An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballyvary Central N.S.
Uimhir rolla: 19402B
Date of inspection: 16 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of Ballyvary N.S. 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 parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days, during which the inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspectors interacted with pupils and teachers and examined pupils’ work. The inspectors reviewed school-planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with the holders of posts of responsibility. 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.
This school is located in Ballyvary, about ten kilometres to the east of Castlebar, Co. Mayo. The nature of the school’s catchment area has been affected in recent years by the growth of Castlebar. A projected increase in the local population in the coming years will create a need for additional school accommodation. There were 119 pupils enrolled here at the beginning of the current school year. There are seven teachers on the staff. Five of these, including the principal teacher, teach mainstream classes. The other two are resource and learning-support teachers, each of whom is shared with another school. Three of the seven teachers working here at the time of the evaluation are temporary replacements for permanent members of staff. The school employs a full-time special-needs assistant to support access to the curriculum for a pupil with special educational needs. Secretarial, cleaning and caretaking services are available on a part-time basis.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly, in accordance with the Department of Education and Science’s Constitution of Boards and Rules of Procedure. Agenda are prepared and circulated prior to each meeting and minutes are recorded by the secretary. Key roles and responsibilities have been assigned to individual board members and some members have participated in training for their role. The board’s main priority at present is to develop the school accommodation in anticipation of the projected increase in the population in the coming years. Board members report that they are satisfied with teaching and learning in the school and identify Music, Drama and Physical Education as areas in which they consider provision to be particularly strong.
The board is well informed about the daily operation of the school. The chairperson visits regularly and meets staff members. The board consults with parents and collaborates effectively with the teaching staff in the development of the school. The members have an appropriate involvement in the school-planning process. All policies are discussed and ratified by the board. This report contains some recommendations on school planning. While the in-school management will be expected to lead the implementation of these changes, the support of the board will be required.
The principal teacher manages the day-to-day operation of the school in addition to her full-time teaching duties. Her work is characterised by dedication and professionalism. The principal’s commitment to fostering an ethos of mutual respect, trust and openness within the school community is particularly commendable. As well as overseeing the maintenance and refurbishment of the school building, the principal has provided necessary and effective leadership in the organisational and pastoral areas of school life. Now that the needs in those areas are being addressed, there is an opportunity to focus on curricular leadership. The principal’s own considerable pedagogical expertise will be of benefit as she leads and monitors the implementation of a revised school plan, with a view to ensuring continuity and progression in the pupils’ learning during their time in the school.
The principal’s leadership style enables others to contribute effectively to school development. She receives valuable assistance and support from the deputy principal and special-duties teacher, to whom certain areas of responsibility have been delegated. It is recommended that the duties attached to the posts of deputy principal and special-duties teacher be revised, with a view to ensuring that each post has curricular, organisational and pastoral dimensions.
The school building was constructed in 1975. A general-purposes room and some ancillary rooms were added in 1980. The building currently includes five classrooms, a staff room, a large general-purposes room and some smaller rooms for administration and storage. The management has an appropriate, ongoing maintenance plan for the school. Recent developments have included the replacement of windows, blinds and floor covering and the provision of temporary accommodation for the learning-support teacher. As well as having the use of adjacent community pitches, the school has an extensive recreation area with grass surfaces and hard courts. The whole school community is to be commended for the way in which the school building and grounds are maintained. Trees and shrubs have been planted and a school garden has been developed.
The school has invested in a range of appropriate resources that enhance teaching and learning. This includes computer hardware and software, specialised equipment for Music, Physical Education and Mathematics as well as a wide range of more common classroom resources. In some classrooms, there is scope for greater use of charts and other illustrative materials. The school should ensure that all classroom libraries are well-stocked, attractive and accessible to pupils.
As well as being active in fundraising for the school, parents provide valuable assistance with the organisation and management of cultural and sporting events. The school organises annual parent-teacher meetings. A school newsletter is issued regularly and an annual induction meeting is held with the parents of new pupils. It is recommended that the school consider issuing an annual written progress report on each pupil.
Parents are consulted as part of the school-planning process. One of the ways in which parents may make their views known is through their elected representatives on the board of management. While the parents’ representatives do not organise meetings to elicit views of parents, a suggestion-box for parents was placed in one of the school entrance porches recently. The parents’ representatives report that parents are generally very happy with the broad education that the pupils receive and with the happy atmosphere that exists in the school.
The standard of pupil-management in the school is generally very high. Most lessons and activities are well prepared and the pupils are engaged in activities that they consider to be worthwhile. Excellent work is done to foster the development of positive speaking and listening habits among the pupils. It is clear that the teachers and the community have high expectations with regard to learning and behaviour. The school’s code of discipline includes strategies for dealing with misbehaviour.
The board and the teaching staff have collaborated on the development of a range of organisational and curricular policies and programmes, which comprise the school plan. The school plan is presented in two separate folders. In order to make the various policies more accessible to all members of the school community, it is recommended that a table of contents be attached to each of these folders and that all earlier or duplicate versions of policy statements be removed. Some of the policies and programmes are commendably specific to the needs and resources of this school and are therefore more likely to add value to the work of the school. The organisational section of the school plan includes, for example, a useful and user-friendly policy on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). It is recommended that the school’s equality policy be revised so that it addresses all of the nine grounds that are included in the Equal Status Act.
The school plan also contains policies and programmes for each of the curricular areas. While much good work has been done, many of the plans remain too generic to have any impact on classroom practice. It is recommended that the school plan for each curricular area be revised to include specific activities and intended learning outcomes for each class level. It is hoped that this will enable the school to ensure continuity and progression in the pupils’ learning, even in the event of staff changes. It will also assist the in-school management as it supports and monitors the implementation of the plan.
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). It is recommended that the board of management adopt and implement these policies as a matter of urgency. It is recommended also that a designated liaison person who has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines be named in the school plan immediately.
All teachers prepare long-term and short-term schemes of work for the pupils in their care. They also maintain a monthly progress record of work completed. There are some examples of high-quality planning in the school. It is recommended, however, that teachers focus more specifically on pupil outcomes in both planning and recording documents. This applies equally to mainstream, learning-support and resource teachers. It is also recommended that classroom planning documents outline how lessons will be differentiated for pupils with special educational needs.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
There are many examples of excellent teaching in this school and the quality of learning and teaching is good overall. Most teachers provide a stimulating learning environment for the pupils in their care. Charts and illustrative materials are used to help the pupils understand and remember lesson content. Most teachers use a variety of teaching methodologies, including opportunities for pupils to work in pairs and small groups on appropriate tasks. It is evident from classroom observation that there is a need for the staff to discuss and implement approaches to differentiating lessons for pupils with special educational needs.
Sonraítear cleachtas an-éifeachtach i múineadh na Gaeilge i gcuid de na ranganna. Sna cásanna seo, úsáidtear raon de ghníomhaíochtaí agus d’ábhair léirithe chun foghlaim na ndaltaí a éascú agus a bhuanú. Baintear feidhm thairbheach as an bhfilíocht agus an drámaíocht le linn na hoibre. Taispeántar roinnt mhaith cairteacha agus lipéad sna seomraí ranga, rud a chuireann go mór le foghlaim na ndaltaí. Is léir go bhfuil dea-thuiscint ag formhór na múinteoirí ar thábhacht an tumoideachais i dteagasc na Gaeilge. Tugtar deiseanna do chuid de na daltaí tascanna cumarsáide a dhéanamh ina mbeirteanna agus i ngrúpaí beaga. De thoradh ar an dea-chleachtas thuas, bíonn sé de chumas ag na daltaí i gcuid de na seomraí an Ghaeilge a labhairt go muiníneach agus go réasúnta líofa. Tá ardmholadh tuillte ag na múinteoirí as seo.
Sonraítear difríochtaí móra i gcaighdeán an teagaisc agus na foghlama ó rang go rang. Moltar don scoil féachaint chuige go gcuirfear an dea-chleachtas a aithnítear thuas i bhfeidhm i ngach rang, ionas go mbeidh leanúnachas agus dul chun cinn le sonrú i bhfoghlaim na ndaltaí agus iad ag dul suas tríd an scoil. Moltar aird ar leith a dhíriú ar na gnéithe seo a leanas: an cur chuige cumarsáideach; buntáistí an tumoideachais; úsáid ábhar clóbhuailte sa seomra ranga. Moltar don scoil féachaint chuige go mbeidh deiseanna cuí ag na baill foirne chun a gcuid Gaeilge féin a chleachtadh agus a fheabhsú. D’fhéadfaí, mar shampla, úsáid níos leithne a bhaint as an nGaeilge mar theanga chumarsáide sa seomra foirne.
There is evidence in some classes of very good practice in the teaching and learning of Irish. In these classrooms, the teachers use a range of activities and resources to facilitate and reinforce the pupils’ learning. Poetry and drama are used to good effect. Charts and labels in Irish are displayed widely in the classroom environment, which contributes significantly to the pupils’ learning. It is evident that most of the teachers are aware of the benefits of immersing the pupils in the target language. Some pupils have opportunities to work in pairs and small groups on appropriate communicative tasks. As a result of the good practice described above, pupils in some classrooms speak Irish with confidence and reasonable fluency. The teachers deserve great credit for this.
The standard of teaching and learning in Irish varies as the pupils progress from class to class. The school should ensure that pupils in all classes benefit from the good practice identified above, with a view to ensuring continuity and progression in the pupils’ learning as they advance through the school. It is recommended that particular attention be given to the following: the communicative approach to teaching Irish; the benefits of immersing the pupils in the target language; the use of Irish-language charts and labels in the classroom. It is recommended that staff members be given appropriate opportunities to practise and develop their own Irish. The language might be used more frequently for example, in the staffroom.
The quality of provision for this curricular area is very good. The pupils’ oral-language development is supported informally by the use of certain teaching methodologies and classroom-management techniques as well as by structured activities in other curricular areas. Pupils in most classrooms develop positive habits with regard to speaking and listening, which provide a solid foundation for further development. In one classroom there is extensive use of talk and discussion in preparation for writing. There is a commendable emphasis on vocabulary development in senior classes. In one classroom, there is a systematic approach to oral-language development. The teacher sets out specific oral-language objectives as part of the short-term plan for English and there are dedicated oral-language periods on the weekly timetable. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all classes.
In the teaching of reading, there is effective development of the pupils’ phonological awareness, basic sight vocabulary and word-recognition strategies. Big books are used to model reading conventions and behaviour. Most of the classrooms provide a print-rich environment, in which the pupils encounter print informally on a regular basis. There is an appropriate focus on the pleasure and the purpose of reading. Pupils in all classrooms have access to a collection of age-appropriate books in the class library. Some of the libraries are well-stocked and well-organised. In others, there is a need to replenish the stock of books or to make the library more attractive and accessible for pupils. It is recommended that all pupils have easy access to an attractively presented, well-stocked collection of real books in their classroom. In some classrooms, the class novel and other books from the class library are used as the stimulus for a range of language activities. Overall, it is evident that the school is doing commendable work to foster a positive attitude towards books and reading among the pupils. In several classes, the teacher reads to the pupils, from serial novels or books of poems and stories, on a regular basis. Pupils in most classes encounter poetry frequently.
There is evidence in a number of classes of excellent practice in the development of pupils’ writing skills. There is effective use of pre-writing activities in junior infants. Pupils in some classrooms make books that are used as the basis for reading activities. A structured, well-focused approach to the development of writing skills is evident in senior classes. In a number of classrooms, pupils’ writing is displayed and celebrated. It is recommended that these elements of good practice be implemented in all classrooms.
Teaching and learning in Mathematics are generally very good. All teachers have some form of Mathematics display in their classroom, which supports the pupils’ understanding of concepts and procedures. Lessons are usually pitched and paced appropriately and there is clear progression in the development of concepts. Teachers use a variety of teaching approaches to address the various learning needs of the pupils. These include number rhymes and stories, hands-on activities with manipulative materials, talk and discussion, discovery learning, memorisation of number facts, and games. There are regular opportunities for pupils to work in pairs and small groups. The development of mathematical language is approached in a systematic, well-structured way in some classes.
It is evident that some pupils would benefit from additional guidance and monitoring with regard to the organisation and presentation of their written work in Mathematics. It is recommended that lessons include differentiated tasks for pupils with special educational needs. It is recommended that the school develop and use a Mathematics trail in the school. In the middle classes, there is scope for more challenging work and for a greater emphasis on the development of problem solving skills.
The school’s History programme is still at the draft stage and does not yet include details of what knowledge and skills will be developed at each class level or how local resources will be used in the teaching of History. The pupils respond well to questioning on ancient civilisations and Irish national history. It is evident that pupils visit local historical sites and that the Museum of Country Life is being used as a resource for the teaching of History. It is recommended that the school plan for History be revised so that it sets out the activities to be undertaken at each class level and the key learning outcomes to be achieved in all areas of the programme, including local studies.
It is evident that the school makes good provision for learning about Ireland and the wider world in Geography. It is clear from questioning pupils, however, that there is considerable scope for more practical work of a local nature to consolidate the pupils’ understanding of place and space. The pupils would benefit, for example, from activities that enable them to establish and use cardinal compass points in the locality. The recommendations made in the previous section regarding the revision of the school’s History programme apply also to the school plan for Geography.
The school has begun to implement a broad programme in this curricular area. It is evident from questioning the pupils that effective, practical learning opportunities have been provided in the strand Energy and Forces. In several classrooms, Science tables are used to stimulate the pupils’ curiosity about the physical world and to consolidate what has been learned. There is evidence of some good practice in the strand Living Things, especially in the strand unit Human Life. As part of their work on Plants and Animals, pupils in several classrooms plant seeds and bulbs. A school garden has been established. There is scope for development in the pupils’ knowledge of the plants and animals that live in local habitats, including the school grounds. It is recommended that the school plan for Science be revised to include the activities to be undertaken in the school grounds and other local habitats at each class level. The plan should also set out the key learning outcomes to be achieved from these activities. It is recommended that a Science table be provided in every classroom.
The school programme for Visual Arts addresses all of the strands of this curriculum area. There are many examples of excellent practice, including the use of a wide range of media for the Drawing strand, a commendable focus on the development of individual creativity and the provision of opportunities for pupils to respond to their own work and that of other artists. Pupils speak enthusiastically about their own work and are confident and competent when describing processes and media. Effective use is made of community art resources for teaching specialist skills such as mask-making. It is recommended that the school plan for Visual Arts be revised to include a whole-school programme for Looking and Responding. This should make reference to the vocabulary that pupils will need to achieve the key learning outcomes for each class level.
Music has been identified by staff, parents and board members as an area in which the school makes very good provision. There is evidence of very good practice in the areas of song-singing, rhythm development, tin-whistle playing and musical literacy. Pupils in the senior classes perform in accomplished two-part harmony when doing instrumental work. It is obvious that the pupils enjoy musical activities, particularly work with percussion and, in the case of the infant classes, engaging in action songs. Some teachers have done excellent work in promoting the musical elements throughout the Music programme. Recordings of pupils’ musical performances are used as a stimulus for discussion and as a basis for the development of vocabulary associated with the musical elements. The school has been involved in a number of community musical workshops and last year produced their own recording on CD. Pupils also put on a musical performance for the annual Christmas concert.
The teachers have begun to implement a broad programme in Drama. There is a particularly strong focus on the communication of feelings through facial expressions, body language and gestures. Drama is used widely to enrich teaching and learning in other curricular areas, especially English and Irish. Pupils would benefit from greater opportunities for discussion during the Drama lesson. The pupils perform dramatic productions in the school and the church on a regular basis.
The teachers prepare and implement well-structured, enjoyable lessons in Physical Education. Appropriate activities are used to enable the pupils to warm up at the beginning and cool down at the end of the lesson. Teachers switch skilfully between whole-class teaching, group work, pair work and individual work in the course of the activities. Pupils are developing a good sense of body awareness through this programme. Music is used to good effect to promote activity. Pupils with special educational needs participate and engage fully in the Physical Education programme.
The objectives of this curricular area are achieved through a combination of formal and informal approaches. During the formal SPHE lessons, there is a focus on issues such as abilities, feelings, people in the community, safety, friendship and family. The use of ice-breaker activities, the setting of clear rules for activities and a specific focus on skills development are among the examples of excellent practice observed. The school plan contains a two-year plan for this curricular area. It is not evident, however, that this is being implemented. On a less formal level, the school’s positive atmosphere and its emphasis on mutual respect complements the work that is done in the timetabled SPHE lessons. The pupils show good self-esteem, a willingness to participate in activities, an inclination to be inclusive and an ability to lead and be responsible in a class context. The teachers’ approach to behaviour management also supports the achievement of SPHE objectives.
The school administers norm-referenced tests annually in English and Mathematics. A range of further diagnostic tests is used by the learning-support and resource teachers. Various teacher-designed tests are used regularly in each classroom. Teachers keep monthly accounts of work completed. It is recommended that the monthly accounts make reference to learning outcomes that have been achieved. Clear statements of intended learning outcomes in school and classroom planning would make it easier to assess learning and record progress.
This is the base school for a resource teacher and a learning-support teacher, each of whom is shared with another school. Each teacher has a combination of pupils with high-incidence disabilities and pupils with low-incidence disabilities on her caseload. Pupils generally leave their classroom to receive supplementary teaching. This is provided in an orderly, pleasant environment, which includes displays of the pupils’ work. The teachers prepare an individual learning programme for each pupil. It is recommended that each programme contain learning targets that are specific and measurable. This would lead to more purposeful teaching and make it easier to assess progress. There is a need also for more extensive use of illustrative materials and concrete materials in the provision of supplementary teaching. Finally, from observation in classrooms, it is evident that there is a need for appropriate differentiation of lesson content, resources and methodologies for pupils with special educational needs during their time in the mainstream-class setting.
The school population includes a small number of children of the Traveller community. There are no other pupils from minority or disadvantaged groups. The ethos and atmosphere of the school is inclusive. This could be reflected more strongly, however, in the school plan. It is recommended that the school’s equality policy make reference to membership of the Traveller community as well as the other grounds that are included in the Equal Status Act. It is evident that the school actively promotes positive attendance. It is recommended that a description of the strategies used to promote positive attendance be inserted into the school’s attendance policy.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation.
· The board of management is well informed and active in pursuing the interests of the school community.
· The work of the school principal is characterised by dedication and professionalism.
· The teaching expertise of the principal and post-holders means that they are well-equipped to lead curriculum implementation throughout the school.
· Examples of excellent practice were observed in most areas of the curriculum.
· The teachers’ skill in pupil management enables the school to provide an orderly learning environment.
· The school makes particularly effective provision for English, Mathematics, Music and aspects of Science
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made.
· It is recommended that the teachers’ schemes, monthly progress records and the
curricular sections of the school plan include clear statements of key learning outcomes.
· It is recommended that the duties attached to the posts of deputy principal and special-duties teacher be revised, with a view to ensuring that each post has curricular, organisational and pastoral dimensions.
· It is recommended that the in-school management monitor the implementation of the school plan to ensure that there is continuity and progression in the pupils’ learning as they advance from class to class.
· It is recommended that lesson objectives, methodologies and resources be differentiated appropriately for pupils with special educational needs.
· It is recommended that the school adopt and implement 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).
· It is recommended that the designated liaison person who has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools be named in the school plan.
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.