An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Kilcommon NS

Thurles, Co. Tipperary

Roll number: 18285 S

 

Date of inspection:  29 March 2007

Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007

 

Whole School Evaluation

Introduction

2. Quality of school management

3. Quality of school planning

4. Quality of learning and teaching

5. Quality of support for pupils

6. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

                                

 

Whole School Evaluation

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Kilcommon 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 the parents’ representatives on the board of management. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

 

 

Introduction

Kilcommon NS is a rural, co-educational, two-teacher primary school situated in the village of Kilcommon approximately mid-way between Newport and Thurles in Co. Tipperary. Since the last evaluation was carried out in 2000, the enrolment figure has increased slightly. It now stands at 42 pupils. Overall, the daily attendance rates are good. The school was opened in 1958 with two classrooms. Recently, the school has received sanction for the refurbishment of the building. Plans are being advanced by the board of management to proceed with these works as early as possible. The interior and exterior of the school are well maintained.

 

The staffing arrangement includes two mainstream class-teachers with a learning support teacher based in nearby Rearcross NS visiting the school each day. There are no special needs assistants currently employed in the school. A GAA coach visits the school weekly to coach older pupils. This activity takes place under the direct supervision of the class teacher. The pupils interact well with visitors. The school community as a whole appears active and diligent with a strong focus on co-operation, friendliness and collegiality. The principal and staff, in particular, work towards the creation of a safe and peaceful learning environment for the pupils. A genuine sense of mutual respect is evident in the school.

 

 

2. Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Cashel. The board of management meets regularly. Minutes of meetings are maintained and are made available for inspection. Over the past two years, the number of meetings has increased with issues such as policy development in curricular and administrative areas being developed. Attendance at meetings is good and active participation by all members is reported by the chairperson. All statutory obligations are being met and there is a strong commitment to ensure compliance with the Rules for National Schools. At all stages of the evaluation, it was clear that this is a supportive and committed board with clear leadership from the chairperson and principal, supported by all other board members. Good communication was seen to exist between the chairperson and the principal.

 

Policies have been compiled on a range of issues. These include health and safety, anti-bullying, homework and healthy eating. These documents are clear and detailed. The policies are drawn up by the staff and are ratified by the board and then disseminated to the parent body. Greater involvement in this work by the parents is recommended. It is now appropriate for the board of management to increase its involvement in the development of the school’s curricular policies. A greater knowledge of these curricular plans will enhance the board’s understanding of the work of the school. The board should also expand the role of the parent in the education of the pupils in the school. This work on policy development is an ideal starting point for greater parental involvement in the work of the school.  This work should begin immediately. The board expressed its satisfaction with the high quality of teaching and learning delivered and also acknowledged the broad and balanced curriculum that is presented to the pupils.

 

The board should  develop  a written action plan outlining the timetable for the completion of the school’s curricular portfolio. The development of a policy, aimed at defining the school’s action plan, increasing the role of the parent and the provision of relevant training should also be formulated.

 

2.2 In-school management

The principal of the school was appointed in 1967 and she carries out her duties with great commitment. She provides the school with informed leadership and a good rapport is evident with other teachers in the school. Duties have been clearly defined for her role and that of the other post-holder in the school. These are in accordance with the Rules for National Schools and also with the relevant Department of Education and Science [DES] circulars. The duties of the Deputy Principal incorporate organisational, curricular and pastoral roles. There is a need for the school to formalise the work of the post-holder to create a template for focused planning and programme delivery. It is recommended that these duties be reviewed annually and that a greater rate of turnover in relation to the duties being carried out be undertaken. The in-school management team should liaise on a formal basis in accordance with the ongoing needs of the school. An annual review of the impact of the work should be presented to the board of management.  

 

2.3 Management of resources

Financial resources are carefully managed in this school. Accounts are kept up to date by a treasurer and presented to the board annually. The school benefits from a broad range of resources, which is effectively used by teachers and pupils. A wide variety of concrete materials is available. These include posters for all subject areas, science equipment, computers and  Physical Education (PE) equipment. Games, puzzles, library books, a teachers’ reference library and a plentiful supply of Visual Arts materials  are  also in evidence. The school has a variety of Information and Communication Technologies [ICT] equipment and a wide range of relevant software. A range of musical equipment has been purchased to support learning in this area. Resource planning for the future should consider the amount and variety of reading material available to the pupils.

 

The school is maintained with great care and pride. There are two mainstream classrooms, toilets and a small room used for learning support provision. There is an external hard surface play area and a shed. Cleaning is carried out daily and the overall standard of cleanliness, both internally and externally, is very good. The school employs a part-time maintenance worker. It is now timely for the school to explore the potential of the Green Flag programme. There is ample evidence that the necessary communication and leadership mechanisms are in place for this work to occur and acquisition of the Green Flag would further  enhance the sense of pride in the school among the entire community.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

This school manages the relationship between itself and the school community to good effect. A newsletter is sent to inform parents of events and issues relating to pupil welfare. A Parents’ Association has been established and is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council [NPC]. The association reports that the school is accessible to the general parent body and that several fundraising and social events are held annually to support school activities, such as swimming and seasonal celebrations.

 

It is recommended that a closer link to the general parent body be established by the school. More regular newsletter communication, greater dissemination of curricular information and an expanded perception of the role of the parent in the school are required. This would enhance the positive relationship which is currently in place. Discussions concerning this work should begin immediately at both staff and board levels. Consideration should be given to encouraging parental awareness and involvement in a wide range of the school’s organisational, pastoral and curricular work. It is vital that the commitment of the parents towards the education of the pupils in Kilcommon NS is effectively incorporated into the work of the school on a regular and significant basis.

 

2.5 Management of Pupils

A relaxed relationship based on mutual respect exists between the teachers and the pupils. A sense of co-operation and diligence has been created successfully and is reflected in the school policies. A positive outlook is promoted in all aspects of the learning process and pupils respond very well to this approach. Excellent levels of discipline were observed during the evaluation and pupils responded positively to interaction with the inspector. As part of the school plan for the development of its relationship with the wider community, the formation of a student council should now be considered. While a significant amount of time might be required in the initial stages to support this development, the outcomes of such work should prove fruitful and the inclusion of the pupils in this way should assist in providing them with an authentic voice in the school development process.

 

3. Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

The principal and staff are commended for the whole school plans developed to date. They have worked collaboratively to develop a range of curricular and organisational plans which are presented in an accessible format. Final drafts of the plans are presented to the board of management for ratification. Review dates have been included in some plans and it is recommended that, in future, review dates are included in all plans. While draft policies are available for parents to view, it is reported that parents have not had a significant input into the development of the policies to date. It is recommended that a more collaborative role for parents in the formulation of relevant policies be facilitated. All ratified policies should be disseminated to the parent body. The board of management and staff should work more proactively to ensure that parental knowledge and awareness of the rationale and implications of all planning documents is encouraged.

 

The school’s mission statement is clearly articulated and the plans detail a range of organisational and administrative policies. These include the school’s health and safety, enrolment, code of behaviour and the anti-bullying policies. It is recommended that the board ensures that the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) policy be developed in accordance with the RSE guidelines.

 

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 staff has developed curricular plans in the areas of English, Mathematics, Visual Arts, Geography, History, Music, Social, Personal and Health Education [SPHE] and Science. It is commended for outlining the overall aims and objectives for each curricular area and for describing methodologies, content and resources. The school plan should be reviewed frequently and should also be updated on a regular basis as more subjects of the curriculum are fully implemented.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

Individual teacher planning in this school is of a high standard. Long and short-term documents are carefully prepared in accordance with agreed templates. Linkage to the school plan and the Primary School Curriculum 1999 is evident and efforts are made to ensure that pupils’ abilities are addressed. Learning targets selected are specific and achievable. Opportunities for integration and differentiation are noted and the link to classroom practice is clear.  Monthly progress is recorded consistently. It is recommended that the recording of this work should connect with the overall assessment priorities of the school. The collection of data in relation to a specific curricular area over a defined period of time, should provide the school with information which can be used to develop appropriate support provision. 

 

4. Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The principles of the Primary School Curriculum 1999 are in evidence throughout the school. The management of multiple class settings is good and all children work diligently and effectively. All aspects of the curriculum are sufficiently differentiated to support the needs of pupils. The staff is commended for achieving this challenging target. Teachers use questioning effectively and pupils are positively engaged in and enthusiastic about their learning. In general, space has been managed very well in most curricular areas to facilitate the use of a wide range of methodologies. These approaches support active learning and group or pair work. This classroom management strategy works well and should be extended to all areas of the school. It is vital that all pupils experience skill-based learning opportunities where there is a focus on process learning and where they are afforded the chance to work-co-operatively and individually. Allocation of dedicated reading and literacy areas and the creation of maths-rich environments have been effectively prioritised in order to encourage independent learning. The key challenge for the school now is to ensure that all pupils can benefit from the wide range of teaching skills present in the school. The identification of those skills and their dissemination throughout the school should now be developed. A greater commitment to the use of ICT across the entire curriculum should also be prioritised. There are some excellent examples of practice in this regard but little evidence exists to show that this practice is extended to all pupils. Future investment in ICT should now be ensured to implement active learning approaches and to promote guided discovery strategies throughout the school.

  

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Tá dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge sa scoil seo. Déanann na hoidí an-iarracht atmaisféar fabhrach don teanga a chruthú timpeall na scoile agus is léir go mbaineann na daltaí an-taitneamh as an bhfoghlaim. Tá ard-chaighdeán bainte amach i múineadh agus i bhfoghlaim an chomhrá foirmiúil agus neamhfhoirmiúil.

 

Úsáidtear cluichí, rainn, amhráin agus acmhainní oiriúnacha go sciliúil chun cumas cainte na bpáistí a fhorbairt. Feictear an cheistíocht agus an fhreagairt in úsáid go forleathan agus tuigeann na daltaí an ghné seo den chlár go maith. Ó thaobh na cumarsáide de, is féidir le formhór na ndaltaí sa scoil abairtí a chumadh agus foclóir chuí a chur i bhfeidhm nuair is gá. Tá an obair seo go han-éifeachtach nuair a úsáidtear í i ngrupaí nó i bpéirí. Léann na daltaí go cruinn agus leiríonn siad a dtuiscint ar an ábhar léitheoireachta trí cheisteanna a fhreagairt ó bhéal. Tá an scríbhneoireacht bunaithe, don chuid is mó, ar an ábhar léitheoireachta agus ar na ceachtanna comhrá agus scríobhtar píosaí chruthaitheacha sna samplaí seo. Déantar maoirseacht rialta ar obair scríbhneoireachta na ndaltaí agus tá caighdeán maith le feiceáil san obair seo.

 

Irish

A positive outlook is fostered in relation to Irish in the school. The teachers make a considerable effort to create a favourable atmosphere around the school and it is clear that the pupils enjoy their learning. A high standard is reached in the teaching and learning of formal and informal conversation.

 

Games, rhymes, songs and appropriate resources are used skilfully to develop the oral ability of the pupils. Questioning and answering are used widely and the pupils have good comprehension of the topics covered. The majority of the pupils can compose necessary sentences and vocabulary to support their work in conversation development. This work is especially effective when it is used in group or pair situations. The children read accurately and display their comprehension of the text when questioned orally. Writing is largely based on the reading material and some creative writing emerges from this work also. The work is corrected regularly and a good standard is to be seen in this aspect of the subject.

 

English

This school successfully creates, fosters and develops the pupils’ abilities to engage meaningfully with the strands of the English curriculum through the effective use of a wide range of methodologies. Poetry is employed productively to develop oral communication and the pupils interact effectively with the teachers and each other. A significant amount of work has been spent on writing poetry of different genres and the results are impressive. The teachers encourage pupils to recite expressively and discussions pertaining to the emotions of the poet and the subject matter are explored. A creditable effort is made to provide a print-rich environment in all classrooms.

 

A good foundation has been established for the teaching of reading in the junior classes through the effective use of big books, teacher-made resources and illustrative material. These skills are further promoted in the senior classes. Pupils’ phonological awareness is well developed at junior class level and it is embedded as they progress through the school. The standard of reading is very good. Good habits have been created and a wide range of suitable material is available. Differentiation of the curriculum is well developed and pupils are encouraged to read at an appropriate level. Very good use has been made of ICT in this area in some classes and it is recommended that this feature of practice be extended throughout the whole school.

 

4.3 Mathematics

 

The quality of teaching and learning in relation to Mathematics is good in this school. Lessons are well prepared and resourced. Pupils engage with the learning process and the language of various mathematical concepts is well developed. Aims are appropriate for the different ages and abilities present in the classes, while group and paired activities are carried out efficiently. Pupils’ oral abilities are well developed through the use of games and other enjoyable activities. Overall, there is evidence of good attainment in numeracy and the staff is commended for its commitment to the principles of the Primary School Curriculum 1999.

 

Further development in the area of Mathematics should include the creation of specific maths-rich environments in all classrooms. There is a need for the pupils to have access to relevant and well-resourced areas where their work can be displayed. An over-reliance on handouts should be avoided and greater differentiation of activities should enable all pupils to be more active in their learning and more involved in the work with their peers. The promotion of self-discovery learning in this area of the curriculum should now be expanded.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE)

 

Geography

This curricular area is successfully integrated with many other aspects of the Primary School Curriculum 1999. Good use is made of the local environment, with appropriate reference to maps and pictures. Excellent skill development is evident in some areas where the pupils engage in project groups. Peer presentation of this work can be improved. The use of ICT should facilitate greater pupil involvement in this work and the link to oral language skills development should also be enhanced.

 

History

In History, it is evident that pupil understanding of the principles of the curriculum is good. Pupils have been encouraged to develop an interest in and curiosity about the past. A wide range of peoples have been studied and the subsequent understanding of family, local, national and world history is very good.

 

In most ability and age ranges, pupil participation in learning/discovery methods is implemented through group-work and discussion. The further development of project work incorporating local studies and activity-based methodologies for all children is recommended. In order to ensure the consolidation of work completed, regular review is advised.

 

Science

The Science curriculum in this school provides children with opportunities to understand the physical and biological aspects of the world and the processes through which these are developed. A range of methodologies including group work, activity/discovery and project work is in use. According to teachers’ planning, simple experiments are undertaken at all class levels. In one of the lessons observed, good use of scientific equipment and effective pupil engagement through the discovery investigative process was evident. A broad range of enquiry skills including, observing, hypothesising, predicting, experimenting, planning fair tests and analysing results are developed. In general, pupils are enabled to develop a framework of scientific ideas and concepts about Living Things, Energy and Forces, Materials, Environmental Awareness and Care. Some nature tables are in evidence and it is recommended that nature/investigation tables should be a feature of all classrooms as it promotes interest and furthers discussion. 

 

The teaching of SESE throughout the school results in very positive learning outcomes for the pupils. Principally, these include the development of independent and co-operative work ethics, an understanding of the scientific process, a worthwhile knowledge of the world and a thorough grasp of the merits of active learning.

 

4.5 Arts education

 

Visual Arts

The teachers have embraced the principles of the Visual Arts curriculum. Planning is based on the structure and content of the curriculum and appropriate time is allocated to teaching of the Visual Arts. The classroom environment supports pupil learning and a range of materials and resources is used appropriately in the delivery of the programme. Teachers have developed stimulating classrooms and pupils’ work is attractively displayed inside and outside the classrooms. Pupil engagement with activities is effectively organised. The manner in which the multiple class setting is managed, to ensure that no group of pupils is excluded from the opportunity to express artistic thought appropriate to its age or ability, is commendable. 

 

The samples of pupils’ work that are in evidence in classrooms, combined with evidence from the school plan and teachers’ long- and short-term planning, indicate that pupils have explored a range of themes, topics and media from a number of the strands of the Visual Arts curriculum. Many of these are suitably linked with other areas of the curriculum. In general, emphasis is placed on the creative developmental process that affords pupils the opportunity to express their understanding of their world in a creative rather than in a passive or imitative way. This process should continue to be the main focus of the work in all classes and template/replicate art should be avoided. There is also evidence that, pupils as well as making art, are encouraged to look and respond to their own work, the work of their peers and the work of artists.

It is recommended that further emphasis be placed on Looking and Responding to the work of artists and working in the style of the artist and that resources be provided to teach this strand unit in all six strands. While teacher observation is used to assess pupils’ work, the inclusion of a range of assessment strategies into the school plan and into the long and short term planning would extend the progressive development of pupils’ skills as part of a whole school approach.  It is also recommended that all six strands should be developed in the Making Art strand to ensure the implementation of a broad and balanced programme.

 

Consideration might also be given to the development of digital portfolios, through a photographic record of work, which could be supported by ICT resources.

 

Music

The teaching of Music is of a very good standard in this school. Aspects of music literacy including notation, rhythm, beat, pitch and interval training are explored. The pupils sing well in all classes and opportunities are provided to listen and respond to Music of a variety of genres. The pupils display a positive attitude towards their music education and can recall and perform musical pieces in an expressive manner.

 

Drama

Teachers are aware of the unique contribution of Drama to the self-development of pupils and this is reflected in the regular promotion of dramatic activity in all classes. Work in this area of the curriculum is, in general, integrated with other subject areas. Pupils, especially those in the junior classes, respond well to the approaches undertaken. Teachers are willing to participate in role play activity and this strategy works effectively. Given the focus on language and literacy in the school, it is important for the staff to consider the value formal drama lessons have for all pupils. The identification of specific aims regarding the expressive and self-esteem development of pupils as part of the SPHE programme should be prioritised. This will help the pupils to cope with a wide variety of social interactions. The significant role of Drama in the school action plan should now be emphasised.

 

4.6 Physical Education (PE)

The pupils engage effectively in a range of relevant activities in relation to PE. An emphasis is  placed  on minor games while also implementing the other curricular strands. The lack of a general purposes hall limits the capacity of the school to some extent. There is a great commitment on  the part  of the staff to provide as wide a range of experiences as possible. A very satisfactory range of equipment has been purchased and this contributes meaningfully to the work undertaken.  All activities are organised and monitored efficiently.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)

In this school, commendable care is taken to promote the personal development and well-being of the pupils and to foster in the pupils a sense of care and respect for themselves and others. The promotion of a positive atmosphere in the pupils’ environment is in evidence at all class levels and this nurtures pupils’ self-confidence and self-worth. Throughout the school, teachers are intent on helping the children to develop a sense of social responsibility. In particular, this is evident in exhortations to value fair play and in programmes designed to develop an understanding of the local environment. All these strategies form a central part of the school’s SPHE programme. In keeping with the admirable principles inherent in the planning documents, a conscious effort is regularly made to encourage children to respect human and cultural diversity and to appreciate the interdependent nature of the world. In general, circle time is the chosen strategy to integrate SPHE with other areas of the curriculum.

 

It is especially commendable that this emphasis on the development of self-esteem is achieved in equal measure in informal interactions with the pupils and in the formal lesson element of the school day. The strategies employed in all curricular areas are specifically chosen to allow for the development of pupil confidence. By emphasising process learning, the teachers allow all pupils to find their niche in group, pair and individual settings and they celebrate achievement appropriately. It is recommended that the school seeks to expand on this work where possible. The pupils will respond positively to any further initiatives in this area and should be allocated as much responsibility as possible. The development of an independent work ethic allied to a genuine commitment to civic awareness is a very achievable goal for the school.

 

It is important that the school now links SPHE with the English programme. It provides an ideal  vehicle  for the development of oral language and literacy. The school can also enhance the experience by developing a visual policy in all the public areas where positive messaging around personality traits, respect issues and fair play can be promoted. Strategies and locations should be found to ensure that pupils are exposed to the literal interpretation of the issues already focused on by the staff.

 

4.8 Assessment

Teacher observation, teacher-devised tests and monitoring of pupils’ written work are some of the assessment modes used regularly throughout the school. These are complemented by the administration of formal and standardised tests namely Micra-T, Sigma-T and Drumcondra standardised tests. These are administered from first class upwards. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is also administered to pupils in the second term of senior infants to assess pupil attainment in literacy and to identify pupils who may require supplementary support. Phonics tests are also administered to pupils. Appropriately, parents are consulted and advised of results at the annual parent-teacher meetings. The data on pupil attainment and performance  are  documented. Records are maintained in a methodical and consistent manner in the school.

 

As a further development of assessment procedures, the school might usefully direct attention to the plotting of trends and the creation of a whole-school perspective on pupil achievement in literacy and numeracy. The analysis of  these  data could assist in devising future programmes of learning.

 

 

5. Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs (SEN)

A shared learning support service is delivered in the school for five hours per week to cater for the needs of six pupils. A deep sense of care, sensitivity and a thorough approach to planning underpin the work carried out with pupils with special educational needs in this school. Individual, pair and small group situations are used effectively to pursue specific goals for these pupils. Planning is detailed and clear. Short and long term goals are outlined for each pupil. A satisfactory range of resources complements this work. The quality of support for these pupils is very good and there is ample evidence of the success of the efforts of all teachers in this regard. Some teacher liaison concerning the progress of these pupils is in place and the  focus is now on  how effectively the pupils concerned can learn more effectively in their own classroom environment. There is a need to develop further the resources available to the visiting teacher. The three schools who receive the service have agreed to look at the requirements in this regard and prioritise funding in the near future.

 

The school implements a measured approach to the identification and support of the pupils. The BIAP and MIST diagnostic tests are used to support this work. Detailed individual education plans [IEPs] are created for all pupils in receipt of support provision. There is a need to plan more specifically for the in-class work of the support teachers.

 

5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

The pupils in this school come from predominantly rural and farming backgrounds. There is a very good community spirit in the area. In general, there are no pupils from either minority or disadvantaged backgrounds in attendance at the school.

 

6. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         A committed and talented staff strives to prioritise the learning needs of pupils in a positive school atmosphere.

·         A supportive board of management and parental body are willing to work with the staff to promote curricular and pastoral goals.

·         A wide range of resources is easily accessed and purposefully used by pupils and teachers.

·         An attractive and well-maintained learning environment serves to promote the positive educational climate for all pupils who approach their work with enthusiasm and commitment.

·         Teaching is in line with the principles of the Primary School Curriculum 1999 and seeks to maximise pupil progress.

 

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

 

·         The proposed development of facilities at the school must be expedited as efficiently as possible in order to ensure that pupils receive a broad education.

·         The board, staff and parents should work more closely together on curricular matters in order to ensure effective transfer of information, real policy formation and purposeful partnership.

·         The teacher talent available in the school should be harnessed so as to maximise pupil potential throughout the entire school.

·         There needs to be more specific planning among  all teachers for effective delivery to pupils with special educational needs as learners in their own classrooms.

·         Teaching methods should seek to empower the pupils as much as possible by developing independent and co-operative working skills. This work can be facilitated through greater use of ICT in the school.