An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Cahir, Co. Tipperary
Date of inspection: 4 November 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Cahir BNS was undertaken in November 08. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on aspects of the school’s provision including management, teaching and learning, planning and supports for pupils, with a particular focus on the provision of English as an Additional Language (EAL). 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.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:
Total number of teachers on the school staff
Number of mainstream class teachers
Total number of teachers working in support roles
Number of language support teachers
Special needs assistants
Total number of pupils enrolled in the school
Number of pupils with English as an additional language
The school provides education from first to sixth classes. The infant boys are taught in SN Mhuire na Trócaire, which is on an adjacent site to the school. Of the 186 pupils, 39 are new-comer pupils and these come from a variety of countries, with the greatest numbers from Poland and Egypt.
Cahir BNS is a Roman Catholic School under the patronage of the Bishop of Waterford & Lismore. The mission statement of the school states that the school aims to promote the full and harmonious development of all aspects of the pupils: intellectual, physical, cultural, moral and spiritual. The statement on ethos and equality states that a spirit of mutual respect is promoted within the school community and pupils are drawn by example and teaching to appreciate and respect people of different religious affiliations and of different nationalities. The school community endeavours to live and promote its characteristic spirit.
The work of the board of management is supportive of the school. The board is properly constituted and generally meets once a month. The chairperson meets regularly with the principal and is a frequent visitor to the staff room. The board is involved in the planning process in the school and members review and ratify all policies and plans. It is recommended that the board complies with section 18 (1) of the Education Act in ensuring that accounts are certified annually. The most commonly raised issues at board meetings are funding and school finances, the proposed amalgamation of the school with SN Mhuire na Trócaire, the condition of the school and discipline. The board raised concerns about the inadequacy of school funding by the Department of Education and Science and the consequent need to fundraise and to rely on the goodwill of parents and the community. The unavailability of qualified teachers for positions that arise during the year is another difficulty for the board. Unqualified teachers have been appointed to temporary positions and the board feels that this compromises the educational outcomes for the pupils. The board also notes that there is a need for access to translation services so that parents of new-comer pupils can be kept fully informed. Board members see the strengths of the school as the staff, the pupils and the parents. Members also stress the positive co-operative spirit that exists in the school.
The principal’s leadership is characterised by his interest in developing the school. He has undertaken the writing of many organisational policies, in collaboration with staff members. The principal’s vision for the school has at its centre, respect for the pupils and encouragement as regards making the right choices in life. He liaises closely with the parents’ association and encourages and supports their involvement in many aspects of school life. He facilitated the organisation of an Inclusive Classroom summer course in the school. Four of the staff members participated in the course and found it to be very informative and helpful. The principal, in consultation with the INTO, was also instrumental in setting up a support network for language teachers.
The principal is assisted in his role by the in-school management team, which comprises a deputy principal and three special duties teachers. The team meets formally on a termly basis but informal meetings take place regularly. The areas of responsibility attached to each role are clearly defined in the school plan. These areas include organisational, pastoral care and some curricular duties. It is recommended that the duties of each post be regularly reviewed in line with the school plan and with school needs in order to assist in advancing the development of curricular areas. All posts should be designed with a clear curriculum focus and with particular emphasis on literacy and numeracy development. The in-school management team should liaise regularly with the principal and the staff and keep them informed of the activities organised to develop these areas in a systematic and cohesive manner.
The teaching staff includes an administrative principal, seven mainstream class teachers allowing for single class settings, two English language teachers, one learning-support teacher and one resource teacher. Two resource teachers for travellers (RTTs) are shared with other schools and are not based in the school. The school has five full-time and one part-time special needs assistants (SNAs), a full-time secretary and a part-time caretaker. The duties of the SNAs are clearly outlined and they support the pupils to whom they have been assigned. The secretary works capably and efficiently in her role and supports the work of the school. The caretaker keeps the school grounds in good order. There is obvious movement of teachers from one class to another and into and out of resource settings. The teachers participate in a range of professional development courses, which include summer and online courses and courses in the local Education Cantres.
The quality of accommodation in the school is a concern of the board and is linked to the proposed amalgamation. The original school building was constructed in 1964 and there have been a number of temporary extensions since then. This has lead to a disjointed arrangement with most classes accommodated outside the main school building. Outdoor facilities include a tarmacadam area, a grass area, a hard court and an outdoor shelter. In good weather the outdoor space around the school is adequate but in winter when the boys are confined to the tarmacadam and hard court, space for recreation at break times is inadequate and contributes, according to the board, to incidents of indiscipline occurring. The school has no hall and parents view this as seriously hampering the pupils’ educational experiences. Difficulties were reported by parents regarding parking and traffic build up near the school at drop-off and pick-up times.
A proposal for the amalgamation of Cahir BNS and SN Mhuire na Trócaire was accepted by the Department of Education and Science in July 2004. Negotiations are currently at site acquisition stage but there appears to be little progress. An action committee was formed to advance the project. However, little progress is reported. The board, parents and staff remarked on the difficult environment in which the school is operating and the need for improved conditions.
Despite the difficulties regarding accommodation, teachers, in general, provide bright and attractive learning environments within their classrooms. A wide variety of resources is available in Mathematics to facilitate activity-based learning and these are used effectively by the teachers. Each classroom has a library area with a variety of books. However the quality of these books varies and it is advised that a range of graded readers and additional library books be purchased to ensure that pupils are reading books which are appropriate to their age, interest and ability. There is also a need for additional books and reading resources in the support settings. There are no computers in the classrooms and consultation is taking place between the parents’ association and the board regarding the equipping of the school with computers. It is recommended that computers be provided in classrooms and support settings as resources permit. It is also recommended that a whole-school policy for the development of the teachers’ and pupils’ skills in the area of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) be developed. This policy should indicate how technology will be used to enhance teaching and learning in a cross-curricular context.
The quality of parental involvement in the life of the school is commendable. They are kept informed of their children’s progress through parent-teacher meetings and in homework notebooks and they are informed of school events through newsletters and calendars. The School Information Booklet is provided to all parents on enrolment. This booklet informs parents about the school and its general policies. It also outlines the code of behaviour and discipline. Parents expressed their satisfaction with the welcome they receive and communication in general with the school.
The school has a policy on communication with parents which clearly states that the school welcomes the co-operation and involvement of parents in the life of the school and outlines how parents are involved in various aspects of school life such as serving on school bodies, fundraising, policy making and organising or assisting at school events and in the classroom. It was evident that the school makes every effort to implement this policy in full.
The parents, through their council, have engaged in a major fundraising drive over the last four years and have raised a substantial amount of money. They are currently raising funds to purchase computers and laptops, a need that was identified by the staff. It is recommended that they continue to liaise closely with the staff regarding the needs of the school. Speakers are invited to the AGM each year in an effort to encourage parents to attend. They have been involved in the development of the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) policy and the special education policy and have been consulted on the code of discipline. They are involved in Children and Parents Reading Together (CAPER) and parents attend the classrooms twice a week to facilitate this programme. They sponsor and act as volunteers for the annual sports day and also help out at any school events.
During the evaluation the pupils were generally well behaved in the classrooms and throughout the school. The majority of teachers have put successful behaviour management systems in place and these operate through promotion of good behaviour using reward systems and the implementation of sanctions for breaches in behaviour. This practice should be extended to all classes to ensure that maximum time can be devoted to teaching duties rather than correction of behaviour. It is recommended that the principal monitors behaviour in each class and offers supports where necessary. An incident report book is kept centrally and records the most serious incidents that occur in the school.
The principal and staff are commended for their work in the development of whole-school plans and policies. They have worked collaboratively to develop a range of organisational plans including health and safety, enrolment, code of behaviour, special needs and school attendance policies. These are presented to the board of management for ratification. Some policies are made available to parents to view prior to ratification.
The school has developed a number of curricular plans including English and Mathematics. These outline overall aims and objectives and some of the methodologies appropriate to each subject. However, little specific guidance is provided to staff in implementing programmes. Each plan should outline the decisions taken by the staff with regard to specific approaches, organisational arrangements and the assessment and evaluation of pupils’ progress in each curricular area. Having put in place an extensive and encompassing range of organisational, curricular and procedural policies it is recommended that a co-ordinated review of curricular plans be undertaken to ensure that they reflect best practice and that they guide classroom activity at a whole-school level. A strategic plan should be developed for the next three years in order to pace such a systematic review.
In the short term, action plans should be developed that focus on various aspects of teaching and learning in English and Mathematics. These should focus on setting targets on an annual basis to improve standards in both literacy and numeracy. Regular review and whole-school discussions should lead to the agreement of priorities and the development of these action plans. It is recommended that specific responsibilities be assigned to teachers to lead this work. This will help in ensuring that the planning process is systematic and ongoing and has a positive impact on individual practice and on teaching and learning.
The policy on English as an additional language includes sections on the units of work that will be undertaken, responsibilities of the EAL teachers, curriculum resources and parental involvement, assessment and record keeping. It is quite a limited policy and it is recommended that it is developed further, to include sections on the strategies used to support curriculum access, continuance and discontinuance of support and structures for team work between language and class teachers.
Teachers provide long and short-term plans to support their work in the classrooms. A variety of approaches is used by teachers with many opting to use a commercially produced booklet to record planning. For some teachers, classroom planning is significantly influenced by the textbooks and planning simply reflects the content to be covered. Others put considerable thought and effort into ensuring that clear links exist between long and short-term planning and plan for the delivery of key elements of the strands and strand units of the curriculum. It is recommended that current planning structures be revised so that continuity and progression through all classes is ensured. These should include emphasis on the learning outcomes for pupils in the context of the school plan and the curriculum. Differentiation should also be incorporated into each subject area to ensure that all pupils are afforded opportunities to access the curriculum at a level that is appropriate to their needs. Monthly progress records are prepared and are stored centrally by the principal. These should be used in reviewing the implementation of various action plans.
Planning in the area of special education needs is generally good. Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) or group educational plans have been prepared for all pupils. These outline the learning needs and the targets set for pupils. These have been drafted in consultation with class teachers, parents and outside support agencies. The practice of inclusion of the pupil in this process is to be commended. Fortnightly plans are prepared to outline the short-term programme and an attendance record is maintained.
The EAL teachers provide written plans for the delivery of programmes of work. These mainly consist of the themes that will be covered with vocabulary outlined. The teachers also prepare weekly plans for each group. Accounts of work completed are also maintained. There was little evidence of EAL and class teachers working together on developing plans and the content of the class plans and EAL plans had few common threads. There is a need for greater liaison between the class and EAL teachers and their planning should reflect shared learning objectives.
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.
Some good quality teaching and learning in English is evident but overall there is scope for development. A general plan for English is available which now needs to be developed to ensure that it will impact on teaching and learning and on pupil attainment. Specific actions should be taken in oral language, reading and writing with the intention of informing the work at each class level to ensure that a comprehensive and seamless programme exists for literacy.
Pupils are given regular opportunities to discuss topics and to give their opinion in many of the curricular areas and pupils are eager to participate in class discussion. However, the absence of discrete oral language lessons in some classes should be addressed, in order to systematically and incrementally, develop oral language skills throughout the school.
A number of strategies are employed to foster interest in reading across the school. These include CAPER, peer and buddy reading. A ‘Reading with Friends Programme’ has been introduced in sixth class in consultation with the learning-support teacher. Through the introduction of this programme it is hoped that the pupils’ reading, vocabulary, spelling and comprehension skills will be improved. The teachers involved have devised a number of ways for assessing the effectiveness of the scheme. This carefully planned model of team teaching is to be highly commended. This model of support should be further extended in order to address the varied literacy needs of the pupils.
A reading programme is in use throughout the school. This is supplemented with novels and commendable practice was observed in one of the senior classes. However it was evident during the evaluation that the class reader did not match the reading levels of a number of pupils and this detracted from their progress. The pupils need to have access to reading material that is appropriate to their stage of development in reading. This could be facilitated through the grouping of pupils for reading instruction. These groupings should be devised in close consultation with support teachers and all available staff should be deployed to facilitate this work. Work on phonics and phonological awareness varies from class to class and it is recommended that a whole-school programme be devised and implemented.
Pupils in all classes engage in a variety of writing activities. There is appropriate development of functional writing skills and a number of workbooks are used to serve this purpose. In some classes a variety of genres has been explored and pupils’ work is attractively displayed. A writing corner in one classroom is utilised well for this purpose. Displays to celebrate pupils’ written work should be a feature of all classrooms and public areas of the school. There is an emphasis in most classrooms on editing work, with pupils producing drafts before completing a final copy. In reviewing the approach to writing in the school, it is recommended that pupils’ independent writing skills in particular, should be developed systematically from first to sixth. Regular opportunities should be provided to engage in writing. This could be facilitated by daily time being set aside for personal writing such as diary entries, match reports and topics of interest to the pupils.
Pupils in many classes have explored the writing of poetry. However in order to facilitate the development of pupils’ memorisation skills there should be greater emphasis on learning poems. A list of poems for each class level could be included in the school plan with clear indications of learning outcomes.
The plan for Mathematics contains agreed strategies for certain number operations, tables and aspects of mathematical language. There exists a challenge for the school in meeting the varying needs of the pupils in relation to Mathematics and the school should now devise action plans with the objective of continuing to raise overall standards. Recent acquisition of concrete materials is proving beneficial and pupils are being given opportunities to use these manipulatives in exploration of concepts. The use of equipment is vital at all levels and in all strands of the curriculum. The lessons observed included activity-based learning, paired and group work and relating concepts to the environment. Games were also used to support learning in most classrooms.
A whole-school approach to problem solving should be agreed. Regular time should be set aside for problem solving activities. The teaching of tables and weekly tests are a feature in most classes. It is now recommended that the teachers adopt more novel approaches to daily practice at tables to appeal to the pupils’ natural competitiveness including games, table leagues and table challenges. Mental mathematics is a daily feature of all classrooms. Practice in this regard varies from class to class with most classes using a commercially produced textbook, which the pupils write into individually. Some teachers are employing a selection of oral activities on a daily basis as a warm-up activity to sharpen recall and this practice is highly commendable. It is recommended that the school reviews the current practice and agree a whole-school approach with emphasis on oral rather than written activity.
Pupil achievement in Mathematics is assessed through the use of class tests, standardised tests, oral questioning and observation. It is important that individual pupils’ needs, identified through correction of work and results of standardised testing, are met through group or individual teaching and through activity-based learning at all levels. Analysis of standardised results should be conducted with a view to identifying and targeting areas that are posing difficulties for the pupils on a class and individual basis. Evaluating the needs of each class should lead to more effective deployment of resources with consideration given to team teaching and in-class support.
Assessment occurs through teacher observation, teacher-designed activities, curriculum-based activities, standardised tests and, diagnostic tests. Some teachers record information on individual pupils and information is generally passed on orally between teachers. This system should be formalised to allow for more systematic passing on of valuable information relating to pupil achievements and needs. Standardised tests in literacy and numeracy are administered yearly in May to all classes. The school is now urged to undertake careful analysis of test results in order to ensure that pupils’ learning needs in each curricular area are evaluated. This will also enable review of the effectiveness of particular approaches and provide necessary information to allow for differentiation of approaches for pupils within the classrooms. The EAL teachers engage in ongoing assessment throughout the year. EAL pupils are also assessed when they arrive in the school. Each pupil has an Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) Profile. The teachers are currently becoming familiar with the new assessment kit supplied by the Department and the intention is to begin using this as the main assessment tool in the next school year. Standardised tests are also used to assess progress of EAL pupils.
Provision in the area of special educational needs (SEN) is good. Two staff members took up positions on the SEN team in September. Their first task was a review of school policy in this area, and the schools’ special educational needs policy has now been updated in accordance with the Learning-Support Guidelines and Circular 02/2005. The staged approach underpins the current provision and all special education needs pupils have been placed at a particular stage. Class teachers were recently presented with a template to help them in identifying and providing for the needs of pupils at stage one. While this commendable practice is still relatively new, it has been welcomed by teachers and should prove very useful. The policy also outlines enrolment procedures for special educational needs pupils, the assessment practices adopted in identifying pupils within the school, communication with parents and outside support agencies and the development of Individual Educational Plans (IEP).
The standard of teaching observed during the evaluation was very good and generally based on pupil learning needs. Content of programmes, teaching methods and the resources used by the teachers were matched appropriately with the pupils’ needs. Work involved use of mathematical equipment for reinforcement of concepts and skills, work on letter recognition, phonics, development of sight vocabulary and reading fluency. A particular cause of concern is the lack of resources and suitable reading material available to teachers in this area. Acquisition of extra materials should be deemed a priority so that pupils have access to graded reading schemes and ‘high interest-low reading age’ material. Such material would also be very worthwhile within mainstream classroom settings and aid in effective differentiation of reading programmes.
The current provision for pupils is organised mainly on a withdrawal model with pupils being withdrawn individually or in groups of up to seven pupils. Teachers have a large caseload and can often feel stretched in trying to meet the needs of pupils. A praiseworthy in-class support model is currently organised with sixth class pupils based on peer-reading activities to develop reading fluency amongst a target group of pupils. Consideration should now be given to the expansion of this type of support with further use of team-teaching and in-class support models for meeting pupil needs. This would also enable the provision of support to a wider body of pupils. Class teachers and support teachers should collaborate regarding the priority learning needs of their pupils in both literacy and numeracy and decide on the most effective approach to meeting these needs.
All pupils at or below the twelfth percentile in both literacy and numeracy are offered support. Pupils are screened using standardised tests and, following consultation with class teachers, pupils are selected for further diagnostic testing. A range of tests is employed to identify learning needs.
The EAL classroom is bright and attractive with charts, teacher designed posters, games, resource books and packs, and a stock of library books. The board has recently supported the purchase of a learning-resources pack for language teachers and the teachers are currently becoming familiar with this. Teaching approaches are based on active-learning strategies and pictorial representation. Participation and engagement are encouraged through a combination of methods including direct instruction, teacher modelling, role-play, games, play, group work and library work. Withdrawal individually and in small groups is the main type of support with some in-class support towards the end of the school year. It is recommended that more in-class support be considered especially in the area of Mathematics where mathematical language may be a difficulty for some EAL pupils. The teachers’ planning is based mainly on the themes to be covered with the pupils and it is recommended that greater liaison is initiated with class teachers so as to ensure that pupils obtain the opportunity to access the curriculum in their mainstream classes. It is also advised that pupil or group profiles be devised which would outline learning targets over a specified period. Collaboration between class and EAL teachers would ensure a shared focus and would aid assessment.
There are two part-time resource teachers for travellers (RTT) in the school. Both teachers are based in other schools and visit Cahir BNS for set periods per week. One teacher is from the neighbouring girls’ school and the second teacher is from a school in Tipperary town. The resource-teaching service for Travellers is organised efficiently in order to maximise learning outcomes. The pupils are catered for in two groups based on their learning needs. This division of work is sensible and allows the teachers to cater for differing needs in a focused manner. In each group, there is an emphasis on literacy skills and the teachers follow programmes for reading development based on Traveller interest reading material, relevant cuttings of local interest from newspapers, the PAT programme, Dolch Word List and High Frequency Word List, extended reading schemes, the Alpha to Omega programme and a sounds linkage programme. This blend of approaches motivates pupils and is very beneficial. In addition, pupils’ abilities in oral English are extended consistently and pupils are offered opportunities to write freely on topics that are of interest. The teachers prepare short-term plans for their work and liaise with class teachers when preparing individual educational plans. Review dates have been set wisely at appropriate intervals for the IEPs. Both teachers provide support on a withdrawal basis. This practice should be examined and a balanced approach incorporating both withdrawal and in-class support should be instituted. A wide range of resources is available for literacy development, including attractive wall displays. There is now a need to balance this with numeracy displays that are relevant to the programmes being followed. As both teachers come to the school from external schools, some internal provision should be made to enable them to meet once a month in the school to plan and discuss approaches.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2009
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board and school community wish to express their appreciation for the professional competent manner of the inspection conducted in the school. The approach by the inspectors was supportive of the ethos and work of the Board members, teachers, pupils and parents.
Every effort has been made to employ qualified teachers in the support posts in the first instance (Page2), but on failing that, personnel with degree qualifications were employed.
As of June 2009, no advancement has been made on the Amalgamation of the adjoining schools. Communication with the Building and Planning Unit has been ongoing, but to date, without further progress.
Planning and proper co-ordination requires time. One day school planning day was allocated for 2008-09 and one day has been allocated for 2009-10. The school complies with DES direction on the conducting of staff meetings, one per term.
The recognition of a positive co-operative spirit in the school is noted. A positive approach by teachers and parents is aimed at maximising the benefit for all pupils.
The ICT Policy will be developed for 2009-10.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Graded Readers have been purchased through the assistance of the Parents’ Council, distributed and being used. More reading resources are currently being identified
Every classroom now has a computer, which is used, by pupils, at rostered times and in conjunction with the curriculum taught in the class.
A school phonics scheme is being reviewed for 2009-10. Jolly Phonics is used in Language and Learning Support.
The reading Programmes of Children and Parents Enjoy Reading (CAPER) and Reading with Friends is being extended to the whole school.
The analysis of standardised assessment tests has been focussed on identifying pupils for additional supports, be it Stage 1 or Stage 2. The extension of the analysis to look at other levels of achievement will be conducted with the educational support team and class teachers.
The policy for EAL will be reviewed and expanded in line with whole school planning.
A change in accountancy procedures will lead to certified accounts being presented. The Board expects the DES to provide sufficient funding to cover all management costs.