An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Whole School Evaluation



Ballyfeeney National School,Scramogue, County Roscommon

Uimhir rolla:  18432F


Date of inspection: 15 October 2008






Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils


School Response to the Report






Whole-school evaluation

A whole-school evaluation of Ballyfeeney National School was undertaken in October, 2008. 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 and Mathematics.  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.


Introduction – school context and background


Ballyfeeney National School is a co-educational five-teacher school located in a rural setting overlooking Kilglass lakes. The school is located approximately two kilometres north of Scramogue village in County Roscommon and is within easy commuting distance of Strokestown. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Elphin and is one of three schools in Kilglass parish. Pupil enrolment has substantially increased in recent years, due mainly to a large increase in private housing in the catchment area of the school.  It is expected that pupil numbers will remain steady in the foreseeable future. A considerable number of pupils come from the surrounding hinterland in Kilglass and Scramogue, which comprises a well-established community. A private bus funded by parents transports a small number of pupils from the Strokestown area. Pupil attendance figures are satisfactory.


In 1998, at the time of the last school report, there were 71 pupils on roll with three teachers. The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:




Pupils enrolled in the school


Mainstream classes in the school


Teachers on the school staff


Mainstream class teachers


Teachers working in support roles


Special needs assistant (infant day)


Part-time secretary


Part-time caretaker




1.     Quality of school management


1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

The school’s vision is clearly articulated in its ethos statement and is included in the school plan and on display. The school’s characteristic spirit is communicated effectively to parents through the school information booklet. The school focuses on promoting the full and harmonious development of pupils. It is evident that a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance for difference and diversity is promoted among staff and pupils. The school’s characteristic spirit is reflected in the positive, friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the school, in the emphasis placed on providing a safe, secure and happy learning environment for pupils, and in the professional approach of the staff, parents’ association and board of management. Staff and ancillary staff cooperate well in the best interest of the pupils’ welfare and education.


1.2 Board of management[h1] 

The board of management, established in December 2007, is properly constituted and meets regularly, in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science. Members of the board possess a good range and variety of expertise and experience. The chairperson, who has given several years of service to the board, is highly committed to the work of the school and visits regularly. It is planned that all board members will receive training from the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) in the near future. Minutes are carefully recorded and agenda and draft policies are circulated in advance of meetings. The board’s financial affairs are recorded carefully and accounts are audited externally.


The board regards its primary function as that of supporting the principal and the work of the school. Board members report that they are happy with the commitment, dedication and professionalism of staff. The board has recently provided resources to support the teaching of Physical Education (PE), Science, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The board has proactively pursued various building projects and extensions. It is currently in the process of finalising negotiations with the Department regarding the rental of a prefabricated structure to relocate the class currently taught in the general-purposes room. The school building, which is wheelchair accessible, and the external environs are maintained to a very high standard. The board, staff and caretaker are complimented for their work in this regard.


The school’s location on a busy thoroughfare poses an issue of concern for the board. Commendable efforts have been made in improving the safety and security of the school entrance. A sub-committee of the board is in the process of seeking to negotiate and secure additional parking facilities to ensure a safer set-down and collection area for pupils. The possibility of installing hot and cold water to the classroom and staff room in the original building should be attended to as a priority area by the board.


At present, the board reviews and ratifies whole-school policies developed by the teaching staff. Very good efforts have been made by the board to ensure that policies are developed in line with relevant legislation, as in the case of the recently reviewed code of discipline, health and safety statement , relationships and sexuality education policy and child protection policy. The board has recently redressed a time in school issue to ensure that the school opening and closing times are in accordance with Department regulations. Although the school’s enrolment policy supports the principles of inclusiveness, equality of access and participation and respect for diversity, it also includes a clause that the enrolment of pupils with special educational needs is dependent on the allocation of additional resources. It is recommended that the enrolment policy be amended to reflect the school’s willingness to use its available resources and to seek further resources, if warranted, following the enrolment of pupils with special educational needs. There was one unqualified teacher providing supplementary support at the time of the evaluation. In the interest of the pupils with special educational needs, it is recommended that the board seeks to ensure that all teachers employed are qualified primary teachers.


As the board continues to review aspects of school policy, strategies to involve the parents’ association and the greater parent body in the planning and review process should be considered. In line with best practice, the board should prepare a planning diary and a three year strategic implementation plan for school development planning and maintenance. The board is also reminded of its obligation to issue an annual report, as stipulated in Section 20 of the Education Act, 1998. The development of the school information booklet marks the beginning of the process of such positive collaboration and communication with parents. This work is to be commended.


As documented in the school plan, members of staff are made aware of various courses organised in the local Education Centre and are encouraged to attend and share their knowledge with other members of staff. Consideration should also be given to the compilation of a professional development policy to support the development of teachers’ expertise.


1.3 In-school management

The in-school management team comprises the principal, deputy principal and privileged assistant. The teaching principal, appointed in 2007, provides very effective and energetic leadership to the school that is characterised by a strong sense of purpose and vision. The principal has received training and mentoring from Misneach, an induction course for newly appointed principals, organised by the national Department-funded programme Leadership Development for Schools.  The principal has provided leadership in various ways including fostering a collegial and self-reflective atmosphere characterised by open communication, collaboration and mutual respect. She demonstrates a high level of commitment to the pupils, the school and to their future. The principal’s duties are discharged in a reflective, highly professional and focused manner. As well as effectively leading learning in her own classroom, daily administrative tasks are capably undertaken and official records are carefully maintained. Regular staff meetings are organised in accordance with Department guidelines. The principal is ably assisted by the deputy principal, who also displays a high level of commitment, experience and dedication to the work of the school.  The principal values the work of all staff members, nurtures the talents of staff and delegates responsibility when appropriate.


The in-school management team carries out a wide range of organisational, curricular and pastoral duties with a high level of diligence and dedication. These assigned duties were recently revised in order to distribute leadership and give a sense of ownership to staff. The determination of duties is reached through whole staff consultation. A review procedure is held at the end of each year in the context of the changing needs of the school. Very good efforts have been made in relation to moving towards greater commonality of approach in mainstream teachers’ short-term planning for teaching and learning.


1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Parents of the wider school community are actively engaged in the school by volunteering their skills and expertise in the classroom through storytelling and by sharing knowledge about various occupations, local history and the surrounding natural environment. Many parents have enhanced the educational provision for pupils through the donation of historical artefacts to the school, which are used as teaching aids. Parents are reported to be very enthusiastic in assisting with school-related events, Sports Day and fund-raising activities.


Parents are actively involved in the parents’ association, which has recently affiliated with the National Parents’ Council. The association meets regularly and is planning to avail of training from the local Parents’ Council in the near future to assist newly appointed members in their role. The association mainly supports the work of the school through fund-raising activities. Members of the association communicate with the principal and board of management on an informal basis. Parents have not been involved in the formulation, development or review of the school plan to date. None of the parents interviewed could recall ever receiving drafts of school policies for commentary. It is evident that there is scope for more effective communication with parents in relation to the review and development of the school plan. Parents expressed a great interest in becoming more engaged in the school planning process and would welcome more familiarity with the curriculum policies of the school.


Officers of the parents’ association reported their satisfaction with the work of the school. The regular school-parent communication, the approachable staff and the willingness of teachers to discuss and address issues of concern, are appreciated by parents. Positive reference was also made to the equality of opportunities afforded to pupils, the very good resources available in the school and the emphasis placed, in particular, on the promotion of reading among pupils. The parents interviewed praised the practical user-friendly information booklet provided to parents. Parents are actively encouraged to communicate with class teachers through the use of  journals. Regular correspondence is issued to parents and an induction day for new parents is organised.


The most commonly raised issue at parents’ association meetings has related to the need to improve the school’s  car-parking and drop-off facilities to ensure the greater safety of pupils. Parents reported that they would welcome information from the board of management on school developments. A greater focus on instrumental music, more emphasis on copy work and less emphasis on the use of workbooks would be welcomed. Parents suggested that samples of the children’s work could be included in a school newsletter.


1.5 Management of pupils

The school’s code of behaviour and anti-bullying policies clearly outline roles and responsibilities and are continually monitored and integrated into the daily life of the school. The relationships fostered between the staff and pupils are very good.  A caring atmosphere is nurtured and positive behaviour is affirmed. High standards of behaviour, attendance and punctuality are encouraged and clear and fair expectations are set. Pupils’ pastoral needs are managed very effectively. All pupils are afforded equal access to and participation in school-related activities. Pupils are friendly, courteous, respectful and well-motivated to learn. Their achievements and successes are valued and celebrated.


2.     Quality of school planning


2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The overall quality of whole-school planning is very good. The school plan is indexed clearly and presented in a succinct coherent style. Following her appointment, the principal has initiated a root and branch review of the whole-school planning process. All members of staff have engaged conscientiously and successfully in the review of organisational and curricular planning using a focused action plan indicating roles and responsibilities. Commendable work has been achieved by the staff and the board of management on the recent development and review of a wide-ranging number of policies. The policies developed take into account legislative requirements and departmental guidance and circulars. Very useful guidelines are provided on content, approaches, methodologies, linkage, integration and assessment to support the implementation of curricular policy. Important initial steps have been taken to develop assessment strategies to monitor pupils’ learning and to refine teaching approaches and methodologies. External regional supports have been used effectively to guide the review process and to enable the staff to engage in self-evaluation practices. There is a commendable openness and collaborative understanding among staff of the importance of continuous review and development.


The school plan is available to the greater parent body for viewing in the school. In addition, a clear and accessible information booklet is disseminated to parents. This provides a succinct summary of pertinent school policies, such as the attendance policy, homework policy, code of behaviour, anti-bullying policy and child protection policy. The main parent body has not yet been directly involved in the development and review of the school plan. The school has clarified its intention to prioritise the active involvement of parents in the development planning process. It is intended to forge closer links with the newly established Parents’ Association in order to realise this aim.


The quality of classroom planning ranges from good to very good and includes long-term planning, short-term planning and monthly records of progress. A suitable format has been agreed to guide teachers’ short-term planning. Monthly records of work are maintained consistently and filed centrally. There is a direct link between teachers’ planning and the whole-school plan. Planning takes appropriate account of the principles of the curriculum and identifies clear objective-based learning outcomes. Teachers’ planning in some classes details how the curriculum is differentiated and made relevant for pupils with additional learning needs. Greater attention needs to be given to the clearer differentiation of content in the long-term planning in a number of classes in order to address the relevant learning outcomes to be achieved and individual learning differences.


2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

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.


3.     Quality of learning and teaching


3.1 Language[h2] 



The whole-school policy in English was recently reviewed and provides thorough and helpful clarification for the teaching of all elements of the English curriculum. Further review and analysis is necessary to ensure that the whole-school planning process influences the teaching and learning in some classrooms, particularly in relation to the teaching of oral language, poetry and writing.


The development of oral language skills is handled appropriately in most classes and teachers display a good awareness of the importance of oral language. Throughout the school there is a good emphasis on talking and listening. Structured play provides very good scope for the pupils to develop their language through a range of activities. Most of the older pupils speak confidently in group and whole-class discussions. Pupils in most classes can recite a varied range of rhymes and poetry with enthusiasm and enjoyment. The attention paid to recitation skills in these classes is praiseworthy and should be extended to senior classes, to ensure that all pupils can recite a wide repertoire of poetry by the end of their primary education. It is recommended that whole-school agreement be reached on the systematic use of specific targeted oral language activities across a range of suitable themes to support vocabulary extension and pupils’ writing skills.


Reading skills are taught successfully in infant and junior classes using a structured pre-reading programme, collaborative reading sessions and the re-telling of stories. The effective use of language experience charts and large-format books enrich the reading experiences of pupils in infant classes. Very good emphasis is placed on the development of phonological and phonemic awareness skills using a multi-dimensional approach in tandem with a range of reading approaches. This phonic work and recognition of new sight vocabulary is built upon step by step as pupils progress through the school. Most pupils have attained a very good mastery of phonics. Structured experiences are provided for pupils to engage with a range of novels. Silent reading and shared reading sessions are regular features of a number of classes. The use of shared reading could beneficially be extended to all classes. By middle and senior classes, all pupils achieve a satisfactory level of reading, commensurate with their ability and most pupils have developed a keen interest in reading.


Reading for pleasure and information is encouraged and reasonably good use is made of classroom libraries, although the range and breadth of reading material is limited in most classes. Attention should be given to the purchase of a wider variety of additional reading genres in conventional book and in CD-ROM format.  It is recommended that the good practice observed in some classes in completing reading records and checklists be extended to all classes.


Commendable attention is given to pre-writing, early-writing activities and the correct formation of letters in infant classes. Pupils are given the opportunity to undertake a range of different forms of personal writing, including imaginative pieces, factual accounts, book reviews, and in some classes the writing of poetry. Many writing tasks are linked to comprehension activities in workbooks as pupils progress through the school. In such instances, there is a need to reduce the use of workbooks and instead ensure that pupils have daily free-writing experiences and sufficient opportunities to draft, redraft and edit extended pieces of writing in their own words. The development of writing frames will be necessary for pupils experiencing difficulty in this strand. Pupils’ writing efforts are displayed in some classrooms and compiled into a class booklet using technology in another classroom.  Overall, teachers need to agree more consistent strategies to promote the development of pupils’ writing skills across the curriculum. Cursive handwriting is currently introduced from third class onwards.


The attention given to developing handwriting and presentation skills is variable between classes, ranging from very good to limited. It is recommended that consideration be given to the school’s involvement in initiatives such as Write-a-Book Project to provide an additional motivation for pupils to improve the quality of their writing and handwriting.


3.2 Mathematics

The whole-school plan for Mathematics provides a useful structure for the development of Mathematics across the school, setting out the aspects of the main strands, the mathematical processes, and the language and terminology to be taught at each class level.


Early mathematical concepts are consolidated and extended effectively through the use of structured play and games, differentiated questioning, active learning and practical experiences. Very good opportunities are provided for pupils to reinforce their understanding of mathematical concepts through the use of song and rhyme. As pupils progress through the school, they are increasingly encouraged to use different approaches and to explain the mathematical processes using appropriate manipulatives and equipment. Pupils’ knowledge and skills are developed using suitable teacher-designed aids, differentiated cooperative group activities and in some cases a commercial scheme. Some opportunity is provided to use computers to reinforce tables in one classroom.


Overall pupils are making good to very good progress in Mathematics. Pupils’ knowledge of early mathematical activities, number, shape and space and measures is generally very good. Number facts are well-rehearsed and well-established, both mentally and in writing. While very good attention is given to the application of Mathematics to their own lives and their environment in senior classes, pupils’ understanding of the number strand is not sufficiently secure for some pupils. There is evidence that pupils’ learning in these classes needs to be consolidated further to deepen their understanding of number value, and in particular to develop their estimation skills. Pupils would also benefit from additional opportunities to use mathematical trails. It is recommended that the very good emphasis placed on the use of copy work by pupils in some classes to neatly record mathematical concepts and processes be extended to all classes.


3.4 Assessment

The teachers have a good knowledge of the pupils and assess their progress regularly through a variety of approaches. The maintenance of observation records, teacher-devised tasks and tests, checklists and work samples, are among the assessment methods used in the school to monitor pupils’ progress. Standardised tests are administered annually in English and Mathematics from second class upwards and the results are carefully collated and recorded. In addition, screening tests are administered to junior and senior infants. A range of diagnostic tests is administered by the support team to identify pupils’ specific needs. It is planned to use an excel spreadsheet to graph and analyse standardised test scores from year to year in order to inform teaching and learning.  Pupils’ progress is reported at annual parent-teacher meetings and a progress report is issued annually to parents. The regular correction of pupils’ work is variable. In some cases work is corrected regularly and positively. The current assessment policy should be reviewed in respect of including a reference to the need for all teachers to correct and date pupils’ written work and to provide written feedback to pupils on a regular and consistent basis with a focus to bringing about improvement.


4.     Quality of support for pupils


4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

A comprehensive special education policy has been developed, which takes into account the staged approach in the provision of support.  The support team comprises a team of four learning-support/resource teachers. Even though one post is officially based in the school, each of the support teachers shares their services with two to three different neighbouring schools. Currently the service is fragmented due to an excessive number of visiting support teachers serving the school. In order to ensure greater continuity, coherence and coordination of the general allocation service being offered, it is recommended that the cluster of schools be reorganised for the benefit of all pupils requiring supplementary support.


The quality of supplementary support teaching provided ranges from good to very good. In one of the best practice examples observed, a high quality teaching and learning environment is created, which is  informed by very good planning. In this case the specific learning targets set are informed by the ongoing review of a wide range of diagnostic assessments. There is a high level of collaboration among the mainstream class teacher, special needs assistant, multi-disciplinary support team and parents. In addition, a wide-range of teacher-designed resources and the LÁMH augmentative signing system are used effectively to support teaching and learning. It is recommended that the LÁMH signing system be taught systematically to all pupils throughout the school. There were other good examples of support teachers using active learning contexts or activities and focused discussions to stimulate pupils’ interests and challenge their thinking.


There is scope for development in the quality, scope and level of detail of long-term and short-term planning provided by some support teachers. On occasions aspects of pupils’ work were not sufficiently challenging and in other cases the reading material was not sufficiently matched to the individual pupils’ learning needs. Overall, pupils respond well to the variety of lessons and activities devised. One support room, while confined, was well stocked. The staff room, which also serves as a support room, would benefit from additional teaching and learning resources.


The school is at an early stage of development in relation to the organisation of support teaching in mainstream classrooms. In-class support is mainly provided in infant and junior classrooms. This practice is to be commended. The special needs assistant employed displays a very good understanding of the pupil with special needs, is vigilant in supporting the pupil’s needs and contributes to the monitoring of progress.


Individualised educational programmes are developed for all pupils receiving additional support and are informed by diagnostic assessment. These plans identify specific learning targets within defined periods. Attendance records are maintained by most teachers. All support teachers discuss the pupils’ progress with the class teachers on an informal basis and very good systematic procedures are in place in one case.


At the time of the evaluation, a considerable number of pupils were withdrawn from mainstream classes for learning-support, whose inclusion for supplementary support was not justifiable on the basis of pupils’ attainment results on standardised tests. It is recommended, in accordance with inclusive best practice and the Learning-Support Guidelines (2000), that learning-support for this cohort of pupils is discontinued. Any surplus support teaching capacity should be targeted at early intervention measures in language, literacy and Mathematics. Pupils in greatest need should have access to more regular intensive support in literacy and numeracy. It is recommended that the special education whole-school policy in relation to the continuation and discontinuation of learning-support be reviewed. There is a need for a more coordinated and systematic approach among the support team to facilitate collaborative planning in order to provide, in some cases, a more useful and specific account of what has been achieved by the pupils receiving support.


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

The school’s aims, vision and ethos place a high value on respect, tolerance and the acceptance of diversity. It was reported that that there are currently no international pupils or pupils experiencing educational disadvantage enrolled. It is recommended, as outlined in Section 1.2 of this report, that the board review the enrolment policy to reflect the school’s inclusive ethos. In planning for the future, consideration should be given to the development of an intercultural and inclusion policy to encapsulate the aims and ethos of the school.


5.     Conclusion


The school has strengths in the following areas:



The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:



Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.






Published December 2008






School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management




Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report


We are very appreciative of the detailed, thorough and fair nature of the report.  We are also very appreciative of the kindness, courtesy and respect shown at all times by the Inspector in her dealings with the Board of Management, the Staff, the Parents’ Representatives and the Children.  For us at the school, the evaluation process was an enriching and valuable experience and we feel it will be a great contribution to our work as we move forward.  Therefore, we accept the report fully and we are grateful for the opportunity given to us to take stock of where we are in our endeavours to provide the best educational opportunities possible to the children of our area.




Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection








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 [h2]Note changes to language section.