An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballyleague, via Lanesborough, Co. Roscommon
Date of inspection: 23 April 2008
A whole-school evaluation of SN Mhuire was undertaken in April 2008. The evaluation covered key aspects of the work of the school in the areas of management, teaching and learning and supports for pupils. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Music. The board of management and the parents’ representatives on the board met with the inspector. The inspector interacted with the pupils, examined pupils’ work, reviewed school planning documentation, observed teaching and learning and provided feedback to individual teachers. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvemnt. 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.
The following table provides an overview of the current enrolment and staffing in the school:
Total number of pupils enrolled
Total number of teaching staff
4 (3 mainstream and 1 support teacher)
Number of teaching staff working in support teaching roles
2 (1 based in the school and one visiting)
Number of mainstream classrooms
Number of special needs assistants
Excluding the post of teaching principal, the board has appointed two of its three mainstream teaching staff since 2005 with one teacher currently on probation. The permanent learning-support/resource teaching post (LS/RT) has been vacant since autumn 2006.
There is a strong common sense of purpose among the school community. The vision for the school focuses on the holistic development of all pupils and on maintaining the school’s Catholic ethos. The school facilitates the nurturing of each child’s full potential and is a caring community that provides a well-ordered, secure atmosphere for pupils. The chairperson supports the school effectively by visiting regularly.
The board of management is supportive of the teachers and attends to its current priorities in a competent and considerate manner. The board meets regularly and members give generously of their time. It has ably completed a building and grounds renovation project and the school presents extremely well providing highly suitable accommodation for teaching and learning. The board is conscious of its statutory obligations and ensures compliance with the Department of Education and Science regulations. It has discussed and ratified several organisational and curricular policies prepared by the teaching staff. Of late, the board has invested significantly in information and communication technology and intends to provide computer access for all classrooms and learning support areas. In its future work, the board should review staff remits regularly and consider publishing an annual review of the schools’ work. The board’s previous efforts to involve parents in committees such as the development of the Relationships and Sexuality Education policy are commended and should be strengthened further.
The principal brings considerable expertise to her duties in relation to leading and managing the school and her work is very effective overall. She guides the recently appointed mainstream staff well and has established a high level of personal credibility. She places considerable emphasis on promoting collegiality among staff and on encouraging and supporting them to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. She is instrumental in leading the whole-school planning process and promotes a culture of collaborative decision making. The two teachers with middle-management responsibilities attend to their assigned duties in a purposeful manner. They provide very good support to the principal and the board and facilitate pupils to work together very successfully in quiz competitions, arts and sports activities, and in environmental and charity work. It is recommended that their assigned areas of responsibility are reviewed to ensure a more central role in the implementation of core curriculum action plans, and in setting and evaluating school improvement objectives.
The board of management and teaching staff welcome the support of parents and report that home-school relationships are very good. Parent-teacher meetings, both formal and informal, and school reports are utilised to inform parents of their children’s progress. The teachers routinely celebrate the achievements of pupils and the wider community. They also employ news notes to share information about achievements in a wide range of extra-curricular activities. The provision of a school web site would further facilitate the sharing of information with the school community. It is reported that a parents’ association provides very valuable support to the school and that the principal and board members liaise closely with the association. It participates in various meetings and fund-raising and extra-curricular activities. To further enhance the role of parents as partners in education, the association should now consider affiliating to the National Parents’ Council Primary.
A suitable code of discipline has been devised and the teachers and support staff have established a culture of inclusion, acceptance and positive discipline. During the evaluation, expectations of behaviour were clear and unambiguous and behaviour procedures were applied consistently. The use of praise was well judged and discriminating. The pupils demonstrated self-discipline in their interactions with teachers and with each other and were respectful of one another.
The overall quality of whole-school planning is good. A comprehensive array of documents constitutes the school plan wherein policies and procedures for a range of administrative, pastoral and curricular areas are outlined. In this academic year, the principal and teachers have collaboratively conducted a wide-scale review of curricular planning. Teachers have copies of school policies and relevant policies are reportedly disseminated to parents. Considering that most members of staff are recent appointees, it will be necessary to explicitly explore certain areas of curricular provision in order to reinforce whole-school implementation. For example in English, it would be useful to plan more specifically for oral language development, emergent reading and writing, and handwriting.
The overall quality of individual classroom planning is good. Whole-school planning informs classroom planning to a good degree and all classroom teachers provide satisfactory long-term and short-term planning. Monthly progress records are also completed but these vary in quality and detail. The teachers’ intention to review their monthly recording process and to adopt a common reporting template should prove beneficial. The regular appraisal of completed monthly reports could help teachers to monitor curriculum implementation and thus provide a rich resource for school self-evaluation.
2.2 Child protection policy and procedures
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.
Tugtar faoi mhúineadh na Gaeilge go fonnmhar agus gabhann taitneamh agus bríomhaireacht bhreá leis na modhanna múinte. Baintear úsáid an-éifeachtach as druileanna cruthaitheacha agus as dul siar sa bhfoghlaim i ranganna áirithe. Is inmholta mar a chuirtear mórchuid acmhainní ar fáil do mhúineadh na teanga. Reáchtáiltear an rang Gaeilge, den chuid is mó, trí Ghaeilge. Is sciliúil mar a thugtar deiseanna labhartha do na daltaí tríd an nuacht, an fhilíocht, amhráin, scéalta, drámaí, rólghlacadh agus cluichí teanga. Múintear cnuasach taitneamhach rann agus filíochta i ngach rang. Úsáidtear Gaeilge go rialta sa chaidreamh ranga/scoile agus mar theanga bhainistíochta ach b’inmholta an úsáid sin a leathnú a thuilleadh fós. Tá an chuid is mó de na daltaí ag déanamh dul chun cinn maith i labhairt na teanga. Chun buanú agus saibhriú a dhéanamh ar an stóras foclóra atá ag na daltaí moltar comhthéacsanna agus deiseanna breise a sholáthar doibh chun cumarsáid fheidhmiúil a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge. Moltar freisin go múinfeadh na hóidí ábhar éigin eile den churaclam nó codanna ábhair eile trí Ghaeilge.
Tá teagasc na léitheoireachta ag dul ar aghaidh go sásúil agus léann formhór na ndaltaí go cruinn. Níor mhiste stóras leabhar a chur ar fáil don uile rang. Tá flúirse scríbhneoireachta sna cóipleabhair. Tugtar deiseanna dona daltaí sna meánrangana agus sna hardranganna ceisteanna a fhreagairt, bearnaí a líonadh agus abairtí simplí a chumadh. Bunaítear cuid mhór den obair scríofa ar ábhar leabhar saothair agus baineann cruinneas leis an obair seo san iomlán. Tá deacracht ag cuid de na daltaí cumarsáid chruthaitheach a dhéanamh trí mheán na scríbhneoireachta. Chuige seo, moltar clár oibre faoi leith a dhearadh chun díriú ar fhorbairt na scríbhneoireachta. Moltar freisin go mbeidh cúram faoi leith le haghaidh na Gaeilge ar aon mhúinteoir ar leith chun cabhrú le prionsabail an churaclaim a chur i bhfeidhm.
The teaching of Irish is embraced with enthusiasm and lively and attractive teaching methodologies are employed. In certain classes, the use of creative drills and revision strategies is very effective. The range of resources that teachers provide for teaching the language is commendable. Opportunities for developing oral language are provided through the skilful use of the news, poetry, songs, stories, drama role play and word games. A pleasant collection of rhymes and poetry is taught in each class. The Irish lessons are conducted, for the most part, through Irish. Irish is used regularly as the medium of general communication and classroom management but it would be beneficial to extend this usage even further. The majority of pupils are making good progress in learning to speak the language. To consolidate and extend the pupils’ store of vocabulary, additional contexts and opportunities must be provided facilitating their communication through Irish in a relevant way. It is also recommended that teachers teach another subject or parts of other subjects through Irish.
The teaching of reading is proceeding in a satisfactory manner and the majority of pupils read accurately. The store of reading materials should be augmented for all classes. There is a wealth of writing in the pupils’ copies. Pupils in the middle and senior classes are provided opportunities to answer simple written questions, to complete cloze work and to compose simple sentences. Much written work is based on workbooks and it is generally completed accurately. Some pupils have difficulty in communicating creatively in writing. Accordingly, it is advised that a specific writing programme is compiled which guides writing development in the school. It is recommended also that specific responsibility is allocated to one teacher for Irish to assist in the implementation of the principles of the curriculum.
Overall, the quality of learning and teaching in English is good. All teachers work hard to provide challenging and enjoyable programmes of work for their pupils. They are commended for the attractive and useful displays of visual aids, materials and work samples of pupils. Work on oral language development is satisfactory in most instances. Pupils listen respectfully to others and show good ability to concentrate. Most pupils represent their ideas clearly and make effective use of quite complex syntax. During the evaluation some well-structured opportunities were provided for pupil-pupil interaction but there is potential to develop this approach further throughout the school. A language-boosting programme would enhance the pupils’ overall standard further and help to provide consistency of approach from classroom to classroom. All teachers make very good use of oral language contexts such as poetry, story telling and rhymes.
Attainment levels in reading are satisfactory overall. Aspects of emergent reading are handled well in the junior classes and most pupils’ word attack and identification skills are good. Big books are used regularly and comprehension skills are fostered well through picture reading. It is recommended that the teaching of formal reading is delayed until senior infants. High frequency words and common words to encourage word identification and reading fluency are displayed in the junior classroom to useful effect. Reading material for older pupils is differentiated appropriately and good use is made of real books to supplement the reading schemes. The need to augment class library resources is identified as part of the teachers’ action planning for English. In one classroom in particular, there was good work underway in developing pupils’ comprehension abilities. The acquisition of comprehension kits, as resources permit, may prove beneficial in promoting this on a whole-school basis. All teachers provide plenty of opportunities for pupils to write. Pupils in the infant and the junior classes get opportunities to scribble, pretend-write and to complete appropriate stories. It is recommended, however, that the number of workbooks to support English in the junior section of the school be reduced. There is good scaffolding of the writing process in the middle and senior classes where pupils write in a wide range of genres including stories, letters and poems. Pupils’ completed work indicates a wide variation of writing ability across the school showing considerable variation in vocabulary use and in the use of writing conventions. The majority of pupils have satisfactory handwriting but due to the diversity of pupils’ handwriting styles it is recommended that teachers revisit this area of provision. Overall, the pupils’ standard of spelling is good in the school.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is good overall. Teachers plan for an appropriate representation of all strands of the curriculum and promote the use of mathematical language consistently. There is a mathematics-rich environment in classrooms with relevant number facts, charts and equipment on display. Effective use is made of number songs and rhymes in the junior classes and the pupils show good understanding of numbers and are acquiring good reasoning skills. They are provided with well-organised opportunities to use manipulatives. Teachers in the middle and senior classes are successful in ensuring that the programme has relevance and a sound environmental basis. Pupils display satisfactory competency with regard to tables and mental computation. Pupils in the middle classes, in particular, demonstrate good ability to make mathematical connections in everyday contexts. There is a wide array of mathematical resources in the school but consideration might be given to ensuring that each classroom has its own store of frequently used materials so that pupils can access them readily. Pupils’ written work presents neatly in most instances and is monitored carefully by teachers. Pupils’ overall attainment in Mathematics is generally satisfactory. Results indicate a wide spread of pupil ability across the school. It is now recommended that mathematical assessments are used in a more diagnostic manner to determine common areas of weakness among pupils thus allowing assessment to direct further the teaching and learning approaches necessary for those pupils with identified areas of difficulty.
The quality of teaching and learning in Music is good in most aspects. There is some shared teaching of the subject and the development of such practice will provide teachers with an opportunity to specialise in aspects of the music curriculum thus enhancing the school’s overall provision. Throughout the school, teachers provide an interesting and varied programme. In the junior classes, the pupils respond to environmental sounds and listen to short musical pieces developing concepts of pulse, tempo, pitch and duration. Here also, music is beneficially used to expedite transition from activity to activity. In the middle and senior classes, teachers use a variety of resources well to help develop the pupils’ listening and responding skills. They provide opportunities to develop the pupils’ concepts of dynamics and timbre and to distinguish the instruments heard in musical pieces. The pupils sing a well-chosen range of unison songs competently and are accompanied by teachers’ instrumental playing or by recorded music. The pupils are prepared for various performances including school concerts and liturgical occasions. The learning of tin whistle and percussion is well advanced. The quality of provision for musical literacy varies somewhat throughout the school with some good work underway. To improve consistency of approach and to provide for developmental learning in this aspect, it is recommended that a review of current practice is conducted. The review should be guided by the school plan and curriculum documents. Teachers have begun to provide pupils with various opportunities to improvise and compose their own musical pieces.
A range of informal and formal assessment strategies is used in mainstream classrooms. Standardised objective tests are administered to all classes from first to sixth. A suitable screening test is administered in senior infants in order to assess emergent reading development. All teachers keep records of pupils’ achievements. The recording format varies from classroom to classroom and includes the maintenance of test scores, termly tests in Mathematics, annual standardised tests in reading and Mathematics, check-lists for aspects of Irish and English and samples of pupils’ written work. It is recommended that there is whole-school agreement on the recording of pupils’ achievements and that the introduction of pupil portfolios be considered.
The whole-school plan for support teaching is broadly appropriate and reflects the content of the
Department’s Learning Support Guidelines. However, the document could beneficially include more specific detail of the diagnostic tests administered in the school outlining their purpose and the regularity of use. Furthermore, detail regarding intervention procedures, for example withdrawal and in-class support, and the programmes undertaken for each should be clearly stated.
Despite clearly documented efforts, the board has not been successful in appointing a fully qualified teacher to its permanent school-based learning-support/resource teaching post (LS/RT). The post is occupied temporarily by a post-graduate student teacher who provides 10 hours support to the school. At present, twelve pupils receive support for literacy and four for numeracy and early intervention work is conducted with all senior infants on a withdrawal basis. While current provision is conscientious, it requires development in order to best match the needs of the pupils and the school. It is strongly recommended that the outcomes of relevant diagnostic testing are used to better inform teaching and that specific and measurable learning targets are outlined for pupils. In addition, in-class support should complement withdrawal. In instances where withdrawal is deemed necessary, various grouping arrangements should be deployed that provide maximum support to pupils. Further involvement of parents, teachers and the pupils themselves in the setting and periodic review of their learning targets is recommended.
A visiting resource teacher attends the school for a further 6.5 hours weekly providing support for three pupils with special learning needs. Planning and preparation to support teaching and learning are relevant and comprehensive and the quality of teaching and learning is very good. The board employs a full-time special needs assistant who, according to teachers’ reports, provides very beneficial support to the school and its pupils.
Teachers are sensitive to any isolated instance of disadvantage which manifests and endeavour to be as supportive as possible of specific family situations. A small number of newcomer pupils attend the school and teachers attempt to integrate them in all activities. The board has recently applied to the Department for additional English-language support for these pupils.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The board of management is very supportive of the school. It is commended on the manner in which progress was made in the renovation of the school and in the current provision of highly suitable accommodation for teaching and learning.
· The teachers have created very positive learning environments. Pupils’ behaviour is positive and respectful. The teachers and support staff ensure the very smooth day-to-day administration and organisation of general school activities.
· The commitment and collegiality of the teachers are notable. Their preparation of useful school planning documents and their adherence to planning as a means of improving the quality of teaching and learning are commended.
· The quality of the teaching in the school is good overall and the teachers are commended for the progress already made in implementing the various strands of the four curriculum areas under review.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· Provision for pupils attending support teaching should be reviewed so that learning programmes are focused on the specific learning needs identified in diagnostic testing.
· The implementation of a structured oral language programme is recommended throughout the school and it is advised that the introduction of formal English reading be delayed until the second term in senior infants.
· It is recommended that there is further development of the writing strand in Irish and that, as a means to increase the pupils’ exposure to and learning in the language, aspects of another subject or other subjects are taught through Irish.
· In order to develop provision further in certain aspects of Music, teaching specialisation should be encouraged throughout 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management will continue to support its staff in the provision of a broad based balanced curriculum, in partnership with parents and parish, appropriate to the needs of the pupils in its care.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Published September 2008