rhymes and appropriate emphasis is placed on the pace and rhythm of the language in these classes. Pupils recite a good range of poetry and song in other classes. It would be beneficial to further promote the use of Irish as the language of communication and interaction in the management of each classroom. The use of Irish in physical education lessons is praiseworthy. Irish could be beneficially used in visual arts and music classes also.
In general, pupils in middle and senior classes read with accuracy. Pupils using differentiated texts in one classroom display a good understanding of the material read. The emphasis placed on differentiation in these classes is to be commended and this effective approach should be extended to all classes. It is observed that some pupils have restricted vocabulary and this limited language acquisition generates difficulty for pupils in understanding and mastering the reading material. It would be beneficial to choose a suitable reading scheme in Irish in order to stimulate pupils’ interest in reading and to reinforce new words and phrases in advance of pupils being introduced to new reading texts.
Pupils complete functional writing activities in their copies, which are largely based on class workbooks. Pupils’ written work is presented neatly. It is recommended that pupils are given the opportunity to use the vocabulary learnt in composing short stories. It would also be beneficial for pupils to practice suitable creative writing tasks during pair and group work to enhance their independent writing skills in Irish.
A detailed whole-school plan in English has been developed, which provides a clear breakdown of content for each class level in line with the strands and strand units of the curriculum. English is well taught and pupils’ overall attainment in English is very good.
Commendable efforts are made in all classes to improve the pupils’ oral language vocabulary. The pupils display confidence in expressing themselves and communicate their ideas and opinions in a satisfactory manner. Specific oral language classes are planned and taught using a discrete time in some classes while in other classes an informal approach to oral language development is adopted. It is recommended that all teachers plan and timetable discrete oral language lessons to address all curriculum strand units. Suitable attention is given to the use of the language experience chart in infant and junior classes. Pupils’ phonological and phonemic awareness skills are well developed and the teaching of phonics is well-structured. Effective use is made of the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory approach to promote pupils’ understanding of letter sounds.
Each classroom provides a suitable print-rich environment. A good foundation of basic emergent reading skills is laid down in the infant and junior classes and is effectively developed in middle and senior classes. A strong reading culture is fostered and effective use is made of home-school reading records and book reviews in some classes. It is suggested that this practice should be developed further in all classes. All pupils are encouraged to read for pleasure and discuss their books when read. Pupils read confidently and fluently in all classes. Classroom libraries are suitably stocked with a range of reading materials. Very good use is made of the large-format books, which greatly assists the promotion of an integrated language experience for pupils. A formal reading scheme is effectively supported by a range of class novels in middle and senior classes. This practice is to be commended and pupils’ enjoyment of the reading process is clearly enhanced. Good emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ prediction and higher-order thinking skills in middle classes. Pupils recite a suitable repertoire of rhyme and poetry with expression, actions and movement throughout the school. Pupils in some classes are afforded the opportunity of composing and responding to poetry. Consideration should now be given to extending this practice on a more regular basis as a stimulus for the development of pupils’ emotional and imaginative development.
Excellent attention is given to the teaching and practice of handwriting skills across the school and commendable standards are achieved. Pupils are introduced to a cursive handwriting style from first class upwards. Very good attention is given to the development of pupils’ spelling, comprehension skills, grammar and punctuation throughout the school. Spelling tests are a feature across the school. Greater emphasis should now be placed on the use of dictation in some classes to ensure that pupils receive additional practice at transferring spellings learnt in different contexts. Pre-writing activities are carefully prepared and pupils are given a range of opportunities to write for a variety of purposes. A good balance is achieved between functional and creative writing activities. ICT is used effectively to support pupils’ work in some classes. Pupils are stimulated to write in different genres through their involvement in the Write a Book Project organised by Athlone Education Centre. The efforts invested in developing pupils’ interest in the writing process are praiseworthy and should be further extended to all classes. Samples of pupils’ writing are attractively displayed and class work is presented neatly and regularly monitored by all teachers.
Clear procedures for the teaching of Mathematics have been agreed on a whole-school basis and a comprehensive plan has been developed. Each of the five strands of the mathematics curriculum receives balanced attention and pupils’ presentation of their written work is of a high standard. The use of workbooks, copybooks, whiteboards and visual prompts are features of lessons to a large extent in classrooms. Whole-class teaching and talk and discussion are the dominant methodologies used to explore mathematical procedures and outcomes. Mathematical games and number rhymes are used effectively in infant and junior classes. It is suggested that in order to increase pupils’ level of engagement and enjoyment in mathematics classes that consideration be given to reducing the use of textbooks and workbooks in favour of engaging pupils in co‑operative learning group tasks to enable them talk through mathematical procedures and environmental-based mathematical problems. This would facilitate teachers in providing additional support to individual pupils.
It was apparent during the evaluation of pupils’ attainment in Mathematics that in general high standards are achieved in pupils’ understanding of a range of mathematical concepts and tables. Pupils respond enthusiastically to questioning and display a very good grasp of appropriate mathematical language. The standardised test scores provide additional evidence that achievement levels in Mathematics are favourable in accordance with pupils’ class levels and stages of development. Pupils’ efforts are praiseworthy in their attempts to record their work accurately and neatly. Mathematical activities are suitably differentiated for pupils experiencing learning difficulties in almost all classes and pupils’ work is monitored regularly. A plentiful supply of board games is available in each classroom and pupils are encouraged to interact with these games when pupils remain indoors at break times. This practice is worthwhile as it stimulates pupils’ interest in Mathematics. It is advised that additional mathematical manipulatives be purchased to ensure that pupils in each classroom have access to a suitable supply of mathematical resources to enhance the teaching and learning process.
It was observed that a small number of pupils are experiencing difficulty in understanding basic mathematical concepts and problem‑solving and clearly require supplementary teaching support. It is recommended that this support should be provided in accordance with the criteria as set out in the Learning-Support Guidelines (2000), and following consultation with the parents of the relevant pupils. It is advised that classroom tasks be differentiated, suitably matched to pupils’ ability levels and carefully monitored in order to identify mathematical concepts requiring additional teaching input. Limited opportunities are provided for using information and communication technologies (ICT) to develop mathematical skills. It is suggested that the potential of using ICT to develop pupils’ understanding in Mathematics, particularly for pupils experiencing learning difficulties, should be explored.
Even though whole-school planning for History has not yet been initiated, pupils display a commendable knowledge and understanding of a suitable range of themes studied in all classes. Pupils are enthusiastic in their responses and clearly enjoy history lessons and display high interest levels in the topics studied. Due attention is given to each strand and strand unit of the curriculum in individual teachers’ planning. An integrated approach is effectively used and a varied range of methodologies was employed during the whole-school evaluation including focused talk and discussion, brainstorming, the effective use of story, teacher questioning, teacher-designed tasks and project work. A suitable emphasis is placed on the exploration of personal, family and local history and change and continuity themes using photographs and visual prompts. Local historians are invited annually to share their experiences with pupils. Good use is made of timelines in some classes to enhance pupils’ understanding of chronology in placing people, objects and events within a broad historical sequence. This exemplar of good practice should be applied to all classrooms.
The emphasis on project work and on integrated activities through the construction of Viking models in some classes is particularly praiseworthy. Broadband, the internet and ICT are effectively used to access relevant material and support pupils’ understanding of historical concepts. Cloze procedure tests are appropriately used in senior classes to scaffold pupils’ learning and test their understanding of topics studied. It is recommended that a range of artefacts and primary historical sources and documents be collected and displayed either centrally or in individual classes in order to stimulate even further pupils’ abilities in working as historians. It is planned to develop a whole-school history policy during the current school year, which will reflect existing practice and appropriately guide a spiral approach to curriculum delivery across all class levels.
It is intended to develop a whole-school plan to guide the teaching of Geography in the current school year to support the implementation of a balanced, comprehensive and consistent geography programme in all classes. Teachers are to be commended for the joint efforts made to develop pupils’ sense of place and space. Pupils’ interest in their own locality is successfully encouraged in all classes. A commendable emphasis is placed on the Environmental Awareness and Care strand of the geography curriculum and on the development of pupils’ skills and understanding through exploration of their local environment. Active learning opportunities are provided for pupils to care for their immediate environment through their recent involvement in the Green Schools’ Environmental Project organised in conjunction with An Taisce. The school’s tremendous efforts in relation to recycling have recently been recognised through the Green Flag award.
Excellent use is made of project work in senior classes to enable pupils to develop their investigative and research skills. A thematic teaching approach is adopted in junior classes, while a combination of theme teaching and discussion is used in middle and senior classes to support pupils’ learning. Pupils generally display a good understanding of physical geography and study a wide range of suitable themes. Pupils are given valuable opportunities to compare daily rainfall and temperature recordings in all classes. Pupils’ interest in current affairs, local, national and world events is fostered in all classes through discussion. Each classroom is suitably equipped with globes, commercially produced charts and a good range of maps. Field trips, nature walks and educational trips are organised from time to time, which help to stimulate pupils’ interest in their local environment. It is intended to make greater use of the rich environmental heritage during the current school year.
Appropriate time is allocated on each teacher’s timetable for the teaching of Science. A clearly written whole-school plan has been developed to guide teaching and learning. This document provides a focused delineation of the aims and key considerations for the effective implementation of the science programme. An audit of recently purchased teaching resources is beneficially included. Reference is also made to the school’s plans to purchase additional equipment as an aid to enhance the science programme. Classroom environments support pupils’ learning with suitable visual aids. Pupils display a very good knowledge, understanding and interest in the themes studied and can confidently describe scientific procedures and investigations using a good standard of scientific vocabulary. Seasonal displays are a feature of all classrooms and opportunities are provided for pupils to plant potatoes and spring bulbs adjacent to the school building. Pupils in most classrooms have access to clearly labelled investigation tables, which stimulate pupils’ ideas as a starting point for learning.
Direct teaching, talk and discussion and the use of story were the main methodologies observed during the evaluation. Pupils have planned and conducted investigations to nurture and develop their scientific skills in accordance with curricular principles. The potential of using co‑operative group work and ICT should be explored further as effective approaches and methodologies in stimulating the development of pupils’ higher order thinking and scientific skills. Pupils should also be given the opportunity to record their findings in Science.
A comprehensive visual arts plan has been developed and is effectively implemented throughout the school. All strands of the curriculum are carefully planned and are taught in a balanced manner. Very good emphasis is placed on pupils’ understanding of the elements and the language of Visual Arts. Appropriate attention is given to 2D and 3D construction activities as evidenced in teachers’ planning, pupils’ art samples and the photographic records maintained. A wide range of materials is effectively used in the delivery of the programme. An inventory of art materials is undertaken annually. Samples displayed in classrooms, corridors and in the general-purposes area demonstrate that pupils are given opportunity to work with a range of media including seasonal friezes, greeting cards, collage, fabric and fibre, drawing, paint work and print. Visual arts activities that involve linkage and integration are planned to give pupils added opportunities to develop their creativity and awareness of the elements of art. An artist in residence and a potter are invited during the final term in order to encourage pupils’ interest in art. As well as making art, pupils are encouraged to respond to each other’s work and the work of different art styles.
Teacher observation and teacher‑designed tasks are the main assessment tools used and portfolios of pupils’ art samples are maintained in some classes. It is recommended that consideration should now be given to the further development of portfolios in all classes to include photographic records and selected samples of pupils’ work.
Although a suitable coherent whole-school music plan has recently been developed with the support of the ‘cuiditheoireacht’ Regional Curriculum Support Service, it was evident that limited progress has been achieved to date in the implementation of the music programme. Greater attention should be given to the implementation of the whole‑school plan as it provides a good overview and structure for teachers regarding approaches and methodologies, linkage, integration, assessment opportunities, timetabling, parental and community inputs and available resources. This plan also provides a clear breakdown of the content objectives for each strand of the curriculum.
Sole emphasis is currently placed on song-singing and on the Performing strand. Pupils in infant and junior classes enthusiastically sing a wide range of suitable action rhymes and jingles in Irish and in English. Appropriate emphasis is placed on the importance of ensuring that pupils sing at an appropriate pitch in all classes using good vocal quality and tone with the accompaniment of tape recorders. Song-singing is also suitably linked to musical performances in Drama under the direction of the visiting tutor. Greater attention should now be given to the systematic extension of the repertoire and range of songs learnt in both languages on a school-wide basis. Pupils can name the instruments of the orchestra in middle and senior classes. Pupils from second class upwards are given an opportunity to learn the tin whistle and/or recorder.
In order to ensure the systematic development of musical literacy and notation throughout the school it is suggested that pupils be exposed to pentatonic tunes, echo-clapping, rounds and partner songs using relevant hand gestures from an early age. The use of body percussion, home-made shakers, wooden objects and chime bars to explore rhythm and to accompany songs would greatly add to pupils’ enjoyment of music lessons. There is a need for pupils to become familiar with the integrated and interrelated nature of the music curriculum. Investment is needed in the purchase of additional resources to support a balanced focus on the listening, responding and composing strands of the curriculum. In general there is a need to expose pupils to a greater range of musical forms and experiences. Consideration should be given to the possibility of utilising the musical skills and interests of staff members with particular expertise in Music.
Drama is effectively taught to all classes by a visiting teacher, who provides weekly supplementary support to class teachers as an aid to staff professional development. A general outline of the programme implemented is provided. Pupils are currently charged for this service. It is recommended as a matter of priority that all pupils have access to each curricular area without payment during the school day. Good attention is given to the assessment of pupils’ oral language, vocal sounds and articulation skills. A speech exercise programme is implemented incorporating tongue twisters, vocalisation techniques and speech workouts. Good attention is given to the development of pupils’ awareness of the importance of teamwork skills, imaginative responses and improvisation. Very good emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ understanding of the relationship between role and character. Pupils clearly enjoy the choral‑speaking experiences provided and each pupil is given a differentiated role in the musical Annie. The investment of teacher time and commitment in the production of school performances for the community is acknowledged.
Music, song, verse, dance and rhythm are well-integrated and it is evident that pupils’ confidence levels blossom as a result. This work is further consolidated by each class teacher, who each apportion discrete curricular time to Drama on timetables. Drama is ably used in most classrooms as a teaching methodology to re-enact poetry, song, mime, hot-seating and improvisation activities, particularly in oral language and in History. The potential of the drama lessons provided in enhancing pupils’ self-esteem, confidence and communication skills was recognised by parents at the pre‑evaluation meeting. It is intended to develop a whole-school plan for the teaching of Drama following the receipt of in-service training facilitated by the Primary Curriculum Support Programme in the future.
The development of a whole-school physical education plan has been prioritised as an area for development in the current school year. The commitment of staff and the local community in the promotion of sport is commended. Boys and girls are given equal opportunities to participate in all strands of the physical education curriculum. All pupils have access to the aquatics strand of the curriculum during the first term and this service is funded by pupils. It is the intention of staff to review the current organisation of swimming lessons within the confines of the school day. It is observed that this review is necessary in order to ensure that cognisance is taken of the appropriate weekly time allocation for each curricular area and to ensure that appropriate balanced attention is given to all strands of the physical education curriculum.
Lessons observed during the whole-school evaluation were well organised and placed an appropriate emphasis on the routine of warm-up, stretching exercises, drill and skill practice, games, relays and cool-down. The development of a team spirit, the promotion of pupils’ understanding of various aspects of movement and the development of pupils’ body awareness and co-ordination skills are carefully developed. Appropriate use is made of the available equipment to enhance the structure and organisation of lessons. The enthusiasm of the pupils and the emphasis on the development of pupils’ coordination skills were evident in the lessons observed. The school participates in a variety of sports’ leagues and competitions organised in conjunction with Cumann na mBunscoil and has recently won the county football title. A visiting hurling coach provides additional tuition for pupils from first to sixth classes. The additional commitment involved in the promotion of sport and in providing additional training outside of school hours is acknowledged. An annual Sports For All Day is organised under the supervision of teachers. It is recommended that the whole school plan, when formulated, should clearly outline the skills to be developed across each of the six strands of the physical education curriculum at each class level to ensure appropriate continuity and progression in pupils’ skill development.
The school plan for Social, Personal and Health Education provides a useful guide of the content to be taught and approaches, methodologies and assessment strategies to be used for each class level in accordance with the structure of the curriculum. This curricular area is taught in an integrated fashion and discrete time is provided during designated class periods. A variety of programmes is used across the school including the Relationships and Sexuality Education Programme, Walk Tall, Stay Safe and the Be Safe, Be Seen Programme. A specific outline of the content of the Relationships and Sexuality Education Programme (RSE) is included in the school plan. A guest speaker is organised every alternate year to work with parents and pupils in conjunction with Eyrecourt National School.
A healthy eating policy is actively implemented and pupils’ knowledge of the food pyramid and nutrition is well developed in all classes. Whole-class discussion is the principle methodology utilised and good emphasis is placed on the development of listening skills. In lessons observed effective use was made of photographs and commercially-produced charts to stimulate pupils’ thinking during discussions. It is recommended that a greater range of approaches and methodologies such as co-operative group work and circle time should be utilised in order to further enhance the self-confidence and self-esteem of pupils to express feelings and offer opinions. A more specific account should be included in the monthly progress records to reflect the efforts made in the implementation of this curricular area.
Parents interviewed paid tribute to staff in relation to the welcoming school atmosphere. The staff is committed to the nurturing of caring, respectful and responsible relationships and this provides a good foundation for the further development of the social, personal and health education curriculum. A strong sense of mutual respect exists between teachers and pupils. Teachers appropriately model the values of co‑operation and display an interest in pupils’ personal development, good behaviour and academic progress. School rules are clear and positive in tone, appropriately discussed and consistently implemented.
A range of assessment approaches is employed including standardised assessments, teacher observation, maths challenge tests, spelling and tables tests, quizzes, cloze-procedure tests, worksheets, homework assignments and teacher-designed tasks. Checklists are very beneficially used in some classrooms. It is suggested that the use of checklists could be extended further to monitor pupils’ progress across a range of curricular areas and as a means of sharing information among classes. Art portfolios are in the process of being developed in some classes. There is scope for development in the use of portfolios and curriculum profiles to inform the teaching and learning process and to track pupils’ progress in the understanding of concepts and in the development of social and higher order thinking skills. Pupils’ levels of attainment in English and Mathematics are assessed annually using the Micra-T and Sigma-T standardised tests. In the previous school year these tests were administered from first class upwards during the final school term. Following a review of this arrangement, it is planned that these tests will be administered during the first term of the current school year in order to give teachers the opportunity to identify pupils’ strengths, track pupils’ progress and address areas of difficulty in a more timely fashion. Results of standardised tests are carefully documented, analysed and maintained centrally on file. Each teacher completes a monthly record of the work completed in his/her class. Pupils’ copies and workbooks are systematically corrected and dated. Parents receive regular oral feedback on pupils’ progress at the annual parent-teacher meeting and annual progress reports are issued to parents in line with effective practice. Copies of these reports are retained in a secure and confidential central location.
Commendable attention is given to the importance of early intervention in literacy. The Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) and the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) are administered to infant classes in order to identify and select pupils for supplementary teaching support. A suitable range of diagnostic tests is administered to pupils with learning difficulty and with special educational needs to specifically identify their learning difficulties in literacy. Consideration should now be given to a small number of pupils experiencing learning difficulty in Mathematics, in line with the whole-school policy for learning‑support developed and as outlined in the Learning-Support Guidelines (2000).
A description of the various assessment strategies used by teachers is included in almost all curricular policies developed. A discrete school assessment policy should now be developed to incorporate a summary of the modes of assessment in use across all curricular areas at whole-school level. The emphasis placed on planning for assessment in teachers’ short-term and long-term plans in some classrooms should be extended to all classrooms in the future.
A comprehensive cluster-wide learning-support and resource teaching policy has been devised and is reviewed annually and more frequently if necessary. This policy is appropriately based on the best practice principle of the staged process of early intervention. A clear description of roles and responsibilities is provided. The basis on which pupils are selected for supplementary teaching is suitably outlined. Although the policy includes criteria for the discontinuation of pupils from learning-support, it is recommended that these criteria be implemented in the area of literacy in order to provide the necessary support for pupils in need of additional support in Mathematics.
The support teaching team consists of a full-time resource teacher for pupils with low‑incidence learning disabilities and a shared learning-support teacher. A part-time visiting teacher provides additional support to a small number of pupils. The special needs assistant supports individual pupils within their classroom settings. Almost all support teachers have attended specific Summer training courses provided by the local Education Centre and in some cases on-line training courses. Resources and experiences are shared and regular consultation occurs with class teachers.
Learning-support is provided for 17.5 hours per week in English only and is delivered daily while resource teaching support is provided for a total of six pupils mainly in literacy and across a range of curricular areas that support the development of social skills, self-esteem and communication skills, in accordance with pupil’s specific needs. Individual education plans (IEPs) or individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) have been developed for each pupil and include general information regarding each pupil’s strengths, priority learning needs, learning objectives, materials and resources. Support teachers appropriately record a general outline of work covered on a weekly basis. Learning-support is provided on a withdrawal basis either individually or in small groups, while resource teaching support is currently provided to individual pupils only. It is advised that the withdrawal model of support be balanced with some in-class teaching inputs in the pupils’ base classrooms, following appropriate preparation and planning with the respective mainstream class teacher. This would greatly contribute towards the development of an integrated model of support.
Commendable teaching was evident in the support rooms evaluated and lessons were very carefully structured. Balanced attention was given to the oral, reading and writing strands and to the development of phonological and word attack skills in English. A praiseworthy range of teacher-designed tasks and active learning methodologies was employed. Lessons were carefully matched to the learning targets set and to pupils’ learning needs. A multi-sensory approach was adopted and cognisance was appropriately taken of pupils’ visual learning styles and multiple learning abilities. Pupils display consistent progress in the concepts covered and engage well during the supplementary teaching sessions. Pupils’ written and artistic samples are celebrated and pupils display pride in the write-a-book writing samples completed. Very good attention is given to the development of pupils’ memory skills, oral work and thinking skills in Mathematics in one support room. A stimulating range of teaching materials is accessible and effectively used.
Samples of pupils’ work are appropriately displayed and classrooms are presented attractively with a range of teacher-designed and commercially produced charts, labelled art samples, sight words and work samples. Pupils’ work is organised in individual folders. Regular contact is maintained with parents. Parents interviewed praised the support provided by the special needs support team. It is now recommended that parents be involved in the drawing up and review of each individual education plan and encouraged to implement the specific learning targets identified in collaboration with relevant school personnel and professionals. It is advised that each mainstream class teacher should receive a copy of the learning targets set for each instructional period to ensure that each pupil’s learning targets are addressed across a range of curricular areas.
It is reported that there is a small level of social disadvantage among pupils enrolled. Teachers are sensitive to any isolated incidences of disadvantage and endeavour to ensure that these pupils have access to the full range of school activities. The book rental scheme in operation reduces the cost of books for parents considerably. At present there are four international pupils enrolled whose first language is not English. The Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) is currently administered to all junior infants and international pupils are given additional language support if required. While the numbers of international pupils are low at present, it is recommended that a policy should be formulated in order to cater for the intercultural needs of these pupils.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Since the completion of the inspection:-