An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Fiach’s National School
Ballinacree, County Meath
Date of inspection: 1 April 2009
A whole-school evaluation of St Fiach’s National School was undertaken in March 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 Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). 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.
St Fiach’s National School is a co-educational school under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Meath and it serves the townland of Ballinacree. Over recent years, the number of pupils attending the school has increased slightly. Pupils’ attendance levels are good.
The school has recently been painted and is very well maintained. An additional room has been constructed from a playground shelter as a learning-support room.
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
Number of teaching staff working in support teaching roles
Number of mainstream classes
Number of special needs assistants
The aims of the school as listed in the school plan prioritise the holistic development of the child. The sincere and keenly felt regard for pupils’ welfare and their educational progress together with the rich range of learning experiences provided for pupils are testament to the effective realisation of this vision.
1.2 The board of management
The board of management is constituted correctly; it meets regularly and it functions in accordance with agreed procedures and protocols. The main area of activity for the board is the upkeep and on-going development of the school premises for which the board has identified specific targets. The board’s role in policy development is one of viewing and ratifying policy drafts put forward by the teaching staff. It is suggested that the board be provided with further opportunities to participate in the development of school policy.
The principal displays effective leadership skills and is commended for the creation of a stimulating and purposeful learning environment grounded in high quality teaching and learning in all areas. A warm and people-centred approach to management has ensured that a collegial working environment has been developed between all sectors of the school community. Under the direction of the principal, a dynamic approach is taken to planning and administration which ensures momentum for the on-going development of pupils’ learning in the school.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, the deputy principal and a special duties teacher. Duties have been clearly specified for each role and these duties meet the requirement that they encompass curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities. Duties are carried out with enthusiasm and conscientiousness in a spirit of partnership. In seeking to optimise the impact of this good quality work, a more explicit link should be forged between the duties of the in-school management team and annual planning priorities set for the school.
The parents’ association is very active in raising funds for the development of the school through a number of annual events. Effective channels of communication with the school principal ensure that this fundraising is specifically targeted and used to enrich the range of learning experiences provided for pupils.
There are a number of very effective channels of communication between the school and its community. These include informal contact, formal parent-teacher meetings, the use of a daily homework journal and regular newsletters. Plans are in place for parents to be issued with a written report for their child from June 2009; it is strongly recommended that these written reports are issued. It is good practice that parents’ perspectives were sought during the initial stages of policy development in some areas such as Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE), code of behaviour, homework and anti-bullying. In the area of RSE, a committee was formed representing parents, teachers and the board.
Representatives from the parents’ association report that there is ample opportunity for parents to discuss their children’s progress and that teachers are very receptive to listening and acting on specific concerns that parents might raise. Parents’ representatives praised the broad range of experiences provided for their children including French, computers, swimming and the annual school play. They indicated that they are very satisfied with the quality of education provided in the school.
There is a mutually respectful relationship between teachers and pupils and behaviour is managed very effectively. Well-structured, appropriately challenging and well-delivered lessons contribute to the creation of a very productive, affirming learning environment in the school.
The quality of whole-school planning is good. Policies required by legislation, including enrolment, health and safety and a code of behaviour, have been drawn up and ratified by the board of management and show evidence of having been developed as a result of collaboration between the board, the teachers and the parents. Effective aspects of planning include the identification of timescales for the review of plans and the development of action plans to ensure impact on practice. Policies and plans are particularly useful where they provide specific guidelines with regard to implementation. In reviewing plans, the focus should be on identifying the specific procedures, systems and approaches to be utilised by teachers in order to ensure a co-ordinated learning experience for pupils. To optimise the benefits of the school development planning process, annual priorities should be set and action planned.
The quality of classroom planning is good and reflects the desire of teachers to provide pupils with rich learning experiences. A review of short-term and long-term plans indicates that there is a clear line of development in the provision for pupils’ learning and that careful consideration is given to meeting the needs of all pupils. Most monthly progress records are completed very effectively by documenting pupils’ learning as opposed to textbook pages completed. This practice should characterise the compilation of all monthly progress records.
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.
Tá cáilíocht an teagaisc agus na foghlama sa Ghaeilge go maith. Sa phlean scoile cláraítear eiseamláirí teanga a bheadh feiliúnach do gach rang leibhéal mar bhunús don Ghaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil sa scoil.
Forbraítear foclóir na ndaltaí go héifeachtach tríd an scoil. Is breá an tslí ina stiúrtar ceachtanna Gaeilge sna ranganna trí Ghaeilge amháin. Cuirtear raon deas acmhainní oiriúnacha ar fáil agus baintear feidhm éifeachtach as na háiseanna chun suim na ndaltaí a mhúscailt agus a chothú. Sna ranganna naíonán agus sna ranganna sóisiearcha, moltar go mbeadh níos mó Gaeilge leanúnach le cloisint ag tús ceachtanna chun a chur le cumas na ndaltaí aithris a dhéanamh ar rithim agus ar fhuaimeanna na teanga. Sna meánranganna, baintear úsáid an-éifeachtach as an drámaíocht chun deis a thabhairt do na daltaí úsáid a bhaint as a gcuid Gaeilge. Sna meánranganna agus sna ranganna sinsearacha, léiríonn na daltaí ábaltacht Gaeilge chomhráiteach a úsáid. Bíonn sé ar a gcumas úsáid mhaith a bhaint as an bhfoclóir, na habairtí agus na pointí gramadaí atá foghlamtha acu. Tá siad in ann ceisteanna a chur agus a fhreagairt. Sna ranganna sinsearacha, is inmholta an iarracht atá déanta chun an Ghaeilge a úsáid i gnéithe eile den churaclam agus moltar an cleachtas seo a fhorbairt tríd an scoil. Tá stór breá rannta agus dánta ar eolas ag na daltaí agus aithrisíonn siad iad go taitneamhach.
Sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna, tá dul chun cinn oiriúnach á dhéanamh ag na daltaí maidir le scileanna léitheoireachta. Léiríonn na daltaí tuiscint ar an méid atá léite acu agus cruinneas in a bhfuaimniú. Is inmholta an obair atá déanta sna ranganna sinsearacha chun eispéirís léitheoireachta na ndaltaí a shaibhriú trí acmhainní fiúntacha ar nós fíorleabhair agus leabhair mhóra. Moltar an cleachtas seo a fhorbairt tríd an scoil agus é a chur sa phlean scoile.
Tá dea-shamplaí scríbhneoireachta le feiceáil sna seomraí ranga agus sna cóipleabhair. Léiríonn daltaí cumas maith tabhairt faoin scríbhneoireacht le foclóir cuí leathan agus tuiscint ar struchtúrú abairtí. Moltar sonraí a chur sa phlean scoile chun córas céimnithe a chur ar aghaidh chun scileanna scríbhneoireachta na ndaltaí a fhorbairt.
The standard of teaching and learning in Irish is good. The school plan documents language structures appropriate to each class-level as a basis for the development of informal Irish throughout the school.
Pupils’ vocabulary is developed effectively throughout the school. It is good practice that lessons are conducted through the medium of Irish. A good range of appropriate resources is made available and these are effectively used to stimulate and maintain pupils’ interest in lessons. In the infant and junior classes it is suggested that at the beginning of classes, a greater emphasis be placed on listening to Irish in order to develop pupils’ ability to imitate the rhythm and sounds of the language. In the middle classes, very effective use is placed on drama in order to provide pupils with a context for using their Irish. In the middle and senior classes, pupils demonstrate a good ability to engage in conversational Irish. They have the ability to make good use of the vocabulary, sentences and grammar points that they have learned. They are able to ask and answer questions. In the senior classes, a very commendable attempt is made to use Irish in other curriculum areas and it is recommended that this practice be developed throughout the school. A good range of rhymes and poems are known by the pupils and they recite these with enthusiasm.
In the middle and senior classes, pupils are progressing appropriately in the acquisition of reading and writing skills. Pupils demonstrate a good understanding of what they have read and accuracy in their pronunciation. Praiseworthy work is done in the senior classes to enrich the reading experience for pupils through the use of resources such as novels and large-format books. It is recommended that this practice be developed throughout the school and included in the school plan
There are good examples of writing to be seen in the classrooms and copybooks. Pupils demonstrate a good capacity for writing with an appropriate vocabulary and understanding of the structure of sentences. It is suggested that details be included in the school plan which indicate the ways in which writing skills are developed as the pupils proceed through the school.
The quality of teaching and learning in English is very good. Effective provision is made for the development of pupils’ oral language skills. Throughout the school the use of group work, pair work and circle time effectively enhances pupils’ oral language skills in all curriculum areas. Oral language development is successfully promoted at infant class level through the use of story and poetry. Pupils in the infant class demonstrate a very good knowledge of letter sounds. Very effective use of open questions was observed in the junior classroom where the cognitive and the imaginative aspects of oral language were developed. Pupils in the middle class demonstrate a very good ability to engage with figurative language and very effective use is made of the multi-grade context to enrich learning experiences for pupils. The annual school play provides a very worthwhile forum for developing oral language skills.
Reading is taught systematically with an effective balance being achieved between the use of a reading scheme, class novels and library books. The teaching of reading is supported by worthwhile initiatives such as Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading (USSR). Pupils’ different reading levels are addressed appropriately. Each classroom is resourced with a good range and amount of library books. The opportunity to develop reading skills in other curriculum areas is successfully realised. Throughout the school, a good quality print-rich environment has been created with the use of captions and continuous text being particularly worthwhile. The labelling of items in the middle and senior classes in English, Irish and French is successful in encouraging pupils to develop an appreciation of how language is structured. It was noted that the pupils in the senior class demonstrate a good understanding of the linguistic origin of words. Pupils in the infant class have a good knowledge of letter sounds. Large format books are successfully used in the infant class to develop vocabulary and comprehension skills and to foster enthusiasm for reading. Worthwhile homework packs are created for parents to assist them in developing their children’s reading skills. Very effective novel-based work is undertaken in the senior class with pupils encouraged to explore the similarities and differences between novels read during the year. Thought-provoking captions regarding the power and purpose of reading are on display in the senior class and pupils demonstrate a good ability to discuss them.
There is evidence of systematic progression in pupils’ writing skills as they proceed from class to class. It is good practice that pupils in the infant class are encouraged to engage in independent writing in a variety of contexts. The emphasis placed in the junior and middle class on encouraging pupils to expand upon their sentences is effective. As a result of the attention paid to the development of the pupils’ writing skills as they proceed through the school, creative writing in the senior class is of a high standard with evidence of well-structured and interestingly phrased stories. Pupils demonstrate a very good ability to use adjectives to enrich their creative writing. Pupils also possess a good knowledge of writing and spelling conventions. Pupils in the senior classes should be encouraged to maintain the joined writing style which they have learnt in the middle classes.
The teaching and learning of Mathematics is very good. The mathematics curriculum is implemented in a broad and balanced fashion and is sufficiently differentiated to take account of pupils’ varying ability levels. Open and appropriately differentiated questions are in evidence and these are very effective in establishing and consolidating understanding and making links between different elements of the mathematics programme. Pupils throughout the school have good ability to engage in appropriate mental arithmetic activities and to solve mathematical problems. It is good practice that the development of these abilities is provided for on a daily basis.
Concrete materials are used effectively to assist pupils in developing conceptual understanding. In the infant class, a good attempt is made to take advantage of the multi-grade setting to create challenging learning experiences for pupils and this practice is to be encouraged. The effective use of ICT by pupils as a means of recording data was observed. The learning by heart of mathematical definitions in the senior class is effective at providing pupils with a context in which to situate their mathematical work. Pupils’ written work is generally neat and well corrected with appropriately personalised comments adding to its impact for pupils.
The teaching and learning of SPHE is very good. The learning environment in the school is very positive and this creates a suitable climate for the development of pupils’ social, personal and health education. A variety of strands and strand units in the curriculum is explored during discrete SPHE lessons. Pupils demonstrate a good ability to explain the constituent elements of SPHE. The emphasis placed on the development of language in the infant class is effective. The setting of clear learning objectives for lessons and the sharing of these with the pupils are practices worthy of particular commendation. Circle-time, story, group discussion and personal photographs are used effectively to assist pupils make thoughtful contributions to lessons. Pupils in the middle and senior class demonstrate a good ability to appreciate and articulate how another person might hold a viewpoint different to their own. It is good practice that pupils have the experience of formulating classroom rules. In the senior class, some aspects of the relationship and sexuality programme (RSE) are delivered by ACCORD (Catholic agency for supporting relationships) under the supervision of the class teacher. To optimise learning in SPHE, it is suggested that teachers make the pupils more explicitly aware of the SPHE dimension in other learning experiences. The development of a check-list to monitor pupils’ progress in the attainment of the objectives of the SPHE programme would also be worthwhile. Such a strategy could usefully provide a basis for discussing pupils’ progress in SPHE with parents and for monitoring that progress over time. It could also facilitate the development of pupils’ self-awareness and their ability to self-assess their own progress in SPHE.
The quality of assessment in the school is good. There is a sufficiently comprehensive range of assessment modes in use within the school. These include teacher observation, concept- mapping, monitoring of pupils’ written work, teacher-designed tasks and tests, standardised tests and diagnostic tests. Standardised tests are used effectively in English and Mathematics to monitor pupils’ progress generally whilst also identifying pupils who may require additional support. Test results are recorded and filed with appropriate care. At the end of the last school year (2007-08) a very careful analysis was undertaken of these results for individual pupils and for each class; this enabled the aspects of pupils’ learning that required further development to be clearly identified. It is suggested that this practice be continued into future years.
The quality of education provided for pupils with special educational needs is good and evidence shows that pupils in receipt of support are making good progress. The school’s approach is characterised by a flexibility that enables provision to be responsive to individual needs. Lesson planning is detailed and effectively focused on the specific needs of pupils. Lesson delivery is effectively structured and paced making good use of a variety of appropriate activities. Lessons are affirming of pupils’ ability and progress. While effective collaboration between class teachers and support teachers results in a generally co-ordinated programme being delivered to pupils, there is scope for this co-ordination to be enhanced in the development of pupils’ independent writing skills. Class teachers are very cognisant of providing pupils in receipt of support provision with differentiated learning programmes in the mainstream class.
Special needs assistants are deployed effectively and they carry out their duties unobtrusively and diligently. A strong emphasis is placed on ensuring that special needs assistants encourage pupils with special educational needs to be as independent as possible.
A small number of pupils requiring additional support are enrolled in the school. The interest demonstrated by all teachers in each individual pupil’s welfare and progress ensures that the needs of these pupils are identified and met with due care and sensitivity.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· A spirit of community and collegiality permeates the life of the school contributing to the creation of a positive and dynamic learning environment.
· The principal displays effective leadership skills and is commended for the creation of a stimulating and purposeful learning environment grounded in high quality teaching and learning in all areas.
· Teaching is well-structured and well-paced in delivery and it reflects the conscientious and effective classroom planning undertaken by teachers.
· There is a mutually respectful relationship between teachers and pupils and behaviour is managed very effectively.
· The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good with pupils demonstrating good computational and problem-solving abilities.
· In English, the systematic attention paid by teachers to developing pupils’ vocabulary and the very effective novel-based work undertaken in the senior classroom are to be commended.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· In developing curricular plans, the focus should be on identifying the specific procedures, systems and approaches to be utilised by teachers in order to ensure a co-ordinated learning experience for pupils.
· To optimise the benefits of the school development planning process, annual priorities should be identified and specific actions planned.
· It is strongly recommended that the plan to issue parents with written reports about their child’s progress is implemented.
Published February 2010