An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Glencastle National School
Bunahowen, Ballina, County Mayo
Roll number: 13222P
Date of inspection: 21 November 2008
Whole School Evaluation
A whole school evaluation of Glencastle National School was conducted in November 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for its further development. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and History.
Introducion – school context and background
Glencastle National School is situated between Belmullet and Bangor, in the district of Erris, in north Mayo. This is a Gaeltacht school, although English is the first language of all pupils. This presents teachers with a challenge in providing appropriately for pupils’ learning needs while at the same time ensuring that Irish is the language of communication of the school. Boys and girls attend this school from infants to sixth class. A special class was established in 1992 for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities. At the time of the evaluation, there were nine pupils in the special class. Pupil attendance is generally very good.
The school participates in the support programme Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS). 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 staff of the school
Teachers in mainstream classes
Special class teachers
Teachers assigned to a support role
Special needs assistants
The Catholic Bishop of Killala is the patron of the school. The manner in which this school develops an inclusive education for all pupils in their local area is commendable. The school has a mission statement. Efforts are made to provide for the full potential of each pupil. It is published in the mission statement that “we will make every effort to provide for the centrality of Irish in the school during the day each day”, but almost every subject is taught through English. It is recommended that the school would cultivate Irish as the first language of the school amongst teachers and pupils.
The school has appointed a board of management in accordance with Department guidelines. A new chairperson was appointed during the evaluation. The board has a meeting each term and special meetings are arranged as required. Some members have particular roles: chairperson, treasurer and secretary. The business of the meetings is usually conducted through English and during the evaluation; many of the meetings with the board were conducted through English, at the request of the members. The board is reminded of its responsibilities under Section 9 of the Education Act, 1998 to provide an appropriate status for Irish in the school. The board has developed an action plan to teach each subject through Irish for infants only in the year 2012. The board is advised to develop a five year plan to fulfil the conditions pertaining to the school’s recognition as a Gaeltacht school. It is recommended that all subjects would be taught through Irish by that time.
The board is deserving of commendation for the level of support given to the staff in the provision of additional resources for the special class. A range of activities is organised from time to time to fundraise for various projects. Recently a new kitchen, a multipurpose room and a multisensory room were built with support from the local community. This level of co-operation is very commendable.
There are three teachers on the in-school management team: the principal, the deputy principal and a special-duties teacher. The principal was appointed in 1999 and he has since been guiding the development of the school. He has a good relationship with the school community and he knows all the families well. He works diligently to support the special class in particular. Daily school matters are managed effectively. The development of Irish is now a significant challenge for the school It is advised that the principal seek support from Leadership Development in Schools to develop leadership skills.
The in-school management team works diligently for the good of the pupils. It is clear that the special-duties teachers provide great support to the principal and that the in-school management team co-operates willingly and effectively in the management of the school. It is recommended that the functioning of the in-school management team would be more formally established. It would be worth reviewing the responsibilities pertaining to each post and to have regard to the requirements of Department of Education and Science Circular 07/03 in this regard.
There is open, effective communication between the teachers and the school community. The parents hold the school staff in very high regard. Meetings are organised once a year with parents to discuss the progress of pupils. Parents are welcomed to the school at any time. Notes are regularly sent home to parents about the work of the school and daily communication is available with parents through the pupils’ diaries. A school newsletter greatly enhances the communication between home and school and it provides pupils with an opportunity to publish their work and share it with the school community.
Parents are active on sports’ days and at other special events in the school. The people in the locality have great regard for the special class. Substantial funding has been donated by the Erris Community in London to provide excellent resources and materials for the class. The school community has a sensory garden outside the school, something that greatly enhances the appearance of the school.
A pleasant learning atmosphere is evident in the school. The staff is highly commended for the very fine training provided for pupils in regard to good manners and behaviour. Good work habits are encouraged in the classrooms and pupils co-operate enthusiastically. The code of discipline is implemented effectively and it is apparent that good communication and respect exists between staff and pupils.
2. Quality of School Planning
The quality of planning is of a poor standard. Policies have not been clearly outlined. Most of the policies have been written in English although this is a Gaeltacht school. Some of the plans are too generic and content based and they do not provide sufficient support for the effective implementation of the curriculum in the classroom. It is recommended that the policies and plans in the school plan would be reviewed so that they are appropriate to the particular context of this school. It is also recommended that the school plan be monitored and reviewed regularly.
Every teacher provides written preparation for teaching all aspects of the curriculum. Teaching methods and the resources used are appropriately described. In some cases it is the content of textbooks and workbooks that determine planning and therefore the planning in these classes is limited. It is recommended that all the requirements of multi-grade classes would be acknowledged in planning to make the curriculum provision suitable for these multi-grade classes. There is not much evidence indicating that provision is made for the different learning needs of pupils. Teachers prepare various resources to support teaching and learning and they provide an enticing learning environment in the classrooms. The interest centres developed by teachers to encourage pupils’ interest in various subjects is commendable.
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
Although this is a Gaeltacht school, English is the only language that most pupils have when they begin in school. Teachers try to instil in pupils an interest in the language. The standard of Irish is poor throughout the school. It is recommended that Irish would be developed as the first language of the school. It is recommended that greater fluency in the spoken language be developed in pupils and that the use of Irish as the teaching language would in future be extended throughout the school. It is recommended that additional emphasis be placed on pair work so as to promote a communicative approach.
It is very important now to emphasise language fluency when whole-school planning is being undertaken to develop Irish as the language of communication in the school, in the classroom and also in the playground. To that end it would be worth teaching pupils the language of the other curriculum areas. It would be worth identifying sub-themes that would promote a range of appropriate functions and vocabulary, that would respond to their language needs in other areas as well as the language needs of pupils as they play in the playground. There needs to be a clear delineation in the language for the various class levels and the valuable support of the language assistant needs to be included in the planning.
A good number of the pupils have achieved a reasonable standard of reading. It was clear that appropriate texts were being used to good effect throughout the school. A good range of large format books are in use in the lower classes. The standard of written Irish is fair. Most of the writing activities are based on the textbooks. There is not very much variety evident in these activities. There is not enough emphasis on the skill of process writing. In general there are not enough opportunities provided for pupils to engage in free writing. It is recommended that a comprehensive plan for process writing would be implemented from the early years onwards.
There is a good standard of English throughout the school. A print-rich environment is created in the classrooms. Pupils can express themselves and ask questions effectively. Pupils in many classes can recite a range of rhymes and poems confidently and enjoyably. The emphasis placed on Drama as a teaching and learning methodology is very good. In some classes too much emphasis is placed on whole-class teaching. It is recommended that a wider range of teaching methodologies be used.
The standard of reading of many pupils is good and a fine collection of books is available to them. The development of pre-reading skills in infant classes appears to have begun well. As students grow older they are enabled to read a great range of materials and pupils in senior classes can read various materials fluently. The different reading skills are competently taught. Large format books are used very effectively in junior classes. Pupils’ interest in reading is cultivated by reading stories to them.
It appears that good standards are achieved by some students in writing. Most pupils were writing a range of texts including stories, letters, news, notices and book reviews. In general written work is recorded neatly but it would be worth outlining a handwriting scheme so that all pupils can use cursive writing.
The standard of Mathematics is quite high. The results of standardised tests and pupils’ answers during the evaluation indicate that they have a good understanding of the various concepts. The subject, other than tables, is taught through English. A systematic approach is used in Mathematics and pupils have plenty of practice in handling concrete materials in all classes throughout the school. A very satisfactory connection is made between Mathematics and the environment and other subjects. Good practice is evident in those classes where mathematics games, active-learning methodologies and technology are used to consolidate mathematical concepts.
Pupils’ interest in History is cultivated effectively and aspects of History are systemically developed from class to class. Pupils’ understanding of the various concepts is developed thoughtfully. Pupils are enabled to study their own personal history and that of a range of people and events from the past so as to develop a balanced understanding of family History, local History, national and world History. From time to time the pupils are given opportunities to work with local historians as happened recently with the study of an old school in the locality. Primary sources and old photographs are used to good effect to develop pupils’ skills as historians. Timelines are displayed in the classrooms and these are used effectively. It is commendable that a classroom museum is being developed to encourage pupils’ interest in this subject.
Various assessment methods are effectively used throughout the school. Copybooks and pupils’ written work are regularly monitored in all classes. The Middle Infants Screening Test (MIST) is used to select pupils for the Forward Together Programme in senior infants. Standardised tests are used from first class onwards to assess pupils’ standards in reading and mathematics at regular intervals. A record of pupils’ progress is retained in a school file. It would be worth making more use of this information as a means by which the effectiveness of teaching and learning strategies might be assessed, and to support class planning, group work and individual work. In the special class the diagnostic tests provide additional information to guide teaching and learning and to obtain accurate information on pupils’ progress. In that class, a commendable emphasis is placed on adapting a variety of learning tasks to the different ability levels of pupils.
4. Quality of support for pupils
There has been a special class in the school for the past seventeen years. The quality of teaching and learning in this class is of a very high standard. Nine children are attending the class and their disabilities range from moderate general learning disability to severe general learning disability. Very good work is done by the special teacher and the three assistants to meet the needs of these pupils. The classroom is attractively and enticingly decorated with teaching materials, displays and pupils’ work. A wide range of teaching materials has been provided and these are used to good effect. The teacher also provides a lot of self-made materials to support the learning programme. Learning activities are organised effectively to encourage pupil participation and the emphasis is placed on active-learning methods. The context of this particular school is unsuitable for the age of some of the pupils attending the special class. It is recommended that the board review the enrolment policy for this class.
The learning support teacher visits two schools to provide support for pupils who have learning difficulties or special needs. They are provided with an effective support service. Support is provided for English and for Mathematics. The school follows the staged approach outlined in the Department of Education and Science Circular 02/05. The learning support teacher, in consultation with the class teachers, has developed appropriate individual intervention programmes. It is reported that parents are involved in the design of these individual learning programmes. The learning-support teacher works in the infant classes and provision for pupils in other classes is by means of small groups or as individual pupils. The positive help and confidence building provided for these pupils is commendable.
A home/school/community co-ordinator had been appointed to the area in which this school is situated at the time of the evaluation and the school staff was awaiting the commencement of this post. A healthy lunch is provided daily for pupils.
5. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation.
· The board is commended for the work it undertakes in developing the school building and its facilities.
· Pupils’ good behaviour, courtesy, listening skills and efforts are commendable.
· The care provided for pupils with special needs is highly commended.
· The school community is commended for the support it provides for the school.
· There is a positive atmosphere between teachers, pupils and the support staff in the school.
· A stimulating learning environment is provided for the pupils.
· The standard of teaching in Mathematics and History is high.
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 whole-school policy be developed to give status to the school’s recognition as a Gaeltacht school and to respond in accordance with Section 9 of the Education Act 1998.
· It is recommended that Irish be promoted as the first language of the school and that all subjects are taught through Irish.
· It is recommended that the school plan is reviewed to suit the context and practices of this school.
· It is recommended that the enrolment policy for the special class be reviewed.
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 October 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board was very pleased that the inspector was satisfied by the high standard in the teaching of Mathematics and History in the school. It is good that she observed the good behaviour of the pupils and the positive atmosphere that exists between the teachers, the pupils and the ancillary staff in the school. The board is very grateful that the inspector recognised the work of the board and the support the school receives from the local community. We are a unique school, of course, in that although we are a Gaeltacht school we are pleased to say that we have a special class attached to the school also. The board is extremely proud of the inclusive environment that is associated with the school. Because of this, it is of concern to the board that a language obstacle would come between the pupils with moderate learning difficulties and the other pupils in the playground. We are very disappointed that the inspector was not too satisfied with our school planning. A lot of time and effort has been invested in planning. We will review and monitor these plans as soon as possible.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
We recently held a meeting of the board and we are beginning to develop a whole-school plan that would give recognition to the Gaeltacht status of the school as soon as possible. From the coming September we will be making every effort to ensure that the pupils’ books are in Irish. Also we will be providing Irish classes for parents and pupils of the school. From now on we will be making every effort to place additional emphasis on pair work, on creative writing and on promoting greater fluency among the pupils. With the help and support of the home/school/community liaison co-ordinator we will be in contact with the parents of the pupils attending the various pre-schools. A little pack will be provided for these pupils containing an Irish book, the colours in Irish, the numbers, the weather, the animals, useful phrases and the various greetings in Irish.