An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballycar National School
Uimhir rolla: 18526O
Date of inspection: 12 March 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Ballycar 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 Drama. The board of management of the school 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.
Ballycar National School is a three- teacher, Catholic, co-educational primary school situated in the south east of County Clare. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Killaloe. Its catchment area includes Ballycar, Rathlaheen, Rathlaheen South, Fenloe, Maus Quin, Muckanagh and Newmarket-On-Fergus. The school is currently being renovated and extended. This extensive work is due to be completed by the end of this academic year.
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 assistants
The school’s stated mission is to promote the full and harmonious development of all aspects of the pupil. In fulfilment of this mission, pupils are affirmed regularly in the course of their work. In addition, there is a commitment to the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum, as well as to the health and safety of pupils. The school aspires to and successfully generates a sense of trust, respect, concern and welcome. This is most clearly manifested through the emphasis placed on the inclusion of all pupils.
At the time of the evaluation, the board of management was not properly constituted. It is acknowledged that the board is addressing this issue as a priority. In accordance with the Department of Education and Science’s Constitution of Boards and Rules of Procedure, the process of appointing two co-opted community representatives is now underway.
Board meetings are held regularly and minutes are maintained. A synopsis of key decisions is distributed to all families after the meetings. Recent meetings have been dominated by matters relating to the building works. Board members are to be highly commended for their considerable dedication to this project. Other items of concern to the board include the formulation and review of policies, fundraising, car parking and safety issues. Specific duties have been assigned to members and some have availed of training for these roles. The board is very supportive of the work of the principal and the school staff.
The school finances are managed effectively and certified annually. In accordance with Section 18(2) of the Education Act 1998, an account of total income and expenditure should be prepared at the end of the school year and made available to parents. Consideration should be given to the publication of an annual report on the overall running of the school.
Board members plan to adopt a more strategic approach to school development once the building work has been completed.
The principal, who has been in this position for over three years, undertakes his work in a commendable manner. He has a clear vision of how the school will be developed both in the near future and in the long term. Good judgement is exercised in identifying and prioritising the needs of the school. These needs are dealt with in a measured, considered manner.
The principal fulfils his administrative role well. School policies and documentation are organised and well developed. His effective management of the building project has resulted in the minimum of disruption to the life of the school.
As curriculum leader, the principal is committed to overseeing effective development in all aspects of the curriculum. The relevant support services have been accessed in relation to planning issues and work on aspects of in-school planning is being undertaken. There is scope for the principal to allocate more time to overseeing teaching and learning at all class levels, to develop consistency in teachers’ planning, and to initiate opportunities for reflection and review in aspects of the curriculum. The Looking at Our School document should be consulted and used as a reference point to achieve this.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, the deputy principal and a special duties post holder. At the time of the evaluation, the deputy principal was on leave. For the duration of this leave, her teaching duties were undertaken by a substitute teacher at the infant class level, and her management duties were assumed by a permanent teacher. All members of the team undertake a balanced range of duties in accordance with Circular 07/03. There is scope for the extension of these roles to ensure that, in support of the work of the principal, the deputy principal and post-holder assist in overseeing implementation of school plans at all class levels. Initiating developments in curricular areas should also be included as an aspect of these posts.
Since his appointment, the principal has committed himself to the enhancement of communication with and between all parties. The distribution of regular newsletters to parents is helpful in this regard. The school website is well laid out and very informative. Inter-staff relations and relations between the staff and board members respectively are good. Frequent, open communication underpins these relations.
The school has an active parents’ association. The association is to be commended for the good support it has given in areas of policy development, fundraising and aspects of the building project. Efforts by all parties to encourage maximum parental participation in the association should be continued. The link to the parents’ association section of the school website should be activated.
There is scope for development of more formal and frequent communication between the board of management and the parents’ association. Holding joint meetings would be beneficial. Opportunities for whole-school gatherings should also be considered. The increased space which will soon be available will facilitate this.
Annual parent-teacher meetings are held and annual reports are issued. In addition, teachers communicate with parents where specific needs or issues arise. It is recommended that at the parent-teacher meeting, more comprehensive feedback on pupils’ progress in all areas of the curriculum should be given. In-school talks on aspects of education provision as well as increased opportunities to attend in-school events and activities would also be valuable. This will help to enhance the role of parents in pupils’ education.
Over the course of the evaluation, the pupils engaged well with the evaluation team. They offered opinions and made contributions with confidence. In most classes, pupils are very attentive and well behaved. Pupils take pride in their work and in their achievements. They co-operate willingly with their teachers during all class activities. It is now advised that the board of management take steps to ensure that all teachers, particularly newly qualified and substitute teachers, are made aware of classroom management strategies and procedures which are used throughout the school. In the context of the staffing arrangements in place at the time of the evaluation, more efforts are required at infant level to ensure that pupils become accustomed to classroom routines and practices. Classroom management systems should be revised to ensure that this is made possible.
The school plan outlines comprehensive policies on organisational and administrative matters and in all areas of the curriculum. The collaborative approach taken to planning is commendable. In general, these policies form a helpful guide to individual teachers’ planning. The focus for the future should be on the consistent implementation of all policies in all classes. The leadership of the principal and the in-school management team will help to achieve this.
All teachers prepare long-term and short-term plans in accordance with Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools. However, the approach to this varies throughout the school. From now on, it is recommended that all teachers’ plans be based on the school plan and on the content objectives of the curriculum. Identification of specific outcomes and teaching methodologies would also be helpful. This commendable practice is already in evidence at some class levels. Extension of this practice throughout the school is recommended. Monthly progress records, in the form of Cuntais Mhíosúla, are maintained.
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 caighdeán maith ag baint le múineadh na Gaeilge sa scoil seo, i gcoitinne.
I ranganna áirithe, tugtar deiseanna do dhaltaí páirt a ghlacadh i gcluichí teanga, in agallaimh bheirte agus i ndrámaí atá bunaithe ar théamaí atá oiriúnach d’aois agus do thaithí na ndaltaí. Baineann na daltaí taitneamh as na gníomhaíochtaí seo. Moltar anois ar bhonn uile-scoile, an t-ionchur teanga a chéimniú ar bhealach níos éifeachtaí agus níos mó deiseanna a chothú do na daltaí chun fíorchumarsáid a dhéanamh. Moltar go gcuirfí béim chuí ar na tréimhsí cumarsáide sna ceachtanna. B’fhiú freisin a thuilleadh béime a leagadh ar chasadh na mbriathra.
Sa mhór chuid, bíonn teagasc na léitheoireachta go maith agus léann na páistí le tuiscint. Ba thairbheach anois, réimshse níos leithne d’ábhar léithoireachta a bheith in úsáid. I gcuid de na ranganna, b’fhiú tuilleadh iarrachtaí a dhéanamh chun prionta i nGaeilge agus saothar scríofa na ndaltaí a chur ar taispeáint.
Is sásúil é an t-aire a thugtar do mhúineadh na filíochta ar fud na scoile. Sna ranganna naíonáin, aithrisíonn na daltaí stόr rainn agus canann siad amhráin le brí.
Tá béim mhaith ar scríbhneoireacht fheidhmiúil agus tá caighdeán maith le sonrú i gcóipleabhair agus i leabhair saothair na ndaltaí. Moltar níos mó béime fós a leagadh ar an scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach as seo amach.
In general, the standard of the teaching of Irish in this school is good.
In some classes, pupils are given opportunities to take part in language games, paired dialogues and dramas that are based on themes that are suitable for the pupils’ age and experiences. The pupils enjoy these activities. It is recommended that a whole-school approach to the more effective development of language be formulated and that more opportunities be developed for pupils to communicate in a real sense. It is recommended that appropriate emphasis be placed on the communicative stages in the lesson. Placing additional emphasis on recitation of verbs would also be worthwhile.
For the most part, the teaching of reading is good and pupils read with understanding. Use of a wider range of reading materials would now be worthwhile. In some classes, greater efforts should be made to display print in Irish as well as samples of pupils’ written work.
The teaching of poetry throughout the school is satisfactory. In junior classes, the pupils recite a range of rhymes and they sing songs with expression.
There is a good emphasis on functional writing and a good standard is in evidence in copy books and work books. It is recommended that from now on, more emphasis be placed on creative writing.
The teaching of English throughout the school is generally good. In some classes, oral language is well taught. Throughout the school, there is scope for greater engagement with the principal contexts of oral language as outlined in the curriculum. A greater emphasis on working in small groups and in pairs is recommended in order to allow pupils sufficient opportunities to converse and engage with topics. Teachers should ensure that oral language lessons are well differentiated and sufficiently challenging. The use of the Drumcondra Language Profiles in the area of oral language is recommended.
At a whole-school level, the commitment to encouraging pupils to read is laudable. Participation in in-school book-related events has the dual effect of improving reading standards and fostering an appreciation of literacy. Pupils take pride in keeping records of the wide variety of books which they read independently. A shared-reading programme is in place at each class level. Phonological awareness skills are developed systematically. While class libraries are reasonably well stocked, at some levels pupils should have more access to a broader range of texts. Throughout the school, poetry receives good emphasis and pupils participate with success in local poetry-writing competitions. In some classes, a good effort has been made to develop a relevant print-rich environment in both reading and writing.
Overall, standards in writing are good. There is suitable emphasis on functional and creative writing, as well as on writing across the curriculum. In junior and middle classes, pupils write poetry and simple books independently and the teachers scaffold this process well. An increased emphasis on the development of hand-writing skills in junior and middle classes will result in improved standards in presentation. There is good use of ICT as part of the writing process. In senior classes, there is very good emphasis on project work which is engaged in individually and collaboratively. This work is attractively displayed.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is good throughout the school.
The pupils’ understanding of place value and number operations is at a high level in the middle and senior classes. Pupils have developed good problem-solving skills by the time they have completed sixth class. A mathematics-rich environment is provided in some instances and the recent acquisition of mathematical resources will help to extend the aids available to pupils as a support to their learning. Number-lines and place-value mats would be a significant help in the middle classes. The teachers generally manage the mixed class settings effectively and the pupils are making progress in this area of the curriculum at a level which is consistent with their stage of development. They answer oral questions with confidence and enjoyment and in a manner which demonstrates that they have a positive attitude to this area of their learning. Copybooks are corrected consistently and work is affirmed positively throughout the school. Most pupils’ performance in standardised tests of mathematical ability is generally good, especially so in the senior classes.
The teaching of Drama throughout the school is generally good. At all class levels, the quality of the dramatic activity observed was good. Participation and co-operation by all pupils is encouraged and facilitated. In junior classes, lessons are greatly enhanced by the teacher’s engagement in lessons. In senior classes, good opportunities have been given for pupils to write and perform from their own scripts. These pupils demonstrate a good ability to discuss the elements of Drama.
Throughout the school, there is scope for more systematic development of Drama in line with the content objectives of the curriculum. Placing increased emphasis on the strand unit Reflecting on drama will help to develop cognitive skills and will greatly enhance pupils’ ability to extrapolate meaning from the drama.
The school policy on assessment is clear and outlines the frequency of assessment and the good range of assessment modes that will be used. In mainstream classes, informal teacher observation, weekly tables and spellings tests, and end of term tests are carried out. There is scope for more formative assessment in some classes as well as the increased use of checklists at infant level.
Standardised tests including the Micra-T and Sigma-T tests are administered each year. The results of these tests show that pupils’ standards in literacy and numeracy are good. At infant level, the Middle Infants Screening Test (MIST) is administered and the results help to identify children who require supplementary support in junior classes. Subsequently, the Forward Together Programme, which has been adapted by the learning support teacher, is used in the infant classes in the third term. The Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) is administered twice in the course of pupils’ time in the school. This is good practice.
A good range of diagnostic tests is used in order to clarify the nature of specific difficulties being experienced by pupils. Overall, there is good use of assessment results to inform learning.
Learning support and supplementary teaching for pupils with low-incidence learning disabilities is provided by a full-time learning support and resource teacher (LSRT). A policy has been agreed and documented which clearly outlines the school’s approach to providing a continuum of support for these pupils. The roles and responsibilities of parents, pupils, school personnel and external agencies have also been clearly delineated. Learning support provision is appropriately targeted at the prevention of learning difficulties in literacy and at early intervention where difficulties occur. Small groups of pupils with persistent reading difficulties are withdrawn from mainstream classes for intensive support. This provision embraces appropriate methodologies and specialised learning strategies. Diagnostic testing is provided to identify the precise nature of the difficulties and Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs) are developed to guide the remediation strategies. Full classes of pupils are also withdrawn for lessons in reading and Mathematics. Consideration should be given to the extended use of team-teaching or in-class support. Consideration should also be given to providing support to pupils experiencing learning difficulties in Mathematics.
Intensive support is also provided to three pupils with low-incidence learning disabilities. In one instance, care support is required from a special needs assistant (SNA). Overall, inclusion is seen as a team effort and all school personnel are to be commended in this regard. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) have been drawn up for each pupil and realistic targets have been set. These are consistent with the learning strengths and weaknesses identified in the pupils’ psychological profiles. Parents and the relevant class teacher are consulted during the process of preparation and review. As a means of developing the school’s continuum of support further, consideration could usefully be given to reducing the length of instruction time within each IEP in order to allow for more regular review of pupils’ progress.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The principal is diligent and displays commitment to his work.
· The teaching staff contributes well to the work of the school.
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, October 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management is please to note the overall positive feedback both in the meetings with the inspectors and in their report.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
School development is always a work in progress and the Board intends to pay careful attention to the report and recommendations of the inspectors in its future work. In particular the following areas: