An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
S.N. Bhaile an Mhuilinn
Uimhir rolla: 18460K
Date of inspection: 28 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of S.N. Bhaile an Mhuilinn. 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, observed teaching and learning, examined pupils’ work and interacted with pupils and teachers. The inspector also reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. 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; a response was not received from the board.
This school is located in the village of Milltown, about 12 km north of Tuam, Co. Galway. This is one of three schools in the parish and most of the pupils come from the village and the surrounding townlands. There are 70 pupils on the roll at present. On the basis of projected enrolments, it is anticipated that the school will be appointing a fourth mainstream teacher in September 2008. This is the base school for a learning-support teacher who also serves one other school. There is a part-time special-needs assistant (SNA) who works with two pupils. The school also employs a part-time secretary.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly in accordance with the Department of Education and Science’s (DES) Constitution of Boards and Rules of Procedure. The board members are to be commended on the fine work that they do in support of the principal and teachers. The current and previous boards are to be congratulated in particular on the exemplary manner in which the school building and grounds have been maintained over the past forty years. The board has an active role in the development of the school plan. It is recommended that all school policies be signed by the chairperson when they have been agreed by the board.
The school principal oversees the day-to-day operation of the school as well as teaching three senior classes. The fostering of a friendly atmosphere and caring ethos among staff and pupils is central to his vision for the school. The principal’s leadership style enables the deputy principal and other teachers to contribute effectively to the development of the school. It is recommended that staff meetings be held each term, with a view to maintaining effective communication among teachers and consolidating whole-school policies.
The principal, deputy principal and special-duties teacher comprise the in-school management team. Each of these teachers has whole-school responsibilities in addition to his/her teaching duties. It is recommended that the school provide a contract for each post-holder, in accordance with DES Circular 17/2000. It is recommended that the post descriptions be reviewed regularly, to ensure that the areas in which the need for development is greatest are being addressed.
The staff members have a record of involvement in various professional-development courses and projects. It is evident from meetings with the teachers that they are commendably open to any learning opportunities that might lead to school improvement. The community is fortunate to have such positive, dedicated people providing education for its children.
Most of the school building was constructed in 1963. The outdoor recreation area has grass and tarmacadam surfaces as well as a shelter. Recent improvements to the school facilities include the completion of repairs to the school roof, the development of the recreation area and the provision of additional security features. There are four mainstream classrooms in the building as well as a staff room and toilets. In recent years a former cloakroom was converted to a school library. This is well-stocked and furnished and is an indication of the school’s commitment to promoting positive attitudes towards books and reading.
There is regular and effective use of audio-visual equipment, educational charts and classroom displays. The infant room has a stock of age-appropriate equipment. The school has a range of computer equipment, including five laptop computers and three PCs. Teachers have completed computer courses and the school has participated in a schools-integration project along with other local schools. There are plans to make further investments in computer hardware in the near future. The lack of appropriate technical support has been identified by the staff as a major obstacle to the more widespread use of computer technology in the school. There is excellent provision and use of appropriate resources in the learning-support room.
There is evidence that the school communicates effectively with parents and provides opportunities for them to participate actively in the life of the school. There is an annual induction meeting for parents of new pupils. The school provides an enrolment pack, which includes general information as well as a copy of the school’s behaviour management and anti-bullying policies. A newsletter containing details of important school events is issued regularly during the year. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually. It is recommended that the school consider providing parents with an annual written report on the progress of each pupil.
Parents’ representatives report that there is a high level of satisfaction with the quality of communication between home and school and the manner in which parents’ concerns are addressed. Parents provide valuable assistance with extra-curricular and fund-raising activities. Projects such as the school’s shared-reading programme provide opportunities for parents to become involved also in curricular activities.
The school has a positive approach to behaviour management. The caring ethos and positive relationships that are cultivated in the school decrease the likelihood of challenging behaviour occurring. Recently the school has begun to hold assemblies, which provide opportunities to welcome new pupils, remind pupils of school rules and participate in song and prayer. It is evident that pupils generally develop positive attitudes and habits with regard to learning and social interaction.
The first part of the school plan contains policies concerning organisational issues. Some of these are commendably specific to the circumstances of this school and are therefore likely to add value to the work of the school. For example, the statements regarding enrolment meetings, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), the sports code of conduct and the school library are likely to be effective in consolidating existing good practice. Some other policies are more generic and there is a need for further work to adapt them to the Milltown context. It is recommended that the school plan be revised in the light of the above observations. This would provide an opportunity also to resolve some internal contradictions in the school plan. The plan for the school library, for example, is not consistent with the description of the post of special-duties teacher.
The second part of the school plan deals with curricular areas. The plans for some curricular areas are specific, practical and user-friendly. Plans for some other areas are derived from generic templates and have not been adapted to local circumstances. Therefore, they do not represent accurately the school’s existing practice and do not support continuity and progression in the pupils’ learning. It is recommended that the curricular section of the school plan be revised with a view to consolidating and developing existing good practice.
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.
Each class teacher prepares a long-term programme of work for the pupils in his/her room as well as a more detailed fortnightly plan. The programmes of work are broad and balanced and generally reflect the structure and language of the Primary School Curriculum. There is effective planning for the use of common themes across several curricular areas. There is a need, in some cases, to devote further attention to adapting lesson objectives and content for pupils with special educational needs. All teachers keep monthly accounts of the work completed. It is recommended that all class timetables be in accordance with the Department’s suggested minimum weekly time framework (Primary School Curriculum: Introduction, page 70).
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
All of the teachers are to be commended for providing orderly, stimulating learning environments in their classrooms. There is extensive use of educational charts and displays that make it easier for pupils to understand and remember what is taught. Commendable attention is given to displays of the pupils’ work.
On the evidence of classroom observation, lessons are well-structured and implemented with sensitivity to the pupils’ learning needs. Teachers make effective use of resources, especially visual aids such as the whiteboard and charts. More frequent opportunities for pupils to work together in pairs or small groups would enhance the development of their communicative and collaborative skills.
Is léir go bhfuil an-suim ag múinteoirí na scoile seo sa Ghaeilge agus go bhfuil cumas maith acu go léir sa teanga. Baineann siad úsáid as raon de ghníomhaíochtaí agus d’áiseanna léirithe chun foclóir nua agus múnlaí teanga a chur i láthair na ndaltaí. Leagtar béim chuí ar chleachtadh agus bhuanú na foghlama. I gcuid de na ranganna baintear úsáid inmholta as obair bheirte sa cheacht Gaeilge. Is léir go mbíonn cúlstór mór focal ag go leor daltaí. Is léir freisin, áfach, nach bhfaigheann siad dóthain taithí ar úsáid na teanga i gcomhthéacsanna cumarsáideacha. Moltar do na múinteoirí béim níos mó a leagan ar chothú líofachta. Moltar don scoil féachaint chuige go mbainfidh na daltaí úsáid as an nGaeilge atá foghlamtha acu i gcomhthéacsanna cumarsáideacha i rith an cheachta Ghaeilge agus taobh amuigh den cheacht. Moltar don scoil, freisin, féachaint chuige go dtumfar na daltaí sa Ghaeilge le linn an cheachta agus go n-úsáidfear raon d’ábhair chlóbhuailte i ngach seomra ranga chun foghlaim agus úsáid na Gaeilge a éascú agus a dhaingniú.
It is evident that the teachers have a great interest and proficiency in the Irish language. They use a range of activities and resources to present new vocabulary and language structures to the pupils. There is appropriate emphasis on drills to reinforce learning. Commendable use is made of pair work in some classes during the Irish lesson. It is clear that the pupils recognise and understand a large range of phrases and words when they are spoken to. It is evident, however, that they do not get sufficient practice at speaking the language in communicative contexts. It is recommended that the teachers place a greater emphasis on the development of fluency. It is recommended that the school ensure that pupils use Irish in communicative contexts both during and outside of the Irish lesson. It is recommended also that pupils be immersed in the target language during the Irish lesson and that a range of printed material be used in all classrooms to make it easier for pupils to learn and use the Irish that has been taught.
The school makes particularly good provision for this aspect of the curriculum. There is an appropriate emphasis on the development of oral language in all classes. Discrete oral-language lessons are included in weekly timetables. The pupils demonstrate great confidence and competence in reciting and dramatising poems.
The school implements a broad reading programme. There is systematic development of phonological skills and word-recognition strategies, especially in the junior classes. There is effective use of illustrative materials to reinforce the pupils’ learning. In order to ensure continuity and progression in pupils’ learning, it is recommended that the teachers agree and implement a whole-school phonics programme and that this be described in the school plan.
The teachers cultivate the habit of reading for pleasure and for information among the pupils. The school library is an excellent resource for this purpose. Big books are used effectively in the junior classes to introduce the conventions of reading and to develop the pupils’ oral language. Pupils listen to audio-books and to serial reading of stories and novels by the teachers. Book reviews are completed regularly and pupils are generally well able to discuss the books they have read. The school organises visits from established authors of children’s books. The school operates a reading-buddies programme. This has benefits for all pupils in terms of social and personal development as well as attitudes and skills in the area of reading.
The school makes good provision for the development of the pupils’ writing skills. The quality of pupils’ written work throughout the school is high. There is a very systematic approach to the teaching of handwriting in the junior classes. As pupils move up through the school there are regular opportunities for them to develop skills in functional and creative writing. A range of genres is explored, including poetry and diary-keeping. Pupils in senior classes produce books for younger pupils as well as a school magazine.
It is recommended that the school plan for English be revised with a view to ensuring that it consolidates existing good practice.
Mathematics is generally taught in a practical way, with new concepts being linked effectively with the pupils’ personal experience. On the evidence of classroom observation and questioning of the pupils, the strands Number, Measures, and Shape and Space are implemented with particular success.
Mathematics lessons in all classrooms are well structured. There is scope, however, to give further attention to meeting the various levels of ability within the class groups. There is also a need, in some cases, for greater use of illustrative materials to reinforce concepts taught. Some pupils would benefit from further support with regard to the organisation and presentation of written work in Mathematics. It is recommended that the school plan for Mathematics be revised to include reference to Mathematics trails and the development of mathematical language.
Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) is the curricular area in which the scope for development is most obvious. The class programmes in History include a range of topics from local, national and international contexts. Teachers’ planning and recording suggest an over-reliance on the pupils’ textbooks for programme content. This is one of the curricular areas in which there is a need for a whole-school programme that makes use of the resources available in the locality.
The teachers implement a fairly broad programme in this curricular area. Pupils learn about a range of human and natural environments. Maps and globes are used to good effect. It is recommended that the school consider participating in the Green Schools project as a stimulus and support for work in the strand Environmental Awareness and Care.
The school has made some initial progress in implementing the Science curriculum. The class programmes include lessons from a range of strands. Nature tables and displays are used in each classroom to stimulate the pupils’ curiosity about the physical world. A section of the recreation area has been identified as a school garden.
The pupils do not respond to questioning in Science as confidently or competently as they do to questions in other curricular areas. Their understanding of concepts relating to Plants and Animals in particular indicates a need to devote further attention to this strand unit. It is recommended that the school provide regular opportunities for the pupils to explore and learn about the hedgerow and other habitats in the school grounds and local environment. In order to stimulate and support the development of Science in the school, it is recommended that the school consider becoming involved in one of the many science-related projects in which schools can participate. These include Green Schools (Galway County Council), Discover Primary Science (Forfás), K’nex Challenge (through the local Education Centre).
The class progammes in this curricular area are broad and varied. Pupils’ work is displayed attractively on corridors and in classrooms. There are regular opportunities for pupils to visit art exhibitions and workshops. Visiting artists also contribute to the development of the pupil’s skills and attitudes in this area. It is recommended that the school plan for the Visual Arts be revised, so that it reflects existing good practice and makes reference to the use of local resources.
The quality of the pupils’ playing of instruments and singing is of a very high standard. There is appropriate emphasis on vocal development and the pupils have an extensive repertoire of songs in both English and Irish. All pupils play the tin whistle and some learn other instruments also. A visiting teacher assists with the teaching of melodic instruments. This is funded by the Board of Management. The pupils perform a carol service and a Christmas concert on alternate years.
Implementation of this area of the Primary School Curriculum has commenced and the teachers have just received the relevant in-service training. Drama is used to enhance lessons in various curricular areas, most notably English and Gaeilge. Dramatic performances by pupils for the community are a feature of the school calendar.
Although the school does not have any indoor facility for Physical Education (PE), the class programmes for this area are broad and balanced. Parents assist with aspects of the games programme. The school’s extra-curricular programme includes Gaelic football and soccer for both boys and girls. It is recommended that the school plan for PE be revised with a view to documenting and consolidating existing good practice.
The practice of holding regular whole-school assemblies has reinforced the sense of community that exists among pupils and teachers. A caring ethos is evident in the day-to-day life of the school. Parents’ representatives speak highly of the school’s attention to the pupils’ social and personal development. It is recommended that the school plan for Social, Personal and Health Education be revised to ensure a sustainable, whole-school approach to this area.
A range of assessment approaches is used by the class teachers to monitor the progress of individual pupils. Standardised attainment tests are administered annually in English and Mathematics. Further diagnostic tests are also administered to pupils in receipt of learning support.
The school has recently become the base-school for a learning-support post that is shared with another local school. A useful whole-school policy document has been developed for this area. There is a need now to put structures and systems in place to ensure that the school derives maximum benefit from the post. It is recommended, in particular, that there be regular scheduled meetings between the learning-support teacher and each class teacher to set learning targets and review progress.
The learning programmes prepared for individual pupils are comprehensive and well structured. The learning-support teacher’s long-term plans, short-term plans and progress records are presented in a clear user-friendly way. There is excellent provision and use of resources in the learning-support room. The teacher is to be commended, in particular, on the supply of real books that is available in the pupils’ library. The teaching is purposeful and engaging. The school operates the Forward Together programme. This involves close collaboration between school and parents in support of pupils who have been identified as requiring early intervention through the Middle Infants Screening Test.
The school is not designated disadvantaged. However, most of the pupils progress to a post-primary school with this designation. Funding is therefore available from the CLÁR (Ceantair Laga Ard-Riachtanais) programme to provide assistance with homework for some pupils.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made.
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.