An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Scoil Náisiúnta Áird Thiar

Carna, Conamara, Co na Gaillimhe

Roll number 14421D

 

Date of inspection: 08 November 2006

Date of issue of report:   26 April 2007

 

 

REPORT ON WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION

1.     Introduction – school context and background

2.     Quality of school management

2.1 Board of management

2.2 In-school management

2.3 Management of resources

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with  the school community

2.5 Management of pupils

3.     Quality of school planning

3.1 School planning process and implementation

3.2 Classroom planning

4.     Quality of Learning and Teaching

4.1 Overview of quality of learning and teaching

4.2 Language

4.3 Mathematics

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

4.5 Arts Education

4.6 Physical Education

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

4.8 Assessment

5.     Quality of support for pupils

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

5. 2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

 

 

REPORT ON WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION

 

This report was written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Náisiúnta Áird Thiar. 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 parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. The inspector 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 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.

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

This Gaeltacht school, which was established in 1894, is located in Áird Thiar in the parish of Carna, approximately 80 km west of Galway city. It is a co-educational school and is under the patronage of the Archbishop of Tuam. The school has a staff of two mainstream teachers with 28 pupils enrolled. Additional services to pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs are provided by a shared learning-support teacher and a shared resource teacher. 

 

The school was recognised under the Giving Children an Even Break Scheme from 1997 until recently. It is reported that the school cluster had difficulty employing an education co-ordinator during the current school year, due to a lack of applications from fully-qualified teachers. The school management has confirmed that they are prepared to participate in the school support programme DEIS (Delivering Equality of  Opportunity in Schools Programme), the new action plan for educational inclusion co-ordinated by the Social Inclusion Unit.  It is intended that planning will commence in the short term, as soon as the base school has been nominated and the scheme has access to a co-ordinator.

 

The last school report, issued in 1998, indicated that the 47 pupils enrolled were taught by two mainstream teachers and three part-time teachers. Since then there has been a considerable reduction in the local population and there are only 12 girls and 16 boys on the roll at this point in time. It is reported that most young people leave the locality to seek employment in cities or abroad, as the area has no industry and little employment. However, the pattern of enrolment is expected to remain as at present in the short term. 

 

It was noted during the whole-school evaluation that the teachers in the school have fostered an atmosphere which is welcoming, co-operative, positive and respectful. The school’s vision, mission and aims show that great emphasis is placed on the fostering of respect among all the pupils, so that they will be self-confident and responsible, not only in school but also outside the school environs. All staff members are making a great effort in jointly implementing the school’s vision, mission and aims. A strong Irish atmosphere prevails and both parents and the staff of the school are very committed to the Irish language and heritage. This school faces the same challenges as other Gaeltacht schools in the area in relation to the preservation of Irish in the face of a decline in the number of Gaeltacht families speaking Irish in the home. It would now be worthwhile to review the aims of the school and to record the good practice which is evident in relation to gender equality and the teaching and learning approaches implemented for pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs.  

 

The school register shows excellent school attendance by the pupils. Attendance is continuously monitored and pupils are awarded prizes for their good efforts in this regard. The attendance and non-attendance of the pupils receiving supplementary teaching in various support rooms are recorded. This good practice is commended.

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

The board of management provides satisfactory leadership in the interest of the pupils’ welfare. At least one meeting is held per term to discuss and direct school affairs. The board was appointed in accordance with the appropriate procedures for the election and nomination of boards of management. Due to the death of the chairman of the board during his term of office in the course of the last school year, the patron appointed a new chairman with effect from last March. This chairman is also the manager of four other schools in the area.   It is reported that there is regular contact between the chairman of the board of management, the principal and members of staff. Different board members are willing to undertake responsibility for the completion of different tasks based on their own experience. Although two members of the board are named as treasurers, it is the secretary who currently maintains the accounts for various grants received. It is reported that the grants provided by the Department to date have been used for the appropriate purposes. The accounts have not yet been audited or certified. It is recommended that henceforth a treasurer’s report should be submitted to the board at the various board meetings.  

 

Board of management meetings are conducted through the medium of Irish and minutes are recorded for every meeting. It is evident from the minutes reviewed that all board members have not been in a position to attend the meetings held. This creates difficulties for the board in ensuring continuity and appropriate progress on work in hand. Notwithstanding this, the board is supportive of the ethos of the school and information is shared with the school community through correspondence with the principal and the issue of an information booklet. The main matters discussed at the last three meetings included the policy regarding school opening and closing times, the employment of teachers, the purchase of musical instruments, safety issues, the development of the school yard, the school’s old roll books, football training and local folklore. The board is to be commended for the work carried out at the entrance to the school, the extension of the school yard and the regular painting of the school. The school received a grant from the Department and additional funding was received from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to carry out this work. Other improvements made include the refurbishment of the library, toilets, storage areas and the installation of new windows. The condition of classrooms is good.

 

The board of management is attentive to its statutory duties, and policies have been developed on health and safety, code of behaviour and bullying, and on the registration and enrolment of pupils. There is a need at this juncture to review the enrolment policy to ensure that the policy has a reference to the registration of pupils with special educational needs and to affirm that this policy is consistent with the Department’s requirements. In order to comply with section 6(i) and section 9(h) of the Education Act, 1998 which relates to Gaeltacht schools, it is recommended that the board, together with the teachers and the parents, adopt a plan of action to record the good practice which is evident in the school in relation to the preservation of the Irish language and culture.  It is also necessary to include specific times on the agenda  for board meetings to discuss the main emphases of the curriculum and the implications of the most recent legislation relating to the duties of the board. It would be worthwhile to record such discussions and the main decisions reached. It is recommended that each school policy developed should be discussed at board level and subsequently signed to demonstrate that each policy has been adopted by the board, in accordance with section 14 and section 15 of the Education Act, 1998.

 

2.2 In-school management

The principal directs school activities with enthusiasm and professionalism. A great deal of emphasis is placed on punctuality and activities are well organised. All parties are dealt with co‑operatively and in a respectful manner. The Department’s guidelines on time in school, as outlined in Circular 11/95, are followed. An organised filing system is in place. The school chronicles are maintained accurately and are up to date. It was reported that only some of the administrative days, as allocated to teaching principals, are taken.  It would be of benefit in the future to utilise these administrative days to facilitate a continuous review of the school plan, in particular the various curricular areas, thus further enhancing the quality of learning, pastoral care and pedagogy at whole-school level.  

 

The principal has the full support of the staff in the fostering of good manners, good discipline and good behaviour of the pupils and in the organisation of school events. The special qualities of the teachers are recognised and skills are shared with classes at all levels in a collaborative manner. The various special duties are divided among all teachers on an informal basis. It is  recommended that the responsibilities of the special duties post be divided into three parts, to include duties relating to curriculum, organisational duties and pastoral care duties, taking into account the priority needs of the school. It is recommended that the various functions carried out by staff be recorded in the school plan for the information of all parties. Formal staff meetings are organised once per term and agenda are prepared in co-operation with the various teachers in the school. Minutes are taken and the main decisions are recorded to support the whole-school planning process and the implementation of the various curricular areas.

 

2.3 Management of resources

Improvements to the school have been carried out in recent years and at present the school is both warm and comfortable. An additional room was provided in 1994 and as a result of a reduction in staff in 1997 a central library was organised in this room. The room is also used as a computer room and learning-support area. The smaller learning-support room also serves as the principal’s office, while a classroom serves as a staff room. The school yard was extended in 1998 and a tennis and basketball court was developed in 2000.  The entire play area of the yard is tarmacked. The toilets, store rooms and car park were refurbished and new windows and smoke alarms were also recently installed. The school is cleaned three times per week and the mainstream classrooms are equipped with modern furniture and a water supply. The good efforts of the board are commended for the improvements made to the accommodation, the good condition of the building and the neat appearance of the school environs. 

 

The school does not have a multi-purposes room and the school site is congested and has limited space. The board is attempting to acquire a playing field in the near future, as the pupils do not have access to a green area at present. The board should apply to the Department for a grant to provide a multi-purposes room to support the implementation of the physical education curriculum during inclement weather conditions.

 

The school has invested well in the provision of computer facilities, library books, learning resources and curricular aids.  During the course of the whole-school evaluation, it was clear that there was an insufficient supply of musical equipment. It is recommended that the provision of music resources in every classroom be increased to support learning and instruction. Labels, notices, various displays and other materials printed in Irish are on display throughout the building to promote an Irish atmosphere and to remind the community of the aims of the school. Information and communication technology (ICT) is used from time to time to present project work and to support pupils’ access to the curriculum. It would be of benefit to provide an audit of the range of software packages for the various class levels and to make this information available to each teacher to support the implementation of the curriculum.

 

Each mainstream teacher teaches four class levels. The learning-support/resource teaching service is divided between two teachers, one of whom provides a service to four schools and the other teacher is shared among five schools. The school secretary makes a considerable contribution to the administration of  the school. The school has access to a language-support assistant under Scéim na gCúntóirí Teangan, which operates under the auspices of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This service provides support for pupils with limited competence in the Irish language. The board has not employed a language assistant in the current school year.

 

Four external tutors provide additional support for pupils from second class upwards for various periods of time in sean-nós singing, tin whistle, drama and tag rugby. Gael Acadamh Teo contributes towards some of the costs of the music services provided. Pupils who attend tin whistle classes currently pay a fee. It is recommended that this practice be immediately reviewed to ensure that all pupils avail of all services free of charge during school hours and that the same services are available for each pupil in accordance with the Equal Status Act, 2000. Drama classes and tag-rugby classes are provided by two additional tutors for one school term. The school is advised to be vigilant with regard to the number of external personnel working in the school in any given week. The importance of the effective co-ordination of various school activities is highlighted. Consideration should be given to the minimum timeframe recommended for the implementation of each strand of the curriculum. It would be beneficial to develop a policy in the school plan outlining the times allocated for external services.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with  the school community

Pupils from 16 families attend the school and the relationship between home and school is reported to be co-operative. The parents are very supportive of school events. A formal meeting with the parents is held at the beginning of the school year to discuss pupils’ progress. These meetings are well attended. The parents support the school where necessary through fund-raising, assisting with different drama events and organising swimming classes. Much interest is shown in curricular matters and knowledge is shared with the pupils, especially in relation to Visual Arts and cultural matters. Parents support the school where necessary through the organisation of cake sales and quizzes. Other meetings are convened for the school’s new parents each June to explain the school’s aims and functions. Regular communication is maintained through the school newsletter.  

 

The parents reported that the atmosphere in the school is open and receptive to their opinions. Parents praised the manner in which they were kept informed of school activities on a continuous basis. Co-operation between home and school was reported to be good. It was reported that the parents are willing to support the school at all times. It was explained that while parents are not involved in the planning process, they are aware of the existence of different policies and have access to them in the school. Parents interviewed reported that they were satisfied with the standard of learning and with the pupils' interest in school-work. Parents expressed their satisfaction with the teachers’ dedication, the broad curriculum provided, the drama lessons and concerts in which the pupils participate and the different football, draughts and chess competitions which are organised. Appreciation was also expressed for the interest fostered in reading and library books. Parents lauded the pupils’ good behaviour and self-confidence, the musical opportunities organised and in particular the standard of ‘sean-nós’ singing. Parents reported that pupils’ homework is carefully and regularly monitored. The parents would welcome the promotion of information and communication technology (ICT) in different classrooms, the extension of the book rental scheme to the junior classes and the provision of a school hall to add to pupils’ physical education experiences.   

 

The school has no parents’ association at present. It is recommended that a parents’ association be formed which would affiliate to the National Parents’ Council to comply with section 26 of the Education Act, 1998. This would reinforce the role of parents in the whole-school planning process and in the implementation of a programme of activities in consultation with the principal. 

 

2.5 Management of pupils

The behaviour management system is enforced effectively and in a reasonable balanced manner. It is noted that staff receives very good co-operation from all pupils. The pupils are well mannered and well-behaved, and are respectful towards each other and the staff in classrooms and during play periods. An anti-bullying policy has been developed in consultation with the parents and the board of management. It is reported that there are no difficulties in relation to bullying issues in the school. Parents stated that they are satisfied with the level of care given to the pupils in the school. At present, on account of pressures of space in the schoolyard, the two classrooms have different break periods. The supervision duties are divided equally among the teachers and a supervision rota is set out clearly. It is recommended that this information should be recorded in the school plan for the benefit of all. The pupils are observed to be very interested in learning and they make great efforts to learn. The positive welcoming atmosphere in the school promotes the fostering of these attitudes. It would now be beneficial to give responsibility to the school’s senior pupils to organise a recycling project in order to achieve a Green Flag. 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

Reasonably good progress has been made in the development of the school plan since the last school report. The school availed of support and advice from the School Development Planning Initiative. The various policies indicate that school management has a good understanding of the most recent legislation and the particular needs of the school. It is recorded in the board of management minutes that the curricular policies for Science, Social, Personal and Health Education, English and Irish were discussed at board level. No evidence was available at the time of inspection to indicate that these policies have been ratified by the board. It is therefore recommended that specific attention be given to the planning process, that the policies developed by the staff should be reviewed and an action plan developed. An information booklet giving a summary of some of the administrative policies is available to all parents. This booklet directs attention to the school’s complaints procedure. There is now a need to develop the principle of partnership in the planning and review process through the involvement of both the parents and the board of management. 

 

The school plan is carefully set out in two parts comprising both administrative and curricular policies. A great deal of emphasis is placed on self-assessment and the timeframe for implementation is recorded. It is recommended that the plan be indexed to render it more accessible and more easily read by the school community. Practical policies have been prepared for each curricular area in which the staff has received in-career training. There is a need to record more specific information in some of the policies in order to identify good teaching and learning practices and to ensure that each strand and strand unit is included. The school has targeted the development of a policy on Drama for the current school year following the receipt of in-career training for the staff. 

 

Among the administrative policies developed include policies on anti-bullying and sexual harassment, substance use, discipline, bullying, communication with parents, homework, equality of opportunity and a safety statement. Some of the policies developed have included experimental periods and these policies have appropriately stated deadlines for review. A very clear policy has been developed directing the school’s work for pupils who experience learning difficulties and pupils with special educational needs. It is evident, however, that the work completed on some of the other administrative policies included in the school plan is limited to short handwritten notes. There is now a need to devise a three-year action plan to undertake administrative and whole-school curricular planning on a systematic and systemic basis.

 

Evidence was produced which shows that the board of management and the staff have taken the 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, new edition May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.  It is recommended that the board of management signs this policy as confirmation that the policies have been accepted by the board of management and are implemented by the board on a continuous basis.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

All teachers provide written preparation on a regular basis to guide teaching in every area of the curriculum. Planning includes both long-term and short-term schemes. A review of the short-term preparation format was carried out recently to obtain staff agreement. This self-assessment is commended and the results of this work is evident in the comprehensive planning provided and in the high quality of learning evident in the various classes. The teachers’ notes are mostly handwritten and the planning is prepared with appropriate reference to specific learning outcomes consistent with the strands and strand units of the curriculum. A suitable account of teaching methodologies is provided and reference is made to the resources, integration strategies and assessment approaches used to ensure continuity of learning and teaching. Stimulating print-rich  environments are developed, learning centres are organised and a broad range of resources and teacher-designed visual aids is provided to support the teaching and learning process. Individual learning programmes and monthly reports are prepared and are maintained in a central area. The format of the monthly reports should now be reviewed to include a more specific account of the content covered in some curricular areas. It would be of benefit to create a whole-school monthly report template to facilitate the continuous monitoring of the learning experiences of classes in order to avoid gaps in the provision of teaching and learning across each curricular area. 

 

 

4.     Quality of Learning and Teaching

 

4.1 Overview of quality of learning and teaching

A broad range of teaching methods is used in response to the different needs of the pupils. Individual differences are well catered for and appropriate differentiation opportunities are provided for pupils with special educational needs. Interest in learning is fostered through the use of the communicative approach in Irish, active learning, individual work, the direct method, questioning, use of actions, circle time, drama, pair-work, project work and environmental-based learning. The use of charts, illustrated prompts, drama and concrete materials is commendable in order to reinforce teaching and learning in both mainstream classrooms and in support rooms. Samples of the pupils’ work indicate that information and communication technology (ICT) is used occasionally in some classes to encourage pupils' levels of engagement in creative writing.  It would be beneficial to develop further the use of pair-work, co-operative groups and differentiated tasks as effective whole-school strategies to enhance the further development of pupils' higher-order thinking and research skills. It is reported that the teachers received support in Music from the Regional Curriculum Support Service.

 

A positive attitude towards learning is encouraged and the pupils express themselves with confidence. The pupils have achieved a commendable fluency in Irish and they read with competence in both languages. The most recent standardised results available confirm that the pupils have achieved a very good standard in English, taking into consideration that English is the second language of some pupils. The mathematics and Irish results also confirm the pupils have reached a high standard in Mathematics and in Irish, consistent with their abilities and class levels. The standard of the pupils’ writing is highly commendable. The pupils can recite a broad range of poems and verse. Good provision is made for the development of pupils’ skills in History, Geography and Science. The standard achieved in sean-nós dancing is highly commendable.

 

 

4.2 Language

 

Irish

A strong Irish atmosphere is fostered on a whole-school basis and a commendable emphasis is placed on preserving the Irish culture. Irish is taught in an effective manner in all classrooms using structured lessons. Attention is focused on active listening, drama games, role-play and group recitation and pupils can recite a broad range of verse and poetry.  Commendable attention is given to reinforcing the language functions of Irish. This work is integrated with other areas of the curriculum and the various themes are skilfully linked to all strands of the Irish curriculum. A commendable emphasis is placed on the phonetics and phonology of Irish and on reinforcing vocabulary development. The enjoyment, understanding and communicative ability of the pupils are greatly enhanced by the use of actions, discussion, debate, storytelling and the scheme Séideán Sí. Emphasis is placed on enjoyment and on the continuous use of the language. A very good standard of fluency is achieved throughout the school and the pupils display a broad vocabulary.

 

The teachers succeed in fostering an interest among pupils in reading Irish. A broad range of reading material is provided in the central library in addition to the classroom libraries. Formal development of Irish reading commences in senior infants following the completion of a comprehensive pre-reading programme. Irish environmental print is clearly displayed throughout the school. An interest in reading is fostered at an early stage and commendable use is made of teaching resources, effective questioning, flashcards, differentiated texts, illustrative charts, large books, small books, flipcharts and drama. Opportunities are provided for pupils to participate in debates based on novels read in middle and senior classes. The pupils read with accuracy, confidence and understanding. 

 

Good care is taken to ensure that pupils have an opportunity to engage in activities that develop their pre-writing skills. Neatness is promoted and a high standard is observed in the samples of free writing completed, which are based on subjects of conversation and on various curricular themes. Appropriate emphasis is placed on the integration of the different writing themes with other curricular areas.  Attention is directed at accuracy in grammar and spelling and the pupils’ standard of handwriting is particularly praiseworthy. Pair-work and computers could be more widely used as a support to further strengthen the implementation of the writing process in the school. 

 

English

The whole-school policy on English was developed in conjunction with the school staff and school management and this plan is linked to the principles and structure of the primary curriculum. However the teaching content should be clarified  in order to ensure that appropriate breadth and graduated development is evident at each class level. The different needs of pupils are taken into consideration in the thorough planning recorded by the class teachers.

 

A structured oral language scheme is implemented effectively and the graduated language programme Magic Emerald is used to develop the pupils’ listening and speaking skills. Good use is made of debate, discussion, language games, brainstorming, the direct approach, circle time, group work and pair-work. These approaches promote the pupils’ communicative experiences in the classrooms and support the development of pupils’ vocabulary across a range of themes.  Emphasis is placed on continuity of speech, on asking and answering questions and on practising full sentences to achieve an understanding of language structure. Pupils’ thought processes, imagination and higher-order thinking skills are developed effectively through the various teacher-designed tasks. News of the day and national and international current affairs are regularly discussed. The pupils are able to express their opinions knowledgeably and competently. The pupils confidently recite a broad range of verse, rhyme and poetry.  

 

The school is implementing a language-experience approach effectively on a whole-school basis.  Environmental print is provided in all classrooms. Flashcards are used effectively in the junior classes to focus the teaching on understanding new words prior to the commencement of formal reading.  Formal English reading begins from infant classes onwards and the levels of ability of the different pupils are taken into consideration. Good use is made of a variety of reading materials, including a range of novels, in order to foster the development of pupils’ vocabulary and independent reading skills.  Other parallel schemes are also used and differentiated tasks are suitably organised. Appropriate pre-reading activities are undertaken and a commendable link is made between the work in progress in mainstream classrooms and in the support rooms.  Particular attention is paid to implementing phonemic and phonological awareness activities. Phonics is taught informally in the context of the formal readers in middle and senior classes. The pupils read with commendable fluency and with a good understanding of the subject. Pupils are encouraged to read independently and on their own initiative.  Emphasis is placed on fostering an interest in reading through the silent reading sessions organised. Pupils are encouraged to read library books outside of the school. Shared-reading periods are organised between junior and senior classes.  

 

Reading and writing tasks are firmly linked with conversational themes. The development of pre‑writing skills is undertaken with much enthusiasm in the junior classes and the emphasis placed on the development of pupils’ imaginative abilities and on the writing process throughout the school is commended.  Proper attention is paid to grammar, to the teaching of spellings and to the monitoring of pupils’ work.  Writing is developed on a cross-curricular basis and samples of the pupils’ work are put on display. The standard of the pupils’ writing samples and of pupils’ handwriting is highly commendable. It would now be beneficial to use information and communication technology (ICT) across all class levels to facilitate the publication of the pupils’ work in newsletters or in the school booklet. 

 

4.3 Mathematics

A positive attitude towards Mathematics is fostered through the practical approach adopted in all classrooms. The Mata Beo textbook is used at all class levels and care is taken to ensure that there is not an over-dependency on textbooks during the teaching process. Considerable progress has been made in the quality of teaching in Mathematics since the issue of the last school inspection report. Appropriate emphasis is placed on the systematic handling of all aspects of the mathematics curriculum. The pupils are presented with structured lessons and commendable emphasis is placed on differentiated activities, maths rhymes, maths games, active learning, teacher questioning and mental exercises to reinforce learning.  The basic concepts and facts of Mathematics are explained through the use of charts, teacher-designed tasks, concrete material and flipcharts. Effective links are made between class work and the pupils’ own lives and pupils are given regular opportunity to master mental mathematical concepts and solve problems in different contexts.  The regular revision, the linkage and integration opportunities and the multi-sensory approach add much to the effectiveness of pupils’ learning.

 

The pupils display agility with mental arithmetic and a credible understanding of mathematical language and of concepts covered. The standardised test results also demonstrate that the pupils have achieved high standards consistent with their class level and intellectual ability. Appropriate emphasis is placed on developing pupils’ estimation skills and good use is made of calculators to check answers. Much emphasis is placed on layout and neatness in pupils’ copy-books and the work is regularly monitored. There is an appropriate correlation between the content, objectives, and guidance provided in the whole-school mathematics policy and the teaching observed in the various classrooms. It would now be worthwhile to outline specifically the content and the mathematical language for each class level in the whole-school policy, as a support for parents and teachers. 

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

The staff intends to develop a whole-school policy on History following the receipt of in-service training on the integrated approach to Social, Environmental and Scientific Education. Teachers’ individual preparation and the standard of teaching show that a good start has been made on the continuous implementation of the history curriculum. History lessons are based primarily on the storytelling method, project work and on teacher-designed tasks. The project-based approach enables pupils to study in depth the themes covered. Pupils understand the concept of continuity and change in time. The result of these efforts is evident in the high standard of learning achieved by the pupils. Appropriate emphasis is placed on local history and good opportunities are created for the pupils to develop their skills as historians. Evidence, questionnaires and old photographs are used to compare the history of pupils’ grandparents with modern life.

 

Very good attention is given to the sequencing of time in the different pair-work tasks undertaken by pupils. Good use is made of the environment as a starting point in developing the pupils’ understanding of chronology. It would be worthwhile to develop timelines for all class levels. Proper emphasis is placed on an integrated cross-curricular approach, in particular with regard to the curriculum in Irish. Local historians are invited to the school from time to time. Pupils’ involvement in the television programme developed and their ability to speak about the diverse culture of the Gaeltacht are commendable. The staff should now make decisions in relation to  the strand units selected for different class levels to ensure balance between local, national and international themes. It would also be beneficial to prepare an audit of interesting places, guest speakers and people in the locality, as a useful resource for pupils. It would also be of benefit to develop a school museum or central resource bank with old maps, old newspapers, photographs, artefacts and other evidential items to develop this aspect of the work.

 

 

Geography

Having attended the current year’s in-service programme, the school recognises the need to develop a whole-school plan in Geography. This plan would also be of benefit to ensure that substitute teachers are cognisant of the approaches and methodologies implemented on a whole-school basis. Teachers’ preparation is directly linked to instruction within the classroom and due care is given to pupil learning. An awareness of natural, human and cultural perspectives is developed through the use of story-telling, conversation and discussion, teacher questioning, brainstorming, active learning and project work. Teachers have made considerable progress in ensuring that there is balance between the development of skills and knowledge acquisition. Pupils’ sense of place and space are used as starting points for all activities related to Geography and pupils’ understanding and knowledge is interwoven with the immediate environment. Good attention is given to the development of pupils’ understanding of mapping skills. 

 

Regular revision, exploration and discussion of the different strands are carried out. Senior pupils have a deep understanding and knowledge of the surrounding locality, of the physical aspects of Ireland and of countries abroad.  Pupils at infant and junior level have achieved the ability to speak confidently about a relevant range of themes, which include their own families, the weather, the seasons and their homes. Good use is made of teachers’ charts, flashcards, environmental-based materials and pictures to stimulate pupils’ interest in the subject. Learning experiences in geography classes are integrated in a beneficial way with the Irish language, Science, History, and Visual Arts. The provision of a globe for each classroom and the compilation of an audit of geography resources are recommended in order to support the implementation of  the geography curriculum. 

 

Science

A comprehensive teaching programme is in place for all class levels to develop pupils’ scientific skills and to provide pupils with opportunities to work as scientists. A good effort is made to engender a positive attitude in pupils towards Science and an appropriate amount of time is devoted to the subject. Teachers’ preparation and the school policy developed are well synchronised. The policy relating to Science should be reviewed in order to clarify the content and scientific language at different class levels so that a wide range of topics from all strands are covered on a continuous and  progressive basis. The science programme is based on a variety of textbooks and scientific experiments are organised from time to time. Scientific research is occasionally undertaken in the school surroundings and aspects of the immediate environment are examined. Related scientific concepts are discussed and the results are recorded. Pupils demonstrate well their ability to scientifically report on parts and functions of the body, on factors influencing weather, environment and nature. Pupils are given the opportunity to grow seeds and plants. It is recommended that an investigation table be set up in every classroom as a focus for learning and discussion. A wide range of scientific resources has been provided to help in implementing the science curriculum. It would be worthwhile to list the available resources and scientific equipment in the school plan.

 

4.5 Arts Education  

 

Visual Arts

The visual arts policy developed provides a useful guideline for teachers regarding teaching approaches and methodologies in engendering a positive experience of the arts throughout the school. A more detailed outline of content is included in teachers’ long-term and short-term preparation. It would be of benefit now if the whole-school policy was revised and further developed in order to give more attention to the systematic development of pupils’ visual arts vocabulary. This would ensure that there is a continuous development of pupils’ artistic skills across all strands of the curriculum and at each class level. Suitable attention is given to the fostering of pupils’ interest levels, the use of teacher-designed activities and the monitoring of pupils’ work. There is a wide range of resources and media available throughout the school which can be readily accessed by all teachers. Visual arts activities are appropriately used to support integration with Social, Environmental and Scientific Education and linkage between each strand and strand unit of the visual arts curriculum.

The school participates in arts exhibitions in association with Pléaraca Teo and also in art competitions under the aegis of Galway County Council. Other opportunities are provided to attend art exhibitions organised by Leabharlann na Ceathrún Rua. Local artists are invited to share their skills with pupils. Effective use is made of the digital camera to record the pupils’ achievements. Samples of pupils’ work are placed on display both in classrooms and in the public areas of the school. The attractive exhibits illustrate a variety of techniques with a view to developing pupils’ observation skills, curiosity, and imagination. Opportunities are given to the pupils to respond to the creative process involved in two and three-dimensional art. It is noted that the range of experiences outlined in the whole-school policy needs to be expanded to ensure that the line, paint and colour strands are not over-emphasised in junior classes. It is recommended that the strand unit Looking and Responding needs to be developed on a systematic basis throughout the school. In order to achieve this objective, it would be beneficial to identify ICT software, to use the internet and to provide suitable books related to Visual Arts.

 

Music

The whole-school policy in Music displays both scope and balance between the different strands and strand units of the curriculum. Teachers portray talented musical aptitudes and appropriate care is taken in promoting the different elements of Music. The pupils have a good store of songs and verse in both languages and they sing sweetly and harmoniously and are guided by an appropriate starting note. Songs are suitably selected and are pitched appropriately. The ‘sean-nós’ singing opportunities provided for pupils are very worthwhile and specific pupils have attained an extremely high standard in ‘sean-nós’ singing. It would be of benefit at this juncture to incorporate styles from various cultures and to teach group singing and duets. Opportunities are also provided for listening to and responding to music. Teaching musical literacy is well catered for in all classes and this work is recorded accurately by pupils. It would also be of value to link musical literacy with singing and instrumental work.

 

The Heritage in Schools Scheme has enabled the school to mount an exhibit of pre-historical instruments. Good use is made of percussion instruments and environmental sounds to develop pupils’ understanding of rhythm. The concerts staged each year provide opportunities for the pupils to sing in public for an audience and to integrate Music with other areas of the curriculum. Teachers and staff members are highly commended for their commitment in undertaking this work.

 

Drama

The school has a strong tradition in Drama and appropriate time is allocated for this curricular area in all classes. It is evident from the teachers’ planning that the importance of Drama in individual teachers’ planning is recognised. With the assistance of Pléaráca Teo, an external tutor attends the school for one term to provide drama classes for all pupils from first class upwards. Comprehensive planning notes are documented to guide the learning and teaching for these sessions. All pupils have an opportunity to attend two creative dance sessions per year under the direction of an additional visiting tutor. In order to ensure a continuity in pupils’ learning, class teachers conduct weekly drama sessions to reinforce pupils’ learning.

 

Drama games are used in all classes as a tool to support curricular integration. Scripts through the medium of Irish are prepared by the teachers for the school’s musicals. The pupils are given valuable opportunities to engage in creative productions on different themes and characters. Productions performed on stage attain a good standard. Middle and senior classes attend Cumann Scoildrámaíochta and pupils frequently succeed in winning many prizes for ‘sean-nós’ singing and for the musicals performed. Parents interviewed praised the school musicals and the drama experiences provided. The staff intends to develop a drama policy as soon as training is received from the Primary Curriculum Support Service during the current school year. 

 

4.6 Physical Education

The school has developed a policy on Physical Education and it aims to promote equal access and full participation for both boys and girls. It would now be beneficial to include a date for review in the plan. When reviewing this policy it would be beneficial to broaden pupils’ curricular experiences and set out a more specific outline for all class levels to ensure that all aspects of the curriculum are covered.

 

The implementation of this area of the curriculum is very weather dependent, as the school does not have a sports field or general-purposes room at present. The physical education activities, movement, dance, athletics, adventure activities and the range of games are conducted either in the classrooms, or, if weather permits, in the school-yard. The board is actively seeking to identify a sports field or hall to extend and add variety to the physical education activities provided.  A reasonably broad range of resources and equipment is easily accessible for the implementation of the physical education programme.  Middle and senior class pupils have achieved a high standard in ‘sean-nós’ dance. This work is highly commended as it involves all pupils and the work is positively integrated with the music and drama curricula. The parents and the principal are commended for the time spent after school hours taking the pupils to swimming lessons in Oughterard, which is located approximately 60 kilometres from the school. These classes are organised in the third term each year for a period of ten weeks. Care is taken to ensure that all pupils are able to swim prior to leaving the school. The pupils participate in school leagues as well as football, rugby, chess and draughts competitions.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

A clear plan for Social, Personal and Health Education has been developed using an allocated discretionary time and an integrated approach to achieve the stated aims. The school’s positive inclusive atmosphere greatly influences the confidence of pupils to express their opinions. Pupils are respectful and courteous towards each other and towards visitors and are proud of the school.  This good practice is in evidence in mainstream classes as well as in the support rooms. Sections from the programmes Misneach, Health Prim-Ed, Bí Slán and teacher-designed worksheets are used to implement the programme. The pupils are provided with healthy food on a daily basis. All pupils are afforded a regular opportunity to discuss safety and bullying issues.  The school has not yet made arrangements to provide classes on relationships and sexuality for senior pupils and their parents.  There is now an urgent need to prepare a policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in partnership with parents so that pupils will be knowledgeable about sensitive issues.

 

The pupils are given valuable opportunities to reflect on various issues. Pupils speak confidently about the topic ‘violence’ on a television programme jointly developed with Gael Linn. Pupils are actively involved in the learning process and are given ample opportunity to express their views and opinions in all classes.  Effective use is made of circle time, discussion and teacher-designed tasks to present material to pupils. Pupils actively participate in debates and their listening skills are well developed. Consideration should be given to the greater use of pair-work and group work to further develop pupils’ critical thought, analytical and higher-order thinking skills.  

 

4.8 Assessment

A suitable variety of assessment strategies is used on a whole-school basis that include observation, teacher questioning, teacher-devised tests, project work, checklists, learning profiles, individual pupil programmes, portfolios, homework, standardised tests and diagnostic tests. All pupils from first class upwards are assessed formally during the third term in order to obtain an overview of their learning needs and of their progress in Mathematics, English, spelling and Irish. The Drumcondra standardised tests are used to glean this information.  The Westwood Early at Risk Indicators screening tests are conducted with the junior infants while the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is administered to senior infants. These tests are administered to pupils in the third term in order to identify pupils’ strengths and needs and to set learning targets in English. The Forward Together intensive intervention programme is implemented for pupils who require additional assistance. A broad range of diagnostic tests is also used to gain more expert knowledge of the pupils’ special educational needs to guide the learning process. There is scope for development in the greater use of checklists, self-assessment strategies and curricular profiles to enhance class planning, group work and individual work. 

 

Pupils’ copy-books and written work are regularly monitored in all classes. Monthly reports are maintained and formal parent-teacher meetings are held during the first term to discuss pupils’ progress.  Attendance at these meetings is reported to be very good. Informal contact also takes place between parents and teachers. Good use is made of the pupils’ diaries to reinforce the communication between home and school.  Files are compiled to demonstrate the progress of all pupils and these are centrally located. In the interest of good communication between home and school it is recommended that a pupil progress report be forwarded to all parents/guardians and a copy of such reports should be retained in the school.  At the pre-evaluation meeting with parents, it was reported that written reports on pupils’ progress would be welcomed. It would be of benefit to develop an assessment policy in consultation with parents, to record the school’s existing good practice and to continuously develop different assessment strategies on a whole-school basis across a  range of curricular areas.

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The comprehensive learning-support policy developed shows that priority is given to early identification of pupils’ learning difficulties and the promotion of early intervention. It is recommended that a list of the learning-support resources available in the school should be appended to the policy and a review date should also be included in the policy. The Department’s criteria for pupil selection for early intervention are followed. The teachers’ professional opinions are taken into consideration in screening pupils with learning difficulties.

 

Two support teachers provide additional services to the school on a shared basis. Low-incidence hours are provided for one pupil diagnosed with special educational needs and the other support teacher provides learning-support in English and Mathematics to five pupils withdrawn from senior infants to fifth classes. The support teachers share their services with nine schools in the area. Comprehensive teaching preparation is provided, which includes daily notes, attendance records, a record of meetings with the different agencies and a report on pupils’ progress. Individual educational plans are provided for all pupils, and pupils’ progress is regularly discussed with the mainstream teachers. Support teaching is suitably based on class teachers’ work taking into account the learning needs of different pupils. Individual programmes are reviewed to assess the progress made and to identify the main new learning targets for individual pupils. Mainstream teachers are given copies of the individual learning programmes and the learning targets are discussed and agreed with the parents of the pupils in question.  

 

Additional teaching is provided in the support room for two to three periods per week. A commendable start has been made in providing some of this support in an inclusive manner on a whole-class basis. These endeavours are commended and should be documented in the learning‑support policy. Structured lessons are implemented and are focused on pupils’ strengths. Illustrated prompts, flashcards and differentiated tasks are used to reinforce the pupils’ interest levels and understanding. Attention is given to the development of pupils higher-order, linguistic, reading and writing skills.  This work is suitably linked to story and poetry and is integrated effectively with Drama and Music. The pupils derive great benefit from these lessons and they are encouraged in their learning. Reading material is carefully selected and a strong emphasis is placed on teaching phonics and on a multi-sensory approach. Computer software is used once per week to reinforce different concepts. Pupils’ progress is continuously monitored and carefully recorded in pupils’ copy-books. Parents report that pupils with special educational needs and non-national pupils are made very welcome in the school. It was communicated that parents are very happy with the education provided for pupils experiencing learning difficulties and/or with special educational needs.

 

5. 2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

The school plan includes an equality policy on the registration of pupils with special educational needs. It is noted that all pupils are given equal opportunity to access the various curricular experiences provided in the school. The school building is suitably adapted for pupils with special educational needs. Attention is given to different traditions, language, customs and culture. It is evident that much emphasis is placed on the promotion of inclusive practices in all aspects of school life. At present, there are no international pupils attending the school. A book rental scheme is provided for senior pupils only.  It is recommended that this scheme be extended to all pupils in the school. It would also be of use to review the home-school policy which has been developed. The school’s aims and strategies should be recorded to focus attention on the importance of fostering relationships with parents with regard to the DEIS scheme for pupils experiencing disadvantage.

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

on the preservation of the Irish culture, in particular the ‘sean nós’ dancing.

English, Mathematics, Irish, Arts Education and in Social, Environmental and Scientific  Education.

educational needs. The range of differentiated tasks provided for them and the progress

evident in pupils’ achievements is particularly commendable.

curriculum.

problem-solving skills.

 

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.