An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Whole School Evaluation



Ballinahowen National School

Ballinahowen, County Westmeath

Uimhir rolla:19632S


Date of inspection:  16 October 2008




Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils


School response to the report





Whole-school evaluation


A whole-school evaluation of Ballinahowen NS was undertaken in October 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). 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.



Introduction – school context and background


Ballinahowen NS is a three-teacher mainstream primary school under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. It is situated in a small village community which affords it strong support. 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

4 full-time + 1 part-time

Mainstream class teachers


Teachers working in support roles

1 full-time + 1 part-time

Special needs assistants



1.     Quality of school management


1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

 Ballinahowen NS aims to provide for the continuous personal, religious, social and educational development of each individual in a happy and environmentally friendly atmosphere. The climate that prevails within the school and the range of activities undertaken therein are conducive to the realisation of this vision.


1.2 Board of management

 The quality of management provided by the board of management is very good. The board is properly constituted and all members of the board have specific areas of expertise. This ensures that board members, both individually and collectively, enhance the work of the school. The minutes of board meetings show that various boards have deliberated on a broad range of topics including the board’s obligations as employers, relationship and sexuality education (RSE), gender equity within the school and the school’s complaints procedures. The board is commended for such wide ranging consideration of relevant matters, and is urged to continue this good practice. Board meetings are characterised by a detailed principal’s report, which provides a clear picture of school activities. This is very good practice and could be extended to include an overview of various aspects of the school’s curriculum. The present board is praised for ensuring that its meetings are conducted in accordance with relevant rules of procedure. In order to further enhance its effectiveness the board is advised to determine the information to be conveyed to members of the school community and the manner in which it should be conveyed, at the close of each meeting. The current board is highly commended for identifying specific targets for its term of office. These targets include enhancing the school’s capabilities in the area of information and communication technology (ICT) with particular reference to classroom practice and broadening both parental and community involvement in school life. The fact that these targets encompass items central to teaching and learning and promoting partnerships in education is particularly praiseworthy.


1.3 In-school management

 The quality of in-school management is very good. The school principal has very valuable teaching experience at all levels and an in-depth knowledge of the school community. She willingly shares her knowledge and expertise with her colleagues and promotes a distributed approach to school leadership. Consequently all staff members are empowered to lead initiatives and are included in the decision-making processes within the school. These are very commendable aspects of school life. The principal is ably assisted by a deputy principal and a special duties teacher. Both of these have specifically assigned duties, all of which are undertaken proficiently and to a very high standard. The school should now increase the emphasis on curricular leadership and consider assigning a leadership role for specific curricular areas to each  member of the in-school management team. These assignations should be regularly reviewed in the light of the developing needs of the school.  


1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 Very healthy relationships exist within the school and a strong sense of community permeates the atmosphere. Relationships between teachers and parents are described as open and positive by both teachers and parent representatives. Formal arrangements exist for parent-teacher interaction, both through the issuing of an annual report on pupils’ progress and through the yearly parent-teacher meeting. At an informal level, parents appreciate the ease with which they can approach teachers should they wish to discuss aspects of their children’s education. The school currently does not have a parents’ association. However the parent representatives on the board of management have begun the process of establishing one. The parent representatives are commended for this initiative and for the practical measures they have taken towards realising it. They are particularly praised for articulating objectives for the parents association which include actively involving parents in the process of school policy making and increasing communication between the school and the parents. Staff relationships within the school are excellent and characterised by mutual support, honesty and respect. Such relationships impact very positively on the school environment and create a climate where sharing of good practice amongst teachers is facilitated. The school has a long and successful tradition of involvement in local and national initiatives such as artist in residence schemes, Building for the Future, Dissolving Boundaries and the Green Flag scheme. The school is praised for its participation in such initiatives as they enrich pupils’ learning experiences.


1.5 Management of pupils

 The management of pupils is excellent. It is very apparent that the pupils adhere to their motto of ‘be responsible, be respectful, be kind, be honest, be your best’ in all of their school-related activities.



2.     Quality of school planning


2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

 The quality of whole-school planning is good. The school has a comprehensive set of organisational policies which provide very clear guidelines on school practices and routines. The board of management should consider formulating the most pertinent of these in booklet form for distribution to parents. The staff has begun the process of incrementally reviewing school policies and is beginning to identify relevant areas for action planning and for strategic planning for the each of the next three years. This is excellent practice and it is recommended that it become embedded in the school’s system. It is also recommended that both the board of management and the parents association become involved in this process.


Curricular plans are available for all areas. They are closely aligned to the structure of the Primary School Curriculum and adequately reflect its principles. Their impact on classroom practice would be enhanced if they provided a more detailed outline of appropriate content for the various class levels. For example the English plan could detail themes for oral language and writing genres appropriate for the various class levels. A similar treatment could be afforded to the language idioms in the Irish plan. The SPHE plan would benefit from an outline of the topics from the strand units to be covered at each level over the proposed two year cycle. The Mathematics plan could also provide greater detail on the agreed language of mathematics and the common approaches for the teaching of Mathematics in the school.


The quality of classroom planning is good. All mainstream class teachers provide long-term and short-term plans and a monthly record of progress. Some of the teachers utilise curriculum objectives as their basis for planning in some subjects. This is very good practice and the staff should consider replicating it across the school. Currently all mainstream class teachers utilise an agreed, externally-produced template for short-term planning. They should explore the possibility of devising their own template which would allow greater freedom to plan for methodologies, assessment and differentiation. Planning in special educational needs (SEN) settings is excellent and impacts very positively on practice. Detailed individual educational plans (IEPs) are compiled for pupils with low-incidence SEN and comprehensive individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) are available for pupils in receipt of learning support. These plans contain a wealth of holistic information about relevant pupils and they inform short-term planning. A daily record of objectives achieved is kept by both teachers. A notable feature of planning in SEN settings is that planning documents are utilised daily to inform teaching and learning. This is very commendable.


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.



3.     Quality of learning and teaching


3.1 Language



 Múintear an Ghaeilge go héifeachtach agus cuirtear na ceachtanna i láthair le luas beoga bríomhar. Sna ranganna naíonán tugtar ionchur teanga an-mhaith do na daltaí agus baintear úsáid thairbheach as ábhar dílis agus puipéid chun stóras foclóra na ndaltaí a fhorbairt. Tá cnuasach leathan d’amhráin agus de rainn ar eolas ag na naíonáin agus aithrisíonn siad go hanamúil iad. Cabhraíonn sé seo go mór leis an bhfoclóir agus le struchtúr na cainte a dhaingniú. Sna méanranganna úsáidtear eiseamláirí pictiúrtha agus luaschártaí chun an foclóir a mhúineadh, eagraítear deiseanna cumarsáide, mar chomhrá beirte, chun an sprioctheanga a úsáid, agus déantar cleachtaí oiriúnacha chun an teanga a dhaingniú. Sna ceachtanna ag an léibhéal sin sonraítear tréimhse réamhchumarsáide, tréimhse chumarsáide agus tréimhse iarchumarsáide chinnte iontu. Moltar an cleachtas seo a chur i bhfeidhm ar fud na scoile. Sna hardranganna baintear úsáid fhíoréifeachtach as an bhfilíocht chun foclóir nua a mhúineadh agus a chleachtadh agus comhtháthaítear an Drámaíocht go sciliúil leis na ceachtanna seo. Tugtar roinnt deiseanna cumarsáide eile do na daltaí ach d’fhéadfaí iad seo a mhéadú a thuilleadh. Tá an léitheoireacht á saothrú go céimniúil tomhaiste agus tá sé ar chumas na ndaltaí léamh le tuiscint. Déantar obair sa scríbhneoireacht atá téascleabhairbhunaithe don chuid is mó. Moltar don scoil anois scóp na hoibre sa scríbhneoireacht a leathnú agus taithí sa bhreis a thabhairt do na daltaí ar chineálacha éagsúla téascanna a scríobh agus ar a saothair a athdhréachtú. Comhairlíodh freisin do chuid de na hoidí gan dul i muinín an Bhéarla sa cheacht Gaeilge.



 Irish is taught very effectively in the school and lessons are presented in a lively, stimulating manner. At infant level very effective use is made of materials and puppets to develop the children’s vocabulary and they receive very good language input. Pupils at this level know a broad range of poems and songs, which they recite with meaning. This assists the processes of language acquisition. At the middle standards pictorial clues and flashcards are used to teach new vocabulary. Conversational opportunities, such as peer discussions, are organised to facilitate target-language use, and suitable exercises are organised to reinforce the language. Lessons at this level are characterised by distinct pre-conversational, conversational and post-conversational stages. This practice should be extended throughout the school. At the senior level very effective use is made of poetry to teach the new vocabulary and Drama is skilfully integrated with these lessons. Pupils are provided with other conversational opportunities, however these could be increased. Reading is effectively developed and pupils can read with understanding. Work in writing is generally text-book based. The school is now advised to broaden the scope of the writing curriculum and provide pupils with greater opportunities to write passages that explore a variety of genres and to re-draft their work. Some teachers were also advised  to avoid using English during Irish lessons.



 The quality of teaching and learning in English is very good. All lessons observed were well structured and paced and pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil interactions were very positive. In all classrooms pupils have valuable opportunities to interact with many forms of print and the teachers are commended for the language-rich learning environments they have created. The pre-reading programme is very well structured and ensures pupils’ word-recognition skills, phonological awareness and phonemic skills are well developed. At infant level the reading programme is complemented by an individualised reading scheme. This is very effective in facilitating pupils to progress at a pace appropriate to their abilities. Very good work is done in the middle classes on consolidating pupils’ word attack skills and in senior classes effective work is done through the use of novels. While pupils in all classes are provided with many opportunities to read a variety of texts, staff should explore ways of extending the individualised reading programme throughout the school. As a result of the schools’ effective approach to the teaching of reading pupil attainments in standardised reading tests are very good. Writing is taught very effectively. At infant level pupils are exposed to a wide variety of pre-writing activities and are making commendable progress as emergent writers. At middle and senior standards excellent work is being done both on writing processes and on writing in a wide variety of genres. In oral language pupils at all levels have a well developed ability to discuss a broad range of topics with clarity. Given the overall quality of teaching and learning in English the staff should now consider a more prudent selection of textbooks to complement their English programme.


3.2 Mathematics

 The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is good. Lessons at all levels are characterised by very clear instructions and explanations and by very good questioning by teachers. Pupil attainments, as recorded in standardised tests are very good.  Lessons at infant level are activity-based, with valuable opportunities for pupils to engage with appropriate materials and resources. While some concrete materials are used to support learning at middle and senior level, it is recommended that practical, discovery-based work become a stronger feature of these lessons. A greater emphasis on skill development in mathematics at these levels would also be beneficial. A commendable emphasis is placed on mental mathematics at middle and senior levels and pupils show a good knowledge of number facts. The language of mathematics is appropriately emphasised throughout the school and pupils display competence in explaining their work. In planning for curriculum implementation teachers should ensure that due attention is given to the algebra and data strands.


3.3 Social, Personal and Health Education

 Adequate provision is made for SPHE. At whole-school level the positive school climate enhances the effectiveness of the SPHE curriculum. Discrete lessons in SPHE are characterised by clear explanations, good discussions and very skilful links with the English curriculum. Some very beneficial work is being done at senior level in the developing citizenship strand unit. Throughout the school the quality of provision for SPHE would be enhanced by providing increased opportunities for pupils to become more actively engaged in the learning process and by increasing the emphasis on group work. Teachers should also ensure that appropriate consideration is afforded to the myself and the wider world strand of the SPHE curriculum.


3.4 Assessment

 Assessment of learning in this school is good. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered on an annual basis to all pupils from first to sixth class. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is administered to all senior infants and the Belfield Infant Assessment Programme (BIAP) is administered to junior infants at the teacher’s discretion. The school should now consider administering a non-reading intelligence test to all pupils, at least twice during their time in school. The results of such a test, when compared with pupils’ attainments in literacy and numeracy, will provide valuable information on pupils’ overall progression. The school has just begun to record pupils’ attainments on standardised tests in a format that facilitates comparison with their previous attainments. This is commendable and teachers are encouraged to continue this practice and to utilise the information it yields to inform teaching and learning strategies. Teachers in SEN settings have well developed and effective approaches to assessment of learning. A wide range of diagnostic tests are administered at the end of bi-annual instructional terms. A selection of qualitative assessment instruments which provide very useful information on pupils’ progression are also used in SEN classes.


Assessment for learning operates at an informal level within the school, mainly through maintaining portfolios of pupils’ work. The school should now adopt a whole-school approach to assessment for learning. It will find the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s (NCCA) publication Assessment in the Primary School Guidelines for Schools very useful in this regard.   



4.     Quality of support for pupils


4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

 The quality of support given to pupils with SEN is very good. The organisation of this support adheres very much to the staged approach to assessment, identification and programme planning and makes very commendable use of external agencies for advice, support and inputs.  The school has the services of a resource and a learning-support teacher and lessons observed in both settings were of a very high standard. Lesson objectives were clearly explained and closely aligned to pupils’ needs. Material covered was well linked both with previous lessons and with the mainstream class programme. Appropriate, well resourced activities, were facilitated. The school should now formalise opportunities for teachers in SEN settings to discuss programmes of work with mainstream class teachers. A formal opportunity for both teachers in SEN roles to share good practice would also be beneficial. Consideration should also be given to broadening the remit of the learning support teacher to include Mathematics and high-achieving pupils. The school has two special needs assistants, both of whom are effective in facilitating the fuller participation of pupils in mainstream activities. 



5. Conclusion


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 board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.





Published May 2009








School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management







Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     


A Parents Association is now established and is fully operational in school life.

General Observation – The Board of Management accepts the recommendations of the WSE report.



Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection

               activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.