An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
SN Naomh Feichín
Attymass, Co. Mayo
Uimhir rolla: 19488O
Date of inspection: 20 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Attymass NS. 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 inspector 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 inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. She interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. She reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector 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.
Attymass NS is located 12 km from Ballina, at the base of the Ox mountains. It caters for boys and girls from infants to sixth class and has a current enrolment of 83 pupils. Enrolment trends fluctuate in line with the changing demographics of the local community. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Achonry. Since the last inspection in 1997, the principal has been on secondment and there is an acting principal in his place. The school maintains regular attendance records. It reports as necessary to the National Education Welfare Board. Attendance in the school is excellent.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets once each term. Detailed minutes are maintained at each meeting. A number of roles and responsibilities have been assigned to board members, namely that of chairperson, treasurer and secretary. It is recommended that the board appoint a health and safety officer. The chairperson visits the school on a weekly basis and uses this opportunity to liaise with the principal, teaching staff and pupils. The board supports the work of the staff by dealing with correspondence from parents, sanctioning supports for pupils and teachers, affirming the work of the staff and by ratifying plans and policies. Board members recognise the excellent staff and parent relations as a very positive aspect of school life.
The acting principal manages the school effectively on a daily basis with support from the full-time school secretary. She promotes a very good working atmosphere in the school. She is very familiar with the needs of pupils in the school and has established good relations with the parents and the school community. The principal is assisted by a middle-management team which consists of two teachers. Their responsibilities are largely of an organisational nature and should now be reviewed in the context of Department of Education and Science Circular 07/03. It is recommended that the principal delegate some areas of responsibility to the middle-management team to allow her to focus on school leadership. The staff has recently started having staff meetings on a termly basis. It is recommended that this structure be formalised and communicated to parents. The use of a planning diary at the beginning of the school year would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of such meetings.
The school has an effective teaching staff that provides a broad and balanced education to the pupils. It consists of three mainstream teachers, a full-time support teacher and a shared DEIS co-ordinator who visits the school one day per week. The building was opened in 1976 and consists of four classrooms (one of which is now used for support teaching), a general-purposes room, an office, staffroom, toilets, cloakrooms and indoor storage. The recreation area includes tarmacadam and grass surfaces. The school also has the use of a soccer pitch and an astro-turf pitch in the locality for Physical Education and sporting activities. The school is maintained to a high standard. Windows and doors are being replaced on a phased basis. The board employs a cleaner and arranges for routine maintenance to be carried out.
A large number of resources have been purchased to support different subject areas. This includes library books, musical equipment, sporting equipment, Visual Arts resources, Science resources and computer hardware and software. These resources are currently stored centrally in newly constructed storage areas.
The school staff has established good links with the parent body and with the school community. Parent-teacher meetings are held on an annual basis and parents are welcome to contact the school at any time with concerns or queries. A newsletter is prepared periodically to inform parents of any developments in the school. The DEIS co-ordinator is currently meeting parents of next year’s junior infants. She is also active in setting up a ‘Maths for fun’ initiative in the school. It is recommended that the school establish clear procedures for involving parents in school activities both formally (for such activities as school planning and involvement with the DEIS co-ordinator) and informally.
The pupils in Attymass NS are very well behaved. They are friendly and welcoming to visitors. They interact openly and appropriately with adults and with their peers. The establishment of a ‘reading buddies’ initiative by the DEIS co-ordinator is also ensuring senior pupils can support and communicate effectively with the younger pupils. The additional sense of responsibility for the senior pupils has a positive impact on their behaviour. Break times are carefully supervised through a well-planned rota. The code of behaviour is distributed to all parents on enrolment.
The staff has prioritised curricular planning since the inception of the Primary School Curriculum. Plans are available for all subject areas and the majority of them follow the guidelines as set out by School Development Planning Support (SDPS) and Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP). The plans however, tend to be generic in nature and lack information relevant to the local context. Plans for English and Mathematics have been reviewed recently and accurately reflect current practice in the school. They also contain details to aid teacher planning, with a number of whole-school approaches, which, if implemented, should raise literacy and numeracy levels throughout the school. It is recommended that the staff continue this type of review. Planning in organisational areas has yielded a number of important policies but, as with the curricular plans, they need to be reviewed to include current practice and the local context. Conducting a whole-school review, preparing a long-term plan and use of the annual planning diary would lead to a more consistent approach to planning, with a balance between organisational and curricular planning.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
All teachers prepare detailed schemes of work that reflect the structure and language of the Primary School Curriculum. There is some excellent practice in classroom planning, which includes documenting objectives in terms of learner outcomes, stating the methodologies and resources to be used and planning for differentiation within the classroom context. It is recommended that this practice be shared. Monthly progress records are completed by each teacher and copies are kept on file by the principal. Examination of the records shows continuity in learning at all class levels and a breadth and balance in the material presented to pupils in all subjects.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Standards across the curriculum are good. The teaching staff is implementing the curriculum successfully. Excellent use is made of the data projector as a visual aid for pupils. Charts, posters and concrete materials also support learning. A majority of teachers are using pupil-centred methodologies such as talk and discussion, group work, inter-class work and project work. It is recommended that more use be made of pair work and group work at all class levels.
Múintear an Ghaeilge go cumasach tríd an scoil. Ó thús scolaíochta na ndaltaí, baintear feidhm thairbheach as cluichí, scéalaíocht agus rainn. Tá ardmholadh tuillte ag an bhfoireann as an béim a leagtar ar fhilíocht na Gaeilge. Tá gach rang in ann dánta a rá go fuinneamhach agus go bríomhar. Is breá leis na bunranganna gníomhamhráin a chanadh chomh maith. I bhformhór na gceachtanna bíonn deiseanna ag na daltaí páirt ghníomhach a ghlacadh i bhfoghlaim na Gaeilge. Moltar an úsáid a bhaintear as obair bheirte a mhéadú i ngach rang. De ghnáth úsáidtear an Ghaeilge mar theanga chumarsáide an cheachta. B’fhiú áfach, an Ghaeilge a úsáid go rialta i rith an lae scoile mar theanga bhainistíochta an ranga.
Tá forbairt le sonrú sa léitheoireacht de réir mar a théann na daltaí ar aghaidh. Bíonn neart ábhair chlóbhuailte i nGaeilge sna seomraí ranga. Bíonn lipéid, luaschartaí, cairteacha agus póstaeir mar spreagadh do na foghlaimeoirí. Moltar scéim léitheoireachta Ghaeilge a roghnú a nascann le hobair ar labhairt agus éisteacht na Gaeilge. Moltar chomh maith cleachtadh rialta a dhéanamh ar léitheoireacht na Gaeilge, go mór mór sna meánranganna agus iad ag tosú leis an léitheoireacht sa dara teanga.
Ó thaobh scríbhneoireachta de, faigheann na daltaí taithí ar thascanna scríbhneoireachta a bhaineann lena saol féin. B’fhiú cineálacha difriúla de thascanna a chleachtadh go leanúnach agus an t-ábhar a phlé leis na daltaí roimh ré.
Irish is taught well throughout the school. From the beginning of their schooling, pupils have enjoyable experiences of games, storytelling and rhymes in Irish. The emphasis placed on poetry in the school is praiseworthy. All classes are enabled to recite poems with energy and enthusiasm. The junior classes also enjoy performing action songs. In the majority of classes, pupils are given opportunities to be active in their learning of the language. It is recommended that the use of pair work be extended in all classrooms. Irish is generally used as the language of instruction for these lessons. Teachers should also consider using Irish regularly throughout the school day, in particular for giving instructions.
There is a development in reading ability as pupils progress through the school. A very good emphasis is placed on creating an environment that supports the Irish language. Signs, flashcards, charts and posters are used as aids to the pupils. It is recommended that an Irish reading scheme be chosen which links with the work carried out in oral and aural activities. It is further recommended that Irish reading be revised regularly, in particular with the middle standards where reading in the second language is introduced.
With regard to writing, pupils experience different writing tasks that relate to their lives. It is recommended that a variety of tasks be practised on an ongoing basis with the writing topic prepared in detail with the pupils.
The staff has prepared a comprehensive plan for the teaching of English. This is ensuring continuity from class to class once implementation is achieved. Some teachers have a discrete oral-language time on their timetable, a practice that should be extended to all teachers. It is evident that a majority of pupils have attained excellent listening skills. They are, in general, confident speakers and use a vocabulary appropriate to their age and level of development. Pair work and group work, when used, are of particular benefit to pupils in advancing their speaker-listener relationships, their vocabulary and their creative use of language.
The pupils are achieving well in English reading. Pupils at infant level experience a gradual introduction to formal reading. There is an exemplary emphasis on the emergent reader and on the skills associated with reading. Big books and picture books are used widely to develop an enjoyable introduction to books. Class books and story wheels are used to excellent effect with the infants to promote reading and writing at a basic level. Class readers are used effectively in conjunction with class novels in the middle and senior classes. Most pupils are fluent readers and read with confidence and expression. Many pupils also enjoy discussing books and favourite authors. It is recommended that class libraries be restocked with a wider variety of genres to suit different tastes and interests. Libraries should also be organised in a manner that entices pupils to read.
Due emphasis is placed on the development of writing skills from handwriting to creative writing. Pupils in the middle standards use a cursive style of writing and can write accurately for prolonged periods. It is recommended that this practice be implemented as a whole-school approach. Pupils’ work is generally corrected, dated and commented on as feedback to the learners. Teachers also emphasise spellings, grammar and phonological awareness in their teaching of English, although a whole-school approach to phonics is recommended.
The teaching of poetry is a particularly successful aspect of the English curriculum in Attymass NS. Pupils recite poetry with expression and style. They can discuss, compare and contrast poems in a very mature fashion at senior class level.
The quality of teaching in Mathematics is excellent. Pupils are exposed to Mathematics-rich environments which act as visual aids for specific strands. Pupils are active in the learning of Mathematics. Teachers place a praiseworthy emphasis on mathematical language. Objectives of lessons are explained to pupils and material is related to the lives of the pupils. They are encouraged to ask questions. Teachers are patient and supportive of pupils who need further time to grasp new concepts. Lessons are clearly structured and paced according to the needs of the class. All teachers teach the multi-grade classes very effectively by focusing on the same mathematical topic for all classes at the same time. The teaching of Mathematics would be further developed by differentiating tasks for learners of different abilities, by introducing more group and pair work when engaging in talk and discussion and by linking the language of Mathematics to literacy.
History is taught with a very good balance between knowledge and skills. Pupils are knowledgeable about their local area and can compare it to urban areas in the county. Timelines appropriate to the stages of development of the pupils are used to good effect in classrooms. The school plan for History should document the whole-school approach to local history at each class level and should lay out the strand units chosen to be covered by the middle and senior classes. The resources used to support lessons in History include photographs and pictures, timelines, maps and atlases, posters and books. Pupils show curiosity around the topics presented. The open relationship between pupils and teachers greatly facilitates pupils in asking questions. Project work provides pupils with opportunities to research a topic and present their findings.
Many of the topics dealt with in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) are taught in an integrated fashion. The pupils of Attymass NS are consistently developing a sense of place and space through their engagement with the Geography curriculum. All classrooms have appropriate maps in use in the classroom, from classroom plans to world maps. A good emphasis is placed on language development in lessons. Teachers ensure pupils are given opportunities to share their opinions and to relate the knowledge to family histories and personal experiences.
Teachers have actively embraced the teaching of Science since its introduction to the curriculum. They have purchased a range of materials to support the teaching of the various strands. Practical investigations are often carried out as teacher demonstrations. It is recommended that all pupils experience a hands-on approach that promotes the development of scientific skills. Consideration should also be given to the development of a Science trail on the school grounds.
There is evidence of work in the six strands throughout the school with an obvious development from class to class. Excellent use has been made of the ‘Heritage in Schools’ scheme to link the Visual Arts to SESE. Pupils are experiencing the use of a broad range of media and can discuss their preferences with confidence and authority. Senior pupils in particular are being encouraged to explore the elements of art. Their work on line and shape with charcoal is particularly effective. There is currently an over-emphasis on template art and teachers are advised to develop appropriate stimuli to encourage the creative development of all pupils.
A variety of musical experiences is presented to pupils throughout their schooling. They are exposed to the three strands, with most emphasis on song-singing and listening and responding to music. Pupils enjoy singing in both Irish and English and do so tunefully and with great vigour. Infant pupils benefit greatly from the use of action songs used in conjunction with other curricular areas such as English and SESE. Pupils enjoy exposure to different composers and to different genres of music. Junior pupils have produced praiseworthy class books on their responses to music through art. Senior pupils can express their opinions openly and with justification. It is recommended that a whole-school approach to instrumentation, rhythm and listening and responding be developed and documented in the school plan.
Drama is used as a discrete experience to teach pupils skills for life. It is also used as a method of developing comprehension of topics and concepts encountered in other subject areas. Pupils thoroughly enjoy the dramatic experiences they are exposed to. The staff is making a very good effort at implementing Drama, in which they are receiving in-service training in the current school year.
This subject is highly developed in the school. Excellent lessons are characterised by carefully structured activities, use of small groups to ensure pupils are active for large portions of the lesson and effective use of resources. Lessons included a warm-up and cool-down to reduce the risk of injury to pupils. An excellent emphasis is placed on skill development. Pupils participate in the aquatics strand for the duration of six weeks in Ballina swimming pool. Pupils have also benefited from gymnastics at a local gymnasium where lessons were taught by experienced teachers. This was funded under the DEIS initiative. The school recently participated in the Active School scheme.
Discrete lessons in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) cover a broad range of topics across the three strands. A positive school climate and working environment is promoted by the school staff. Pupils are friendly and welcoming to visitors. They interact confidently and appropriately with the adults in the school. Issues are explored through talk and discussion, poetry, circle time, drama and stories.
The primary modes of assessment include standardised tests, namely the Micra-T, Sigma-T and Middle Infant Screening Test, teacher observation and teacher-designed tasks and tests. A minority of teachers maintain ongoing records of their observation, which provide invaluable information on the development of a pupil over time. Results of standardised tests are discussed with parents at the annual parent-teacher meeting. Where diagnostic tests are necessary, the support teacher carries these out with parental consent. She liaises with the class teacher on these results to ensure weaknesses are addressed by both the class and the support teachers.
Pupils in receipt of support classes are availing of a very holistic service that addresses their academic, social, emotional and physical needs. The teacher has a very wide range of materials available to support many areas of the curriculum, particularly literacy and numeracy. Excellent use is made of a flipchart to document ideas and to recap on material covered at previous sessions. This ensures continuity and progression for pupils from one lesson to the next. The teacher places a strong emphasis on language through the curriculum. There is an abundance of flashcards, charts, posters and signs. Pupils are taught using visual, auditory and kinaesthetic approaches. They particularly enjoy the educational kinesiology activities offered at the beginning of each lesson. Individual programmes are drawn up for pupils taking cognisance of their needs. Parents are kept informed of their child’s progress through meetings and phone calls. It is recommended that an individual programme be prepared for all pupils for each term and shared with parents and class teachers at termly meetings.
Attymass NS has access to a DEIS co-ordinator who is shared with five schools. She spends one day a week in the school and is very active in setting up a number of initiatives to address literacy and numeracy issues in the school. The establishment of the ‘reading buddies’ scheme is producing excellent results but is hampered by the lack of implementation on days when the co-ordinator is not in the school. She is currently meeting with the parents of the enrolling junior infants. Pre-school packs are prepared for each family. The co-ordinator makes a home visit, discusses schooling with the parents and shows them how the resources in the pack can be used effectively. It is recommended that the school staff devise a timetable to ensure that all homes can be visited. This will facilitate the co-ordinator in familiarising herself with the concerns of the parent body.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made.
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.