An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

 Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

  

Saint Augustine’s National School,

Clontuskert,

Ballinasloe,

Co. Galway.

Roll number: 17919F

  

Date of inspection: 8 November 2006

Date of issue of report:  8 November 2007

 

Whole School Evaluation

    1. Introduction – School Context And Background

2. The Quality Of School Management

    3. Quality Of School Planning

4. Quality Of Teaching And Learning

5. Quality Of Supports For Pupils

6. Summary Of Findings And Recommendations For Further Development

 

 

WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION

 

This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of St. Augustine’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 representatives of the parents’ association. 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; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

1. INTRODUCTION – SCHOOL CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND

 

St. Augustine’s National School is located on a large site in a rural setting approximately eight kilometres from Ballinasloe town. It is a co-educational school and provides for 52 pupils. The school was built in 1956 and was extensively refurbished and extended during the latter half of the nineties. It is staffed by a teaching principal, two mainstream teachers, one resource teacher for Travellers, a part-time secretary and a part-time caretaker. A learning-support/resource teacher visits the school to provide supplementary teaching for pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs. The school also avails of the services of a supply teacher who provides substitution for the principal for release days under a Department of Education and Science pilot scheme. School records indicate a relatively stable pattern of enrolment over the last number of years and good attendance on the part of most of the pupils.

 

The school embraces the tenets of Christian faith and is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clonfert. In keeping with the school’s mission statement, the teachers, in partnership with parents and the local community, seek to promote the harmonious development of each pupil and to foster appreciation and respect for people of different religious affiliations, different nationalities and ethnic groups. The appointment of a new principal and the reorganisation of the school’s support services are among the recent changes to impact upon the life of the school.

 

 
2. THE QUALITY OF SCHOOL MANAGEMENT

 

2.1 Board of management

The board of management is constituted in accordance with the Rules and Procedures of Boards of Management, (November 2003). The board meets at least once a term but, more often than not, meetings are convened twice a term. Minutes of meetings are carefully maintained and indicate the board’s frequent involvement in policy development, review and ratification. Pertinent Departmental circulars are brought to the attention of the board by the principal. Recent meetings have focused on staffing issues and health and safety matters. It is suggested that meetings should also incorporate periods dedicated to the study and discussion of relevant legislation and its implications for the work of the school. Among the recent priorities identified by the board are maintenance work, the development of the school garden and the formulation and review of specific curricular documents.

 

The board is mindful of its statutory duties and is compliant with Departmental regulations as regards the length of school year and school day, deployment of teachers, retention of pupils and maintenance of pupil attendance records. A number of school policy documents have been circulated among the parent body and the school plan is available for viewing. The plan incorporates appropriate policies on admissions, enrolment, discipline, child protection and health and safety.  Discussions have taken place on a school attendance strategy and on the provision of an annual report on the operation of the school. Decisions on these matters should now be formally incorporated into a strategy development statement which should also detail timeframes for the commencement and completion of prioritised tasks relating to such areas as maintenance, administration, organisation, curriculum implementation, policy development and review.

 

The board effectively supports the school in fostering good communication with the parent body and wider community. Strong links have been established with local organisations and a palpable sense of community spirit pertains. A measure of this community spirit is the fact that people in the community continue to support school events even after their children have left the school. The school premises is also made available for use by a range of community groups, some of whose activities link very closely with the school’s curricular and pastoral programmes. Notes and letters are regularly issued to inform parents about aspects of school life and of forthcoming school events. Home-school communication is further enhanced by the effective use of homework journals. Formal parent-teacher meetings are held once a year to facilitate discussion regarding individual pupil progress and parents may also arrange to meet teachers at other times. Progress reports are issued at the end of each school year.  

 

The board is also cognisant of its role in establishing and sustaining effective modes of communication at school level. The chairperson maintains regular contact with the principal and frequently visits the school. There is evidence of very open communication among the staff with formal staff meetings being held each term to enable staff members to work collaboratively on policy formulation, curricular planning and school organisation. As a means of further developing the relationship between the board and the teaching staff, it is suggested that the board would meet the staff at some point during each school year.

 

The board identifies the commitment of the staff, the happy school atmosphere and the high level of community interest and pride in the school as strengths to be maintained and built on in the future. The members of the board give of their time freely and generously and are to be commended for their own levels of commitment and engagement with the life and work of the school.

 

2.2 In-school management

The in-school management team consists of the posts of principal, deputy principal and special duties teacher. The principal is newly appointed and displays a high level of commitment and enthusiasm for the role. A positive work ethos and a warm supportive school atmosphere are nurtured through open and regular communication with the board of management, staff and school community. The principal performs administrative tasks capably and ensures that official records are carefully and consistently maintained. The principal elicits strong support from the staff in fostering positive pupil behaviour, in establishing effective school routines and in providing for the diversity of pupils in the school. The principal enunciates a clear vision for the school and is actively engaging with the staff in progressing curricular and organisational planning and in promoting effective teaching and learning in all aspects of the curriculum. To ensure optimal development of the school in the future, the principal should seek to establish the use of a range of agreed procedures for monitoring and evaluating the breadth and balance of curricular provision and the quality of learning outcomes in each of the curricular areas.

 

Post-holders ably support the principal and take responsibility for aspects of work pertaining to music, sport, community events, supervision, insurance, promotion of saving, acquisition of requisites, maintenance of official records and care of equipment and resources. There is a strong sense of collegiality in the school. Post-holders communicate regularly with the principal and collaborate effectively with other staff members to provide ongoing support in the day-to-day running of the school. The board should now establish a practice of reviewing the duties attached to posts of responsibility at regular intervals in order to ensure that, over time, they address the changing prioritised needs of the school. Duties should normally span organisational, pastoral and curricular areas. It would be of benefit to include review dates or dates relating to the review of certain aspects of the duties attached to posts in the school’s strategy development statement.  

 

2.3 Management of resources

The school’s 52 pupils are divided into four dual-class groupings as follows:

 

Junior / Senior Infants 4 + 6

First Class / Second Class 8 + 7

Third Class / Fourth Class 8 + 9

Fifth / Sixth Class 6 + 4

 

The support teacher for Travellers is currently functioning as a mainstream teacher while support for all pupils identified with a learning difficulty or with special educational needs is provided by the learning-support/resource teacher who visits the school every morning. Pupils are withdrawn from class and supplementary teaching is provided in one-to-one or small group settings. The supply teacher for principal release days operates among twelve schools in the area. The teacher schedules a specific number of visits to St. Augustine’s N.S. each term to enable the principal to undertake administration tasks. The supply teacher plans independent units of work and consults with the principal prior to visits in relation to continuing ongoing classroom activities. In addition to the teaching staff, the school has a part-time secretary who provides a high level of support for the staff and plays an active role in the life of the school. The school also has a part-time caretaker who works with the support of an assistant. They are to be commended for their contribution to the provision of a safe and clean educational environment.

 

The board of management is supportive of teachers pursuing professional development and teachers display a keen interest in progressing their knowledge and skills. Classroom practice and provision for pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs are informed by a range of relevant courses previously undertaken or currently being undertaken by the teachers. As a component of the school plan, the board should now develop a policy on staff development which indicates how staff may be supported in undertaking further courses of study and how they may be facilitated in developing skills and expertise by teaching at different class levels and in a variety of roles in the school. The policy should also outline a framework for the dissemination and sharing of newly acquired knowledge and skills and for the provision of feedback to the board on the future direction of staff professional development. 

 

The school building dates from 1956 and was refurbished and extended in the late 1990s. The school now provides three classrooms, a general-purposes room, two ancillary rooms, an office, a staff room, toilet facilities and some storage areas. One of the ancillary rooms is used by the learning-support/resource teacher while the other room functions as a mainstream classroom. The latter room is small and its use as a mainstream classroom in the future should be monitored by the board with consideration being given to the number and age of pupils to be taught in the room. The school has well-maintained and ample outdoor facilities which include a number of hard-surface play areas positioned around the school, a basketball court, a large and small pitch, a sand pit which is being redeveloped and a school garden which has been prepared for planting. Off-road parking facilities are provided to the side of the school grounds.

 

The board of management has invested in a good range of resources to support activity-based approaches to teaching and learning in each of the curricular areas. Teachers supplement these resources with a rich array of charts and teacher-designed learning materials. Most classrooms incorporate clearly labelled learning areas and attractive well-stocked libraries. Colourful displays of pupils’ work are a feature of all classrooms. Displays extend into corridor areas and add significantly to the overall attractiveness of the school environment. As curriculum innovation and implementation proceeds, further resources will be required to maintain a hands-on approach to curriculum delivery and to ensure the use of a variety of methodologies and strategies. All teaching areas also have access to up-to-date technology. Consideration should now be given to incorporating into the school plan guidance on how these technologies can be used to assist teaching and learning in each curricular area.

 

2.4 Management of relations and communication with the school community

The school has an active parent body which has formed a parents’ association. The association’s committee meets every two months and some committee members have availed of training to assist them in their role. The parish newsletter is used to inform the general parent body of meetings and of the particular focus of the committee’s work. Communication with the board of management is facilitated through the parent representatives on the board who regularly attend parent association meetings. The board endeavours to involve parents in developing school policy and parents have been consulted in relation to such areas as school discipline, anti-bullying, homework, uniform and healthy eating. Parents formerly provided strong support for the school’s participation in the Fionn Science Project and now support the Green Schools Initiative. Parents also engage in fundraising, provide transport for sporting events, make costumes for concerts and help in organising the school book-fair, concerts, quizzes, parties, functions and social events.

 

In addition to supporting school activities, parents are also involved in organising and supporting community activities. Valuable links have been established between the school and community organisations. These links are further strengthened and fostered by the board making available the school premises for meetings and activities. Two clubs in particular focus on organising age-appropriate activities for the children and youth of the area. Many of these activities support the ethos of the school and serve to integrate aspects of curricular programmes with life and activity in the community. The board of management and the parents’ association should now strive to heighten parents’ awareness of the extent to which they are currently supporting the work of the school and should seek to increase parental involvement in policy development and review, particularly in relation to curricular areas.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

School rules and the code of discipline are implemented in a consistent and meaningful manner. A caring atmosphere is nurtured in the school and in this environment pupils develop high standards of behaviour. Pupils present as mannerly and courteous, showing respect for one another, the staff and the school environment. Good levels of confidence and self-esteem are fostered and these attributes could be developed still further through purposely organising curricular activities which promote communication skills and which provide opportunities for pupils to address audiences in a variety of contexts.

 

 

 

3. QUALITY OF SCHOOL PLANNING

 

3.1 School planning, process and implementation

The board of management has adopted a collaborative approach to the development of the school plan. Most policies are initially compiled by the staff and presented to the board for consideration prior to ratification. Parental views are sought through the parents’ association and many draft policy documents have been circulated to the general parent body for comment. Community groups using the school premises have also been consulted in relation to the formulation of policy on the use of the school premises.

 

The school plan is presented in an accessible format. It clearly articulates the school mission, philosophy and aims, and incorporates a wide range of relevant organisational/administrative policies. Many of these policy documents encompass a section on parental involvement. It would be of value to include a similar section in all school policy documents and to consult with parents as to the content. A small number of policies are now in need of review and updating, and the board of management is encouraged to prioritise this work and to include it in the school’s strategy development statement. 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, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.

 

The school plan also contains a range of curricular policies. Policy development has kept pace with the national programme for curriculum implementation and only policies in Geography and Drama now remain to be developed. The curricular policies developed to date provide clear guidance as regards the agreed use of a variety of methodologies, strategies, approaches and assessment techniques appropriate to the different curricular areas. In the light of their growing knowledge and understanding of the Primary School Curriculum 1999, the teachers have already identified particular aspects of curricular policy for future review. There is a need to clarify the content in some curricular areas in order to ensure breadth and balance across specific strands and strand units. The policies should also indicate how the content is to be handled in the dual class situation.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

All teachers provide long-term and short-term planning and maintain monthly records of the work completed. Teachers modify the curriculum appropriately to suit the range of abilities in their classes and indicate, in particular, how teaching and learning in English and Mathematics is differentiated in the dual class context. A variety of practices exists as regards identifying strands and strand units, documenting learning outcomes and specifying approaches and methodologies to be employed. All teachers are encouraged to link work clearly to the different strands and strand units of the curriculum in all forms of planning and to state short-term learning outcomes in the form of objectives. This should serve to facilitate evaluation of curricular provision and selection of appropriate assessment techniques.

 

 

4. QUALITY OF TEACHING AND LEARNING

 

4.1   Overview of learning and teaching

It is evident from the planned activities and from the lessons observed that the teachers employ a wide variety of strategies and approaches to deliver the curriculum at different class levels. Group work is regularly and effectively organised and pupils are provided with opportunities to engage in paired work, project work and independent research. Linkage and integration are facets of established practice in each classroom. Concrete materials are used effectively to engage pupils in activity and to develop conceptual thought. Good emphasis is placed on the use of the environment as a resource and as a starting point for learning. Talk and discussion constitute key teaching strategies in all curricular areas. Opportunities should now be purposefully created to enhance pupils’ communication skills further and to increase the usage of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the teaching and learning process.

 

4.2   Language

 

An Ghaeilge

Baineann taitneamh, spraoi agus tairbhe leis na himeachtaí a reachtáiltear chun Gaeilge a chur chun cinn sa scoil. Bíonn idir chairteacha, pictiúir, puipéid, ábhair nithiúla agus cluichí á n-úsáid chun na daltaí a spreagadh chun cainte. Baintear feidhm éifeachtach as drámaíocht, ceistiú, tuairisciú, filíocht, rainn agus amhráin chun eiseamláirí d’fheidhmeanna faoi leith teanga a chleachtadh agus a dhaingniú. Is inmholta mar a mhealltar daltaí chun abairtí iomlána a chumadh ó ranganna na naíonán ar aghaidh. I ranganna faoi leith tugtar deiseanna rialta do na daltaí ceisteanna a chur agus cuirtear ar a gcumas briathra a láimhseáil go cruinn i gcomhthéacs na cumarsáide. B’fhiú an dea-chleachtas seo a scaipeadh ar fud na scoile agus na straitéisí chuige sin a shoiléiriú sa phlean scoile ag na rangléibhéil cuí. Ba thairbheach freisin topaicí a leagan amach do gach rangléibhéal faoi na mórthéamaí chun treoir chinnte a thabhairt d’oidí maidir leis an bhforchéimniú agus an forás atá i gceist ó rang go rang agus chun cabhrú leo an clár a chomhordú ar bhonn uile-scoile.

 

Baintear leas as leabhair mhóra chomh maith le leabhair bheaga a dhéanann na páistí féin chun fonn léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta a chothú. Féachtar chuig an léitheoireacht fhoirmiúil a cheangal le hábhar na cainte sna meánranganna agus cothaítear cruinneas agus muinín sa léitheoireacht ag leibhéil na n-ardranganna. mór machnamh a dhéanamh anois ar éagsúlacht a chothú san eispéiris léitheoireachta. Chuige sin, i dteannta leis na téacsleabhair ranga, moltar feidhm a bhaint as leabhair scéalaíochta, irisí, cartúin chomh maith le téacsanna rann, dánta, amhrán agus drámaí. Léiríonn obair scríofa na ndaltaí éagsúlacht sna gníomhaíochtaí. B’fhiú, áfach, a thuilleadh béime a chur anois ar thuairisciú agus ar scríbhneoireacht phearsanta chun deis a thabhairt do na daltaí a smaointe féin a chur i scríbhinn agus neamhspleáchas a bhaint amach sa scríbhneoireacht.

 

Pupils derive enjoyment, fun and benefit form the activities organised to promote Irish in the school. Charts, pictures, puppets, concrete materials and games are used to encourage pupils to speak Irish. Effective use is made of drama, questioning, reporting, poetry, rhymes and songs to practice and to consolidate exemplars of particular language functions. It is praiseworthy how pupils are encouraged to compose full sentences from the infant classes onwards. In particular classes, pupils are provided with regular opportunities to pose questions and are enabled to handle verbs with accuracy in the context of communication. It would be of value to extend this good practice throughout the school and to clarify the relevant strategies in the school plan at the appropriate class levels. It would also be of benefit to lay out topics for each class level under the major themes in order to provide teachers with clear guidance as regards the progression and development intended from class to class and to assist them in co-ordinating the programme on a whole-school basis. 

 

Large-format books as well as little books made by the pupils themselves are used beneficially to cultivate a desire to read and write. In the middle classes, formal reading is linked with topics of speech and at senior class levels, accuracy and confidence in reading is developed. Consideration should now be given to cultivating variety in the reading experiences. To achieve that, it is recommended that, in conjunction with the class textbooks, storybooks, magazines, cartoons and the texts of rhymes, poems, songs and dramas should be used. A diverse range of activities is in evidence in the pupils’ written work. More emphasis, however, could be placed now on reporting and personal writing in order to provide pupils with opportunities to put their own thoughts in writing and to develop independence in writing.

 

English

Teachers skilfully adopt an integrated approach to the teaching of English throughout the school. Oral language activities are carefully linked with reading and writing activities and with the work in other curricular areas. Early emphasis is placed on the development of listening skills and specific oral language activities are purposefully organised to focus on vocabulary extension and usage. Significant use is made of news, story, large books, graded readers, library books and novels to stimulate discussion and to provide opportunities for pupils to explore story frameworks, respond to characters, sequence events, listen to and retell stories. Pupils are exposed to a very suitable range of poetry at all class levels and clearly enjoy reciting rhymes and poems learned on both a class and individual basis. It is suggested that increased emphasis should now be placed on providing opportunities for pupils to present their work in a variety of contexts and on enabling pupils to communicate thoughts and ideas with clarity and confidence. The use of language experience charts could also be explored as a further strategy for linking oral language activities with reading and writing activities.

 

The whole-school approach to reading is carefully structured with initial emphasis being placed on the collaborative reading of large-format books, the development of phonological and phonemic awareness and the acquisition of a sight vocabulary. Pupils display a firm grasp of sound-word relationships and are enabled to use a variety of word identification strategies. There is a wide range of reading abilities in some class groupings and particular attention is now being directed toward formulating appropriately differentiated programmes for small groups and individual pupils. Classroom libraries are attractively organised in most classrooms and are effectively used to supplement the use of classroom readers and class novels and to enable pupils to engage with the work of a good variety of authors. Teachers use effective questioning techniques and pay careful attention to the development of higher-order thinking skills at all class levels. The introduction of an early intervention programme and a paired-reading programme is currently being considered as a means of further developing the reading programme in the school.

 

Well-structured group activities are organised to engage the pupils in the writing process. Pupils’ personal experiences are used initially as a stimulus for writing with teachers effectively modelling the writing process. Pupils are provided with ample opportunities to practice writing in a variety of genres as they progress through the school. Fine examples of their work including news reports, character descriptions, poster advertisements, letters, poetry, story and functional writing are in evidence in copybooks, folders and classroom displays. Neat handwriting skills are fostered and writing is regularly monitored and evaluated. While school policy indicates the adoption of a cursive style of writing a more co-ordinated whole-school approach is required to implement this policy successfully.

 

4.3   Mathematics

Maths-rich classroom environments contribute significantly to the effectiveness of the teaching of Mathematics throughout the school. Charts, number lines, labelled materials, discrete maths-activity areas and a range of manipulatives are used successfully to support discussion, hands-on experience and practical exploration. Instruction in Mathematics is well-paced and thoughtfully structured at all class levels. Group work is a facet of the practice throughout the school as is the emphasis placed on the accurate use of mathematical language. An appropriate variety of experiences is provided to develop pupils’ early mathematical concepts. Thereafter pupils are consistent and secure in their use of language and confidently explain strategies and procedures used in their computation and problem solving. Strategies to develop understanding of pattern in number and quick recall of number facts are given consideration at many class levels. It would be of benefit to include these successful strategies in the school plan and to incorporate them into the practice at all class levels. Regular opportunities are provided for pupils to develop rounding and estimation skills and to integrate activities with other curricular areas. Pupils, in general, display a firm understanding of the concepts covered and present their written work neatly and tidily. The school should now seek to supplement the existing resources in Mathematics further and to provide a range of equipment in each classroom to support group activities under the strand units Capacity and Weight in particular.

 

4.4   Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

Teachers display imagination and creativity in their approach to the teaching of this aspect of the curriculum. Highly engaging strategies are employed in every classroom to promote interest in historical enquiry. Artefacts, photographs, newspaper cuttings and old documents are provided as an evidence base for pupils to practice and develop skills of investigation, analysis and deduction. Teachers carefully structure questions to lead pupils to an understanding and appreciation of time and chronology, change and continuity, and cause and effect. Pupils are thoughtfully guided in recounting memories and in tracing personal and family histories. Myths and legends are explored, life in early societies researched and specific events in national history investigated. Pupils are enthusiastic about their historical research and give good account of the topics explored at each class level.

 

Pupils also exhibit interest in local history and eagerly explain the concept of the ‘Golden Mile’, a route along which local community groups have identified sites of local historical importance. The ‘Golden Mile’ has been incorporated into the school plan as the basic content for studies of the local area. The school plan in History outlines an appropriate range of methodologies and approaches and clearly details the content of the strand unit Local Studies. However, there is a need to clarify the content in the other strand units of the history curriculum in order to guide the spiral approach to the teaching of History in the school. The school is also encouraged to promote greater use of timelines and to add to its collection of artefacts, photographs, documents, old newspaper articles and old maps in order to stimulate and support further historical enquiry.  

 

Geography

The teachers plan programmes in Geography to suit the dual class settings in operation in the school. The local area is the focus of study in many classes. Aspects of life in the community are investigated and pupils are provided with opportunities to go on fieldtrips and walks in the vicinity of the school. Weather patterns and seasonal changes are regularly observed, discussed and recorded in an age-appropriate manner. Pupils in more senior classes display a keen interest in investigating natural phenomena and have a good knowledge and understanding of the earth’s movements. Work in Geography has also been judiciously linked with aspects of History at some class levels. The location and extent of town lands are traced on maps of the locality and the meaning and origin of place names investigated. It is suggested that this work should also be integrated with aspects of the Irish curriculum and reflected in the school plan under ‘Feasacht Teanga’. The future development of a whole-school plan in Geography should serve to promote a skills-based approach to the teaching of Geography, to co-ordinate the programme throughout the school and to document how the programme is to be addressed in the dual class situation. 

 

Science

Discussion, demonstration, hands-on investigation, integrated themes and project work are among the strategies used to develop scientific skills, knowledge and concepts.  Very fine examples of cross curricular work are in evidence in many classrooms. Pupils examine the senses, study aspects of personal growth and development, explore the properties and characteristics of materials and investigate plant and animal life. Teachers effectively question pupils to identify the pupils’ level of understanding and to develop their framework of scientific ideas and concepts. There is very clear progression in the manner in which some topics are investigated from year to year in the dual class setting and this good practice should be reflected in the school plan. Teachers have access to a range of equipment and nature/interest tables feature throughout the school. Very good work is evident in relation to the study of trees and pupils are skilfully guided in identifying leaf types and fruits of common trees. The use of photography in some classes to record the growth of seeds and bulbs is praiseworthy. The school garden is ready for cultivation and will provide further opportunities for developing a variety of practices in relation to recording observations and investigating the impact of weather conditions on plant growth.

 

The teaching staff exhibits a very positive attitude to this curricular area. The school has participated in the Fionn Science Project and in the Discover Science Programme. Activities under the strand Environmental Awareness and Care are now closely aligned to the school’s participation with the Green Schools Initiative which involves pupils in recycling, composting and energy conservation. Further refinement of the school plan in Science is required to support the development of the full range of scientific skills and to provide clearer guidelines as regards how particular themes are to be developed and explored as the pupils proceed from class to class.

 

4.5   Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The elements of art are explored and developed through a wide range of activities which span all strands of the curriculum. Samples of work on display incorporate drawing, rubbing, painting, marbling, printing, collage, fabric and fibre work, construction and patchwork. Commendable emphasis is placed on the language of art in some classes and this practice should be extended and developed through identifying specific vocabulary in the school plan. Pupils are regularly provided with opportunities to respond to work in other curricular areas through art. Pupils discuss their own work with enthusiasm and pride and, in particular classes they refer knowledgably to the work of famous artists. Portfolios are maintained in a number of classes and consideration should now be given to promoting their use throughout the school as a means of assessing development and progress on a whole-school basis. The school is gradually building up resources to expand the opportunities to look at and respond to the Visual Arts. The potential for using ICT in this regard should also be explored.

 

Music

The school is fortunate to have a wealth of musical expertise on the staff including instrumentalists and singers. An organ, keyboard and a range of percussion instruments are available to support classroom-based musical activity. Listening and responding activities are well structured and material is astutely selected to enable pupils to develop the full range of musical concepts in an informal and thoroughly enjoyable manner. Pupils learn to sing a lovely selection of songs from different traditions, genres and styles as they progress through the school. The songs are appropriately pitched and are effectively linked, in some cases, with class instrumental programmes. Instrumental work encompasses the use of percussion instruments and the learning of tin whistle from 1st class onwards. Tin whistle is taught in the traditional manner with the use of absolute note names. A parallel music literacy programme has commenced and there is consistent use of rhythmic vocalisation throughout the school. It would be of value to merge elements of the literacy and tin whistle programmes when appropriate and to present visual representations of the rhythmic pattern of simple tunes played on the tin whistle. Composition skills are also addressed at each class level and pupils display interest in and knowledge of the life and works of some composers. Many classes have made percussion instruments and it is suggested that this activity could be developed further to explore pupils’ creativity in making instruments. The work could also be linked effectively with the exploration of sound and with the development of the skills of Making and Designing as part of the science curriculum. A school plan in Music has been formulated and is to be further informed by a rich abundance of material used by individual class teachers.

 

Drama

The curriculum in Drama is currently being informed by the national programme of in-service.  All teachers are engaging with the drama curriculum and are very effectively facilitating dramatic activity at each class level. Discrete periods of time are combined with an integrated approach to enable pupils to develop awareness of gesture, tone, expression, role and character. Talk, discussion, mime, poetry, paired work, circle work, mirror imaging and role play are successfully used to stimulate interest and to engage the pupils fully in Drama. Pupils are also skilfully enabled to develop appreciation of plot and theme. Excellent use is made of questioning and discussion to involve the pupils in evaluating activities and in exploring how the drama could be developed further. Pupils display high levels of enthusiasm, enjoyment and engagement at each class level. The teachers are to be commended for embracing a wide range of strategies and approaches which will now provide a firm basis for the development of the school plan in Drama.  

 

4.6               Physical Education

The general-purposes room, hard-surface play areas, the basketball court and grass pitches are utilised to provide an appropriate range of experiences through which pupils develop co-ordination, personal fitness, physical skills and co-operative skills. Pupils are carefully guided through appropriate warm-up and cool-down activities prior to physical activity. An ample range of equipment is available to support whole-class, group and partner work. Physical activities are regularly integrated with other aspects of the curriculum. Some teachers are currently focusing on the strand unit Dance. Pupils learn Irish set dancing and also explore dance forms of other cultures including English country dancing. Other classes are focusing on the games programme which includes football, hurling, camogie, basketball and uni-hoc. All the activities are effectively organised and capably managed to promote full participation and high levels of co-operation and enjoyment. The games programme is further supplemented with coaching sessions in hurling and camogie, which are provided by an external tutor. Pupils participate in inter-school games and a swimming programme is organised for a period each year for pupils from second to sixth class. It is suggested that the use of Irish in the teaching of set dancing and in organising other aspects of the physical education programme should be explored as a further means of integration and of fostering a communicative approach to the teaching of Irish in the school.

 

 

 

4.7   Social, Personal and Health Education

The programme in this area of the curriculum strongly supports the ethos of the school. A positive school climate is nurtured and pupils are conscientiously guided in developing respectful attitudes towards other people. Affirmation of achievements and delegation of responsibilities further nurture the pupils’ self-esteem and confidence. Discussion, story, poetry, games and circle time are effectively used to focus pupils’ attention on feelings and emotions and to enable them to communicate their thoughts. The teachers draw on a range of programmes specially designed to develop skills, knowledge and attitudes which inform decision making in the social, personal and health dimensions of their lives. These include the Walk Tall, Stay Safe and the Alive O programmes. Parents co-operate with the staff in seeking to implement the school’s healthy eating and anti-bullying policies which support this area of curricular provision.

 

4.8   Assessment and achievement

Teacher observation, checklists, work samples, reading logs, portfolios, teacher-designed tests and standardised tests are among the assessment tools employed to assess pupil progress and to provide pertinent information for parents. Some teachers regularly use assessments to evaluate their mediation of the curriculum and to inform planning of whole class, group and individual work. Phonic checklists, dictation and spelling tests are systematically used to identify common areas for specific teaching focus. The Middle Infant Screening Test and the results of the Micra-t and Sigma-t standardised tests are recorded carefully and analysed to assist in selecting pupils for supplementary teaching. The learning-support/resource teacher and class teachers regularly exchange assessment information in order to plan appropriate intervention programmes. Feedback to parents is provided at parent/teacher meetings held in the first term of each year and individual pupil progress reports are issued at the year-end. Future development of the school policy on assessment should address the need to move to more objective-based planning in order to provide an appropriate framework for developing assessment procedures. It would also be advantageous to collate results of standardised tests sequentially as a means of tracking individual pupil progress over the primary school attendance period.

 

5. QUALITY OF SUPPORTS FOR PUPILS

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

At the start of the current school year St. Augustine’s N.S. had access to two support teachers who visited the school to cater for pupils experiencing difficulty with literacy, numeracy and social skills. The learning-support/resource services operating in the area were reorganised just prior to the commencement of this whole-school evaluation and the school now has access to one visiting-support teacher who is based in Kilreekil N.S. The teacher visits St. Augustine’s every morning to provide supplementary teaching in literacy to twelve pupils from first to fifth class.

 

Pupils are appropriately screened for supplementary teaching and are withdrawn from the mainstream classroom on an individual or small group basis. An individual profile and learning programme is available for each pupil. The programmes detail each pupil’s priority learning needs and the strategies to be adopted to achieve the stated learning targets. A number of strategies including teacher modelling, paired reading and collaborative writing are used to engage pupils in reading and writing. Sound-word relationships are explored in the context of reading and higher-order thinking skills are addressed through effective discussion and questioning. The work covered with each group is clearly recorded at the end of each month. Praiseworthy attention is given to noting any difficulties encountered and to reassessing the learning targets for the next period of instruction. 

 

The school has formulated policy on learning-support and on the integration of pupils with special educational needs. There is a need to review the school policy on provision in the light of recent changes in the system and to incorporate into the policy the staged approach to intervention. Intensive provision in literacy is to be continued until the third term when the provision within the school will be reviewed. Consideration will then be given to recommencing support in Mathematics. The teacher is currently completing a professional development course in learning-support which involves block release from teaching duties for a period of time each term. In the next school year consideration will also be given to introducing the Forward Together Programme in consultation with parents and staff and to implementing peer-tutoring in the form of ‘a buddy system’ at certain class levels.

 

5.2 Other supports for pupils: (Disadvantaged, minority and other groups)

The school fosters a welcoming, inclusive and positive atmosphere and a number of children from the Traveller community are enrolled in the school. As an additional support the school has a resource teacher for Travellers on the staff. Whereas the teacher is currently functioning as a mainstream teacher in the school in order to facilitate full inclusion, to enhance the context of provision and to support provision in a fully integrated setting, this arrangement should be reviewed at the end of the school year. Attendance poses a difficulty for a number of the Travellers and the school is in regular contact with the Visiting Teacher Service for Traveller Education. The board of management has also discussed the promotion of good attendance and an attendance strategy statement is currently being considered. The school should also draw up a policy on intercultural education in line with the 2005 publication by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) entitled “Intercultural Education in the Primary School: Guidelines for Schools”.

 

 

6. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER DEVELOPMENT

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The school is well regarded in the area and very valuable relationships are fostered between the school and local community groups. 
  • The school staff has the support of a dedicated and committed board of management.
  • An active parent body provides strong support for the work of the school.   
  • A high level of co-operation among staff members contributes significantly to the creation of a caring, positive school atmosphere.
  • Good communication exists between teachers, pupils, parents and school management.
  • Teachers are to be commended for the wide variety of learning experiences provided in each classroom and for the achievement of good standards in all curricular areas.
  • A good level of care and attention is afforded to pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs.
  • The pupils are friendly and courteous and eagerly engage in all classroom activities.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:

 

  • Further development of the school plan should involve the review of existing policies and the formulation of new policy, particularly in the areas of attendance, intercultural education, staff development, assessment and the curricular areas of Geography and Drama.
  • The board of management should formulate a long-term strategy development statement which sets out the school’s priorities in relation to maintenance, organisation, administration, curriculum implementation and policy development and review.
  • The board of management in conjunction with the parents’ association should endeavour to engage the parent body further in policy development and review.
  • It is recommended that all teachers adopt an objective-based approach to classroom planning in order to facilitate assessment and the evaluation of teaching and learning on a whole-school basis.  
  • The staff should seek to increase the use of the school’s upgraded ICT resources to support teaching and learning across all areas of the curriculum.

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.