An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

 REPORT

 

Scoil Chaomháin,Inis Oirr, County Galway

Roll number:17289V

 

Date of inspection: 3rd October 2008

 

 

 

 

 

Report of Whole School Evaluation

Introducion – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of School Planning

The quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

 

Report of Whole School Evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Chaomháin in Autumn 2008.  It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for its further development. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Science. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

 

Introducion – school context and background

 

Two teachers are working in this Gaeltacht school which is situated on Inis Oirr in Galway bay. This island is renowned for its natural beauty, the gentility of its people, the island’s rich Irish culture and its archaeological heritage which extends as far back as fifteen hundred years before Christ. Historical remnants are scattered throughout the island from the coming of strangers during the end of the ice age, to the remains of the castle of the O’Briens who were the landlords on the island in the sixteenth century. The school is situated on the eastern ridge alongside the strand on a glorious hilly site above sea level. This building was opened in February 1942 with three classrooms and since then very little has been expended on the building other than rebuilding of toilets within the school. As a result of the school community’s respect for the school and for education in general the building has been neatly maintained through the years. A total refurbishment of the school building and of the yard is now required in order to bring the facilities and the building up to current standards.

 

The empty classroom is used as a centre for the additional services now available to the school such as the learning support and resource service, and services from trainers teaching musical instruments and games’ skills. A hard concrete yard extends to the north of the school and a shed and storage rooms are currently situated at this end of the yard. A play area with a rough sandy surface extends from the southern end of the school. This section of the yard is in bad condition and it is dangerous as a play area for pupils. This needs to be repaired as soon as possible. There is a small concrete raised area to the back of the yard which is used as a games area and this also needs refurbishment so that it can be used safely as a games field.

 

The enrolment in this school has decreased significantly over the past twenty years which leaves only twenty five pupils registered in this school this year. There is no first class in this school and there is only one pupil in senior infants. It is anticipated that in the short term numbers will continue to decrease.

 

The table below provides general information on the school staff and on those pupils registered in the school at the time when this evaluation was conducted:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

25

Mainstream classes in the school

7

Teacher(s) on the staff of the school

2

Teacher(s) in mainstream classes

2

Teacher(s) assigned to a support role (shared post)

1

Special needs’ assistants

1

 

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission and vision of the school

All pupils in the school are from families who have Irish and the majority are native speakers who have a rich command of the language. The mission of the school partners is to provide pupils with a catholic education in a caring, happy and safe environment that provides for pupils’ intellectual, spiritual, physical and cultural development and to provide equal educational opportunities for each pupil relative to their potential. The school achieves this mission in a happy and positive atmosphere where pupils can develop and grow in preparation for their post primary education and for their place in the wider world. The mission statement confirms that the school will approach its work cooperatively with parents and the school is making worthwhile efforts to involve parents in learning activities within the school. It was confirmed at the preliminary meetings held prior to this report that this is a change from tradition and that parents are more than happy with this change. The school staff is to be commended for the good efforts they have made to improve the standards of the school, to update school registers and to develop a school plan for the running of the school, even though the principal is in an acting capacity for the past three years and that the newly appointed assistant is currently employed in a substitute capacity.

 

1.2 The board of management

 

The board of management holds meetings five times a year or more frequently if required. The refurbishment of the school is currently the main aim of the board and they hope to have contractors on site before the end of the year to begin this work. The board has been selected in accordance with the rules of the Department of Education and Science, an agenda is drawn up for the meetings and officers have been identified, as appropriate, on the board. The board conducts its business entirely through Irish, expenditure is controlled and both minutes and financial accounts were available for this inspection. The board accepts their responsibilities and they now have policy statements on a wide range of school activities. The school plan includes child protection and a supervision system for the safety of children, with responsibilities in this regard assigned to particular individuals. As a further support to the principal it would be worth identifying special duties’ for the post of responsibilities to the newly appointed assistant. The board will need to update some of its policies as an outcome of this report, and also arising from changes and practices that have occurred in recent years. A pedagogical plan also needs to be devised as part of this review which would include a delineation of the integrated approaches used in teaching and learning.  A staff skills’ development programme and a plan based on section 9 (h) of the Education Act (1998) should form a part of this work. The various ways in which ownership of this plan could be shared with parents was discussed with the board as well as common approaches in this regard. It would be beneficial if contact were made with the local language centre on the island which is sponsored by Údarás na Gaeltachta, as well as other relevant Gaeltacht organisations in order to agree the plan. Parents are made aware of the progress of their pupils at meetings held at least twice a year and other informal communication with parents is welcomed throughout the school year.   

 

1.3 In school management

 

A wide range of services is available in the school and these services are managed effectively. The acting principal has been working in the school for the past three years and a new temporary teacher began this year in the school. Both are competent, professional and effective in their work. They receive help willingly from the part-time resource and learning support teacher who is working in the school. The hard work and diligence provided by the classroom assistant to the pupils in her care and the support she provides for the school activities in general is commendable. Neither the learning support teacher nor the classroom assistant attend the staff meetings that are held after school but it would be worthwhile for the resource teacher to attend some of these meetings depending on what is on the agenda. The teachers have divided the classes between them with the principal having responsibility for infants and second class, and the newly appointed assistant having third, fourth, fifth and sixth classes. They both ensure that there is a pleasant and safe atmosphere in the school as well as providing a developmental education programme for the pupils. Good teaching methodologies are practiced, support materials and software are regularly used and policies in regard to additional use of technologies are currently being developed. The financial support provided by the D.E.I.S scheme and the money obtained last year from the dormant funds’ account are used to provide additional services and opportunities for the pupils of the school. Although the school is separated from the mainland it participates in many events and competitions on the mainland. The island also has an active calendar of events which includes feiseanna, a patron day, and communication with other schools that visit the island on a regular basis such as Scoil Naithí, Scoil Chabra and Scoil Naomh Cíosóg. The school also participates in ecclesiastical choir work and concerts on the island. Teachers are commended for their diligence and professionalism in their efforts to accept ownership for the approach and standards of education in this school. They are both good and conscientious, they provide a challenging educational programme for the pupils and they seek to develop in them individual learning skills as soon as possible.

 

 

1.4 Managing relationships and communication with the school community

 

At meetings held prior to this evaluation the management and parent representatives confirmed their satisfaction with the effectiveness and professionalism of the teachers and with the operation of the school. A lot is effort has been made to have parents involved in the educational activities of their children through sponsored schemes within the  D.E.I.S. initiative and the school ensures a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere for the school community. The school building is well presented and maintained both internally and externally and the school is involved on an ongoing basis in various social and curricular activities. All rooms and the school corridor are presented attractively with pupils work on aspects of curricular and other projects displayed and these provide a fine record of pupils’ skills. It would be worthwhile making more use of the school’s technological investments by providing a periodical newsletter for the community which would describe interesting school and local activities. It would also be beneficial to develop electronic links with schools on islands both far and near in addition to Gaeltacht and English speaking schools on the mainland.

 

1.5 Management of pupils

 

The open and kind relationship between all parties in the school was evident. Twenty five pupils are currently attending the school and pupils and teachers relate to each other by using first names.  Attendance is always high and pupils are reluctant to miss a day from school.  Pupils are presented with a developmental and inspirational work programme which encourages the development of their independent skills and they are well prepared for secondary school. The staff rarely needs to refer to the school’s code of discipline and older pupils are generally kindly and caring towards younger pupils during school events.

 

2.     Quality of School Planning

 

2.1 Whole school planning and classroom planning

 

It was agreed to make some changes to aspects of the plan while this report was being conducted and that the plan would be presented to the parents in a manner that would be agreed in advance with the board. It was also agreed that more detailed copies of the individual education plans which would include clearly defined activities and that written reports would be provided on each pupil by the end of the school year. Although it is difficult for teachers who are acting in a temporary capacity to take ownership of policies that have been developed and to develop strategies that would guide the school’s future they are highly commended for the leadership they have displayed in regard to this work to date. School details have been updated and a school action plan has been developed in regard to the main school events. The order of priority that would be attached to the new plans that are still to be developed was also agreed at the meeting following this report. Significant investment is required in the school’s educational materials, in particular assessment and support materials, including those required for pupils with special educational needs. It is clear that this will be challenging in light of the development work that is currently required on the school building and school yard. An investment plan for the library and for equipment also needs to be determined and the use pupils currently make of the island’s public library is very helpful in this regard. The help provided by the librarian in selecting and sourcing suitable books for the pupils is commendable. 

 

A wide range of methodologies such as group work, class work, pair work and individual work are applied in both classrooms although the room available for the senior classes is very narrow for such purposes. Teaching and learning is thereby motivational and influential. A dedicated effort is made to implement the curriculum principles through the teaching and learning programme and the practices used are worthwhile, in particular those practices applied in regard to differentiation in the curriculum and the application of assessments to identify what programme is suitable for particular pupils, in accordance with the school plan. Efforts are underway to improve the standards in the school and the coordinated efforts applied jointly by the staff in this regard are commendable. Meetings are held twice each year with parents regarding pupils’ progress and significant efforts are made to facilitate opportunities for parents to remain in contact with the school.

 

 

2.2 Policies and practices in regard to child safety

 

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

 

3.1 Language

 

Irish

Irish is the language for both teaching and communication in the school except for the teaching of English. The teaching of Irish is emphasised as a learning tool and the natural language which the children have is enriched and extended. A spirit of participation and satisfaction is evident in the approach to this, and in students’ self-confidence in their work. ‘Séideán Sí’ and a range of textbooks are used to develop pupils’ reading skills and the school library is used to encourage leisure reading. It would be worth investing significantly in the school library, particularly in a compilation of modern Irish books. It would also be worth having the poetry book that was composed in the school in 1972 as part of the library stock as well as other contemporary Irish writers in order to improve the practice of reading. Higher order thinking skills are regularly developed in the approach adopted and students achieve creditable standards that are consistent with their natural ability. A wide range of composition and writing is undertaken in the school, last year the pupils participated in a book writing scheme and writing techniques are also given attention. Projects and thematic research are regularly used to provide for an interrelationship between various aspects of the curriculum. It would be worth providing students with opportunities to present their written work to a wider audience by means of the internet and through occasional publications from the school.

 

 

English

A structured approach is used to the development of a variety of skills in English. Due emphasis is placed on developing oral language skills, phonological awareness as well as structured reading and writing programmes of work. Emphasis is placed on the communicative approach through drama, circle time and discussion, and an excellent anthology of poetry and rhyme is offered to develop language appreciation. Parents are encouraged to engage in shared reading exercises with the pupils, personal reading is a leisure activity practised by all the pupils and further investment in library books in English is required. Writing is taught in a developmental fashion with editing and re-writing being a feature of the approach. Pupils’ progress is carefully monitored through a variety of assessment procedures including teacher observation, questioning, written tasks, correction of copies and books and the use of standardised tests. 

 

3.2 Mathematics

 

Mental arithmetic is a regular feature of the mathematics programme as well as focusing on promoting the mathematics’ terminology in both languages. Workshops and concrete materials are used to develop an understanding of the basic concepts although textbooks are the main underpinning of the focus provided for the mathematics’ programme. It would be worthwhile now drawing more on mathematics in the environment in order to provide the pupils with an understanding of the functionality of mathematics. Group work is used effectively to provide for the range of ability of pupils in the various class levels and activities are used to good effect in order to achieve the teaching objectives. Pupils have opportunities to develop their prediction and estimation skills and the strategies used for the development of problem solving skills are commendable.

 

 

3.3 Science

 

An emphasis is placed in the school plan on the development of skills required by a scientist such as the investigation of traits, relationships, predictions, trials, and research themes derived from personal presentation of the strands and strand units of the curriculum. Pupils participate in cooperative work, they use equipment and software support for analysis and they record their results on an ongoing basis. It would also be worth availing of curriculum support personnel for this aspect of the work and that a work programme be developed that would in the first instance be intrinsically linked to the environment and experience of the island. Forces of sea and wind, marine ecology and conservation of fish stocks, streams and astrology could also be covered in the programme as well as other aspects of island life that would not feature in textbooks. The effort underway to increase the use of technology in pupils’ learning is commendable.

 

 

 

3.4 Assessment

 

Standardised tests are used to monitor the progress of pupils. It would be worth extending the range of tests used to identify individual learning programmes appropriate to the abilities of pupils and that the outcomes of evaluations would be recorded on a class basis. Additional strategies such as teacher observations, check lists, work compilations, work samples, projects, tasks and tests designed by the teachers themselves should be included as part of the evaluation process. It would be worth using these to provide a progress overview for parents and that the outcomes be provided by means of a report at the end of the school year. 

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

 

Conscientious service is provided for pupils with special educational needs who attend the school. Equal access and participation in all school activities for all pupils is ensured. The learning support teacher provides additional teaching support in English and Mathematics for pupils who have learning difficulties and pupils follow a comprehensive programme skills’ development. The common approach to such support is to withdraw pupils in groups or individually although co-teaching is also a regular feature in senior classes.

 

It would be very worthwhile to ensure that a pupil with special needs has access to materials and experiences in the special education unit offered to him on a part-time basis on the mainland. Special travel arrangements would need to be made as well as having a work programme agreed with the support therapists so that maximum benefit can be derived from this unit. The sensitive support provided by the special needs assistant for the pupil in her care as well as her overall participation in general in the work of the school is commendable. She provides a sensitive and responsible service for the school pupils in general.

 

4.2 Additional supports for pupils: disadvantaged pupils and pupils from minority or other groupings

 

It was confirmed by the school that all pupils currently enrolled in the school are of a similar background and are from the local area. The school is operating within the D.E.I.S. programme and the budget is used effectively to provide additional services and experiences that have been identified beforehand. It would be worth designing an agreed and identified programme within this scheme and in conjunction with the dormant funds’ scheme. The work scheme would need to be agreed and approved at board meetings at the beginning of the year.

 

 

 

 

5.  Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

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.

 

 

 

Published January 2009


 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

We were very satisfied with the report, and thankful to the Inspector who gave us an opportunity to discuss it at Board of Management level, answered queries and clarified issues.

 

 

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 are dealing with the recommendations on page 7