An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Aiden’s National School
Monasteraden, County Sligo
Date of inspection: 22 October 2008
A whole-school evaluation of St Aiden’s National School was undertaken in October 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the future development of the work of the school. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and History. The board of management 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.
St Aiden’s National School is a five-teacher, co-educational primary school situated in Monasteraden, Co. Sligo, in the parish of Ballaghaderreen. The school has a steady enrolment pattern with most pupils being drawn from its rural hinterland. The current school building was originally constructed in 1974 and a building extension and recreational facilities were completed in 2008. The school participates in the School Support Programme of Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), an initiative of the Department of Education and Science to address educational disadvantage.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation.
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teachers on the school staff
Mainstream class teachers
Teachers working in support roles
Special needs assistants
1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision
The school operates under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Achonry. The principles of inclusiveness and respect articulated in this school’s mission statement permeate all aspects of practice within its community. A climate is created which facilitates the holistic Christian development of the child with due regard for self, others and the environment. It is evident that a culture of collaboration, care and commitment to the continuous improvement of a stimulating and supportive learning environment has been successfully nurtured over many years.
1.2 Board of management
The board of management is properly constituted, provides strong support and leadership to the school and functions effectively in accordance with departmental guidelines and circulars. The instrumental role played by the dynamic and reflective chairperson in promoting the school ethos and progressing developmental priorities is valued by teachers and parents alike. The board meets regularly and maintains informative minutes of meetings and accounts of expenditure. It is recommended that external certification of accounts be commenced. This hard-working board is commended for the manner in which it has managed the recent extensive building programme while also ensuring a significant involvement in whole-school policy development, ratification and review. The board’s current priorities are the promotion of parental involvement in policy formation and the development of a school website. The board of management is advised to issue a yearly report on the operation of the school with particular reference to the achievement of objectives identified within the school plan.
1.3 In-school management
The in-school management team comprises the principal, the deputy principal and one special duties teacher. The principal has demonstrated great commitment to realising his vision for a vibrant, effective learning community as he has guided significant developments in this school in a capable and collegial manner over a lengthy career. His commitment to generating a collaborative team spirit and developing the capacity of others has enhanced the quality of provision within the school and ensured very effective distributive leadership.
Examples of commendable co-leadership with the deputy principal are evident in aspects of the efficient day-to-day organisation of school activities and delegated responsibility for organisational and curricular planning. The deputy principal and the special duties teacher carry out all duties assigned to them in a conscientious and professional manner. It is recommended that the special duties post be reviewed to include curricular responsibilities which might be linked to the school’s development plan. There is a positive spirit of co-operation and delegation among all members of staff.
1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community
Considerable attention has been given to the cultivation of positive working relationships and a strong sense of community between all partners in the pupils’ education. The parent nominees reported a very high level of satisfaction with the extensive range of procedures currently in place to facilitate dialogue and the sharing of information. Purposeful participation in the life of the school is promoted by the recently established parents’ association. Parents have been involved in some decision-making through their participation on the Green Schools committee. It is evident that the parent community supports the school in all its endeavours.
1.5 Management of pupils
The overall quality of management of pupils throughout the school is very good. The code of behaviour is effectively implemented; pupils discuss the rationale for particular aspects of the policy and simple classroom behaviour guides are on display. The use of praise is well judged and discriminating.
2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning
The quality of whole-school planning is very good with staff engaging in the planning process in a way that is on-going, collaborative and responsive to the needs and circumstances of the school. A strategic three-year plan highlights learning and organisational priorities with strategies, roles and review dates clearly outlined in the comprehensive action plans. A wide range of administrative policies has been developed to facilitate the smooth running of the school and to respond to the requirements of relevant legislation. To ensure full compliance with current equality legislation the board should review aspects of the enrolment policy. Curriculum policies formulated for all subjects reflect the aims and principles of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and ensure appropriate progression throughout the school for the majority of subjects.
The quality of classroom planning is good. Detailed yearly schemes of work and short term notes are informed by the school plan and ensure all pupils are enabled to access a broad and balanced curriculum. Monthly reports vary in detail and the majority are recorded through a ticking system on short-term plans. It is suggested that this approach be reviewed to facilitate further whole-school monitoring of curriculum implementation.
2.2 Child protection policy and procedures
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.
Léirítear dearcadh dearfach i leith na teanga agus úsáidtear éagsúlacht modhanna múinte i dteagasc na Gaeilge i ngach seomra. Ar an iomlán múintear an Ghaeilge go sásúil. Moltar anois plean gníomhaíochta a chur le chéile chun dea-chleachtas a roinnt ar fud na scoile. Is inmholta an bhéim a chuirtear ar an nGaeilge mar theanga cumarsáide i gcuid de na ranganna. Baintear leas torthúil as fearas corpartha, ábhar léirithe agus as teicneolaíocht an eolais agus na cumarsáide chun suim na ndaltaí a chothú agus a dtuiscint ar fhoclóir nua a éascú i ngach rang. Ní mór anois an plean Gaeilge a athbhreithniú agus eiseamlairí teanga a rianú do gach rang leibhéal chun aire a dhíriú ar leanúnachas ó rang go rang agus chun cumas cumarsáide na ndaltaí a chothú. Cé go raibh na daltaí in ann ceisteanna simplí a fhreagairt agus a chumadh ba léir go raibh mórchuid acu ar fhíorbheagán líofachta. Moltar breis deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí le go mbeidh siad in ann an Ghaeilge a úsáid ar nós: obair bheirte, drámaíocht, agallaimh agus scéalaíocht. Baintear feidhm éifeachtach as filíocht agus as amhráin chun taithí a thabhairt do na daltaí ar fhuaimeanna agus ar structúr na teanga.
Tugtar faoi bhunscileanna na léitheoireachta go córasach ó rang a dó ar aghaidh agus tá caighdéan cuíosach maith bainte amach ag fórmhór na ndaltaí i dtuiscint agus i gcruinneas na léitheoireachta. Is inmholta mar a fhorbraítear fogharluach na bhfocal sna meáin agus sna hard ranganna. B’fhiú cur leis an stór de fhíor leabhair bheaga atá sa scoil chun taithí níos leithne a thabhairt do na daltaí. Scríbhneoireacht fheidhmiúil is mó a chleachtar cé go sonraítear samplaí áirithe de scribhneoireacht néamhspléach. Moltar an dea-chleachtas seo a leathnú agus scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach a fhorbairt i nGaeilge.
A positive attitude is displayed towards the Irish language and a variety of teaching methodologies are used in each classroom. In general the teaching of Irish is satisfactory. It is now recommended that an action plan be drawn up to share good practice throughout the school. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on Irish as a communicative language in some classrooms. Commendable use is made of concrete equipment, visual material and information and communications technologies to stimulate pupils’ interest and to facilitate their understanding of new vocabulary. It is necessary, however, to review the school plan and outline language exemplars for each level to ensure progression from class to class and to focus on fostering pupils’ communication skills. Although pupils were able to ask and answer basic questions it was evident that the majority of them had limited fluency. It is recommended that additional opportunities be afforded to pupils so that they are enabled to use Irish communicatively in, for example, paired activities, drama and story telling. Effective use is made of poetry and rhyme to give the pupils experience of the sounds and structures of the language.
Basic reading skills are developed systematically from second class onwards and the majority of pupils demonstrate satisfactory standards in their accuracy and comprehension. Praiseworthy attention is given to the development of phonological awareness in middle and senior classes. Consideration should now be given to further extending the range of Irish novels available to pupils to broaden their reading experiences. Functional writing is regularly practised although samples of pupils’ independent writing are also provided. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to further develop creative writing in Irish.
A comprehensive whole-school policy has been devised for English and the overall quality of teaching is very good. An appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of the pupils’ oral language skills through well structured discrete language lessons and effective cross-curricular activities. Pupils are competent and confident in their communication throughout the school. Commendable use of poetry and rhyme, to develop phonological awareness, is noted in the infant classes. However, it is recommended that further attention be given to the development of infant pupils’ listening and auditory sequential memory skills. Large format books are used very effectively in infant classes and commendable interventions to improve literacy include shared and paired reading. It is recommended that the teaching of formal reading for most pupils be delayed until senior infants. Creditable emphasis is placed on the development of sight vocabulary and age-appropriate word-attack skills in all classes. Teachers should ensure that differentiated teaching and learning is sufficiently challenging for pupils of all abilities. The school is encouraged to extend the innovative in-class support model with a view to enhancing literacy levels across the wide range of abilities which currently present in this school. Pupils’ reading experiences are broadened through the judicious and creative use of library readers and novels in middle and senior classes. Higher-order thinking skills are actively promoted and emotional response to text is facilitated through discourse and drama.
Pupils’ writing skills are very well developed throughout the school and reflect a balanced focus on functional and creative aspects of the subject. Due regard is given to the promotion of spelling and editing strategies. Pupils’ written work, in a variety of genres, is celebrated through inventive displays and portfolios. The use of information and communications technology (ICT) to promote language and literacy development throughout the school is laudable.
Evidence in planning and practice indicates that all strands of the mathematics curriculum are addressed in a developmental and balanced way throughout the school. The quality of teaching is very good. A suitable range of methodologies and resources is used appropriately to enable pupils understand concepts and apply skills. The whole-school approach to the development of mathematical language is commendable. All pupils engage in learning activities with enthusiasm and their attainment levels are generally good. Early mathematical skills are firmly established in infant classes and effective use is made of number songs and rhymes to consolidate learning. Maths for Fun activities facilitate a very effective method of differentiating for the wide range of mathematical abilities within the junior and middle classes. Consideration should now be given to extending this practice to other classrooms to further promote differentiated learning. Appropriate attention is given to the development of estimation and problem-solving skills. Pupils in senior classes, in particular, demonstrate good reasoning skills and apply mathematical concepts to everyday contexts.
The quality of teaching and learning in History is of a very high quality in this school. The approaches adopted in all classes reflect the emphases of Primary School Curriculum (1999) and pupils demonstrate high levels of understanding of a wide range of topics. All teachers facilitate the development of pupils’ skills in working as historians in innovative and effective ways. Pupils’ appreciation of local history is carefully cultivated through regular visits to areas of local historical significance. The staff is to be highly commended for the opportunities which they provide for pupils in middle and senior classes to reconstruct historical stories through drama and film making. The school has received awards for three consecutive years, through the FÍS programme, for films created based on local history themes.
The overall quality of assessment is good. Pupil’s work is carefully and consistently monitored. Teachers use a comprehensive range of tools in literacy and numeracy including standardised tests, diagnostic tests, teacher-designed tests and tasks, and teacher observation. Analysis of assessment data informs teaching and learning and it is recommended that this good practice be further developed to include other curricular areas. It is recommended that the school complement current good practice by further developing Assessment for Learning strategies as outlined in the National Council for Curriculaum and Assessment publication, Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum, Guidelines for schools. Appropriate assessment tools are used judiciously to identify pupils experiencing difficulties and to support their provision within the school. Assessment information is communicated to parents regularly.
4.1 Pupils with special educational needs
The quality of teaching and learning for pupils with special educational needs is very good. The very effective co-ordination of the special needs provision ensures early intervention for pupils with learning difficulties in literacy or numeracy in accordance with the staged approach recommended in Circular Letter 08/2006. Purposeful collaboration is facilitated between all the partners involved in meeting the pupils’ needs. Individual education programmes are developed and reviewed as outlined in the comprehensive special education policy. Lessons are well structured and an affirming and a supportive environment is created for pupils. Focused and progressive in-class support has been provided in some classes and it is recommended that this practice be extended to all classes. The special needs assistant discharges her duties conscientiously for the pupil in her care.
4.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups
The school has the services of a rural co-ordinator under the DEIS scheme. She works discreetly with parents to support their involvement in their children’s education. A significant range of worthwhile initiatives has been successfully established by the co-ordinator to support the school in meeting the targets identified in its strategic three-year plan. These activities include transition programmes for pupils starting and leaving primary school, information workshops for parents on educational play, Maths for Fun, shared reading and supplementary support for some pupils.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The hardworking and effective board of management and staff are committed to ongoing improvement within this school community.
· The spirit of collaborative leadership and teamwork creates a positive learning environment where the holistic development of pupils and staff is nurtured.
· A strong sense of community and appreciation of the local environment is fostered with enthusiasm.
· Effective whole-school planning impacts positively on the quality of teaching, learning and school organisation.
· ICT is used very effectively to support teaching and learning across the curriculum.
· The development of pupils’ English writing in a variety of genres is of a very high quality.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· Further attention needs to be given to differentiated teaching and learning to ensure sufficient challenge and development opportunities for pupils of all abilities.
· Ní mór athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an bplean scoile don Ghaeilge le cinntiú go dtagann forbairt leanúnach ar theanga na ndaltaí agus ar a scileanna cumarsáide ó rang go rang.
It is necessary to review the whole-school plan for Irish to ensure the continuous development of pupils’ language skills from class to class.
· The enrolment policy should be reviewed to ensure full compliance with recent legislation.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of management and staff would like to thank the Inspector for her professionalism, thoroughness, warmth and friendly demeanour throughout the inspection. The report is a fair and accurate representation of all aspects of the school.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The enrolment policy has been reviewed and updated in light of recent legislation. The staff is currently working to implement the recommendations of the report. We will also work to ensure the strengths of our school are maintained and built upon.