An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Whole School Evaluation
Clonmoney National School
Clonmoney, Newmarket-On-Fergus, Co. Clare
Uimhir rolla: 18032M
Date of inspection: 03 December 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Clonmoney National School was undertaken in December 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and History. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Clonmoney National School is a five-teacher co-educational primary school, located between the town of Shannon and the city of Limerick. The school operates under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Killaloe. Enrolment at the school has increased considerably in recent years, in line with considerable growth in the population of the area. It is expected that this trend will continue and, at this juncture, the main concern for the school is the provision of adequate accommodation to cater for pupils in the future.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teachers on the school staff
Mainstream class teachers
Teachers working in support roles
Special needs assistants
The school’s mission statement refers to the aspiration that the potential of each student will be achieved through the provision of a broad range of curricular and extra-curricular activities. The school participates in the Green Schools programme, in local art and music competitions and in a good range of sporting activities including the community games and local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) tournaments. A strong emphasis is placed on generating community spirit by encouraging the involvement of parents and pupils in parish events and organisations, including the parish choir and in craft-making for the local Apostolic Work Society. The annual performance of the nativity play is an important aspect of school and community life. The school is particularly proud of its participation in the K’Nex Challenge in recent years.
The board of management meets on a regular basis and minutes of meetings are maintained. There is regular contact between the principal and the chairperson who visits the school frequently to discuss progress in relation to priority issues. School accounts are maintained and at the post-evaluation meeting the board agreed to certify the accounts annually in accordance with Section 18 of the Education Act 1998. Board members have availed of training from the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) on issues relating to the code of behaviour and the ethos of the school.
The board plans strategically for the day-to-day running and ongoing maintenance of the school. Work is carried out efficiently as evidenced by the many improvements which have been made in recent years. It is advised that the board direct its immediate attention to pursuing its long-term goal of providing more suitable accommodation to cater for the growing population of the school. At the time of the evaluation, the board had commenced the process of making an application to the Planning and Building Unit in the Department of Education and Skills for major capital works to be carried out at the school.
School plans and policies are discussed and ratified by the board. Recently, a subcommittee was involved in reviewing the school’s code of discipline and enrolment policies. When drafting and reviewing plans and policies in the future, it is recommended that more careful attention be paid to ensuring that all documentation reflects the context and priorities of the school more clearly and accurately. The board is committed to the provision of resources and recently interactive white boards were provided for mainstream classrooms. There is a need for the provision of more resources to support teaching and learning in English, including a greater supply of parallel readers and materials such as language experience charts which will support the writing process.
The complementary strengths of the committed teaching staff are cited by the board as positive factors in the school. It is proud of the fact that the staff and pupils have a high level of involvement in the community and in a broad range of local and national events.
The principal assumed her current role in 2006 and has taught in the school for thirty-two years. She is committed to the goal that all pupils will receive a balanced holistic education at primary level and that this education will motivate pupils to attain high standards in the future. Under her leadership, staff relations are convivial and there is very good co-operation among all school staff. Decisions in relation to curriculum implementation and the management of resources are made in a democratic manner. Under her guidance, very good efforts have been made to incorporate the teaching methodologies advocated in the Primary School Curriculum (1999). The principal’s main priority is the provision of facilities which support pupils’ learning and she is keen to ensure that adequate preparations are made for pupils who will enrol in the school in the future.
In accordance with Circular 07/03, the deputy principal and special duties post-holder fulfil an appropriate range of duties. They work diligently on their assigned tasks and are committed to supporting the principal and other staff members. The in-school management team meets on a weekly basis to discuss the progress in relation to their responsibilities.
It is advised that the in-school management team should focus on initiating and overseeing internal school evaluation. In order to achieve this, it is advised that additional emphasis be placed on the appropriate selection of assessment materials and on the subsequent analysis of assessment information regarding pupils’ progress. This will help the school to identify aspects of the curriculum which are in need of development and contribute to a continuous and cyclical process of school development and improvement. In order to support the school in reviewing and evaluating its work, it is advised that the document Looking at our School, a publication of the Department of Education and Science, be consulted.
1.4 Management of resources
The existing school building was constructed in 1956 and extensions were added in 1957 and 1992. In 2008 one pre-fabricated building was erected and this is shared by the learning-support and resource teachers. In spite of the constraints of the existing building, the school is maintained with care and the principal has shown good day-to-day leadership in this matter. The ancillary staff contributes greatly to this work. A part-time cleaner attends diligently to the day-to-day cleaning of the school and external and internal maintenance is carried out by a part-time caretaker. The part-time secretary works efficiently in support of the principal and the school.
The allocation of teaching duties to particular teachers changes almost annually. Due to the limited dimensions of some of the classrooms, careful consideration is given to how the five mainstream classrooms will be assigned in order that the available space is used to best effect. It is advised that a staff-rotation policy be devised and implemented to ensure that teachers continue to get a variety of teaching experience within the school.
Good use is made of one storage room where materials and supplies are stored in clearly-labelled accessible containers. A small room is shared by the school secretary and the principal for the fulfilment of administrative duties. School documentation is also stored in this room. Credit is due to class teachers who make very good efforts to create attractive and supportive learning environments. The school corridor is enhanced by displays of interesting art work. A good range of teacher-generated and commercially produced resources has been acquired to support teaching and learning in History. These include high-quality reference books, official documents, maps and photographs. Teachers have also sourced interesting artefacts for exploration by pupils and many of these artefacts originate from the local area.
In recent years, very good efforts have been made by the principal to encourage parents to assume a more extensive role in the life of the school. An active, efficient parents’ association supports the work of the school. The association meets very regularly and addresses a broad range of issues including fundraising and the manner in which the association can offer assistance with the maintenance of the school building. Communication with the general parent body is facilitated through e-mails, mobile phone contact and the distribution of information leaflets. Parents offer practical assistance with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and at present, a group of parents is involved in the establishment of a school website. Additionally, parents organise sporting activities, in-school cooking events and activities which promote healthy eating amongst pupils. They also arrange catering for whole-school events. The association is highly committed to supporting the board of management in its pursuit of improved school accommodation and facilities.
School policies and plans are openly displayed on the school corridor. Parents are invited to peruse these documents for information and some have been involved in policy formulation. Formal parent-teacher meetings are held annually and extra meetings are arranged if required. A school report outlining individual pupil’s progress is also issued. Staff meetings are held once per term and good communication takes place between staff members. Newly qualified and newly appointed staff members are offered the support of more senior staff members.
The school’s code of behaviour outlines clear school rules and the expectation of positive behaviour by pupils. This policy was reviewed in 2009 in collaboration with members of the parent body. School rules and classroom rules are consistently enforced by teachers. The deputy principal has a specific role in relation to general discipline and behaviour. She visits classrooms to affirm and reward good behaviour. In addition, the principal and deputy principal organise assemblies on a weekly basis. Rewards for good attendance are distributed at the end of each academic year. As a result of these measures, the majority of pupils are well behaved, motivated and eager to engage in lessons and activities. Throughout the evaluation, these pupils engaged enthusiastically in the learning activities and were keen to discuss their work. They demonstrated pride in this work and in their achievements in local and national competitions.
There is scope for development in the behaviour of a significant minority of pupils. Over the course of the evaluation some pupils demonstrated unwillingness to co-operate with their teachers and peers and some did not engage fully in activities. This issue should be addressed at whole-school level. Additional emphasis should also be placed on developing and nurturing respectful relations between pupils and the various members of staff and visitors with whom they interact. As this aspect of interpersonal development is specifically addressed in the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum, the current practice of this curricular area being taught to some classes by the learning support teacher should be discontinued. In place of this approach, it is recommended that responsibility for the teaching of SPHE be assumed by each individual mainstream class teacher. This will facilitate a more sustained and consistent approach to the development of attitudes of consideration, respect and care for others, both in the discrete SPHE lessons and in a cross-curricular manner.
Since 2006, the school has engaged in a collaborative process of reviewing and updating all policies and curricular plans. The quality of policies and curricular plans varies. It is noted in some instances that aspects of these documents are generic in nature and that links to Clonmoney National School are tenuous. It is advised that all plans and policies be drafted with the school’s particular context as their foundation.
In general, plans in curricular areas offer helpful guidance to teachers in relation to how the content of the curriculum will be addressed at each class level. Some plans are presented in grid format and some teachers report that this system is clear and easy to follow. This approach is used in planning for History where teachers’ planning specifies aims, content, skills and approaches to be taught over the course of the year. It is advised that cross-curricular links should be made between the three aspects of Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE), namely History, Geography and Science. This will ensure that teaching can be approached in an integrated manner as advocated in the Primary School Curriculum (1999). This integrated approach is already in evidence at some class levels and this practice is praiseworthy.
In accordance with Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools, all class teachers produce long-term and short-term plans. In some instances, more precise planning for differentiation of content and approaches to cater for pupils with varying levels of ability is advised in order that all pupils engage at a level that is commensurate with their ability. It is also advised that all mainstream class teachers become familiar with the content of the individual plans for pupils with special educational needs and with significant learning needs. In the future, learning targets for individual pupils should be specifically addressed by the mainstream class teachers as well as by the learning support and resource teachers. In the course of their planning, teachers outline a good range of methodologies to support teaching and learning. Some high-quality resources are used, including resources which are generated by teachers. Information and communication technology (ICT) is used effectively throughout the school.
Monthly progress reports (cuntais mhíosúla) are compiled by teachers and these records outline the content which has been covered in curricular areas. The teachers are advised to specify in these progress reports the learning outcomes which have been addressed. This will allow for more purposeful review of progress by individual teachers throughout the year, as well as ensuring consistency in implementation of the curriculum from class to class. It is also advised that these documents be used as part of a process of whole-school review and evaluation.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001).
Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
English is well taught throughout the school. The teaching of oral language is good and in some instances, very good lessons were observed. In relation to their age and class level, many pupils have a broad and sophisticated vocabulary. Games are used as a context for the development of oral language and pupils participate readily in these activities. Good emphasis is placed on developing pupils’ cognitive abilities through language. Concentration, listening and memory skills are developed very effectively. Some teachers’ planning in oral language would benefit from more specific reference to the curricular content objectives and skills, in order that intended outcomes of lessons are clearer.
At all class levels, teachers make very good efforts to create and maintain bright, attractive environments which support pupils’ work in reading and writing. Supportive materials including word walls, phonic charts and samples of the pupils’ written work are displayed. This practice should be further developed to include the display of additional full sentences in the environment. In class settings where there is adequate space, attractive library corners have been established.
In the junior classes, early reading skills including the development of letter-sound relationships and sight vocabulary are taught at an early stage in the first term. During the evaluation, it was noted that some pupils had not reached a stage of readiness to understand these concepts and consequently these pupils had difficulty in engaging fully in these activities. In light of this, there is a need for a review of the whole-school policy of introducing formal reading in the first term of junior infants. It is advised that all pupils would benefit from a deferral of the teaching of formal reading strategies and that approaches which are more appropriate to the pupils’ stage of development should be utilised. Placing additional emphasis on the strand unit emotional and imaginative development through language would be worthwhile in allowing pupils to read for pleasure more extensively. It is also advised that pupils be given opportunities to engage with a wider variety of reading materials. More regular use of large-format books and language experience charts is recommended in order to facilitate whole-class choral reading throughout the infant cycle of the school. In middle and senior classes, pupils read with expression. Opportunities are provided for pupils to discuss texts and teachers’ effective questioning facilitates comprehension development. In addition to the use of a graded reading scheme, pupils engage in independent reading and they compile lists of books which they have read. Their ability to discuss these books and the relevant authors is good.
Good standards are achieved by pupils in writing. The school takes part in the Write-a-book project and in addition, the emphasis placed on writing across the curriculum is good. While most pupils achieve good standards in their independent work, it is advised that some would benefit from more formal instruction through modelled writing sessions. Most pupils have a very good standard in handwriting. In some classes, more regular monitoring of pupils’ work will lead to improved standards in the presentation of work.
Poetry is very well explored as a means of developing pupils’ imagination as well as their oral language skills. Pupils are very keen to participate in lessons which encourage their imaginative engagement. They eagerly recite and discuss poems which they have studied. In addition, pupils compose their own poems individually, in groups and in pairs. In junior classes, action rhymes and simple poems are very well explored.
Mathematics is very well taught at all class levels. Throughout the school, a considerable emphasis is placed on oral mathematics. Lessons are well paced and are structured to revise, consolidate and assess pupils’ general ability in a variety of strand units of the curriculum. At some class levels, pupils are encouraged to verbalise the strategies they use when making calculations, particularly in the area of number work. This practice of placing an emphasis on the processes involved in Mathematics, as well as on the final answer ensures that pupils’ skills are well developed. This is highly commendable. Pupils are given ample opportunities to work in groups and in pairs and a noteworthy feature of lessons is the considerable level of focussed discussion that takes place between pupils.
Early mathematical skills are appropriately addressed through use of a very good supply of concrete materials. These materials are used with effect at all class levels, and good efforts are made to ensure that classroom environments support pupils’ acquisition of skills. Charts and posters which are relevant to the concepts explored are displayed. Pupils are encouraged to relate topics and concepts to everyday life. In addition, teachers make very good efforts to base work in Mathematics on topics which are of interest to the pupils. As a result, most pupils remain highly motivated throughout these interesting lessons.
A very good emphasis is placed on the development of mathematical language. Through effective explanations and the use of a range of questioning strategies, teachers use mathematical terms interchangeably. Accordingly, pupils use and demonstrate good understanding of a broad range of terminology. Whole-class demonstrations are clear and very well paced. While activities are effectively differentiated for pupils presenting with difficulties in this curricular area, there is some scope for the provision of more challenging material for the more-able pupils.
History is very well taught throughout the school. Commendably, in most classes, the text book is used in moderation as a reference point and, from time-to-time, as a means of consolidating information. In many classes, the interactive white board is used to enhance lessons.
At all class levels pupils explore a good range of first-hand evidence in groups and in pairs and they present their feedback orally to the whole-class group. Teachers are commended for the manner in which class discussions are structured and managed. Pupils are encouraged to study evidence closely and they are challenged to justify their analyses carefully. There is strong evidence that this approach is worthwhile as many pupils present with advanced skills of synthesis and communication. In the junior classes, story is used effectively to stimulate discussion and to help pupils to understand sequence. Pupils engage in lessons with enthusiasm and their observations are welcomed and form the basis for further discussion. Pupils’ personal and family histories are well explored and appropriate language is taught to enable them to recount information. In the senior classes, pupils engage in very good extension activities, particularly when exploring the topic of life in Norman Ireland. This includes the analysis of maps and further research using the internet. In order to develop an appreciation of the Bayeux tapestry, some pupils have engaged in the novel activity of designing and weaving their own tapestry featuring representations of Norman life.
Local history is well taught. Pupils enjoy the opportunities generated to interview people from the local community and some simple project work has been carried out to help develop an interest in the history of the area. The old school building, the graveyard at Drumline and the local church are visited. Pupils also visit other historical sites in County Clare including Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and the castle at Craggaunowen. Pupils engage in collaborative project work on aspects of local History and on the history of the school since 1840. In compiling this work, various sources of information are used including the Clare library website.
The skill of empathy is well developed throughout the school. This is achieved by allowing pupils many opportunities to engage with historical characters and to compare and contrast life in the past with present day life. Historical events are compared to modern-day events and phenomena thereby enabling pupils to evaluate and understand people’s predicaments and subsequent actions. Pupils write poetry, stories and imagined dialogues between characters based on the topics being explored. Drama is used effectively to deepen pupils’ ability to empathise.
The assessment practices of mainstream class teachers are good at all class levels. Teacher-devised tests and tasks are administered regularly. Samples of pupils’ work, including copybooks, in different areas of the curriculum are monitored and retained. It is recommended that the school should extend its assessment practices to ensure that samples of the pupils’ work are evaluated against the objectives of the curriculum. Assessment outcomes should also be used to inform the review of the implementation of school policies in literacy and numeracy.
The members of the special educational needs team administer diagnostic tests such as the Neale Analysis of English Reading, the Aston Index and Quest to further identify pupils’ specific needs. The results of these tests should be recorded on each individual plan devised for pupils receiving additional teaching supports. The Middle Infants Screening Test is administered to pupils in the infant classes and the Forward Together Programme is implemented. This practice is commendable.
The school’s assessment policy has scope for development and needs to be reviewed. The Sigma-T and Micra-T tests are administered in first and fourth classes to gauge the literacy and numeracy outcomes of pupils. Pupils’ mathematical achievement is assessed in second and fifth classes using the Drumcondra Primary Mathematics Test. A test to measure pupils’ cognitive abilities (Cognitive Abilities Test 3) is administered to pupils in third class. As standardised tests are administered on two occasions during the pupils’ schooling, it is difficult to monitor pupils’ progress and to use the assessment data to determine the supports required for individual pupils. It is recommended that the yearly administration of standardised tests in literacy and numeracy should be undertaken and that the same test instruments should be utilised at all class levels to ensure that data can be analysed and pupils’ progress can be tracked on a whole-school basis. The school policy on assessment should be reviewed to ensure that assessment information is used to inform the intervention and supports appropriate to the pupils’ stage of learning by both the mainstream class teacher and the members of the special education needs team.
The quality of teaching for pupils with special educational needs is good. The resource teacher and the shared learning support/resource teacher work conscientiously to create an inclusive environment, which is a strength of this school. Pupils with special educational needs or additional learning needs are withdrawn from the classroom for support and are taught individually and in groups. The teachers use a variety of effective approaches and methodologies in the course of their work. They affirm pupils regularly and challenge them to achieve to the best of their ability.
The learning environments are attractive and well-organised. A good supply of resources (both teacher-devised and commercial materials) has been sourced and these are used effectively to support teaching and learning. The provision of a greater variety of reading materials for pupils in the learning support setting is required so that pupils have opportunities to use a range of parallel readers to engage in familiar reading and new reading on a daily basis.
The quality of planning ranges from satisfactory to good. Individual education plans and programmes for pupils are devised in consultation with the class teacher, the principal and parents. This collaborative planning should be recorded carefully and should contribute to the individual planning and review process.
In general, the individual plans include learning targets to be achieved by the pupil within a defined period. Some of these plans are overly-influenced by the textbooks and the programme of work undertaken within the mainstream class settings. Where pupils are withdrawn from mainstream settings for additional supports, the differential supports provided and the individual programmes devised should focus on the pupils’ learning needs as identified by the results of diagnostic and standardised assessments. Assessment data should be recorded on the pupils’ profile section of the individual plans, and the date of the achievement of the specific objectives and targets should be recorded. These data should inform the learning targets set for each term.
The policy on learning support has been devised but its implementation has several weaknesses. As the number of pupils presenting with learning difficulties is very small, the learning-support teacher provides early intervention support to senior infants and first class. This practice is appropriate and should be further enhanced. Many pupils receiving support do not meet the criteria for inclusion in the learning-support teacher caseload. This practice should be discontinued. Supports to all the pupils, irrespective of need, in mainstream classes from third to sixth classes should be discontinued. Where pupils require learning support for sustained periods, the school should ensure that support is provided within the mainstream class setting. All additional teaching support is intended to build on and complement the support planned for and delivered by the class teacher. The learning-support policy should be reviewed to ensure that the provision in the school adheres to the Learning-Support Guidelines and to the Special Education Circular 02/05 and that pupils with the greatest learning needs receive the support.
Three special needs assistants (SNAs) support pupils with special educational needs. The work of the SNAs is praiseworthy, and it is evident that they are committed to the inclusion of pupils. It is now recommended that the mainstream class teachers should offer more guidance to the SNAs in order to ensure that their work is more focussed on purposefully addressing pupils’ specific targets as outlined in the pupils’ individual plans.
4.2 Other supports for pupils; disadvantaged, minority and other groups
There are currently no pupils from minority groups attending the school. The commitment to the holistic development of all pupils is a feature of this school.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The board of management is committed to the ongoing maintenance of the school and has overseen many improvements to the school building and grounds.
· Pupils with special educational needs are included in the life of the school.
· A proactive parents’ association supports the work of the school and parental involvement in the day-to-day life of the school is encouraged.
· Good efforts are made by teachers to provide attractive, supportive environments for teaching and learning.
· Overall, good standards are achieved by pupils and in some aspects of the curriculum, achievement levels are very good.
· Teachers are committed to the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum.
· A good range of approaches and methodologies is used in the course of teaching. As a result, lessons are interesting and engaging.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, May 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board wishes to thank the inspectorate for the positive nature of the report.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The board will be working on the recommendations of the inspectors.