An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
S.N. an Chroí Ró Naofa
Uimhir rolla: 18021H
Date of inspection: 19 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of S.N. an Chroí Ró Naofa, Belclare. 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, and the school’s board of management and representatives of parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days, during which the inspector visited classrooms, observed teaching and learning, examined pupils’ work and interacted with pupils and teachers. The inspector also reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management 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.
S.N. an Chroí Ró Naofa is located in the village of Belclare, seven kilometres to the south-west of Tuam in Co. Galway. The teaching staff consists of four mainstream-class teachers, a shared learning-support teacher and a full-time resource teacher for pupils with disability. There are two special-needs assistants in the school, each of whom works with two pupils. The school also employs a secretary and caretaker on a part-time basis.
The school’s traditional catchments area is largely rural. The current enrolment is 106. The number of pupils enrolling has increased in recent years and it is anticipated that this trend will continue in the short term. On the basis of current projections the school will appoint an additional class teacher in September 2008.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly in accordance with the Department of Education and Science’s Constitution of Boards and Rules of Procedure. The board members are to be commended on the excellent work that they do in support of the principal and teachers. They are to be congratulated in particular on the recent extension and refurbishment of the school building and the development of the recreation area. It is evident that the board exercises its responsibilities in a professional manner and that the members are deeply committed to meeting the needs of the school community. The board members set clear goals at the start of the term, which has given great direction and energy to their work. The board is active and well-informed with regard to the formulation of school policies. The members are to be commended on the manner in which they engage with the school-planning process and on their knowledge and ownership of the policies agreed. All policies that have been agreed by the board have been signed by the chairperson.
The principal teacher is to be commended on the fine work that she has done since being appointed to this post in 2001. She has set out clear goals for the development of the school and has shown the leadership and organisational skills required to achieve these goals. The principal sets high expectations for staff and pupils alike. Under her leadership, teachers have availed of professional-development opportunities that have enabled them to enhance further the quality of service that the school provides.
The principal receives valuable assistance from the deputy principal and the special-duties teacher. Appropriate responsibilities have been delegated. Each post-holder has some curricular, organisational and pastoral duties. The deputy principal’s responsibilities include the development of literacy within the school. This has involved the co-ordination of buddy reading and shared reading, as well as the development of the school libraries. Among other duties, the special-duties teacher provides curriculum leadership in Science. This includes the co-ordination of the Green Flag project within the school as well as participation in Discover Primary Science, a project administered by Forfás. It is recommended that the school enter into a contract with each post-holder, in accordance with Departmental Circular 17/2000.
The commitment and professionalism of the teachers are indicative of high levels of morale and motivation. It is evident also that each teacher is active in her own professional development. The teachers are to be commended on attending courses that are directly relevant to the needs of the school. At an operational level, the school functions with commendable punctuality and efficiency. Effective procedures are in place for staff meetings. Teachers may add items to the agenda, which is displayed on the staffroom white board in advance of each meeting. The white board is also used to record all tasks arising from meetings and the person to whom the task was assigned. As each task is completed, the record is updated.
One of the most obvious achievements of the in-school management team has been the fostering of a whole-school vision and ethos. Each teacher shows a sense of responsibility for all of the pupils, not just those in her class or caseload. Ownership of the school’s aims and achievements are evident also among the special-needs assistants, secretary and caretaker.
The board, staff and school community are to be congratulated on the high standard of accommodation that the school now provides. The extension and refurbishment of the building will enable current and future pupils to benefit from learning opportunities that could not have been provided previously. There are five permanent classrooms as well as assigned rooms for the learning-support and resource teachers. The accommodation also includes a general-purposes room, a circulation area (which contains the school library), storage areas, and a staff room, offices for the principal and secretary as well as toilets for pupils and adults. The school’s recreation area has also been extended and includes grass areas and hard courts. There has been extensive planting on the site and a pupils’ garden is being developed.
The principal and staff are to be commended on the provision of a broad range of appropriate equipment and materials. These resources are well-organised and easily accessible to teachers. There is excellent use of charts and other illustrative materials in most classrooms. There is a shortage, however, of equipment for the infant classes. It is recommended that the school invest in items such as a sand/water table, construction toys, puppet theatre and a dressing-up box and mirror. Given the lack of space in the infant classroom, these might be located in the spare classroom or the circulation area. The school’s central library has a section for each class level. It is recommended that the books be organised and labelled according to genre, in an age-appropriate way. This would support the development of the pupils’ vocabulary as well as making it easier for them to find books that appeal to them.
There is evidence of effective communication within the school community and of active participation by parents in the life of the school. The school holds an annual induction meeting for the parents of pupils enrolling and a graduation Mass each June for pupils who are transferring to post-primary schools. Parents are actively involved in the shared-reading and shared-Mathematics programmes. Parents of pupils in senior infants meet teachers regularly through their involvement in the Forward Together programme. Parents of pupils in receipt of learning support and resource teaching meet teachers to agree the content of the individual learning programme for their child. The individual progress of each pupil is discussed at the annual parent-teacher meetings. The school does not have a parents’ association. A newsletter is used to inform parents of news and developments.
The high regard that the community has for the school is reflected in the work done by parents in preparation for the school’s official opening. It is reflected also in the generosity of a local landowner who has donated an acre of land to facilitate the extension of the recreation area.
There is a very high standard of behaviour management in the school and disruptive behaviour is rare. The school has an effective code of behaviour, which is signed by parents. Moreover, the high standard of teaching across the school reduces the likelihood of disruptive behaviour occurring. Teachers provide learning experiences that pupils see as relevant and engaging.
It is evident that the school-planning process involves effective collaboration among the teachers as well as consultation with the wider school community. The board of management is also an active partner in policy development. Parents have been informed that the school plan is available for inspection in the school. The school plan provides evidence of a clear commitment to a whole-school approach in the various areas of school life. There are clear, reader-friendly policies for a range of organisational issues. The areas in which particularly useful work has been done include discipline, enrolment, attendance and provision for pupils with special educational needs. The school’s development folder contains useful action plans.
The curricular section of the school plan includes effective plans for most aspects of the curriculum. It is recommended that the English reading scheme be revised to include a greater emphasis on emergent-reading activities for infant pupils. There is scope also to provide clearer direction regarding the development of mathematical language. It is recommended that the section for Social, Environmental and Scientific Education be revised to include a more structured approach to learning about the local environment.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The quality of classroom planning by teachers in this school is high. Each teacher prepares a long-term programme for the pupils in her care as well as a monthly record (cuntas míosúil) of work completed. Teachers of mainstream classes use a common template for their short-term schemes. These are generally clear and useful. There is scope, in some cases, for clearer statements regarding intended learning outcomes.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
On the basis of the observation of lessons and evidence of pupil achievement, it is clear that the quality of teaching and learning in this school is very high overall. There is a clear whole-school vision for most curricular areas. Teachers prepare their lessons carefully, and use a range of appropriate resources. Skilful teaching is evident in all classrooms as well as in the learning-support and resource rooms. There are some examples of excellent practice. There is evidence of effective differentiation of objectives and activities for pupils with special educational needs.
Tá ardmholadh tuillte ag na múinteoirí as an obair a dhéantar chun an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn. Bíonn inniúlacht na ndaltaí sa teanga an-mhaith i gcoitinne agus iad ag fágáil rang a sé. Cuirtear an tréimhse réamhchumarsáide den fhoghlaim i bhfeidhm go han-éifeachtach. Baintear úsáid as raon leathan d’imeachtaí agus d’áiseanna chun múnlaí cainte nua a chur i láthair agus a chleachtadh. Is éifeachtach, go háirithe, an fheidhm a bhaintear as an drámaíocht, an fhilíocht agus an amhránaíocht. B’fhiú do gach múinteoir úsáid rialta a bhaint as cairteacha chun foghlaim na ndaltaí a éascú agus a bhuanú. Is í an Ghailge an teanga amháin a úsáideann na múinteoirí le linn an cheachta Ghaeilge. Tá creidiúint ag dul don fhoireann as seo. Tugann cuid de na múinteoirí deiseanna inmholta do na daltaí tabhairt faoi thascanna cumarsáideacha ina mbeirteanna.
Déantar an-iarracht úsáid na Gaeilge a chothú i measc na ndaltaí taobh amuigh den cheacht Gaeilge. B’fhiú don scoil anois úsáid neamhfhoirmiúil na Gaeilge a fhorbairt ar bhealach níos córasaí. Moltar liosta ócáidí d’úsáid na Gaeilge (glaoch an rolla, mar shampla, nó am lóin) a chur isteach sa phlean scoile, chomh maith leis na frásaí a mhúinfear do na daltaí sna ranganna éagsúla ar na hócáidí éagsúla.
The teachers deserve great credit for the work that they do to promote the Irish language. The pupils’ ability in the language is generally very good by the end of sixth class. The pre-communicative phase of the learning is handled very effectively. A wide range of activities and resources is used to present and practise new language items. There is particularly effective use of drama, poetry and song. It is recommended that all teachers make regular use of charts to make it easier for pupils to understand and remember what is taught.
Irish is the only language used by the teachers during the Irish lesson. They deserve credit for this. Some teachers provide commendable opportunities for pupils to work in pairs on communicative tasks. A good effort is made to foster the use of Irish by the pupils outside of the Irish lesson. It is recommended that the school now develop this area in a more structured way. It is recommended that the school plan for Irish be revised to include a list of occasions during the day (roll-call, for example, or lunchtime) when the pupils could use Irish, as well as the phrases to be learned by the various classes for each occasion.
The quality of provision for English is very good. There is evidence of excellent work in each of the three strands. It is evident, also, that there is very good continuity and progression in the teaching of English as the pupils move from class to class. There is a designated oral-language lesson on the weekly timetable in all classrooms. The work that is done during this lesson is supported by the interactive teaching style that is used by all teachers. Pupils generally show great confidence and competence when participating in classroom discussions. There is an appropriate emphasis on poetry and recitation in all classes.
The teachers deserve credit for the breadth and balance of the school’s reading programme. There is effective development of the pupils’ phonological awareness. Pupils who are experiencing particular difficulties in the early stages of reading are identified using the Middle Infant Screening Test. A support programme, Forward Together, is then implemented in partnership with the pupils’ parents. It is recommended that the school develop its policy in the area of emergent reading. It is recommended that there be intensive use of oral-language activities, large-format books and the language-experience approach before pupils commence formal reading. The school is referred to Primary School Curriculum: English - Teacher Guidelines (pages 54-56).
As well as teaching pupils how to read, the school ensures that all pupils experience the pleasure of reading. A wide range of reading material is used, including newspapers. There are well-stocked pupil libraries in the school and pupils complete book reviews and other exercises in response to what they have read. The school’s buddy-reading and shared-reading schemes have been extremely successful in developing positive attitudes to books, social skills and positive self-esteem among the pupils.
There are regular opportunities for pupils to develop their writing skills in a range of genres. Pupils’ writing is displayed in the classrooms. There is commendable progression in the development of the pupils’ spelling, handwriting, punctuation and vocabulary. To build further on the success of the school’s English programme, it is recommended that the school provide opportunities for each senior pupil to interview a junior pupil before writing and illustrating a book for that pupil. These books could then become part of the junior library.
The school makes very good provision for the teaching of the key skills and concepts in this curricular area. There is effective use of early mathematical activities in the infant classes. Teachers are to be commended on the use of a variety of teaching approaches. Skilful whole-class teaching is complemented in most rooms by regular opportunities for the pupils to work in pairs and groups. Mathematics is generally taught in a practical way with effective use of equipment and materials. The teaching in the area of numeracy is particularly strong. There is evidence of some scope for development in the area of measures. It is evident from observation and from questioning the pupils that appropriate attention is given to the development of the pupils’ mathematical vocabulary. The widespread use of charts and other illustrative materials in the classrooms helps to reinforce the pupils’ understanding of concepts and procedures.
The class programmes in History are generally broad and balanced. A number of teachers provide collections of historical artefacts in their classrooms. These are effective in stimulating the pupils’ curiosity about the past and also provide opportunities for the pupils to work as historians. Integration and linkage within Social, Environmental and Scientific Education is one of the areas that has been prioritised by the staff for discussion at staff meetings.
The class programmes in Geography are appropriate to the pupils’ age and interests. It is recommended that the school plan for this area be revised to include a whole-school plan for local studies in Geography. There is scope for greater use of the pupils’ immediate environment in developing their understanding of maps and their sense of place and space. The pupils in a number of classes develop their research and presentation skills through working on group projects.
There is evidence to suggest that the provision for Science is stronger than that for History and Geography. The programme for this area provides regular hands-on learning opportunities for the pupils. Displays are used effectively in each classroom to consolidate what has been learned. It is evident from questioning the pupils that very good work has been done on local habitats, especially Belclare Turlough. The school is to be commended on its participation in the Green Schools programme and in the Discover Primary Science project that is administered by Forfás. Each of these projects has enhanced the school’s provision for Science.
The school implements a broad, balanced programme in the Visual Arts. The pupils develop the appropriate skills and concepts through working in a range of media. There is an appropriate balance of two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. The pupils’ work is displayed attractively in classrooms and corridors. As well as making their own art, the pupils are also given regular opportunities to respond to the work of other artists.
There is a commendably broad Music programme, which is implemented with great skill by the teachers. This part of county Galway has a rich musical heritage and the school fosters a love of music among the pupils. The pupils’ vocal ability is developed carefully and the quality of choral and solo singing in all classes is very high. All pupils learn to play the tin whistle and some pupils also play other instruments. There is a commendable emphasis also on the development of musical literacy and there are opportunities for pupils to compose music. The pupils’ musical performances for the community are a regular feature of the school calendar.
Drama features on the weekly timetable in all classes. It is also used extensively to enhance learning in other curricular areas, most notably Irish and English. The teachers have received in-service training in Drama in the current school year and they have identified this as a priority area for whole-school planning.
The school is now extremely well resourced for Physical Education. The new hall means that the school programme for this area can be implemented regardless of the weather conditions. The school also has a good supply of appropriate equipment. It is evident that lessons in Physical Education are well structured and managed skilfully. The school programme is broad and balanced, although there is scope for a more structured approach to developing the pupils’ potential in the area of dance. Visiting coaches assist with some aspects of the games programme.
Respect and care for oneself and others are central to the school ethos. The general atmosphere of the school is therefore supportive of the pupils’ social and personal development. The class programmes in Social Personal and Health Education are broad, balanced and age-appropriate. An external facilitator assists with aspects of Relationships and Sexuality Education.
Standardised tests are administered to assess English reading and Mathematics. The learning-support and resource teachers also use a range of diagnostic tests. It is evident that the results of these assessments are used as a basis for subsequent planning. Teacher-designed tests, profiles and portfolios of pupils’ work are also used to assess pupils’ progress.
All teachers differentiate their learning programmes to cater for the various levels of ability in classes. There is evidence of skilful adaptation of lessons to allow for the meaningful participation of pupils with special educational needs. There is evidence of good communication between the class teachers and the support teachers. The school’s two special-needs assistants make an important contribution to the learning of the pupils to whom they are assigned and to the work of the school as a whole.
The learning-support and resource teachers prepare individual learning programmes for the pupils who receive supplementary tuition. Learning targets are identified clearly and there is evidence of good progression from one instructional term to another. There is a need, in some cases, to broaden the scope of the learning programmes so that they address general language-development issues that may contribute to pupils’ difficulties in the area of literacy. The teachers keep detailed records of the progress of each pupil. The quality of the teaching seen in the learning-support and resource contexts is very high. The lessons presented are lively and engaging. There is good use of appropriate resources as well as an effective combination of individual attention and group work. Each teacher works in a room that provides an orderly, welcoming learning environment. Both rooms have plenty of resources, including well-stocked pupils’ libraries. As well as providing supplementary teaching in the areas of literacy and numeracy, the learning-support teacher co-ordinates the Forward Together programme, which is described in section 4.2 of this report. Each of these teachers is to be commended for their commitment to their own professional development, something from which the pupils they support benefit directly.
At present, there are few, if any, pupils with particular needs arising from their membership of disadvantaged or minority groups. The school ethos is very inclusive. The school plan contains an Equality of Opportunity policy. The school has an effective policy on promoting attendance.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation.
· The school culture is commendably learner-centred.
· Each teacher has identified and availed of professional-development opportunities on the basis of the needs of the school.
· There is a strong whole-school culture.
· The school principal provides very effective leadership, on both organisational and curricular issues.
· Each of the teachers provides leadership in some aspect of school life.
· The quality of teaching throughout the school is very high.
· While standards are high across the curriculum, the school makes particularly effective provision for English, Irish and Music.
· There is effective participation by parents in the life of the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made.
· It is recommended that the school enter into a contract with each holder of a post of responsibility, in accordance with Departmental Circular 17/2000.
· It is recommended that the school invest in equipment for the infant classes, as outlined in section 2.3 of this report.
· It is recommended that there be intensive use of oral-language activities, large-format books and the language-experience approach before pupils commence formal reading. The school is referred to Primary School Curriculum: English - Teacher Guidelines (pages 54-56).
· It is recommended that the books in the school library be organised and labelled according to genre, in an age-appropriate way. This would support the development of the pupils’ vocabulary as well as making it easier for them to find books that appeal to them.
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 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management would like to thank the Department of Education and Science Inspector for the professional manner in which he carried out the Whole School Evaluation. The resulting report is a fair and accurate representation of the various aspects of the life in the school. The many strengths identified have been achieved by the deep commitment and hard work of a range of people including staff, pupils, parents, members of the wider community and 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
The Board of Management and Staff have examined the report in detail and wish to respond to the four key recommendations as follows: