An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil Naomh Iosaf,
Rathkeale, Co. Limerick
Roll number: 18653V
Date of inspection: 30 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Naomh Iosaf, Rathkeale, Co. Limerick. 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 inspectors 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 inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors 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.
Scoil Naomh Iosaf, Rathkeale, Co. Limerick is a nine-teacher, single-sex school, under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Limerick, which caters for boys from second to sixth classes. The school is located in the town of Rathkeale, approximately nineteen miles from Limerick city.
The motto of Scoil Naomh Iosaf is ‘Mol an Óige’ and the school’s ethos is detailed in its vision statement. This outlines that the school community of Scoil Naomh Iosaf endeavours to prepare the pupils to be ‘happy, self-disciplined and tolerant young people, who have been well-educated in a sharing and caring environment, with a proper sense of self-worth and who, with a respectful, responsible and curious disposition, are socially and academically well-equipped to fulfil their future aspirations in life.’
There was a total of 120 pupils enrolled in Scoil Naomh Iosaf on 30 September 2006. Projected enrolment figures indicate that there will be an enrolment of 112 pupils in the school in September 2008. However, between November and April of each school year, very high numbers of nomadic Travellers return to the school. As a consequence, this school faces a particular challenge in the management and provision of an age-appropriate education to a very high number of nomadic Traveller children, who have been absent from school for a significant period of the schoolyear. During the course of the evaluation, it was evident that the majority of these pupils have considerable needs in terms of literacy and numeracy.
The challenges in managing and planning for nomadic provision are very acute for the teaching staff in this school. In responding to this challenge, it is now envisaged that the school, as part of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative, will be in a position to examine new strategies to deal with attendance and attainment issues among the large cohort of Traveller pupils in Scoil Naomh Iosaf, Rathkeale.
It is further recommended that the school continue to avail of the continued support of the Visiting Teacher for Travellers (VTT) service, the Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) service, National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) in seeking solutions to address the attendance and attainment issues among all Traveller children.
The board of management (BOM) is properly constituted; it convenes on a regular basis and as the need arises. Minutes of meetings are recorded and maintained, while specific roles and tasks have been assigned to some board members. A report on the school’s financial status is presented at each meeting. It is also reported that all board members work together in a collaborative manner and that they have been afforded the opportunity of attending appropriate training seminars. The chairperson of the board is a frequent visitor to the school and regular communication has been established among the chairperson, principal and school staff. The principal also attends meeting of the local education committee and is, at present, involved in the provision of a playground for the community and the introduction of an after-school homework club. These features of good practice are commended. While the BOM endeavours to comply with statutory obligations, it is now recommended that a review of the school’s Enrolment Policy is undertaken as a matter of urgency, so that statutory obligations pertaining to the Education Act (1998) and the Equal Status Act (2000) are fulfilled.
The board perceives its role as engaging in a wide variety of school-related matters. Common matters for discussion during meetings of the BOM include the provision of resources, concerns in relation to the transient nature of pupils and matters regarding enrolment procedures and the school’s Enrolment Policy. The board has formulated a maintenance plan and it also employs the services of a part time caretaker.
The board reported that its immediate priorities relate to the welfare of the pupils from the settled and Traveller communities, the continuation of the school’s integration policy, the retention of the teaching staff, the possibility of future amalgamation and the securing of a spacious, green field site to accommodate a new school building. It is further reported that the timely allocation of teaching resources from the Department of Education and Science (DES) and the resultant deployment of teaching staff, the lack of appropriate recreational facilities and sports amenities, issues regarding transparency and the promotion of a positive school image to ensure the static and consistent enrolment of pupils from the settled community, are also perceived as matters of current priority. It is now recommended that the board formulates a long-term strategic development plan.
The BOM reported the strengths of school as the favourable staffing levels, the provision for pupils with special needs, the supportive management structures that have been established in the school and the current provision of resources. The board also acknowledged its appreciation of the work of the deputy principal in his current role of temporarily assuming the duties of the administrative principal.
The board expressed its satisfaction with the manner in which the curriculum is taught and the achievement level of pupils. According to BOM members, feedback received from second level schools indicates that the pupils progress well on transition to post-primary education. Reference was made to the school’s involvement in sports activities and also to the manner in which community support in the work of the school is encouraged. The board reported that teachers encourage and support pupil participation in extra-curricular activities. The board also stated, however, that it would like to see an improvement in the school’s attendance levels and that it is not in total agreement with the issue of age-appropriate education.
The board plays a collaborative role in the formulation of school planning policies, through discussion and ratification of documentation. The board reports that policies are communicated to the parent association (PA) representatives and are also disseminated to the general parent body, as appropriate. It is now important to ensure, however, that all organisational and curricular school planning policies are signed and dated by the chairperson of the board of management. Consideration should also be given to developing a policy on Staff Rotation, which would provide opportunities for all teachers to teach at different class levels throughout the school.
During the inspection process, it became apparent that a Mass Servers’ Policy is being implemented and that some pupils are engaged in non-curricular activities off the school premises on a regular basis during school time. Pupils are not under the direct supervision of a teacher during this time. It should also be noted that, during these periods of absence, these pupils are denied access to teaching and learning activities. As a result, curriculum related classroom activities are also restricted. During the post evaluation meeting, these activities were brought to the attention of the board of management and a recommendation was made that the practice in relation to the school’s Mass Servers’ Policy be reviewed as a matter of urgency.
The board reported that it encourages involvement of parents through the school’s homework club, the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and homework diaries from school, meetings, occasional newsletters and also through the services of the home/school/community (HSCL) teacher. The BOM also stated, however, that encouraging the involvement of parents from the Travelling community is difficult. It was reported that past efforts in this regard included the convening of meetings exclusively for the parents of Traveller pupils and encouragement of their attendance at the annual general meeting of the school’s PA.
The in-school management team in this school
comprises the acting administrative principal and four special duties post-holders. During the course of the evaluation, it was apparent that the acting principal is effective in creating a favourable school climate and promoting positive behaviour among the pupils. He also succeeds in fostering a team spirit, co-operative atmosphere and collaborative ethos among the staff. The acting principal currently manages administrative tasks and is responsible for the daily operation and day to day running of the school. He is supported by the in-school management team, who also assist in the operational aspects of the school.
It is reported that the primary responsibilities incorporated in special duties posts include the organisation of school tours, involvement in the school’s Health and Safety Committee, responsibility for monitoring Social Personal and Health Education in the school, organisation of inputs from visitors to school, the issuing of communications regarding school activities, collaboration with the HSCL teacher and responsibility for the provision of staff room requirements. Other duties undertaken by the school’s special duties post-holders include supervision responsibilities, monitoring the school’s Healthy Eating policy, the provision and purchase of curricular, classroom and library resources, organisation of the school Book Fair, advising on the maintenance of the school environs and responsibility for the monitoring, maintaining and installation of the school’s ICT equipment.
Informal communication systems exist between post-holders and school staff. Staff meetings are convened on a termly basis and as necessary. While other members of the teaching staff have been assigned responsibility for monitoring curricular areas, it is now recommended that specific co-ordinators be nominated to continue to review, implement and develop identified areas which pertain to the whole-school planning process, so that the systematic implementation of curricular areas throughout the school is ensured. It is also important that a review of special duties posts is undertaken, to ensure that all special duties posts include curricular, organisational and pastoral elements, in accordance with the DES Circular 07/03.
The school currently has a staff of an acting administrative principal and four mainstream class teachers. The school also has the services of a learning support teacher, a resource teacher for pupils with special educational needs and two resource teachers to cater for pupils from the Travelling community. The HSCL co-ordinator, who is shared with this school, is based in St. Anne’s Girls’ National School.
The board of management employs a part-time secretary and a part-time caretaker, while five special needs assistants also provide support for pupils in the school.
Extra- and co-curricular provision is made through the services of external coaches, who provide instruction in Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) activities for all pupils. It is advised that consideration now be given to the sharing of teacher expertise in the curricular areas of Music, Visual Arts and Drama, to further enhance the provision of these aspects of the curriculum within the school. It is documented that grants issued by the DES to the school have been expended in the purchase of ICT resources, Arts room materials, curricular resources for the school’s library/reading room and other educational equipment, as identified by the teaching staff.
There are three permanent mainstream classrooms within the school building, which was constructed in 1962 and which was later extended on two separate occasions, in 1967 and 2001. Five temporary classrooms are also provided in the building, which accommodates one mainstream classroom, the support teaching areas and the school library. There is currently no general purposes area in the school. The staff room, which is also used to accommodate the computer room, is incorporated within one prefabricated building. A principal’s/secretary’s office, toilet facilities, cloakrooms and indoor storage areas also constitute the accommodation of this school. Very good standards of cleanliness and order are in evidence in the school building, while the exterior facilities are also very well-maintained. The school has the use of an outdoor shelter, grassed and hard-surfaced areas during recreational periods and these amenities are also used during activities in Physical Education.
Learning environments in mainstream classrooms and support areas are well-maintained. The practice of providing organised, attractive and stimulating print-rich environments is commended. It is now advised, however, that the provision of new classroom furniture to replace existing dual desks in mainstream classroom settings be considered.
A copy of the school’s Home/School/Community Yearly Plan 2006-2007 is included in school planning documentation. During the pre-evaluation meeting with the officers of the parents’ association (PA), it was stated that the PA in this school is affiliated with the National Parents’ Council (NPC), meetings of the PA are convened approximately twice per term and an Annual General Meeting (AGM) is convened each year.
It was also reported that one meeting per term is organised with the school principal and that PA members feel welcome, at all times, to approach him. There are, at present, approximately twenty-five committee members on the PA. It was stated that communication with the broader parent body is facilitated through the AGM and through the dissemination of information notes. It was further reported that the HSCL teacher and the VTTs communicate with parents from the Travelling community. The parents’ representatives stated, however, that despite past efforts to encourage involvement from parents of the Travelling community, there are no parents’ representatives or members from the Travelling community on the school’s PA.
At present, it is evident that Traveller parents rarely attend formal meetings, homework is being completed by a minority of Traveller pupils and few Traveller parents have so far indicated an interest in sending their children to any post-primary school setting. Very specific and targeted supports are now required in order to engage with a greater number of parents from the Travelling community.
It was also reported during the pre-evaluation meeting with PA representatives, that frequently-discussed matters at meetings include the management of school personnel and resources when pupils from the Travelling community return to the school, ensuring that children are properly educated and that all pupils are afforded the time and the availability/provision of resources to which they are entitled. Other commonly-raised issues include concerns relating to absenteeism, ensuring that disruption is kept to a minimum and matters relating to school fundraising.
The PA representatives stated that they have availed of training sessions in the past. They also reported that, on occasion, they have attended presentations, events and inputs from speakers, which have been locally organised. It was reported that parents support the work of the school through their attendance at matches, organisation of swimming activities and many extra-curricular events in ICT, Drama and swimming.
It was stated that parents receive drafts of school planning documentation, as appropriate. It was also reported that the PA committee discusses these policies and makes amendments, if required, and that these suggestions and amendments are taken into account, for the most part. Consultation has also taken place regarding the Code of Behaviour, Enrolment Policy and Homework Policy.
The parents’ representatives reported that they were very satisfied with the education provided in the school. Concerns regarding the provision of resources, the needs of transient pupils, the staffing levels at the end of each school year and special educational needs (SEN) provision were also discussed during the pre-evaluation meeting.
The parents’ representatives stated that good communication and consultation structures ensure that parental concerns are addressed. It was also reported that parents feel free to approach the school principal or class teachers at all times. The involvement of parents is facilitated through the school’s system of communication and also through their input in policy formation. It was reported that parents are involved in extra-curricular activities and are also consulted in relation to the formulation of pupils’ Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Parent-teacher meetings are convened on a twice-yearly basis, in November and June, while end-of-year progress records are also sent home.
Other matters raised for discussion during the pre-evaluation meeting with representatives of the PA included the issue of composite class groupings and multi-grade classes in the school. Parents’ representatives stated that one teacher per class level would be desirable, due to variations in pupils’ achievement levels and due to the uniqueness of this school. A query was raised regarding permission to appoint a replacement for the HSCL teacher, prior to the existing HSCL teacher’s retirement this school year. Allocation and transfer of SEN resources were also further discussed.
During the current school year, pupils have been allocated to mainstream classes in three combined class groupings of second/third, third/fourth and fourth/fifth classes. There is also one single class grouping of sixth class pupils. The vision statement of the school is reflected in the classroom atmosphere. This school ethos is also evidenced through the positive interactions and management of pupil activity and behaviour, which was observed in mainstream and support classroom settings during the course of this evaluation.
It is evident that collaboration between staff and board of management has taken place in the formulation of school planning documentation and this practice is commended. Comprehensive policies on organisational and administrative matters and also on curricular areas are included in school planning documentation. It is advised that consideration be given to ensuring that all school planning documentation be ratified by the board of management and that a date for review be identified in school planning policies.
A range of general school policies is presented on organisational matters including Enrolment, Child Abuse Prevention/Child Protection, Substance Use/Drug Policy, Code of Behaviour, Communication in School Policy, Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Policy, Policy on School Tours, Healthy Eating, Homework Policy and Administration of Medicine. The level of work and effort involved in formulating a dedicated file on enrolment procedures and pupil information by members of the school staff is commended. Other policies which are presented in school planning documentation include the school’s Learning Support and Resource Teaching Policy, Policy on the Educational Attainment of Traveller Pupils, Inclusiveness Policy for All Pupils, ICT Policy, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Policy and the Home/School/Community Yearly Plan 2006-2007. It is now advised that a policy on Assessment be formulated as a matter of priority.
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.
Curricular policy documentation is included on Gaeilge, English, Mathematics, Visual Arts, Science, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), RSE and Physical Education. It is now recommended that curricular policies in relation to History, Geography, Music and Drama be formulated, as a matter of priority.
The practice of assigning responsibility to members of the teaching staff for a variety of curricular areas is commended. Consideration should now be given to extending this good feature of practice in order to ensure the overall co-ordination, implementation and review of all curricular policies. It is now recommended, therefore, that consideration be given to nominating curriculum co-ordinators from the school’s middle management team, who would advise on and ensure the systematic progression of curricular areas throughout the school. It is also advised that a school self-evaluation process be undertaken to monitor implementation of the curriculum throughout the school.
In order to provide a systematic overview of curricular planning and ensure progression in all areas of the curriculum, it is recommended that, in relation to the development and review of curricular policies, consideration be given to outlining the learning objectives, expected learning outcomes and content to be taught pertaining to each class level. The existing curricular plans could be incorporated into revised plans, which should include reference to explicit aims, methodologies, resources, content and assessment. Consideration should also be given to the creation of an overall strategic/action plan, where areas relating to the formulation, development and timescales for the regular review of policies in identified areas could be documented.
Very thorough, structured and clear individual teacher planning is presented in accordance with Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools. There is evidence of very comprehensive preparation through the formulation of yearly and fortnightly schemes and these are supported by the very productive use of ICT and teacher-designed templates, in some classes. Consideration might now be given to the adoption of a common approach to short-term and long-term planning throughout all class levels, so that continuity and progression throughout the school is ensured. The sharing of existing good practice among teaching staff in this regard is recommended. It is further recommended that consideration be given to the creation of a common school-devised template, pertaining to monthly progress records, which might include a balance between content objectives and the pupils’ learning outcomes. There is evidence of linkage between long-term, short-term planning and the principles and structure of Primary School Curriculum (1999). It is also important to ensure, however, that there is a shared understanding and clarity regarding individual pupil learning outcomes at pupil, class and whole school level and that these pupil outcomes are explicitly linked to the Primary School Curriculum (1999).
4.1 Overview of teaching and learning
In all classes where teaching and learning activities were observed, there was evidence of clear, effective pacing and structured development of lessons. It is evident that pupils are encouraged to work independently, pupil tasks and activities are very effectively managed and that good behaviour management skills are addressed. Very productive use is made of ICT resources during the presentation of lessons. In all teaching and learning settings, a favourable work atmosphere is fostered and attractive and well-organised, print-rich learning environments are created. Cross-curricular integration was observed during activities, while good practice and procedures were in evidence in relation to the assessment of pupil learning in some settings. The development and use of the pupils’ environment should now be further explored.
There is an appropriate balance between teacher-directed and participative methodologies and teaching approaches, however, it is important to ensure that a variety of strategies continue to be developed and implemented. It should also be ensured that pupil effort continues to be celebrated through the display of pupil work samples in a variety of curricular areas. The inclusion and integration of all pupils is promoted during teaching and learning activities. It is now recommended, however, that methodologies be developed to ensure that appropriate differentiation of learning programmes is undertaken in all mainstream classes. It is recommended that a greater variety of methodologies, including group teaching approaches, activity-based learning and differentiated activities be further incorporated into programmes of teaching and learning. A review of strategies should also be undertaken at whole school level to address the challenges that exist in relation to Traveller pupil attainment.
Consideration should now be given to the sharing of teacher expertise, as appropriate and also to introducing the practice of collaborative/team teaching between mainstream and support teaching staff. This integrated model of provision should now be considered in relation to the implementation of specific curricular areas, as identified by pupil need, so that effective use is made of in-class intervention strategies.
Soláthraítear polasaí na Gaeilge sa cháipéisíocht phleanála uile-scoile agus i gcoitinne, feictear go ndéanann pleanáil na n-oidí aonair tagairt do struchtúir Churaclam na Bunscoile (1999).
Freastlaítear go héifeachtach, i bhformhór na ranganna, ar chumas agus ar scileanna cumarsáide na bpáistí a fhorbairt le linn na geachtanna. Is léir go ndéantar iarrachtaí fiúntacha atmaisféar fabhrach don Ghaeilge a chothú sna rangsheomraí agus go n-úsáidtear an Ghaeilge mar theanga teagaisc, mar mhionchaint an ranga agus mar mhéan cumarsáide i rith ceachtanna áirithe tríd an scoil. Tá caighdeán oiriúnach sroichte ag daltaí tríd an scoil i snáitheanna an churaclaim. Le linn na measúnaithe seo, chonacthas go raibh foclóir leathan i seilbh na ndaltaí a fhoghlaimíonn an Ghaeilge. Feictear go bhfuil cumas maith tuisceana,agus labhartha i gcoitinne i gcás na ndaltaí ón bpobal lonnaithe.
Tugtar faoi deara chomh maith, áfach, go bhfuil roinnt mhaith dalta le díolúine ón nGaeilge ag leibhéal na n-ardranganna. Ba chóir a chinntiú, mar sin, go bhfoghlaimíonn gach dalta cnuasach leathan rann, amhranaíochta agus filíochta Ghaeilge sna ranganna tríd an scoil. Is fiú machnamh a dhéanamh anois ar bhéim níos treise a chur ar Éisteacht mar shnáith den churaclam agus ar ghníomhaíochtaí scéalaíochta a chur os comhair na ndaltaí go minic.
Cuirtear ceachtanna i láthair trí fheidhm thorthúil a bhaint as ábhair chorpartha, acmhainní léirithe, an clár bán, luaschártaí agus áiseanna teicneolaíocht an eolais agus na cumarsáide (TEC) i ranganna áirithe. Déantar daingniú rialta ar nathanna agus ar bhunstruchtúir le linn na gceachtanna. Baintear leas as modheolaíochtaí taitneamhacha, éifeachtacha i bhfoirm rannaireachta, gníomhaíochtaí ról-ghlacaidh, grúp-obair, obair i bpéirí agus ceistiúchán. Is fiú anois féachaint le modheolaíochtaí éagsúla a chleachtadh i ngach rang tríd an scoil.
Cuirtear tús leis an léitheoireacht trí fheidhm a bhaint as scéim léitheoireachta. Tá prionta le feiceáil go forleathan sa timpeallacht freisin i ranganna áirithe agus aithnítear an dea-chleachtas seo. Le linn na cigireachta, chualathas roinnt dalta ag léamh agus is léir go léann na daltaí seo go cuí, le tuiscint agus le líofacht i gcoitinne.
Cláraíonn na daltaí an saothar scríofa go slachtmhar agus deántar monatóireachta rialta ar an obair. Feictear fianaise den dea-obair sna cóipleabhair ach is fiú a chinntiú anois go ndéantar forbairt agus freastal ar éagsúlacht téacsanna scríbhneoireachta a chur i láthair na ndaltaí go minic.Ba chóir, anois, feidhm a bhaint as TEC agus féachaint le háiseanna an ríomhaire a úsáid níos forleithne, chun cineálacha éagsúla scríbhneoireachta a fhorbairt sa Ghaeilge agus chun próiseas scríbhneoireachta a chur chun cinn tríd an scoil.
A curricular policy pertaining to Irish is presented in whole school planning documentation and in general, it is evident that individual teacher planning makes reference to the structures of the Primary School Curriculum (1999).
In the majority of classes, due attention is paid to developing pupils’ communicative competence and skills during lessons. It is evident that worthwhile efforts are being made to foster a positive atmosphere towards the Irish language and that efforts are also being made to utilise Irish during incidental discussions, as the medium of instruction and as the language of communication in certain lessons throughout the school. A suitable standard has been reached by pupils in the school in the strands of the curriculum. During this evaluation, it was observed that a wide vocabulary has been acquired by the pupils who learn Irish. It is evident that, in general, pupils from the settled community have attained a good level of achievement in relation to comprehension and oral skills.
It was observed also, however, that there is a significant number of pupils at senior class level who are exempt from learning Irish. It should be ensured, therefore, that all pupils learn a wide anthology of Irish rhymes, songs and poems in all classes throughout the school. Consideration should now be given to ensuring that greater emphasis is placed on developing the Listening (Éisteacht) strand of the curriculum and to ensure that pupils are presented with storytelling activities on a frequent basis.
Lessons are presented through the productive use of concrete resources, illustrative materials, the white board, flashcards and ICT resources in certain classes. Regular consolidation and reinforcement of phraseology and grammatical structures is undertaken during lessons. Enjoyable and effective teaching methodologies are implemented through utilising rhyming activities, role-play experiences, group work, pair work and appropriate questioning. Consideration should now be given to practising a variety of teaching approaches in all classes throughout the school.
An introduction to reading is addressed through the use of a reading scheme. Print-rich environments are provided in some classrooms and this feature of good practice is commended. During the course of the inspection process, some pupils were requested to read aloud and it is apparent that these pupils read appropriately, with comprehension and fluency, in general.
Pupils present written exercises neatly and regular monitoring of this work is undertaken. There is evidence of good work in pupils’ copybooks, but it is important to ensure that attention is paid to presenting different writing texts on a frequent basis. Consideration should also be given to extending the use of ICT and computer resources to develop a variety of writing genres and also to promote the process approach to writing in Irish throughout the school.
Good lessons were observed in all classes in relation to the curricular area of English. Teaching and learning activities are clearly-structured and effectively-managed, while pupils’ ability to work independently is encouraged.
There is evidence that good pupil attainment has been achieved in this area of the curriculum in relation to pupils from the settled community. It is now recommended, however, that a review of strategies be undertaken to address the challenges that exist in the school, regarding the improvement of Traveller pupil attainment in English.
Consideration should now be given to introducing the practice of an integrated model of provision, on a daily basis, where collaborative/team teaching between mainstream and support teaching staff could be implemented, as identified by individual pupil need. It is also important to ensure that a wider variety of methodologies is employed during lesson implementation and that differentiated activities are further developed, which are appropriately matched to the learning needs of individual pupils.
During the lessons observed in this curricular area, it was evident that most pupils display very satisfactory oral language and speaking skills. Almost all pupils had very good listening and attention skills, while pupils were also encouraged to engage in oral interaction with teachers.
It is now recommended that a discrete oral language programme that is explicitly linked to the oral language objectives in the English curriculum, be further developed and implemented in all classes. It is also recommended that pupils’ oral language skills be intensified and that a solid language base be established and developed in all classrooms. It is further advised that planning for oral language topics be formulated in the school’s English policy, for inclusion in whole school planning documentation, and that a range of oral language activities be outlined, with reference to Primary School Curriculum (1999). Consideration should also be given to utilising the Drumcondra English Profiles as a resource to develop a system which would monitor all pupils’ progress in this area of the curriculum.
Commercial textbooks, large-format books and novels are in use throughout the school. There is a library in each classroom and a school library has also been developed where a range of books is made accessible to pupils. Shared reading initiatives, such as the school’s Buddy System, are in operation, with the assistance and co-operation of transition year students from the local post-primary school. This feature of practice is commended. A range of poetry is explored and recited with expression and it is evident that pupil response is appropriately developed. Emphasis is placed on pupils’ understanding of grammatical structures and efforts are made to ensure that pupils have a good grasp of spellings and phonic work, as appropriate. The further development of children’s higher order thinking skills should now be promoted at all class levels.
The First Steps Writing programme has been recently introduced and during the lessons observed, it is evident that it is being implemented in a structured manner in mainstream classes.
There is good presentation of pupil work and written outcomes in copies and regular correction is undertaken. It is now important to ensure consistency in letter formation and the development of pupils’ handwriting skills throughout the school. The creation of dedicated writing areas in classrooms should also be considered. It is now recommended that the process approach to writing be further developed and implemented at all class levels and supported through the use of the school’s ICT equipment. It is also advised that a wider range of genres in writing be addressed and further explored throughout all classes in the school.
In the area of Mathematics, whole school planning documentation and individual teacher planning reflect the principles and structure of the Primary School Curriculum (1999). There is evidence of effective management of pupil application in tasks and activities during lessons, while very good teacher-pupil and co-operative pupil/pupil interactions were also observed. Group teaching is in evidence and efforts are made to ensure that lessons are appropriately directed at pupils’ interest and ability levels. It is important to ensure however, that oral mathematics activities are undertaken on a daily basis, in all classes, in order to further develop pupils’ problem solving abilities. Consideration should also be given to placing further emphasis on expanding pupils’ higher order thinking skills and on the development of mathematical language. It is further recommended that the differentiation of tasks be ensured, as appropriate, and that experiential learning approaches continue to be developed and implemented throughout the school.
It is evident that suitable emphasis is placed on the acquisition of number concepts and skills, while importance is also placed on the explanation of basic procedures. Appropriate mathematical resources and equipment are used productively in most classes and active learning strategies are promoted. It is advised, however, that access to and work with concrete materials continue to be developed and that work undertaken in this regard be appropriately tailored to pupil ability. The practice of creating maths-rich environments and investigative/dedicated areas for Mathematics should also be developed in all classrooms.
In classes where the teaching of History was observed, it is evident that appropriate emphasis is placed on the exploration of local history and project work. Very productive use is also made of the school’s ICT resources during lesson presentation and implementation. The further development of a variety of teaching approaches and methodologies during teaching and learning activities should be considered. It is clear that pupils display knowledge and enthusiasm regarding topics relating to local, national and world history and that cross-curricular links have been established between the programme of learning in History and other areas of the curriculum. It is advised that further emphasis be placed on the development of pupils’ skills as historians.
It is now recommended that a curricular policy in History be formulated, as a matter of priority.
It is evident that very good work is being undertaken in project work and in local environment activities regarding Geography and that pupils’ sense of place is being developed appropriately. It is advised that, at some class levels, future classroom activity in this curricular area would include the extended use of maps and illustrative materials during lesson implementation, while the development of pupils’ skills as geographers could also be further emphasised. This could be assisted through the support and extended use of broadband technology. It is evident that very productive use is made of ICT resources during the presentation of lessons in this curricular area. Pupils display an interest in, and a knowledge of a range of geographical facts and it is evident that teaching and learning activities are often suitably integrated with aspects of other curricular areas.
It is now recommended that a curricular policy in Geography be formulated, as a matter of priority.
A policy pertaining to the curricular area of Science is presented in the school planning documentation. It is evident, from the lessons observed, that the programme of work undertaken at classroom level is based on the strands and strand units of the Science curriculum and that these activities are informed by individual teachers’ long-term planning. Experimental activities are addressed in a commendable manner and cross-curricular links between the programme of learning in Science and other curricular areas of the Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) curriculum have been established. The further development of the school garden as an active and effective strategy in studying many of the strands of the Science curriculum is now recommended and it is also advised that the provision of investigation/nature tables in all classrooms be ensured. Consideration should be given to ensuring the continued used of activity-based methodologies during lessons and also towards fostering the pupils’ skills as scientists.
A programme of work is outlined in school planning documentation regarding teaching and learning activities in Visual Arts. It is now advised that this policy be further developed to ensure the continuity and progression of a broad learning programme in this curricular area throughout the school.
Cross-curricular work is undertaken in a productive manner, displays of pupil work are presented in the pupils’ immediate environment and a celebration of pupil effort is in evidence. It is important to ensure, however, that breadth and balance across the strands and strand units is addressed. Consideration should now be given to expanding the use of the school’s ICT resources, which could support the development of digital portfolios and photographic records of pupil work in Visual Arts.
In the classes where the teaching of Music was observed, it is evident that Music is taught in a competent manner. Teacher expertise is this curricular area is acknowledged and it is clear that good standards have been attained in relation to pupils’ singing ability in some classes. It should be ensured, however, that a starting note is given from a pitched instrument before the commencement of singing and it should also be ensured that the songs and pitch selected are appropriate to the pupils’ vocal range. It is also advised that a broad repertoire of songs in Irish and English be taught to and known by all pupils throughout the school.
In the lessons observed, listening, responding and Music appreciation activities were developed in an appropriate manner, differentiated activities were undertaken and pupil enjoyment and enthusiasm was promoted. A variety of resources is used effectively to support this curricular area, including appropriate textbooks, tapes, compact discs and audio-visual equipment.
It is important to ensure that there is continuity and progression in the programme of learning in Music throughout the school and that a balance across the strands and strand units is addressed. Consideration should now be given to the sharing of teacher expertise in this curricular area. The possibility of developing pupils’ instrumental and choral skills should also be explored.
It is now recommended that a curricular policy in Music be formulated, as a matter of priority.
Dramatic activity is undertaken at classroom level and techniques in this curricular area support the programme of work in Gaeilge (Irish), English and SPHE. In some classes, Drama is employed to enhance learning experiences in oral language activities and in the exploration of poetry. It is evident from the lessons observed that pupils derive enjoyment from the activities undertaken and that cross-curricular links have been established with other areas of the curriculum.
It is now recommended that a curricular policy in Drama be formulated.
Very comprehensive planning documentation for the curricular area of Physical Education (PE) is presented in the school plan. In the lessons observed, due attention was paid to appropriate skill development and use of equipment, while effective organisation and implementation of PE activities were also in evidence.
Extra- and co-curricular provision is addressed through the services of an external coach from the GAA, who provides instruction in Gaelic games activities to all pupils. Lessons in swimming are also organised. The teaching staff is commended for the investment of time in and commitment to Physical Education.
The characteristic spirit of the school is reflected in the classroom atmosphere and is also evidenced through the promotion of positive pupil/teacher interactions. The integration and inclusion of all pupils is also fostered. School planning documentation in relation to SPHE addresses pupil needs appropriately and effectively. Programmes of work undertaken to support this curricular area include Bí Folláin, Walk Tall, Stay Safe, NWHB Programme, Action for Life and the use of other appropriate resources.
Policies in relation to SPHE also incorporated in school planning documentation include the school’s Inclusiveness Policy for All Pupils, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Policy, Child Protection Guidelines, Code of Discipline, Health and Safety, Administration of Medicine, School Drug Policy and the Healthy Eating Policy.
In classes where the teaching of SPHE was observed, effective teaching strategies were undertaken, including the very productive use of ICT resources, teacher-led questioning and discussion. Circle Time was undertaken and personal development activities were also addressed. A Healthy Eating Policy is implemented in the school, in collaboration with parents. The good practice of implementing the Junior School Wardens and the Litter Wardens schemes is acknowledged and commended.
In mainstream classes throughout the school, it is evident that a range of informal assessment strategies is employed and that good practices are utilised in relation to the assessment of pupil learning. Teacher observation, monitoring of written work and teacher-designed tests constitute the school’s informal assessment approaches. Commercially produced reporting booklets are in use and reports on pupil progress are sent to parents at the end of each school year. A file on each pupil is also maintained.
It is advised that consideration be given to the use of a computerised system, which would further facilitate the analysis of assessment data by mainstream class teachers, the support teachers and the principal. Consideration should now be given to the development of digital portfolios to facilitate the storage of individual children’s work samples in a variety of curricular areas.
Formal assessment procedures are addressed through the use of teacher-designed tests and through the annual administration of standardised tests, including the MICRA-T and the SIGMA-T. The results of these tests are filed and stored in the school. The use of standardised tests presents as a challenge, however, in measuring the ability level of pupils from the Travelling community. While a number of different tests is used by the support teaching team, including diagnostic testing materials such as the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability, Schonell, SPAR, Young GMT and the Bangor Dyslexia Test, it is recommended that a more systematic policy be developed to streamline assessment procedures.
It is now advised, also, that a policy on Assessment be formulated as a matter of priority.
5.1 Pupils with special educational needs
The support teaching team consists of one full-time learning support teacher providing a programme for twenty-six pupils. Two resource teachers for Travellers cater for the educational needs of twenty-eight pupils and one full-time resource teacher provides support to nine pupils with low-incidence learning disabilities.
The school has recently been included in the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) initiative and is availing of specialist co-ordinated support to put in place the First Steps Writing Programme. As part of this process, a special needs policy based on the staged process of intervention has been designed and developed. This policy outlines the learning targets for the pupils and educational objectives for the support teaching team. In implementing this policy, the support teachers ensure that an integrated and inclusive model of support is delivered. Varied and interesting teaching methodologies that support the development of social skills and self-esteem among all pupils, in an age-appropriate setting, are regularly used. Four special needs assistants support individual pupils within the classroom setting.
Between November and April of each school year, very high numbers of nomadic Travellers return to the school. As a consequence, the support teaching team faces a particular challenge in having to manage and provide age-appropriate education to a very high number of nomadic Traveller children. Five Traveller children re-enrolled on a single day during the inspection process. Almost all of these children had been out of education for nearly six months. During the course of the evaluation, twenty-six Traveller children presented for learning support. The majority of these pupils have considerable needs in terms of literacy and numeracy. Planning by the support team for delivering a programme in numeracy and literacy takes into account the individual needs of all pupils and is delivered daily, on a withdrawal basis.
Very commendable teaching was evident in the support classrooms and the lessons observed were carefully paced and sensitively delivered. Individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) have been developed and include very specific information on each pupil’s strengths, learning needs and objectives. Teachers systematically record an outline of the work covered. However, the value of IPLPs in regard to Traveller provision is uncertain. Parents are not involved in the process and the pupil often leaves the school as the plan is progressing. It then becomes necessary for the support team to re-write a complete profile when the pupil returns to school. How to manage this challenge, in the future development of IPLPs is to be addressed as part of a whole-school special education needs policy.
It is evident that it is very difficult for the support team to measure Traveller pupil progress due to unpredictable nomadic patterns and very high levels of absenteeism. The use of standardised tests also presents as a challenge in measuring ability levels among Traveller children. While a number of different tests is used by the support team, it is recommended that a more systematic policy be developed to streamline assessment procedures.
In order to give clear baseline information on ability levels, similar diagnostic tests should be used by all members of the support teaching team. It is also recommended that the school review the content and quality of the information provided by St Anne’s Girls’ National School when pupils transfer at second class level. The information made available by teachers on the current transfer form used by both schools is far too anecdotal and does not lend itself to developing rigorous planning for the needs of that pupil cohort.
The challenges in managing and planning for nomadic provision are very acute for the support team in this school. In responding to this challenge, it is now envisaged that the school, as part of the DEIS initiative, will be in a position to examine new strategies to deal with attendance and attainment issues among the large cohort of Traveller pupils. As things currently stand within Rathkeale, it is evident that Traveller parents rarely attend formal meetings, homework is completed by a minority of Traveller pupils and few Traveller parents have so far indicated an interest in sending their children to any post-primary school setting. In order to engage with more parents, very specific and targeted supports are required, such as homework clubs and less formal home-school linkages. Improving the attainment levels of Traveller children may then become the focus of school planning as it seeks to reduce the numbers currently presenting for learning or resource supports. It is further recommended that the school continue to avail of the continued support of the Visiting Teacher service, the HSCL service, NEPS and the NEWB in seeking solutions to address the attendance and attainment issues among all Traveller children.
The teaching staff strives to ensure that the education provision in this school is tailored appropriately to all pupils’ needs and abilities.
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:
· upils’ participation in non-curricular related activities during the school day is addressed.
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.