An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation 

REPORT

 

Scoil Cholmáin

Mweenish, Carna, County Galway

 

Roll number:17770U

 

Date of inspection: 10 March 2009

 

 

 

Whole school evaluation

Introduction– context and school background

Context and school background

The quality of planning in the School

The quality of learning and teaching

The quality of support for pupils

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

 

Scoil Cholmáin had a Whole School Evaluation in the Spring of 2009. This report presents the findings of that evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. The evaluation was directed at the quality of the teaching and learning of English, Irish, Mathematics and Drama. 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.

 

 

IntrodouctionContext and school background

 

This school is situated on the island of Mweenish in the district of Iorras Aithneach, about two and a half miles from the village of Carna and fifty five miles west of Galway city. The island is famous because of the traditional song, Amhrán Mhuigh-inse is still extant and sung by the local people. There is a natural beauty, friendliness in the people and a rich Irish culture on the island, as well as wisdom and traditional storytelling that goes back to the time of Christ. The school itself is situated on the side of the road beside the beach, on a magnificent site looking out over the ocean and on to the island of Ma sson. The first State school was opened on the island in 1870 in nearby Caladh an Aifrinn, and the present school was built in 1950 with two small classrooms and a cloakroom. There are two full-time teachers working in this Gaeltacht school and not much State expenditure has been spent on it since 1950 except for internalising the outside toilets, and the addition of a prefabricated room in 2004. The prefabricated room provides a workplace for the learning support and the learning resource teachers, as well as for the newly-appointed education coordinator who is working in the school under the DEIS scheme. Because of the long tradition of primary education on the island and because of the local people’s respect for the present school, it has been kept in good condition, clean and tidy and well maintained over the years. Two large pots at the school door were in full bloom with spring flowers and there is a lawn of flowers and plants that a parent tends during the holidays in the corner of the yard south of the school door. There are activity and games’ areas south of the school as well as a large sand pit that the children frequently use. To the north of the school building there is a shelter and a newly-covered tarmacadamed yard that is intended to be lined out for various games, with a running and games field north of this again. A complete upgrade is now needed for the school building to bring the facilities and resources up to modern standards. The enrolment has fallen significantly for the past twenty years and there are only sixteen pupils registered in the school at the moment. There are no pupils in first class at present, two pupils in senior infants, third and fourth classes, four pupils in junior infants and second class and one pupil in each of fifth and sixth classes. According to local estimates the enrolment will increase by a third in four years time and the board of management attest that they are directing the necessary upgrading to facilitate this increase. During the preconsultation the plan to enlarge the classrooms and to increase the level of resources was discussed. The table below presents general knowledge about the school staff and the pupils that were enrolled in the school when the evaluation was in progress:

 

 

 

Number

Pupils on the school rolls

16

Mainstream classes in the school

7

Teacher(s) on the school staff

2

Teacher(s) of the mainstream classes

2

Teacher(s) working in a supporting role

3

Special needs assistants

0

 

 

1.  Context and school background

 

1.1   School mission statement, vision or unique school spirit

Even though Irish is visible and viable enough in the area, it is said that there is a noticeable decrease in the strength of the pupils’ language over the past few years. The families of all those attending the school at the moment are native to the area. The board of management and teachers of the school are to be commended for the hard work they put into the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. Many worthwhile cultural and Irish language activities are organised in the school and Irish is the language through which the business and communication of the school are conducted. The pupils have a broad command of Irish and experience in using it on leaving the primary school, and they are able to use Irish fluently with accurate syntax and a diverse vocabulary. The board is to be congratulated for the amount of support that they give the staff in creating a suitable learning environment, and the pupils benefit from the resources that are provided for them both inside and outside this school. The school has a vision of creating a comprehensive education for the children of Mweenish through the medium of Irish in a pleasant atmosphere with an emphasis on safety, participation and cooperation between the pupils themselves the school staff the parents and the community in general. Towards this end, a positive happy learning environment is fostered in which each pupil is enabled to develop, grow and learn as a preparation for the next educational step, in a cooperative setting with their families. It is accepted that not all children have the same ability or personality, and that they should all fulfil their educational potential through the medium of Irish in an atmosphere of partnership. Positive efforts are made to involve the parents in the learning activities of the school and with the second chance educational opportunities organised under the DEIS scheme.

  

1.2   Board of Management

The board of management has regular meetings once in the school term or more frequently if required. The board is elected under the regulations of the Department of Education and Science, it has nominated officers and an agenda is scheduled for the meetings and the board. The board conducts its business entirely through Irish, they ensure that the school operates satisfactorily, spending is monitored and the minutes and financial accounts were available for this inspection. The board accepts the responsibilities that are given to them and they have prepared policy statements on wide-ranging school activities. The board attested at a pre-inspection meeting that the upgrading of the school is their principal aim at the moment. They now need to present this objective as part of the school plan. The professional staff of the school principally, put the school plan together over time. It is advisable now to update and review some of the policies arising from this report, as well as the statutory changes and work practices that have come into the system during the last few years. In this process, it is worth creating a plan on school pedago, as well as defining the differentiation approach currently being practised in teaching and learning. It is necessary also to revise the standards in languages and mathematics, as identified by the school staff under the DEIS scheme.  A plan for staff development should be aligned with this process as well as a plan directed at section 9(h) of the Education Act (1998). It was discussed with the board how the parents could be encouraged to feel ownership of this plan along with common procedure to achieve this.

  

1.3   In-school management 

There is a wide range of services available in this school and they are effectively managed. The principal and deputy principal work well together, both of them work conscientiously and diligently and the welfare of the pupils under their care is important to them. They are assisted by the resource teacher who supports one pupil in the school and they are commended for the arrangements which they have made in acquiring a specialist multi-sensory room for one pupil in St Colmcille’s Primary School. A learning support teacher also works in the school on a part-time basis for two and a half hours per week. This teacher is newly-appointed to the post and she is commended for upgrading her pedagogical skills and working methods to facilitate this new role. The DEIS coordinator is commended for her developmental approach to her duties; in conjunction with the school staff she has prioritised the development plan for increasing school standards validated by the Drumcondra Education Research Centre as part of the DEIS enhancing skills project. It is recommended that this project is given precedence in the school for the duration of the plan. It is intended that continuous monitoring and regular review will be done by the staff to assess the projects effect in developing potential, pupil achievement and in directing and assessing the higher-order thinking skills of pupils. As the support teachers are not usually present at the staff meetings organised by the school, it is recommended that this practice be changed, to facilitate this project. The classes in the school are divided between the teachers, with the deputy principal taking care of the infant classes to second class, and third, fourth, fifth and sixth classes in the care of the principal. They both ensure that there is a happy safe atmosphere in the school, as well as having a developmental educational programme available for the pupils. Various teaching methodologies are practised, individual and class work are focussed on, support educational software are used to direct learning activities as well as the educational technology resources  that are currently in the school. Although the school is small and separated from the mainland, it takes part in many sporting and cultural events with the local schools. The teachers are praised for their enthusiasm and attentiveness in providing a developmental educational service in the school, they accept responsibility for being to the forefront in education and they place an emphasis on ensuring a professional, attractive and qualitative educational programme for the pupils.

 

1.4   Management of the relationship and communication with the school community

The board of management and the representatives of the parents have declared their satisfaction with the efficiency and professionalism of the teachers as well as with the general running of the school during the pre-report conferences. Good work is being done with efforts to connect the parents with the educational activities of their children through various practices under the DEIS scheme, thus the community is assured of a happy open atmosphere. The building is kept in good order and is clean inside and out, and the school takes part in various social and curricular projects on an ongoing basis. All the rooms and school corridors are decorated with the pupils’ work in aspects of the curriculum and these are a good record of the pupils’ skills. It would be worthwhile fostering a link with other island schools or other schools near and far, including Gaeltacht and Galltacht schools on the mainland, in order to expand the pupils’ knowledge of other living environments and to strengthen their technological skills.

 

1.5 Management of pupils

The open kindly relationship between the school partners was noted. Sixteen pupils presently attend the school and the staff and pupils are on first name terms with one another in their interaction. Attendance is usually high and the majority of the pupils are reluctant to miss a day. A comprehensive progressive programme is available to the pupils, independent learning skills are emphasised and they are prepared for post-primary education. The pupils’ participation and their achievement in the post-primary system has been a source of pride and satisfaction for the teachers over the years. It has been declared that the staff seldom have to recourse to the code of behaviour and it is usual that the senior students take good care of the younger pupils during school and during out of school activities. The pupils participate gladly in cooperative work using resources and support software, and the results of the activities are recorded on a continuous basis. The school has used the services of the curriculum support facilitators to design and develop schemes of work and it is ensured that aspects of the programme are connected to the environment and traditions of the island. It is recommended that the forces of the sea and wind, marine ecology and protection of fish stock, rivers and astronomy as well as aspects relevant to island life, not covered in the textbooks, should be covered in the programme.

 

 

2.     The Quality of Planning in the School

 

2.1 Whole school planning and planning for the classroom

Changes to aspects of the school plan were agreed upon during the writing of this report and the revised plan would be put before the parents in agreement with the board of management. It was also agreed that the teachers’ personal planning would concentrate on the objectives identified in  standards enhancement programme and that written reports would be produced for each pupil by the end of the school year. The school records are up to date and an executive school plan has been collated on the principal aspects of the running of the school. Priorities were agreed for the planning review programme at a post-inspection conference to this report. The structures for individual teaching preparations were also agreed in order to reduce the influence of the textbooks on the course of study. Further investment in the school’s educational resources is also necessary, especially in the acquisition of assessment instruments and support programmes for pupils, pupils with special educational needs included. An investment plan for the school library is also required. The use the pupils make of the public library is commendable as well as the assistance the pupils receive from the librarian in the selection of suitable books.

 

A wide-range of methodologies, such as group-work, whole class-work, pair-work and individual work is used in the two classrooms, even though the class rooms are very restrictive. The teaching and learning are stimulating and therefore impactful. An honest effort is made to implement the principles of the curriculum in the teaching and learning programme and the practices used are helpful for this purpose, especially the principle of differentiation in the curriculum and in the use of assessment to identify the most suitable programme for the pupils. The enhancement of standards plan devised under the DEIS programme, is accepted by the school staff and praise is due to the coordinated approach in use for its implementation. Formal parent and teacher meetings on the pupils’ progress are organised twice a year and continuous contact with the parents is encouraged during the school year.

 

 

2.2 Policy and procedures for the protection of pupils

 

 

Assurance has been given, according to Circular 0061/2006 from the Department of Education and Science, that the board of management has formally accepted the Child Protection Guidelines and Procedures for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September, 2001). It has also been guaranteed that the attention of the board of management, of the school staff and of the parents has been drawn to these procedures for the protection of pupils, and that a copy of the procedures has been given to all the school staff (including all the new staff members) and it has been ascertained that the entire staff understand the procedures that must be followed. A designated liaison person and a designated substitute have been appointed and nominated as demanded by the guidelines.

 

3.     The Quality of Learning and Teaching

 

3.1 Language

 

Irish

Irish is used as a medium of teaching and communication in the school except during the teaching of English. The teaching of Irish is emphasised as an instrument of learning and the sophistication of the pupils’ language is enriched and enhanced accordingly. A spirit of cooperation and satisfaction is evident in this approach and the pupils’ self-confidence and initiative is fostered in the enterprise. The ‘Séideán Sí’ language programme is used to foster language skills and textbooks and the school library are used to develop silent reading. It is worthwhile making a continuous investment in the library, especially in the collection of modern Irish books that are currently available. It is also worth acquiring the works of other modern Irish writers in order to strengthen the practice of reading. Higher-order thinking skills are regularly fostered in the approach and the pupils usually reach an excellent standard. A range of topics are undertaken in creative and essay-writing in the school and attention is also paid to the mechanics of writing. Regular use is made of projects and research themes in order to integrate the aspects of the curriculum. The pupils could be given the opportunities to present their writings to a wider public though the internet and through periodic publications from the school itself.

  

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 and personal reading is a leisure activity practised by all the pupils. Further investment in library books in English is required. Pupils’ writing skills are developed using different genres with editing and re-writing being a feature of the approach. Pupils’ progress is carefully monitored through a variety of assessment procedures including teacher observation, questioning, written tasks, correction of copies and books and the use of standardised tests. A new developmental programme is currently being undertaken in the school, in conjunction with The Education Research Centre using the DEIS initiative and careful appraisal and monitoring of standards will be practised in the process.

 

3.2     Mathematics

The textbooks principally, guide the programme of learning in Mathematics and attention is paid to the language of mathematics and to the resolution of problems on paper. Workshops and concrete materials are used to develop the basic concepts and the work is regularly monitored. It would be worthwhile now to make further use of mathematics in the environment to show the pupils the function of mathematics and to practise mental work regularly to encourage alertness and to remember basic facts. The pupils are given opportunities to foster prediction and guestimation skills and various strategies are used to promote problem-solving skills. A new developmental project in Mathematics is currently being undertaken in this school, in conjunction with The Education Research Centre using the DEIS scheme. The concern with raising the pupils’ standard of attainment in this programme, is to be commended.

  

3.3 Drama

Drama is used to foster the pupils’ self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as the use of drama to attain the other objectives of the curriculum, such as enrichment of language and to encourage fluency of speech. The pupils have the opportunities to stage their own creative pieces in class and for the school and the wide range of skills and aesthetical concepts that are fostered in this work are to be commended. Traits that pertain to the emotions, attitudes and fiction are examined in the process and the presentation is integrated with discussion and response, along with other elements of the curriculum.

 

3.4 Assessment

Standardised tests are used to monitor the progress of the pupils. It would be valuable to add to the range of tests in order to design individual programmes of learning in line with the ability of the pupils, and to record the results sequentially according to the class level. This approach is in accordance with the programme for development of numeracy and literacy identified in conjunction with the education coordinator. It would be advisable to add other strategies such as; a programme of teacher observation, checklists, portfolios of work, examples of the pupils’ work, projects, teacher-designed tasks and tests, into the assessment plan. It is worth using the collected information to give the parents an insight on pupils’ progress and to send the results home in the form of an end of year report.

 

 

4.     The Quality of Support for Pupils

 

4.1 Pupils who have special educational needs

A developmental service is provided for the pupils in the school who have special educational needs. The pupils are enabled to participate in school activities on an equal basis. The support teacher provides extra teaching in English and Mathematics for pupils who have learning difficulties and a programme of abilities and skills development is followed. The withdrawal of pupils in groups is the common model of service delivery used, although cooperative teaching is practised in the senior classes sometimes. It would be worthwhile to broaden this programme of intervention include modules on developing pupils’ self-confidence, learning habits, decision-making skills and on taking initiatives.

 

Particular arrangements are made so that the pupil with special educational needs can travel to utilise the resources in the multi-sensory room of another school. It is reported that this experience has had a satisfactory outcome for the pupil. It appears also that an interdisciplinary programme of work has been agreed with the support therapists so that the best possible use is made of the unit. Local initiatives such as this are commendable and the practice should be pursued where necessary. The teacher provides a structured service, sensitive to the pupil in partnership with other school colleagues.

  

4.2 Other supports for pupils: those that are disadvantaged and pupils from minority or other groups

The school asserts that the pupils are local indigenous children at the present time. The school operates under the auspices of the DEIS programme and the budget for the provision of services and extra supports on a pre-arranged basis are well used. A standard progressive programme in increasing numeric and literacy has been accepted for the school and it is necessary to give programme priority into the future. The development plan must be formally accepted and approved by the board of management by the end of the school year.

 

 

5.  Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The behaviour and cooperation of the pupils are to be commended.

·         The attitude, efficiency and diligence of the teachers in their work are praised.

·         A favourable learning environment is created in the school.

·         The pupils with special needs and with learning difficulties are especially well supported.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         It is essential to upgrade the school building and the school yard at the same time.

·         It is necessary to improve the aspects of the school plan indicated in this report.

·         It is crucial to give priority to the implementation of the developmental programme agreed under the DEIS scheme.

 

 

Post-inspection meetings were arranged with the staff and with the Board of Management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published November 2009