An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballygown National School
Castletownroche, County Cork
Uimhir rolla: 18266O
Date of inspection: 15 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Ballygown NS. 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. He interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. He reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Ballygown NS is situated in the parish of Killavullen and is approximately eleven kilometres from Mallow town in North Cork. This is a co-educational three teacher school and pupils in the main are drawn from the immediate townland and its environs. The school was built in 1959 with an extension added in 1994. In March 2006 Ballygown was included in the devolved funding scheme and work on the new extension is due to begin in the near future. The current enrolment is seventy-nine and this number will steadily increase in the coming years necessitating the appointment of an additional classroom teacher in September 2008.
The school’s motto Ní neart go cur le chéile underpins the staff’s worthy efforts to develop the whole child in a caring, happy and secure environment. They aim to cultivate an awareness and love of Irish culture, in language, Music and in Gaelic games.
The board of management meets at least once per term or more often as needs arise. In 2006 they met on eight occasions due to the ongoing demands of the building application. Issues relating to the administration of the school are discussed in a thorough and sensitive manner and proceedings are systematically documented. Board members are assigned specific responsibilities which they discharge with dedication and admirable commitment. Finances are managed carefully and there is a clearly defined system for tracking income and expenditure. The board is involved in the whole-school planning process and ratifies school policies as they are devised and welcomes the contribution of the parents in the development of these policies. In addition, in accordance with his supportive role, the chairperson maintains regular contact with the principal and staff and his support is greatly appreciated. Some members of the board have received training over the years and the sourcing and provision of further training would enhance their contribution.
The principal proffers effective organisational and instructional leadership in giving direction to the school and all staff members share his commitment and sense of purpose. His style of leadership is inclusive, characterised by a primary concern for the welfare of his pupils and for all members of staff. He has the worthy aim of continuing the long-established traditions in the school, building on existing strengths and embracing new changes and developments. He is ably supported by the deputy principal and post-holder and this presents as a productive collaborative relationship that makes a clear and valuable contribution to the maintenance of high operational standards overall. Duties are fulfilled conscientiously and the work of the in-school management team contributes positively to the effective operation of the school. As a development issue, it is appropriate that staff has regard for the need to keep posts of responsibility under regular review in accordance with a constantly changing school environment.
The teaching staff comprises the principal and two mainstream class teachers. In addition, there are two special education teachers employed, with Ballygown as their base school. These teachers operate in the capacities of learning support teacher and resource teacher respectively. Three special needs assistants have been appointed on a part-time basis. The school’s additional ancillary staff such as secretary, cleaner/caretaker are effectively deployed and their diligence and valuable contribution in carrying out their duties is duly acknowledged. External personnel are also contracted regularly to carry out repair work as necessary. The school employs external tutors in Dance and Music. These initiatives are funded through generous contributions from the parents’ association. Additional funding received from the Cork County Vocational Education Committee is discharged to the cost for Music.
The classrooms are very small, measuring thirty two square metres in the case of the middle and senior rooms. These spatial restrictions impact to a considerable extent on the staff’s capacity to deliver the curriculum in an effective manner. However, these difficulties will be greatly overcome with the construction of the school’s new extension. The school building is well maintained and emphasis is placed on utilising space productively wherever possible. The school is clean and tidy both inside and outside. The hard-surface, the grass areas and the parish playing pitch are routinely utilised for recreational purposes as the weather permits. The board of management and parents have invested generously in a wide range of resources to support the implementation of the curriculum. Each classroom is arranged and decorated to provide an attractive learning environment for pupils. The corridors are utilised effectively for display purposes and contain attractive exhibits of pupils’ work and photographs of important events. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is duly recognised as a valuable resource to support pupils’ learning. Computers are available in each classroom and in the learning support room, with an accompanying supply of complementary software.
A meeting with officers of the parents’ association during the course of the evaluation reveals a very positive relationship between the board of management, the teachers and the general parent body in the school. The school recognises the value of good communication in building trust and respect between home and school and to this end a newsletter is issued at the end of each school year, detailing school activities and notable successes. Parents of new pupils due to enter the school are given a detailed prospectus covering personnel, practices and procedures. Parents are regularly welcomed to visit and discuss their children’s progress through formal parent-teacher meetings, or through an agreed appointment system, as concerns arise. The impact of parents’ involvement in the work of the school is very positive, in terms of support for school programmes such as Scór na bPáistí and in their efforts to provide equipment for staff and children. The generous support that they give to the school is most commendable. The considerable monies raised for the school’s building project is worthy of particular mention. The strong bond that exists between parents and staff in cultivating a noteworthy community spirit is identified as a particularly positive feature of the school. There is a general sense that parents have been appropriately consulted on all aspects of school policy development.
The school aims to provide a wide and diverse learning environment that nurtures the overall development of each pupil. Their needs, incorporating the academic, the spiritual and the aesthetic are addressed successfully. A positive code of discipline and behaviour is implemented successfully throughout the school in a manner that is characterised by high levels of respect and consideration. The pupils are happy and they are valued. They are encouraged to take pride in their school, to respect adults and to support their fellow pupils. Teachers demonstrate a thoughtful understanding of the backgrounds and experiences of pupils and have a genuine concern for their progress. Pupils are encouraged to be confident, competent and caring individuals. This positive disposition is reciprocated in the respect and co-operation which pupils offer to teachers, to each other, and to other staff members.
The school plan is comprehensive, informative and of high quality overall. It was devised collaboratively, involving the board, parents and staff, thus giving each member a sense of ownership that proves most effective in promoting the admirable sense of collegiality that pervades the school. The plan is presented in two sections in folder form that is readily accessible. A positive feature is the effort that has been devoted to framing plans that are duly referenced to the Curriculum, with its strands, strand units and objectives. The documents are characterised by a notable degree of practicality and clarity and, crucially, management is fully aware that the work is evolutionary in nature and hence must be subject to continuous appraisal. A key feature of the planning process is therefore a systematic review of progress across all curricular areas.
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 teachers make a determined effort to offer a broad, well-balanced curriculum and to this end they prepare long-term and short-term schemes of work for all curricular areas together with useful support documentation. The level and quality of teachers’ planning impacts positively on the breadth of curricular provision. Impressive examples of differentiated teaching and integrated learning processes are features of classroom practice. At the end of each month, a record of work covered is produced and effective use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) is utilised in the process. It is suggested the monthly progress records could be used more productively by the teaching staff. This would facilitate progression in the programme covered with the pupils and therefore contribute to the review of implementation of the curriculum at different class levels.
The quality of teaching and learning in the curriculum was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching, engaging with the pupils and reviewing samples of work in each of the classrooms. The teachers cope commendably with the organisational demands of having multi-class groupings in each room. The quality of teaching was very good at all class levels. Impressive examples of differentiated teaching and integrated learning processes are features of classroom practice. Teachers give clear explanation to pupils, present content clearly and provide appropriate and structured learning activities. In general the quality of pupils learning is commendable and their performance in English writing, in Music, in Drama, in PE and in the Visual Arts is of a notably high standard. The quality of pupils’ work presented in their copies and on display is worthy of high praise and shows significant progress being made at each class level. Co-operative peer learning is utilised to very good effect across a number of curricular areas.
Tá sé mar aidhm inmholta ag an bhfoireann teagaisc suim a mhúscailt sa Ghaeilge i measc na ndaltaí agus í a chur chun cinn sa scoil mar theanga bheo. Cleachtann na hoidí modhanna feidhmiúla teagaisc, gabhann beogacht agus fuinneamh leo chun na daltaí a spreagadh agus ar an iomlán sroichtear caighdeán an-chreidiúnach. Baintear úsáid chruthaitheach as an drámaíocht go rianúil chun an obair a shaibhriú agus an tsuim a neartú. Ar an iomlán labhrann na daltaí le muinín, aithrisíonn siad rannta, canann siad amhráin go bríomhar taitneamhach agus is mór acu a gcuid cumais a léiriú. Baintear leas torthúil as an gcur chuige cumarsáideach d’fhonn cumas labhartha na ndaltaí a chothú le linn na gceachtanna. Déantar iarracht fhiúntach cumas léitheoireachta na ndaltaí a fhorbairt agus baintear feidhm thairbheach as ábhar léitheoireachta réalaíoch atá in oiriúint d’aois agus do chumas na ndaltaí. Tá caighdeán ard le sonrú in obair scríofa na ndaltaí, go mór mór sna hardranganna. Amach anseo, ar mhaithe le hardú an chaighdeáin a thuilleadh fós, moltar don fhoireann an scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach a fhorbairt sa scoil ar bhealach sistéamach.
The teachers have the praiseworthy aim of stimulating the pupils’ interest in Irish and in promoting it as an active language. The teachers exercise efficient and lively teaching methodologies to enthuse the pupils and overall a very creditable standard is achieved. Drama is used regularly and creatively to enrich the work and to strengthen interest. In general the pupils speak with confidence, they recite verse and sing songs pleasantly and vigorously. The communicative approach is utilised productively during lessons to develop the pupils’ oral language. A worthy attempt is made to develop the pupils’ skills in reading, and to this end interesting and age-appropriate reading materials are beneficially used. The pupils achieve high standards in writing, most notably in the senior classes. In the interests of raising the standard even higher, staff is advised to develop creative writing in the school on a systematic basis.
The staff presents a high quality programme in English. Teachers at all class levels are commended for the manner in which all aspects of the curriculum have been developed to a most creditable standard. Clear learning outcomes are identified for the development of pupil’s oral language. Lively oral interaction between teachers and pupils, and pupils with each other, is a central feature of the work in all classes. In each classroom teachers enjoy a large measure of success in encouraging their children to engage in discussion based on topics drawn from the different curricular areas, and linguistic competence is impressive. Poetry is presented in a stimulating manner and children recite a range of suitable poems and rhyme with vigour, clarity and expression. The effort that is expended on the development of reading throughout the school is laudable. From an early stage children are exposed to a useful sight vocabulary and this is paralleled by a central promotion of phonic activity. Graded books from a published scheme form the core of the reading material and, appropriately, this is supplemented by the use of the novel and by the promotion of library reading in all classes. The regular engagement in Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading is much valued by both staff and pupils. An examination of reading scores attained in standardized tests demonstrates that achievement levels are impressive. In the further development of children’s interests in reading, staff is introducing a “buddy” system, involving the senior and junior class pupils. In this context staff might usefully consider re-establishing the shared reading initiative with the involvement of parents. Pupils experience an environment in each class that encourages them to write on a regular basis. The staff has embraced with enthusiasm the ideas on writing embodied in the curriculum, and this is evidenced in the children’s engagement with a range of writing activities, both functional, interactive and creative. They undertake letter writing, interviews, daily news, poetry writing and story writing, and they apply themselves regularly to comprehension and workbook exercises. In all classes collections of carefully-marked exercises drawn from the different areas of the curriculum were seen and much of the work, especially the project work, was profitably integrated with History, Geography and the Visual Arts. As a development point, staff is advised to widen the scope of creative writing processes to include a greater variety in genres. The standard of penmanship and presentation of written work throughout the school is highly commendable. Pupils are afforded regular opportunities to use Information Communication Technology (ICT) to print selected samples of their work, and these are displayed attractively throughout the school.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is commendable, and pupils reach a creditable standard and are enthusiastic about their work. An examination of scores attained in standardized tests demonstrates that the achievement levels in Mathematics are notable. Teachers plan their lessons wisely, making sure that there is good variety in activities that meets pupils’ varying levels of understanding. Throughout the school careful attention is given to the teaching of all strands. Pupils are afforded regular opportunities to develop higher-order skills. Strategies to develop problem-solving skills are a praiseworthy feature in the senior classes. At all levels, pupils present age-appropriate ability to perform computation and solve problems mentally and in written format. The children’s written work is presented to a very high standard and is regularly monitored and marked by the teachers. Exercises in the memorisation of number facts are a feature in all classes and revision tests are regularly administered. The use of concrete material is widespread and purposeful and is recognised by staff as a productive means of developing the pupils’ understanding of mathematical concepts. The school plan makes important provision for a consistency of approach to the teaching of Mathematics. To this end staff is advised to document a policy on the acquisition of mathematical language that would see this process implemented consistently on a whole-school basis.
Teachers promote a lively interest in the past as they proceed through the commercial texts that form the central element of the programmes. A wide range of topics is studied that allows the pupils become aware of the individuals, groups, events, cultures and beliefs and values which have affected the lives of people in the past. Commendable attention is given to developing knowledge of the locality and in particular school-life in times past. Photographic evidence and time-lines are effectively employed in considering aspects of change and continuity.
Geography topics are focused closely on the pupils’ immediate surroundings. They are designed to foster knowledge of the physical and human geography of the locality and to inspire in the pupils a sense of pride in their environment and the people within it. Nature trails are carefully planned and exploration of local farm life features regularly. Lessons are successfully integrated with other aspects of the SESE programme. Impressive examples of project work are on display in classrooms. Pupils display an in-depth knowledge of the material covered and this is to be commended. Visitors to the school are regularly entertained and their particular talents are productively utilised to enrich the pupils’ knowledge and to develop the teachers’ skill base.
Teachers’ lesson notes indicate that a range of suitable topics is examined. The teaching of Science has been introduced in all classes and a suitable programme has been devised. The provision of a range of resources enables the setting up of simple science experiments. Awareness and care for the environment is carefully explored, and activities such as composting and recycling are well established in the school. A variety of habitats is explored, nature trails are organised to places of local interest and also a wormery has been constructed.
The visual arts programme is accorded an important status within the school and this is evidenced in the stimulating and creative displays of children’s work. The pupils regularly enter their craft work in neighbouring Newmarket and Charleville agricultural shows. A former member of staff continues to tutor the pupils and she is highly commended for her generorous commitment to the school, leading to the high standard of work on display. Corridors and classrooms attractively exhibit and celebrate the creative efforts of pupils. This work demonstrates that children are exposed to a wide range of stimuli, media, techniques and skills. Pupils are afforded opportunities to explore and experiment in 2D and 3D dimensions. A deliberate effort is made to ensure that as part of the process, pupils operate as designers of attractive exhibits. The pupils respond to the work of famous artists and they are actively encouraged to appreciate the work of their peers. Opportunities for integrating the Visual Arts with other curriculum work are exploited to considerable effect. The model of the new school constructed by the senior pupils demonstrates careful planning and worthy attention to detail.
The Music programme enables all pupils to participate in a wide range of enjoyable music-making activities such as, performing, listening, responding and identification of rhythmic patterns. All pupils learn to play the tin-whistle and percussion and later on they proceed to the side-flute, accordion, concertina, fiddle or banjo. The pupils perform regularly on school occasions and in inter-school competitions. Ballygown enjoys a proud tradition in Scór na bPáisí and the pupils have achieved considerable success over the years. The school has developed close links with Cuisle Avondhu, and this serves as a forum for the pupils to express and to further develop their musical talents. Pupils sing a variety of songs in English and in Irish, and they do so sweetly and with great enthusiasm. The board employs the services of an outside tutor whose cost is discharged by the Cork County VEC and through contributions from the parents’ association. Her dedication and that of the teachers to developing a very high standard in the school is most commendable.
Throughout the school, pupils are consistently encouraged to engage in dramatic activities linked to learning experiences in all curricular areas. This work is highly effective. Resources are widely available to the pupils and, combined with the whole school commitment to this important activity, achievement rates are very high. The school enters a novelty act in Scór na bPáistí each year. They were recently awarded the shield for the best school in the Avondhu division and were county champions in 2005 and 2006. The commitment and dramatic skill of current, and former staff and parents is worthy of the highest praise. These activities contribute in no small way to high levels of pupil self-esteem and to positive teacher/pupil and pupil/pupil interactions.
The school achieves high levels of success in a number of disciplines in PE and the number of trophies on display in the school is indeed impressive. The teachers are limited to conducting activities in the schoolyard and the grass areas as the school lacks an indoor facility capable of accommodating PE lessons. However, they avail of the gymnasium in the neighbouring Nagle Rice post-primary school for indoor-hurling and soccer. The teachers encourage all pupils to participate in a variety of sports. Commendable attention is given to the development of skills in athletics, in court and field games, and in orienteering and swimming. The school commendably organises a number of events that have become well established on the school calendar for many schools in North Cork, such as an indoor soccer blitz and the Fr Burns’ Shield. School teams successfully participate in inter-school hurling and football leagues. A volunteer GAA coach contributes admirably to the development of these programmes. The generous contribution of personnel to these activities is acknowledged and celebrated. The school participates annually in the Cork Primary School sports. They are affiliated to the Cork School’s Orienteering Association and the girls are the reigning All-Ireland champions.
The pupils perform their routines in set-dancing with notable pleasure and confidence. These activities are conducted under the competent guidance of a visiting teacher who is funded directly by the parents’ association. Due to the lack of available space in the school a considerable effort must be undertaken each week to accommodate this activity in the senior classroom.
The school’s Social Personal and Health Education programme provides beneficial opportunities for children to understand themselves, to develop healthy relationships, and to establish and maintain healthy patterns of behaviour. Valuable lessons, which focus on awareness of self, respect for others both in the community and in the wider world, are a feature. Healthy eating habits and matters relevant to safety and general welfare of the children are taught on a regular basis. External personnel are regularly invited to the school to augment these activities. Consistent kindness and concern for their welfare characterise the manner in which the teachers interact with the pupils. Pupils in turn are supportive of one another, are courteous, polite and respectful. The school successfully promotes the health, safety and well being of its pupils.
A comprehensive assessment policy has been devised and is actively implemented. The policy allows for a range of assessment approaches. Pupils’ work is systematically monitored and corrected by teachers. Files are maintained for each pupil and contain records of achievement in a wide range of curricular areas. It is noted with satisfaction that the results of these tests are shared among teachers when they meet regularly to discuss the children’s progress. Standards in the performance of pupils are consistently monitored in the pursuit of continued improvement in pupil performance. Assessment information is collated and filed by the deputy principal and is discussed by the teachers and subsequently informs teaching and learning. Relevant information is relayed to parents at parent-teacher meetings and in the annual report on pupil progress which is furnished at the end of the school year.
Standardised literacy and numeracy attainment tests are administered regularly, notably the Drumcondra Reading and Sigma-T numeracy tests. In line with the schools’ admirable policy of early intervention, the MIST is administered to the infant pupils. The results of these tests are used effectively to help identify pupils who require supplementary support.
The school has documented detailed policies on the admission, enrolment and participation of pupils with special educational needs in the school plan. These are informative and are in accordance with the school’s caring ethos. The staged approach to assessment, identification and programme implementation is utilised appropriately. The special education team in the school consists of a shared learning support teacher and a resource teacher. They cater for two cohorts of seventeen and six pupils respectively. Support is provided to pupils experiencing difficulty in the areas of literacy, in numeracy, in social development and in language tuition. Their commendable work proceeds in collaboration and in consultation with the class teachers. Imaginative and focussed programmes of work that incorporate the use of ICT are prepared for individual children in accordance with deliberations and ongoing assessments. Individual education plans are prepared on the basis of a careful diagnosis of needs and these are characterised by a measured degree of detail and relevance. Plans include specific targets, a clear timeframe for review is identified and this strategy is undertaken in collaboration with class teachers and parents. The achievement and progress of these pupils is enhanced by the high quality of support provided by these support staff. Support is provided on a withdrawal basis, either individually or in small groups, and is effectively complemented with in-class support. The school employs three special needs assistants. They make an important contribution to pupil learning in their respective classes under the careful guidance of the class teachers. Overall, children are making steady progress in accordance with their competencies and abilities. The school is advised to present a more focussed in-class intervention in the area of language support for international pupils. Within the context of the evolving school plan, formal time to meet and discuss special education needs as a team should be identified. Consideration could usefully be given to devising an agreed approach to weekly planning and to maintaining progress records. As a general developmental point, it is suggested that any review of the learning support/resource programme should focus on determining an agreed and appropriate time for pupil testing. This would serve to ensure that those in need of supplementary teaching would be enabled avail of the maximum allocation of time that can be provided.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The teachers and other ancillary staff are caring and dedicated and offer a high quality of support for the pupils.
· The children are responsive and courteous.
· The board and parents are committed to addressing the educational needs of the community.
· The school makes comprehensive provision for the full and harmonious development of its pupils.
· The school achieves commendable standards across all curricular areas, and particularly so in English writing, in Music, in Drama, in PE and in the Visual Arts.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Posts of responsibility should be reviewed in accordance with the changing needs of the school.
· Formal time should be identified to enable special needs staff to meet as a team.
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
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Ballygown National School welcomes the Report on the Whole School Evaluation carried out in February 2007. We appreciate the highly complimentary remarks that are contained throughout and we are satisfied that the Report is a fair reflection of our school.
The Board wishes to record our appreciation for the courtesy extended to us by the inspector and the fair manner in which the inspection was conducted.
The Whole School Evaluation was carried out only four weeks before work commenced on a large extension and refurbishment of our school. Until now a lack of space has provided a huge challenge to implementing the curriculum, but in spite of this every effort has been made to provide our children with a full and broad education. The Report duly acknowledges the considerable achievements across the spectrum of curricular and extra-curricular areas. The Board is pleased to note the recognition given to the high standard of teaching and learning in the school. The level to which the achievement and progress of pupils with special educational needs is enhanced by the high quality of support provided by the special education team is a matter of particular pride for us.
The Report also correctly identifies the vital role played by parents in all aspects of school life and highlights the strong bond that exists between parents and staff in ‘cultivating a noteworthy community spirit as a particularly positive feature of the school’. We are pleased that the Report gives high praise to our pupils for their respect, good behaviour, achievements and support for one another.
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 Report includes some very valuable recommendations. The Board acknowledges that the school, while built on strong traditions and sound principles, is evolving and must constantly seek to improve. We will endeavour to maintain our high standards and we see in the recommendations opportunities to further develop.
As a means of optimising the benefit of the Whole School Evaluation, we have already taken a number of important steps. The Board and staff of the school thoroughly reviewed the Report. There is a firm commitment from all concerned to build on the strengths identified. A review of the Posts of Responsibility has been initiated. Provision has been made for formal time to enable special needs staff to meet as a team. As well as these principal recommendations, the various other suggestions contained in the report have also been taken on board.