An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Colmcille’s National School
Rosaveel, County Galway
Roll number: 12946G
Date of inspection: 7 March 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Saint Colmcille’s National School was undertaken in March 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. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Introducion – school context and background
This two-teacher school is situated in the Spiddal parish adjacent to Rosaveel, the main port in the Conamara Gaeltacht, approximately 39 kilometres west of Galway city. This school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Galway. Most pupils in the school are native Irish speakers. A small percentage of pupils attending the school are not fluent Irish speakers as English is their home language. Despite this the teachers manage very successfully to create an all Irish atmosphere in the school. The school building is used each summer as a base for an Irish College.
The table below provides some general information on the staff of the school and on the pupils enrolled during the evaluation period:
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
DEIS coordinator (shared post)
When the previous school evaluation was conducted in 1999, there were 92 pupils attending the school. A significant decrease in pupil enrolment has occurred since that time. The population in the surrounding areas has decreased and another percentage of pupils has left the area. The board of management is hoping that the numbers of pupils will increase in the near future.
The aim of the school is to “develop the identity, self confidence, strengths and skills of pupils” and “to provide education wholly through the medium of Irish and in keeping with the culture and heritage of Ireland.” It is clear from the description of the school’s mission, vision and aims that a real effort is made to develop a pleasant, respectful and positive attitude in the school. It is evident that great attention is given to developing pupils’ self-confidence and independence skills. Plenty of additional opportunities are provided for pupils to develop their abilities in drama, in traditional music and in Gaelic football.
The composition of the board of management is in accordance with agreed procedures. Meetings are organised on a regular basis each term to discuss school events and educational matters. The board conducts its business through Irish and all members of the board have fluent Irish. Minutes are maintained and the various roles are distributed amongst the members of the board. The account books are submitted annually to an independent accountant to have them audited. It was confirmed that the chairperson of the board meets with the principal on a regular basis. Correspondence received is usually discussed and reports are provided by the principal and the treasurer at board meetings. It was indicated that the board’s priority is to increase the number of pupils attending the school.
The minutes of the last three meetings suggest that the key areas under discussion were the procedures for the appointment of a new principal, extra-curricular classes, and a review of various administrative policies. The minutes indicate that priority is not given at board meetings to formally drafting or reviewing policies. The board is advised to nominate various sub-committees to examine on an ongoing basis the policies under discussion. It would be worthwhile spending a particular amount of time at each meeting reviewing curriculum and administration policies. The board needs to create an action plan for the school in accordance with Sections 6 and 9 of the Education Act, 1998. It would be worth acknowledging in the school plan the efforts being made by the school to promote Irish culture.
The board makes a good effort to promote communication and interaction between the school and the parents’ association. It was indicated that there was a good attendance at the open day that had recently been organised for parents. It is recommended that these good efforts to communicate with parents be strengthened. It would be worth exploring the possibility of registering the school’s parents’ association with the National Parents’ Council, to provide another avenue for the development of the whole-school plan. It is also recommended that an annual report detailing the operation and events of the school be published for parents at the end of each school year, in accordance with Section 20 of the Education Act, 1998.
The school is kept clean and tidy. The heating system has been repaired, the floor covering in the toilets has been upgraded and new windows have been installed at the back of the school with funding provided by the Department of Education and Science. The classrooms have modern furniture and the board of management has invested generously in the provision of a wide range of teaching materials. Although the playground is narrow, the basketball court has been well developed. It was reported that the board had improvements planned regarding the provision of a multi-purposes room and the levelling of the school playground. The board intends to review this plan in light of the school’s immediate needs. It is recommended that the school would prioritise this work, for the sake of ensuring that its safety statement is implemented.
The principal has been in charge of this school for the past 13 years and he attaches great importance to creating a friendly, positive, and strong Gaeltacht atmosphere in the school. The process of appointing a new principal was underway during the evaluation period. The current principal engages in a conscientious and gentle manner with all partners and he is working cooperatively with the staff to foster good behaviour and to improve pupils’ self confidence. He fulfils his administrative responsibilities appropriately. Informal staff meetings are held regularly after school to review school events and the progress of the school planning process. It is recommended in future that formal meetings be arranged and that minutes be kept as a record so that the work progress can be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
The duties attached to the post of responsibility are clearly outlined in the school plan and these include curriculum, administrative and pastoral responsibilities. It is the responsibility of the post-holder to collect information on Music, History and Irish poetry. Beneficial work is also completed on the school records and rolls, on organising school tours, arranging book fairs and preparing for the sacraments. These responsibilities are attended to diligently. It would be beneficial to regularly review the duties of the special duties post to ensure that the school’s priority needs are attended to from year to year, in accordance with Circular 07/03.
Those parents interviewed indicated that the school has an active parent’s association, although the association has not yet been registered with the National Parents’ Council. Various officers have been nominated by the association, there is regular communication with the board of management, and members of the association provide a lot of support to the school by collecting money, arranging swimming lessons and ‘sean-nós’ dancing. Other parents in the school are kept informed in regard to school events. It was indicated that the officers of the association were happy with the standard of education provided in the school and with the extra-curricular activities provided. Parents are welcomed to the school, formal parent-teacher meetings are arranged once a year and homework is regularly monitored. Parents stated that they were very happy with the computer classes that had been provided by the education coordinators in the area.
Parents indicated that the standard of Irish in the textbooks was very difficult for the pupils. They would welcome a more active role in the whole-school planning process. It was also indicated that reports on pupil achievements in curricular areas are not sent to parents. It is recommended that the teachers send written school reports to parents/guardians to keep them informed on the progress of their children. It would also be helpful if information booklets were provided for parents, which would include a summary of the various whole-school policies.
The school rules are reasonable and they are being applied effectively. Pupils are carefully supervised during break times. The development of pupils’ social skills is carefully attended to and they are regularly affirmed in the classrooms. Pupils show respect to each other, to teachers, to visitors and to the school environment. It is recommended at this point that attention be directed, in conjunction with the parents of the school, to conducting an internal review of the code of discipline which is included in the whole-school plan, as referred to in section 23 of the Education Welfare Act 2000. It is be important to provide more detailed written guidelines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the various partners, the practices in regard to misbehaviour and the appeals process. To support this work it would be worth referring to the guidelines on the development of a school code of discipline published by the Education Welfare Board in 2007.
2. Quality of School Planning
The school plan has been well developed and it is clearly presented in two files. It is the staff for the most part that developed the Irish policy. During the planning process good use was made of the facilitators and advisors available through the national support programmes. The specific needs of the school have been identified in those policies that have been developed, and it is evident that, as a result, there is now ownership of the school’s objectives. Some policies have included a review date, and these policies have been discussed, approved and signed by the board, as required by legislation. A strategic leadership role is required to design a three-year whole-school action plan in conjunction with parents, so that self-evaluation can be developed. It is recommended, as part of this work, that a systematic and timely review be conducted of the various policies, which would include the priority needs of this school.
The clarity of the aims and the vision statement of the school are commendable. Included in the plan are policies on health and safety, enrolment, school attendance, acceptable internet usage, sexual harassment and bullying, substance misuse, communication between school and home, staff development, homework, code of conduct, and policies on assessment and on special needs. The school’s equality policy confirms that emphasis is placed on providing equal opportunities for girls and boys in curriculum matters and in extra-curricular activities. It is recommended that the safety policy be updated and further developed, that potential dangers in the school be investigated, and that a safety officer be named, as is legally required by the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989. Policies have been developed for each curriculum area and reference is made in these to teaching methods, assessment methods, and school resources. It is now recommended, with a view to ensuring continuity, progression and equality, that the curriculum content be delineated for each class, and that this delineation would include the skills and concepts to be achieved at each level.
Each teacher provides individual planning statements, which include short term schemes, long term schemes and monthly reports. Differences are evident in regard to the comprehensive nature of these preparation notes. In some classes the planning reflects the strands and strand units of the curriculum and appropriate reference is made to the methodology, the resources and the assessment methods that are used in this particular class. Planning in other classes suggests that textbooks and workbooks strongly influence the planning. It is recommended that an updated outline for short term planning be downloaded from the internet and agreed by the staff for short term planning. Reference should be made to assessment methods, and to the resources and teaching methods applied in the context of this multi-grade school. In order to ensure continuity and uniformity the monthly reports should be provided within a framework that refers to the strands and strand units of the curriculum, and greater use be also made of these for assessment purposes, in order to ensure the progression of teaching and learning from class to class.
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. The quality of learning and teaching
The whole-school plan was reviewed recently in order to provide a whole-school plan throughout the school. Each teacher has fluent Irish and pupils’ mastery of the language is well developed. Pupils display a good understanding of the language, and those pupils whose first language is not Irish are making reasonably good progress. A good selection of rhymes and poetry is taught at every class level and pupils are encouraged to actively recite these, particularly in the junior classes. A good emphasis is placed on encouraging the pupils to ask questions and to use whole sentences in the classes. Good use is made of charts in some classes to help the pupils in presenting their thoughts in debates. It is recommended that display materials be regularly used in the other classes in order to encourage pupils when learning and to further develop their higher order thinking. It would be of benefit to develop a structured whole-school language programme, to identify the sub-themes and the language used in other curricular areas, so that language functions and an extensive vocabulary are systematically provided, relative to the needs of pupils.
Good attention is given to pre-reading skills by emphasising a phonological approach to teaching and by using language games and flashcards for word recognition. Pupils are provided with good opportunities for leisure reading and good use is also made of attractive large-format books, real books and novels to extend pupils’ vocabulary and to develop their interest in reading. Pupils read accurately, fluently and expressively, and differentiation is applied in reading as appropriate.
Writing is based for the most part on the content of the language and the reading lessons. In written work differentiation and an acknowledgement of pupils’ varying abilities are recognised. Development in the work is evident from class to class, written extracts are regularly monitored and the written work is neatly presented. It would be beneficial for the pupils of the school to create Irish books as part of the Write a Book process that is organised by an Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta in conjunction with Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge and Galway Education Centre. Such an initiative would motivate and challenge pupils to develop an additional interest in writing through Irish.
The whole-school plan for English was reviewed in 2005 and this plan is clearly outlined. The comprehensive whole-school plan that has been developed for English grammar is commendable. It would be worthwhile now to clarify the teaching content to ensure that an appropriate breadth and continuity are registered for each class level. It is recommended that specific themes and topics are identified for oral language in English, that more detailed information be included in the written documentation for English, that the various schemes and resources in use are described, and that review dates are included. The school should ensure that reading in the first and second languages should not commence at the same time, in accordance with the recommendations of the Primary School Curriculum (1999).
Pupils are provided with the opportunity to acquire and to practise an appropriate range of language in English. It is evident that the pupils are confident and happy, and that they share their views on the various themes under discussion. They have learned a wide range of rhymes and poems in English at the various class levels and these are recited with meaning and actions. Circle work, language games and discussion are used to good effect in the junior classes in order to promote pupils’ listening and oral skills. The various discussion themes are linked and integrated with the content of the textbooks and novels in use in senior classes. The daily news, as well as national and international current events, are regularly discussed.
Pupils have achieved a good standard in English reading. Good emphasis is placed on developing an interest in English reading and pupils are encouraged to read library books through the leisure reading periods that are provided. Phonological awareness is systematically developed and good use is made of flashcards to reinforce pupils’ knowledge of new vocabulary in the junior classes. Appropriate attention is given to providing pupils with a variety of reading materials, including a series of novels in the senior classes, as well as parallel schemes and tasks designed by the teacher in the junior classes. Shared-reading periods between the junior classes and the senior classes have been initiated.
Pupils are provided with good opportunities to practise a variety of writing genres arising from oral work and reading in English. Good emphasis is placed on monitoring the work, on teaching spelling and on accuracy in grammar, as pupils progress from class to class. Cursive writing is systematically developed from second class onwards. It is evident that most pupils have achieved a good standard of handwriting. Pupils’ efforts are acknowledged and their written efforts are displayed.
Modern Language Initiative in Primary Schools
Although the school is not involved in the pilot school project for modern languages for primary schools, French classes are provided once a week for senior classes, under the guidance of a post-primary teacher and with support from the School Completion Programme. This initiative is praiseworthy. Pupils are making good progress in French, a good emphasis is placed on pronunciation and on appropriate modern themes. Pupils are actively engaged in their own learning and a commendable emphasis is placed on accurately recording the work completed. It is recommended, however, that French be used on an ongoing basis in classroom management in order to enhance its natural use when communicating.
The school plan indicates that the staff is in agreement regarding the language of common mathematical operations. This good practice greatly enhances the effectiveness of the work in Mathematics. The results of standard assessments and pupils’ answers in the various aspects of the curriculum indicate that pupils throughout the school have obtained very high standards in Mathematics. Pupils’ attainment in the language of Mathematics, and their ability to quickly do mental arithmetic, is commendable. Pupils’ skills in estimation are developed on an ongoing basis and attention is appropriately given to differentiated learning and to problem-solving. Concrete materials are used in some classes to reinforce and to facilitate learning, but elsewhere textbooks, the whiteboard and activities in copybooks are mainly used. A wide range of concrete materials is made available in the junior classes but it would be worth investing more in concrete materials in middle and senior classes. The work is presented neatly in the copybooks and it is carefully corrected. It would be helpful at this point to review the school’s mathematics policy and to clarify the content for each class level, with attention being given to mathematical trails in pupils’ immediate environment and to identifying computer software for Mathematics in order to facilitate the transfer of learning.
The main methods of assessment used are teacher observation, homework, spelling and table tests, collections of work, work samples in copybooks, teacher-designed tasks, records of attendance, and standardised tests in English and in Mathematics. A very good analysis has been undertaken on standardised tests and on the attainment needs of pupils throughout the school in English and in Mathematics. These good efforts are commendable. It is recommended that the school agree a statement regarding the assessment of Irish so as to gain an overview of pupils’ understanding of concepts and of the development in their higher-order thinking skills. It would also be helpful to identify the diagnostic tests in use in the school plan. Parents are provided with oral feedback on their children’s progress at the parent-teacher meetings that are arranged in the first term.
4. Quality of support for pupils
A comprehensive special needs policy has been developed by the staff during the current school year, in accordance with Circular 02/05. A provision of 15 additional support hours each week in English, Irish and Mathematics is provided for pupils who have learning difficulties or special educational needs. A temporary teacher withdraws nine pupils from third class onwards, including one pupil with special needs. A special needs assistant provides additional help to this pupil within the mainstream class. The teacher engaged in this work is employed on an interim basis. It was reported that the board has ongoing difficulties in recruiting a fully qualified teacher to the support hours allocated to the school. The school is advised to consult with other schools in the area on an ongoing basis in order to secure a more permanent arrangement as soon as possible.
Additional support is provided in small groups or individually, in line with the learning needs of the pupils. There is ongoing communication with the classroom teacher, Irish is the language of communication and a respectful atmosphere is maintained in the support room. The direct method of teaching is applied for the most part and good use is also made of language games and of computer software to motivate pupils to learn. It would be beneficial if more use were made of visual materials and flashcards in order to develop pupils’ literacy skills. Checklists would also be helpful as an aid to assessment. The development of individual education programmes which include general objectives are in the process of being developed. It is recommended that more specific learning objectives are now identified in consultation with classroom teachers and parents and that these objectives are regularly reviewed. It would also be helpful if this comprehensive approach was developed and if some of the additional support was provided in the classrooms, particularly for those pupils who do not, according to the results of the standardised tests, have learning difficulties.
The board of management in this school, and in three other schools in the area, receive specific funding from the Department of Education and Science under Providing Equal Opportunities for Schools (DEIS) and the School Completion Programme. No pupil from a minority grouping is attending the school at present. The coordinator spends one day each week working in the school. She works very diligently to provide additional support for pupils, teachers and parents. A comprehensive programme is being implemented by the coordinator within the network of schools, in conjunction with the parents and teachers, and in cooperation with the vocational school coordinator in the region. A paired-reading approach operates between the junior and senior classes. Fun with Maths is organised with the senior classes to promote language skills and mathematical concepts. Drama classes are provided for pupils and after-school homework classes are provided when these are required. Home visits are arranged on a regular basis and classes for parents are organised in computation, gymnastics, Mathematics, and in Irish for those parents with little Irish. Opportunities are also given to parents to attend information evenings on substance abuse, healthy eating, and on the transfer from primary to post-primary school. It is recommended that contact now be made with local health authorities to identify external speakers for the school on relationships and sexuality education. A leaflet was recently published which provides information to parents on school events.
As this school is situated in the Gaeltacht, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs provides support within the Language Assistants’ Scheme to assist pupils who are not fluent Irish speakers. The language assistant, who has fluent Irish, is employed by the board on the basis of four hours per week to help a small number of pupils whose first language is English. This assistant works on various aspects of the Irish programme to improve pupils’ spoken language. It is recommended that this support be provided in the classrooms as a support to the teachers, and in keeping with the guidelines agreed between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is recommended that a statement be included in the school plan in regard to these additional services available in the school.
5. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The staff and the board of management are commended for the truly Irish atmosphere that they have promoted in the school.
· Pupils’ good behaviour, manners, courtesy and their efforts in regard to learning are commendable.
· The approach, in particular, to the teaching of Mathematics, Irish reading and English, is effective.
· The school plan is being effectively developed from year to year.
· The diligence and cooperation of the staff regarding their efforts to implement the curriculum in the best interests of the pupils is commendable.
· The interest of parents in educational matters is commendable.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a three-year action plan be developed to conduct a systematic and regular review of the school in consultation with the parents of the school. The safety policy needs to be updated in the short-term.
· It is recommended that teachers’ approach to planning be reviewed and that good practice is extended throughout the school.
· It is recommended that a relationships and sexuality programme be provided for pupils as soon as possible.
· It is recommended that a renovation plan be implemented in regard to the school and the playground.
· It is recommended that more emphasis be directed towards the assessment of pupils’ achievements in Irish.
· It is recommended that more use be made of information and communication technologies (ICT) in classrooms.
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.