An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil Mhuire National School
Rosmuc County Galway
Date of inspection: 25 Aibreán 2008
Report of Whole School Evaluation
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Mhuire National School in April 2008. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for its further development. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Music. 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.
Introducion – school context and background
This Gaeltacht school is situated in the historic parish of Rosmuc. The area was closely connected with Pádraig Pearse, one of the great heroes of Easter 1916. It is also renowned for a number of famous writers and personalities in Irish life. The school is situated on the west coast of Connemara approximately forty miles from Galway city. The activities in the community have flourished in recent years and this is evident in the school itself and also in the facilities and human skills’ development that has taken place locally. An example of this is the Second Chance Education Unit sponsored by the Vocational Education Committee that is situated next to the school. There is a well maintained Community Centre alongside the school incorporating a multi-purpose hall and a classroom / games’ room in addition to a kitchen and a meeting room. In recent years also the Pearse Memorial College situated in the locality has been completely refurbished. Although high emigration levels impacted greatly on this area in the last century, development organisations such as Cumas and Pléaráca have greatly enhanced the confidence levels in the community. This school was opened in 1968 and had four classrooms that were connected by a long corridor, a cloakroom and a toilet. There is a cement yard at the back of the school that extends the length of the school, a long shed behind the yard and a green area to the front of the school that is under water in winter. This green area would be very useful as a play area and it would be worthwhile discussing the drainage of the yard with Galway County Council because of the impact that the raising of the road level alongside has had on water retention.
The number of pupils in this school has decreased since the school opened and two classrooms are now used for additional activities such as rooms for resource and remedial supports, a centre for the D.E.I.S. coordinator and for a library and technology services. There are 36 pupils currently enrolled and this number will remain stable in the short term. The number of pupils in the junior classes is higher than in the senior classes. In order to achieve a balance in terms of the distribution of pupils, second class is shared between both class teachers at different times during the school day. The school has named the classrooms in honour of famous local writers. Two classrooms have been designated to Padraig Mac Piarais and Caitlín Maude at this stage. The school plan indicates an intention to acknowledge other local artists and their work in the school in the near future. It is intended that their work will form an important part of the school curriculum in order to instil pride in their community as well as to develop pupils confidence and natural abilities in creativity.
The table below provides the general information on the staff and pupils registered in the school at the time of this evaluation:
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teacher(s) on the staff of the school
Teacher(s) in mainstream classes
Teacher(s) assigned to a support role (shared post)
Special needs’ assistants
All pupils in the school are from Irish speaking families and the majority of the pupils are native Irish speakers with a rich command of the language. The Board of Management and the teachers are commended for the diligence and creativity they apply to creating a rich Irish environment in the school. Many worthwhile cultural and Irish language events are organised by local committees that ensures the language is a daily feature of people’s lives and that it is heard in the school environment. The mission of all parties in the school is to provide an equal opportunities child centred education for all pupils based on their abilities. This is provided in a welcoming and appealing environment by teachers who are enthusiastic and interested in their profession and in the progress of all students in their care. The school logo is ‘Níl neart go cur le chéile’ (There is no strength without cooperation). This logo and the mission statement are visibly displayed at school events and in the attractive logo created by the pupils and hanging in the corridor in front of the main door. There is cooperation between school and home to create a pleasant and positive learning environment and this cooperative relationship ensures a happy and positive atmosphere. All the past-pupils from this school in the recent past progress to completion of the leaving certificate programme.
The board of management has been selected in accordance with the regulations of the Department of Education and Science, officers with particular responsibility have been identified and the work of the board is conducted through Irish. Meetings are held at least three times each year and minutes are kept on decisions made and on expenditure. It would be beneficial to the board if some investment were made in its skills’ improvement so that members can further support the operation of the school. The board is aware of its responsibilities and the school plan includes a health and safety statement, a code of conduct and policies on enrolment, special education, bullying, equal opportunities, child protection and a supervision policy as well as a wide range of other curricular activities. Parents are informed of pupils’ progress at meetings held once a year and other formal and informal contacts with parents are welcomed during the year. The school plan is also being reviewed in light of this report and it would be of value to include a pedagogical plan, a staff development plan, and a plan relevant to article 9 (h) of the Education Act (1998). It is recommended that contact is made with the local language support unit under Údarás na Gaeltachta, as well as other relevant Gaeltacht organisations to agree the aspect of the plan pertaining to article 9 (h) of the Education Act. Discussions took place with the board regarding the various ways in which parents might be included in the ownership of the school plan as well as discussing the usual practices in regard to this.
Two of the three class teachers registered in this school have posts of responsibility as principal and deputy principal in the school. All three teachers assume a key role in the management of the school and the other three teachers who provide a service to the school are also involved in the decision making. This ensures that there is a happy and safe environment in the school as well as providing a progressive education programme for the children. The teachers avail of opportunities for professional development that are offered and the use this school has made of the curriculum support services is commendable. Good habits of behaviour are practiced, resources and information technology are regularly used and independent learning skills are thereby developed in pupils. It was agreed, as an outcome of this report, that aspects of the school plan would be reviewed at staff meetings including the necessity of including the policy in regard to section 9(h) of the Education Act and the policy in regard to teaching methodologies.
The professionalism of teachers was highly praised at the meetings held prior to the evaluation and parents and the board of management confirmed that they were satisfied with the way the school was functioning. Parents’ representatives were particularly praiseworthy of the extent to which the school supports and welcomes pupils with special educational needs. The community are very proud of the school, it is kept clean and tidy both inside and outside and staff receive help from the community whenever they need it. The classrooms and the corridors are appealing and motivational and pupils’ work on local history and on other projects is displayed. School classrooms have been named in honour of local writers. It appears that there are so many renowned artists associated with this school that there are insufficient rooms to accommodate all their names. It is intended to discuss the matter in the community so that the status of local famous people is retained and celebrated. The school provides a periodical newsletter that describes interesting activities, as well as the work of pupils, and this is a very valuable resource in providing information to the community.
There is an open and kind relationship between all parties in the school, and the board of management confirmed there had been no need to date to apply the code of discipline. A mutually respectful and cooperative relationship is evident in the school, first names are used by all parties, and a range of opportunities, materials and technology resources are available for pupils in order to make their work more interesting. The work programme is made interesting for the pupils, accordingly there is a very high level of school attendance and it was indicated that pupils are reluctant to miss any day from school. Participation in local competitions and in other events, such as team games, dancing, drama, swimming, concerts and school tours are organised and pupils in senior classes show concern for the care of younger pupils in the school playground and during school events.
2. Quality of School Planning
The quality of whole school planning in this school is developed in an influential and systematic way, and it is regularly reviewed in light of curriculum changes. It was agreed during this inspection that aspects of the school plan would be amended and that a definite structure would be put in place to ensure that these changes would be presented to parents. It was also agreed that copies of individual education plans would be available to parents of children with special needs and that written reports would be provided on each child at the end of the year.
Individual planning is linked to the school plan and to the principles of the curriculum. Recognition is given to the stated strands and strand units in the curriculum frameworks that form part of individual planning, differentiated teaching takes place in the delivery of the curriculum and a record is kept regularly of the progress of pupils. A range of methodologies is used in the approach to teaching, and the teaching and learning activities in the school is thereby motivational and influential. Regular meetings are held with parents regarding the progress of pupils and home school cooperation is practiced in the form of paired reading and other learning activities. It is commendable that one of the parents takes responsibility for developing the skills and practise of reading as part of the D.E.I.S. programme in the school.
It was confirmed, in accordance with Circular 0061/2006 from the Department of Education and Science, that the board of management has formally accepted the Guidelines for Primary Schools on the Protection of Children (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). It was also confirmed that management, staff and parents were made aware of these practices in regard to child safety; that copies of these practices were provided for all staff members (including new members); and that management has ensured that all staff understand what procedures are to be applied. A designated liaison person and a deputy liaison person have been appointed as required by the guidelines.
3. The quality of learning and teaching
Emphasis is placed on the teaching of Irish and on teaching through Irish in this Gaeltacht school. Irish is the main language of communication in the community and the children are fluent in the language when they come to the school. The pupils’ spirit of participation and achievement is evident in the way the language is taught, and language enrichment and vocabulary development are integral to the work on the language. ‘Séidean Sí’ is used as a resource to support the language programme in the junior classes and the pupils achieve the basic skills well. The school library is used on a regular basis to develop recreational reading and further investment in library books is recommended. Higher order thinking skills are developed in the approach to teaching language, and pupils achieve creditable results that reflect their abilities. Students display a wide range of abilities in tests and further use of differentiated activities would help to diversify the range of challenges provided. A wide range of composition and writing themes is used, pupils focus is kept on the mechanics of writing, and research areas are selected from related curriculum topics. It would be beneficial to pupils to use the internet to a greater extent in order to establish electronic communication practises with friends and to develop communication links with other Gaeltacht schools.
Provision is made for all four curricular strands including the structured development of pupils’ cognitive abilities through the use of language. Due emphasis is placed on developing oral language skills, phonological awareness as well as structured reading and writing programmes. A high standard of reading is attained by almost all the pupils and the senior classes engage in independent research through projects and pursuit of personal interest areas. Drama, circle time and discussion are used to promote the communicative approach and an excellent anthology of poetry and rhyme is offered. Parents are encouraged to engage in shared reading exercises with the pupils. Arrangements are made to augment the school’s stock of library books with visits to the public library and parental support is available for this development. Personal reading is a leisure activity practised by all the pupils. Due emphasis is placed on developing early writing skills such as hand-eye co-ordination, gross motor skills and fine motor skills and pupils’ work is carefully scaffolded in the junior classes. Writing skills are integrated into most curricular aspects with editing and re-writing being a feature of the approach. Pupils’ progress is carefully monitored through a variety of assessment procedures including teacher observation, questioning, written tasks, correction of copies and books and the use of standardised tests.
A structured Mathematics programme is organised based on the curriculum, the school plan and the textbook as well as teachers’ individual planning. Mental work is regularly practiced as part of the programme and attention is given on an ongoing basis to the terminology of mathematics in both languages. The use of work stations and concrete materials to develop an understanding of the basic concepts is commendable. Group work supporting the range of abilities of pupils in the various classes is organised effectively and pupil activities are used to good effect to achieve the stated teaching objectives. It would be good to create a particular programme for pupils with exceptional abilities. Pupils have opportunities to develop their prediction and estimation skills and the strategies used to promote problem solving are commendable.
The school plan for Music was revised at the beginning of this year and an emphasis is placed in the revised plan on all the strands and strand units of the curriculum. Teachers alternate with each other to cover the whole programme and pupils participate in the Gaelacadhamh scheme to practice instrumental music. The cuiditheoirí scheme of the curriculum support programme was used to good effect last November to agree appropriate methodologies to be used on a school wide basis. Pupils very much enjoy deriving meaning from contemporary music as well as listening to the great classical composers. Concerts are regularly held in the school during the year and children practice how to present music at these events and at other community events.
Teachers use an important range of strategies such as teacher observation, checklists, compilations of work, samples of work, projects, individual profiles, as well as teacher designed tests as means of assessment, and standardised tests, to monitor the progress of pupils. These tests are mainly used to provide an overview of the progress of pupils and to provide information for parents. It would be useful to store the records and the analysis of the standardised and criterion referenced tests on an sequential basis and to make them available to teachers from one year to the next. It would also be good to use the information available from assessment tests to ensure differentiation in individual education programmes and in work practices.
4. Quality of support for pupils
The school’s admission policy ensures equal access and participation for all students, students with special needs in particular. The resource teacher for an assigned low incidence special needs pupil has built an excellent working relationship with the professional service providers in the area. It is commendable that a special sensory development unit in another school is being used to benefit this pupil also as a result of local initiative. Both schools are commended for the strategies they have taken in this regard. The learning support teacher registered in the school provides additional support in English and in Mathematics for pupils with learning difficulties. The third support teacher provides help for pupils with identified needs and concentrates on fostering skills’ development, word analysis and phonology with great effect. The school is registered in the D.E.I.S. scheme and the co-ordinator provides additional opportunities to ensure the curriculum impacts to a greater extent on pupils and parents and that second chance education opportunities are locally accessible.
It was confirmed by the school that all pupils currently enrolled in the school are of a similar background and are from the local area.
5. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The good behaviour and cooperation of pupils is commendable.
· The attitude, effectiveness and diligence of the teachers in regard to their own skills’ development and their implementation of the curriculum are commendable.
· An influential learning environment has been created in the school.
· Good provision is made for pupils with learning difficulties and special needs.
· The interest displayed by parents in their children’s education and in the operation of the school is commendable.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The initiation of a plan to develop the skills of the board of management and of the staff.
· A plan to upgrade the building, including the elimination of dampness in the corridor and the drainage of the underwater area to the front of the school.
· The preparation and implementation of a school plan in accordance with section 9(h) of the Education Act and reflective of the pedagogical practices in 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The staff and Board of Management are satisfied with the 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
The staff and the Board of Management intend to address the recommendations during the current school year.
Published November 2008