An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Joseph’s NS, Knockrooskey,
Westport, County Mayo
Uimhir rolla: 18712L
Date of inspection: 29 January 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Joseph’s National School, Knockrooskey in January 2009. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St. Joseph’s National School is a co-educational school under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam. It is a seven-teacher rural school situated seven kilometres south of Westport. This caring, inclusive school has a high level of commitment to children with special educational needs. It is a very attractive, well-maintained school, which provides a stimulating learning environment for its pupils. While school attendance is generally good, the poor attendance of a small number of pupils is a cause for concern. The school participates in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), part of the Department of Education and Science’s programme to alleviate educational disadvantage.
The school is managed by a committed and enthusiastic board of management. This effective board meets very regularly. Roles and duties within the board are clearly defined and appropriately assigned. Detailed minutes of all meetings are maintained and there is a system in place for the careful management of finances. The board has been involved in school planning at appropriate stages of the process. All of the required policies are in place and have been ratified by the board. In recent years, the board has been active in providing new classrooms and facilities for the school. The board deserves high praise for its professional and committed management of the school.
The in-school management team consists of the principal, deputy principal and two special-duties teachers. The principal, who was appointed in 2004, is a very effective leader who encourages collaborative teamwork. He plays a vital leadership and management role in the areas of curriculum, pastoral care and administration in the school. His regular visits to all of the classrooms ensure that he is in a strong position to provide instructional leadership. This principal fulfils all of his obligations to a very high standard.
The principal is ably supported in the execution of his duties by the in-school management team. The process of school development and improvement is integral to the team’s work. They actively engage in school self-evaluation and review. They contribute effectively to building and sustaining a positive school climate. All post-holders have signed contracts with the board and duties are reviewed annually. Formal in-school management team meetings are held regularly, records are maintained and decisions are discussed at staff meetings.
High levels of professionalism and dedication are evident among the teachers and they are to be commended on the open manner in which they engaged with the evaluation process. The school’s ancillary staff includes three full-time special-needs assistants, a secretary and a caretaker. All duties associated with these posts are attended to in an enthusiastic and highly effective manner and contribute to the overall effectiveness of the school.
A wide range of resources encompassing all curricular areas is available throughout the school. Teachers make very good use of these materials and equipment. All teachers are commended for the attractive and useful displays of visual aids, materials and work samples of pupils, which help to create an environment that is conducive to the full implementation of the Primary School Curriculum. Particularly effective use is made of information and communication technologies (ICT). Fifteen laptop computers with broadband access are used by second to sixth classes for the creation of presentations and documents, and for regular access to mathematics and literacy software. A timetable for the use of this equipment allows all pupils to access this facility.
There is an active parents’ association which is affiliated to the National Parents Council (Primary). The association contributes significantly to the school. A meeting with the representatives of the parents’ association revealed very positive parental attitudes. Parents are appreciative of home-school correspondence such as the fortnightly newsletters and annual written reports. They also referred positively to the availability of staff members to discuss children’s progress, both at the formal parent-teacher meetings and throughout the year. In addition to engaging in a variety of fundraising activities, parents also support the school in activities such as knitting and cookery lessons and organising celebrations for significant moments in the lives of the pupils.
The management of pupils is very good and the teachers are to be highly commended for the positive learning atmosphere in the school. The school has devised a code of discipline and anti-bullying policies in consultation with parents. The pupils are well behaved and display pride and interest in their work.
A comprehensive school plan, addressing curriculum and organisational areas, has been devised by the staff. Planning documentation is extensive and indicates that the planning process in the school is inclusive. A wide range of clear school policies has been developed in organisational and administrative areas in response to relevant educational legislation and the evolving needs of the school. The quality of such policies is very good. It is evident that the plans are devised bearing the school context in mind and that each plan reflects the school ethos and aims. The staff is involved in regular self-review, a practice which is highly commended, and has identified a number of areas for further development. The staff has also devised a plan for all curricular areas. The plans are relevant and realistic for the context of the school. They could be further developed by indicating how the content is to be handled in the dual-class situation.
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.
The quality of individual teacher planning in this school is good. Long and short-term plans are carefully prepared, showing linkage to the school plan and the Primary School Curriculum. Opportunities for integration and differentiation are noted and the link to classroom practice is clear. The staff is commended for reviewing and improving its common approach to recording monthly progress.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The principles of the Primary School Curriculum 1999 are clearly understood by the staff of this school. The quality of teaching is very good and fosters very high levels of interest, enjoyment, effort and application in the pupils. Group work is organised regularly and effectively and pupils are provided with opportunities to engage in pair work, project work and independent research. Linkage and integration are established practice in each classroom. Concrete materials are used effectively to engage pupils in activity and to develop conceptual thought. Particularly good use is made of the school’s ICT resources.
Tá caighdeán na múinteoireachta sa Ghaeilge an-mhaith. Tá dáiríreacht na n-oidí faoi chur chun cinn na Gaeilge le moladh. Rinneadh athbhreithniú ar an bplean scoile le déanaí agus aithníodh straitéisí chun an cur i bhfeidhm a fheabhsú. Úsáidtear an Ghaeilge go hinmholta i ngach rang mar theanga bhainistíochta. Bíonn an Ghaeilge á comhtháthú go hinmholta le hábhair eile, go mór mór na hAmharcealaíona, an Ceol, an Drámaíocht agus Corpoideachas. Tá ‘nath na seachtaine’ ar taispeáint ar chlár fógraí sa scoil agus tá sé á chur i bhfeidhm ag gach múinteoir. Cuirtear na ceachtanna Gaeilge i láthair go bríomhar, taitneamhach. Ullmhaítear timpeallacht spreagúil ranga don Ghaeilge. Múintear ábhar cinnte idir fhoclóir agus struchtúir. Baintear feidhm thairbheach as an drámaíocht, cluichí teanga, rainn, amhráin agus áiseanna léirithe chun suim na ndaltaí a spreagadh. Tá tuiscint na ndaltaí ar leibhéal ard dá bharr agus cuirtear an cur chuige cumarsáideach i bhfeidhm go torthúil. Ullmhaítear suímh réalaíocha chumarsáide do na daltaí i ngach rang. Tá foclóir breá ar eolas ag cuid mhaith de na daltaí agus éiríonn leo abairtí simplí a chumadh agus ceisteanna a chur agus a fhreagairt. Moltar, áfach, béim sa bhreis a leagan ar abairtí iomlána a fháil ó na daltaí agus iad ag freagairt ceisteanna. Aithrisíonn na daltaí cnuasach deas rann, dánta agus amhrán go taitneamhach le tuiscint.
Déantar cúram breá de theagasc na léitheoireachta. Tugtar faoi bhunscileanna na léitheoireachta agus na scríbhneoireachta a fhorbairt go hoiriúnach i rang a dó. Tugann na daltaí faoi thascanna simplí léitheoireachta go hábalta. Léann formhór na ndaltaí le líofacht agus léiríonn siad tuiscint bhreá ar ábhar na léitheoireachta. Úsáidtear fíor-leabhair bheaga, leabhair mhóra agus úrscéalta chun taithí níos leithne léitheoireachta a chur ar fáil. Moltar go mór an nós seo. Chun breis forbartha a dhéanamh ar scileanna léitheoireachta, moltar béim a leagan ar fhoghraíocht na ndaltaí agus dul siar rialta a dhéanamh ar an léitheoireacht.
Déantar cleachtadh rialta ar an scríbhneoireacht tríd an scoil. Tugann na daltaí faoi thascanna simplí go hábalta. Moltar an scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach a chur chun cinn agus réimse níos leithne de thascanna a thabhairt do na daltaí ar bhonn leanúnach.
The standard of teaching in Irish is very good. The commitment of the teachers towards the development of Irish is praiseworthy. The school plan for Irish has been recently reviewed and strategies have been identified to improve its implementation. Commendably, Irish is used in all classes as the language for classroom management. Irish is integrated with other subjects, particularly Visual Arts, Music, Drama and Physical Education. The phrase of the week is displayed on the Irish notice board in the school and it is used by all of the teachers. Irish lessons are presented in a lively, attractive manner. A stimulating Irish classroom environment is provided. A consistent programme is taught, comprising vocabulary and structures. Effective use is made of drama, language games, rhymes, songs and visual supports to encourage the pupils’ interest in the language. The pupils’ comprehension is at a high standard and the communicative approach is fruitfully developed. Realistic conversational settings are used in all classes. The majority of pupils have a good grasp of vocabulary and are able to create simple sentences and ask and answer questions. It is advised that additional emphasis be placed on encouraging the pupils to provide full sentences when answering questions. The pupils recite a lovely selection of rhymes, songs and poems with understanding and enthusiasm.
Good care is taken with the teaching of reading. The basic skills in reading and writing are developed appropriately in second class. The children undertake simple reading tasks ably. The majority of pupils read fluently with a good understanding of the subject matter. Real books, large-format books and novels are used to provide a broader scope of reading experiences. This practice is commendable. To further develop reading skills it is recommended that attention be paid to the pupils’ pronunciation and that there be regular revision of reading.
Writing is practised regularly throughout the school. Pupils ably undertake simple tasks. It is recommended that creative writing be developed and a wider range of tasks be given to the pupils on a progressive basis.
A suitable print-rich environment is evident in all of the mainstream classrooms. Phonological awareness is taught very successfully as part of the foundation of basic reading skills in the junior classes. Much emphasis is placed on developing reading skills in the other classes and this ensures that a high standard of reading is achieved by a majority of pupils. Teachers are adept at higher-order questioning and pupils are challenged to reflect on the material read. Class libraries are well stocked, thus encouraging reluctant readers and providing a good supply of books for avid readers. Pupils enjoy discussing books they have read and teachers have obviously succeeded in promoting reading for pleasure across the school. Teachers make praiseworthy use of big books to teach the conventions of reading to the younger pupils. Novels are used as a basis for much oral work in the senior classes. Shared reading takes place across the school and records are kept to ensure that pupils read a number of books each year. The staff has also established a commendable buddy-reading system.
All teachers model the writing process. Activities are carefully structured, promote maximum pupil participation and result in imaginative and original work. Pupils are engaged in drafting, editing and redrafting their written work, very often using ICT. Pupils experience writing in a variety of genres. However, the development of each genre is recommended to ensure pupils get more experience of the conventions of that style. Grammar and spellings are taught well across the whole school. The pupils would benefit from a whole-school approach to the presentation of written work and to the development of hhandwriting, which would aim at achieving a neat, individual style of cursive writing by sixth class. Teachers assess English using a variety of tools including spelling tests, the correction of written work, dictation and standardised tests. The quality of teacher observation at infant level is particularly commendable. It ensures the mastery of basic literacy and numeracy skills and facilitates the early identification of pupils in need of additional support.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good. This is reflected in the high standards achieved in standardised tests. The school plan places a commendable emphasis on the development of the pupils’ language through all mathematical activities. Pupils hear mathematical vocabulary used consistently by all teachers. Pupils have personalised mathematical dictionaries in which they record mathematical vocabulary as it is encountered. It is evident that this is a factor in the development of the pupils’ own ability to use mathematical language appropriately. Also noteworthy is the existence of mathematics-rich environments in all classrooms. The use of mental mathematical activities at the start of each lesson is to be commended. Pupils record their answers on mini-whiteboards, which ensures maximum participation in this activity. In some classes, good use is made of pair and group work, which allows teachers to differentiate teaching for the different ability levels. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes. Effective use is made of a wide range of suitable manipulative materials, ICT programmes and visual displays in developing pupils’ conceptual understanding. Opportunities to link learning with the pupils’ real-life experiences are well exploited. Pupils’ written work is neatly recorded and carefully monitored.
Teachers display imagination and creativity in their approach to the teaching of this aspect of the curriculum. In the small sample of lessons seen, highly effective teaching was observed. Pupils’ skills as historians are effectively developed through the examination of artefacts and photographic evidence. Timelines are attractively displayed in all classrooms. Story and family histories are used effectively in the infant and junior classes to develop the concept of continuity and change over time. In the middle and senior classes, pupils engage in individual and group project work and use ICT to present their projects to the class. The school has recently hosted a Grandparents’ Day which helps to bring history to life for the pupils. History is very well taught in this school.
The standards of teaching and learning in Geography are good. The school’s approach to the Green Schools initiative is specifically commended as a means of developing the strand Environmental awareness and care. Pupils are enthusiastic in the promotion of recycling and litter management and their efforts in this project have been recognised by An Taisce through the presentation of the Green Flag. The teachers succeed in arousing pupils’ curiosity about the world around them. They use a balanced selection of resources for this purpose, including textbooks, library material, maps, globes, charts, recorded material and ICT, and there are attractive displays of colourful resources throughout the school. The expanded use of active methodologies is advised. In particular, further exploitation of the immediate environment of the school is recommended to provide a rich source of varied opportunities to develop the pupils’ graphical, recording and observational skills.
Teachers make good provision for all strands of the science curriculum. Active pupil involvement is encouraged and there is breadth and balance in curriculum implementation. Skilled use of group work, pair work, active discovery methods and the effective use of ICT were observed during the evaluation. Suitable emphasis was placed on teaching appropriate scientific terminology. Pupils clearly enjoy their participation in Science and valuable skills and concepts are being developed.
The strands and strand units of Visual Arts are addressed in a balanced manner and in accordance with the principles outlined in the Primary School Curriculum. Pupils are given many valuable opportunities to develop their skills and creativity in a range of media, with appropriate attention given to two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. Parents have been involved in teaching the skills of knitting and cooking to pupils, projects which have been very successful. Pupils get an opportunity to explore and respond to the work of peers and to the work of artists. The pupils would, however, benefit from a whole-school approach to Looking and responding. Pupils’ work is attractively displayed inside and outside the classrooms. A whole-school approach to the teaching of the language of Visual Arts has been devised. This practice is highly commended.
The teaching of Music is well organised throughout the school. Pupils in all classes enjoy singing songs in both Irish and English. Songs are integrated with learning across a range of subjects. The school has its own choir. Pupils sing a broad repertoire of songs for various events associated with the school. The pupils’ composition of their own school song is highly commended. All pupils learn the tin whistle from first class onwards. The school has a very successful band, where all pupils participate in playing a range of instruments. Teachers are to be commended for ensuring that all pupils participate in and benefit equally from the activities provided.
Drama is integrated with many other areas of the curriculum, particularly with language and Social, Environmental and Scientific Education. Pupils are also afforded opportunities to experiment with Drama and to improvise in order to explore characters and to suggest possible solutions for problems met by the characters. The production of a school show on a biennial basis ensures pupils learn the skills involved in the use of props, music and costumes. Pupils’ dramatic skills are developed to a high level.
The school does not have access to indoor facilities for the teaching of Physical Education (PE). Despite this, however, the teachers place great emphasis on PE and lessons take place in the schoolyard whenever the weather permits. Boys and girls are given equal opportunities to participate in all strands of the physical education curriculum. Lessons observed during the evaluation were well organised and placed an appropriate emphasis on the routine of warm-up, stretching exercises, drill and skill practice, games, relays and cool-down. Swimming lessons are provided for all pupils from second class in the second term of every school year.
The principal and staff are to be commended for their success in this area. The welcoming atmosphere in the school and the evident interest of the teachers in the well-being of the pupils promote a very positive climate. In St. Joseph’s, commendable care is taken to promote the personal development and well-being of all pupils and to foster in the pupils a sense of care and respect for themselves and others. There is a palpable atmosphere of respect throughout the school, with the encouragement of respectful language, good communication, positive self-esteem and the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs.
Teachers implement a balanced programme within their classrooms, with regular use of circle time and other appropriate methodologies. Pupils co-operate well in these lessons and they show respect for other points of view. During lessons observed there was evidence of a commendable focus on vocabulary development and linkage and integration across the curriculum. The programme in this area of the curriculum strongly supports the ethos of the school.
Teacher observation, teacher-devised tests and the regular monitoring of pupils’ written work are some of the assessment modes used throughout the school. In addition, standardised testing is carried out annually on pupils from first to sixth classes inclusive in English and Mathematics. The Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) is used to compare pupil achievement in literacy with underlying ability. This judicious use of assessment data is to be commended. The Single Word Spelling Test is used to identify pupil achievement in spelling and to provide individually tailored spelling programmes. Commendably, pupil achievement in literacy is assessed prior to and at the conclusion of the buddy-reading programme in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the programme. Comprehensive records are maintained of pupil progress in literacy and numeracy. To further extend this good work, it is recommended that the data available on achievement in numeracy be analysed to facilitate more targeted teaching of Mathematics. It is also advised that the teachers extend the range of assessments undertaken to monitor progress across a wider range of curricular areas.
The school ethos is very supportive of pupils with special educational needs and there is evidence of considerable whole-school commitment to this area. The school has achieved considerable success in providing an inclusive education for children on the autistic spectrum. The school has detailed policies on the admission, enrolment and participation of pupils with special educational needs in the school plan. These are informative and are in accordance with the school’s caring ethos. The staged approach to assessment, identification and programme implementation is utilised appropriately.
A detailed individual profile and learning programme (IPLP) has been devised for each pupil in receipt of learning support and resource teaching. The clarity and relevance of the learning targets and the teaching and learning approaches employed are to be commended, as is the consultation with pupils’ parents and class teachers in their development. Lessons observed were very well structured with teachers demonstrating a very good understanding of the importance of oral-language development as a basis for success in literacy. The quality of the support for pupils with special educational needs is very good.
As part of the programme Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), the school has access to a co-ordinator who is shared with three other schools. The co-ordinator has established links with community groups, including Meitheal Mhaigh Eo, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), Mayo Tech and Neighbourhood Youth. While the school has devised a three-year plan to address a number of identified priorities, there is a lack of continuity between this plan and the co-ordinator’s scheme of work. The co-ordinator currently takes small groups on a withdrawal basis to support classroom learning. There are a number of initiatives planned for the third term, such as Heritage in Schools and Maths For Fun. It is recommended that the scheme of work for each term include planned home visits, curricular initiatives and the organisation of educational trips out of the school or the invitation to specialists to visit the school. It is further recommended that the co-ordinator’s schemes of work include clear long-term objectives and short-term objectives.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
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.
Published May 2009