An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Coolmine, Dublin 15
Roll number: 19505L
Date of inspection: 7 February 2008
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation on Scoil Oilibhéir. 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 inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Scoil Oilibhéir was founded in 1975 under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin ‘to provide top-class education, through the medium of Irish, for the children of the locality, in a positive, stimulating environment’. The school serves the Blanchardstown region and neighbouring areas in west Dublin. Pupils of all religions are welcome in the school. Although the total number of pupils is stable, there is a significant demand for places in the school. School attendance is at a high level and the school has few problems of absenteeism. The teaching staff comprises twelve: the principal and eight mainstream teachers, as well as three others involved in special education.
2.1 The Board of Management
The current Board of Management took office in December 2007, in accordance with the rules of the Department of Education and Science. The composition of the board is as required. There is continuity between it and the previous board in that some of the members have had experience of dealing with school-management matters. The board meets once a month. Detailed minutes of board meetings are kept and the treasurer keeps an accurate account of income and expenditure. It was evident at the meetings with the board of management, that guiding educational principles direct the work of the board. The board participates in the development of the school plan. The board has approved plans in the areas of curriculum, pastoral care and administration. The enrolment policy was recently reviewed and the guidelines for the protection of children have been accepted. The board has long been active in the area of organisation and it intends to become more active in curricular areas in the future. The board has begun to analyse and discuss the Department’s document ‘Looking at Our School’. The board ensures that the school adheres to the Department’s regulations regarding the length of the school year, the length of the school day and the allocation of teachers.
The chairperson of the board meets the principal regularly and the whole staff know him well. The various members of the board have specific responsibilities and members have been designated to attend diocesan training meetings for new members. The priorities being discussed by the board at present include school-maintenance, safety, school enrolment and the implications for the school resulting from the demand for places.
2.2 In-school management
The principal guides the work of the school ably and energetically. She succeeds in creating a positive school atmosphere in which learning is the main aim of the school community. The principal has an educational vision and she affirms staff efforts to promote the learning-process. She encourages every member of the school community to participate in the life of the school and she promotes co-operation between the management, the parents, the staff and the pupils for the good of learning. School records are accurately and neatly kept.
Staff-meetings are held regularly. The deputy principal and teachers with posts of responsibility have specific duties and responsibilities. It is clear that the teachers with posts of responsibility are a great help to the principal and that the in-school management team co-operate willingly and effectively in school administration. Every member of the in-school management team has responsibilities in the areas of curriculum, school organisation and pastoral care, and the members report to the teachers, at staff meetings, about the activities undertaken.
2.3 Management of resources
The school was founded in 1975 and the permanent building was erected on a fine site in Blanchardstown in 1981. There are twelve members on the teaching staff of the school, the principal, eight class teachers and three teachers on the learning-support team. A learning-support teacher, who is based in another school in the locality, works in this school for nine hours each week. Every teacher is given the opportunity of informing the principal each spring of their class choice for the following year, and these preferences are taken into account when the principal is allocating classes. The teachers are given opportunities to experience different classes and various teaching contexts. The building consists of eight mainstream classrooms, as well as a prefabricated building which is used as a learning-support room. The school also has an assembly hall, toilets for the pupils and for the staff, offices for the principal and the secretary and a staff room. The board of management, teaching staff, parents and ancillary staff are commended for keeping the building clean, safe and neat. The school secretary gives great support to the principal and the teaching staff in matters of administration. A sports coach from a local football club spends two hours each week in the school, teaching the pupils Gaelic football. The football club and the Leinster Council of the GAA fund this training. Dancing classes are provided for the pupils on a weekly basis. This tuition is provided by an outside Irish-dancing teacher and funded by the board of management.
There are plenty of resources available to the pupils in the school. There is a fine supply of concrete material for use in Mathematics and Science lessons. The library offers a good and varied supply of books and all classrooms also have a good selection of books. Additional teacher-designed resources are provided for use in lessons over the full range of the curriculum and good use is also made of resources such as charts, maps and computer software in the work of the school. A plentiful supply of sports equipment is available as well as a store of photographs of the locality, for use in History and Geography lessons in particular.
2.4 Management of relations and communication with the school community
The parents are very supportive of the board of management and the staff. Systemic use is made of homework diaries to make regular contact with the parents and formal meetings with them are organised during the school year. Written reports on the pupils are sent to their parents at the end of the school year. Members of the parents’ association report on how welcoming the principal and the whole staff are. They praise the openness of the school. The association organises events regularly for the school community to create and sustain a good spirit. Various events are run from time to time to fund specific projects. The association plays an active part in sports days and other special occasions in the school. They provide refreshments on these occasions and there are representatives of the association on the school’s Green Committee. The association organises gardening work groups to keep the school grounds in order. This collaboration is highly commended.
The school maintains good relations with various organisations in the area. The school choir sings every Sunday at the bilingual Mass in the local church, the pupils take part in events organised in the area for Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week) and teams are prepared for inter-schools quizzes. The school has developed close links with Draíocht, a local arts centre, with the public library and with Radio Phoenix, a local radio station.
2.5 Management of pupils
Pupils are very well managed in this school. Assemblies are held regularly, a public spirit is nurtured and emphasis is placed on the school rules and on the code of behaviour. It is obvious that the general behaviour of the pupils and their level of confidence and self-respect have a positive influence on the quality of life in the school. A positive working atmosphere can be sensed in the classrooms, and good co-operation between the pupils and teachers is apparent. The pupils are polite and friendly to visitors and they show respect for one another, whether involved in work, play, or games. The pupils’ good behaviour adds to the effectiveness of learning in the classrooms. The pupils are given plenty of opportunities to develop an understanding of the school rules and the code of behaviour. The parents’ association and the board of management organise information events for parents about such matters as self-respect and bullying.
3.1 School planning process and implementation
The staff and the board of management participate in advancing school development planning. Staff meetings are regularly organised and planning matters are discussed at these meetings. Every member of staff has the opportunity to have an input into the agenda for the meetings. Time is allocated at each meeting to review and amend various policies. Minutes of the meetings are kept and the teachers are given copies of these, to provide clarity about decisions made. The board of management discusses draft policies before they are adopted. The school has a wide range of administrative policies and a range of policies for curriculum areas. It is recommended that the staff now draft a policy for Drama, so that the range of policies will be complete.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
3.2 Classroom planning
Every teacher undertakes long-term and short-term planning. The influence of the curriculum documents and of the school plan is evident in the planning. Classroom planning is organised according to curriculum strands and the planning accommodates learning activities in all the strand units. All teachers prepare monthly progress records and the principal keeps the records centrally.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
There is a high standard of learning and teaching in this school. The teachers use a wide, varied and effective range of teaching methodologies and the variety enhances the effectiveness of the learning. Learning activities are organised to promote pupil participation and active learning methods are emphasised. It is clear from test results, from examples of pupils’ work on display in the school and from observing the pupils at work and talking to them, that they attain a high standard of achievement in every area of the curriculum.
The teachers in this school approach the teaching of Irish faithfully and enthusiastically and they have made admirable progress in implementing the curriculum for Irish. Irish is used as the normal medium of communication in the everyday affairs of the class and school and the pupils learn how to use the language as an effective medium of communication. Themes are based on the pupils’ own range of interest and on their needs. The pupils are encouraged to speak the language in realistic contexts and situations. Emphasis is placed on enjoyment and on using the language in activities such as language games and drama. The pupils’ enjoyment and understanding is enhanced through the use of songs, rhymes and stories. A very creditable standard of fluency is observed in the classes. The pupils have a wide range of vocabulary and they can talk about a variety of themes in every aspect of the curriculum. The school has devised methods of ensuring that a good standard of accuracy in oral Irish is achieved by the pupils: common phrases are carefully practised so that the pupils use them correctly from the start. In this way, the pupils do not get into the habit of using corrupted versions. This is a worthwhile approach in an all-Irish school.
A graded programme is used in the teaching of reading and the pupils show a good understanding of the subject matter of the texts. In the junior classes, flash-cards, reading charts and reading games are used to enable pupils to practise the reading of words and simple sentences. As the pupils progress through the school, they are enabled to read a wide range of material across the curriculum and pupils in the senior classes can read and discuss a variety of materials fluently. It was observed that good use was being made of appropriate texts throughout the school. A good range of big books is used in the junior classes and good use is made of the variety of novels available in the senior classes. The pupils are enabled to develop basic writing skills. In the junior classes, writing is based on the subject matter of conversation and of reading and the pupils write simple news bulletins and stories. In the middle and senior classes pupils are given appropriate experience of written work, both functional and imaginative, and the results of their efforts are interesting.
Particular emphasis is placed on oral language in English and this helps the pupils to acquire social and communication skills. Drama is used to provide a wide range of valuable learning experiences for the pupils. The pupils experience print rich environments where books are easily accessed. In the junior classes, activities are organised which help pupils to make the link between sounds and letters. Higher-order reading skills are developed in the senior classes by using a variety of texts. Pupils’ creativity is stimulated through the writing process. Their ability to use written language to express a wide range of thoughts and feelings effectively is developed. Pupils’ language development is closely monitored at every stage and appropriate assessment methods are used for early identification of pupils who have reading difficulties. Appropriate support is provided for those pupils.
Good practice in the teaching of Mathematics is observed in this school. A wide-ranging programme is covered in every class and the pupils are offered opportunities to carry out guided exploration. A hands-on approach is used in mathematics teaching and the pupils are given plenty of experience of handling concrete materials during mathematics lessons in every class in the school. The emphasis on the language of Mathematics and on the consistency of approach to teaching the subject throughout the school is commended. The class teachers differentiate tasks for pupils with different learning needs, and helpful assistance is provided by the learning support team for pupils who have difficulty with Mathematics. Because of these procedures, every pupil gets an opportunity of achieving academic success in Mathematics. The teachers introduce the pupils to effective strategies for solving mathematical problems. The classes are presented with realistic problems related to the pupils’ own experience and they are encouraged to devise imaginative strategies for solving them.
4.4. Social, Environmental and Scientific Education
The Social, Environmental and Scientific Education programme aims to develop pupils’ awareness and understanding of environmental, social and historical aspects of life. The history curriculum in the school is concerned with the life of people in the past. The curriculum enables pupils to work as historians. By analysing their experience of history, the pupils become acquainted with the process of gathering a wide range of evidence, then examining and investigating it. In junior classes, the emphasis is placed on the pupils’ personal history, and as they move up through the classes, they acquire a balanced understanding of local, Irish and international history.
The Geography curriculum in the school facilitates pupils’ understanding of the people as well as the physical and human features of the world. Emphasis is placed on skills development by observing and investigating the riches of the school and home environment. The geography programme in the school promotes understanding of and respect for different cultures and ways of life throughout the world. There is a special emphasis, in the programme followed, on the importance of individual and community responsibility for care of the environment. There is an active Green Schools Committee in the school and it is evident from pupil behaviour that they accept the responsibility enthusiastically.
Effective use is made of the environment in teaching Science. The school provides learning activities to cater for all the strands. Nature tables and displays are used to stimulate pupils’ curiosity and to consolidate what they have learnt. Pupils’ scientific concepts are developed by offering them experience of concrete materials and by experimentation. The pupils conduct appropriate experiments under the guidance of the teachers and they learn by discovery methods. It is recommended that, when the staff are formulating a science policy, they bear in mind the emphasis the curriculum places on designing and making to give pupils opportunities to test their basic scientific concepts.
4.5 Arts Education
There is a satisfactory standard of teaching and achievement in the visual arts. A praiseworthy variety of experience of drawing, working with clay, printing, construction and creative work with fabric is offered to the pupils. A balance is maintained between the experience of creating art and of looking at and responding to it. There are fine examples of pupils’ art on display in the classrooms and throughout the school. It is clear that the pupils enjoy working with different materials and that they are enabled to develop an awareness of aspects of art through the activities they take part in.
Music plays a central role in the life of the school. The school music programme incorporates three strands, listening and responding, performing and composing, There is an appropriate emphasis on developing a range of musical concepts. The pupils are given regular opportunities to respond physically, verbally, emotionally and cognitively to music and they encounter various styles of music from different cultures. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on Irish music. Graded lessons are organised which provide regular opportunities for pupils to listen and respond to music, and pupils show a good understanding of musical concepts. The children sing a good range of songs and they can take lessons in the tin whistle, the fiddle and bells. A parent is in charge of teaching these instruments. The pupils take part in the annual Scór na nÓg music competitions. Interesting events are organised in the school for Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week) every year. Every class gives a performance which features music as a central element. The school choir sings at the First Communion and Confirmation ceremonies every year also.
Although the school plan for Drama has not yet been developed, this subject is taught throughout the school. It is integrated into other subjects and separate drama lessons are also taught. The teachers facilitate the participation of all pupils by using a range of enjoyable drama games. Mime is used regularly, pupils take part in role-play in various situations and in lessons in other subjects, especially language lessons. The teachers create a safe environment for Drama in which pupils can express their thoughts, their feelings and their experiences. The pupils are encouraged to compose mini-dramas based on stories and events they learn about, and they show an admirable ability to co-operate with other people ‘in role’ and ‘out of role’.
4.6 Physical Education
The Physical Education programme enables pupils to lead an active, healthy life and helps their social and personal development. A variety of experience is promoted in the fields of athletics, gymnastics, games, aquatics and outdoor activities. Dancing classes are organised for the pupils with the assistance of an external Irish dancing teacher, and a coach from the local club teaches Gaelic games in the school. The school participates in the Cumann na mBunscol (Primary Schools Association) Gaelic football and hurling competitions. The attention paid to safety in these activities is praiseworthy. Pupils on the school teams practise for games at lunchtime and the teachers give generously of their free time in training teams. The whole staff supports those activities. Teams from the school take part in the Gael Linn Football Festival in Ráth Cairn every year. In addition to Gaelic games, there is good provision for athletics. The school takes part in basketball competitions organised jointly with other schools in the area.
4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education
Social, Personal and Health Education is presented to the pupils in the positive atmosphere of the school. The pupils receive a very impressive training in the areas of politeness and behaviour and they answer willingly and confidently during lessons. The pupils acquire relevant information and they develop skills relevant to the social, personal and health dimensions of life. The programme in this subject helps to prepare pupils for active and responsible citizenship. The pupils are helped to acquire an understanding of themselves and of the need to respect and care for their bodies. They are given opportunities to care for their own immediate environment. The programme enables the pupils to acquire information and an attitude that help to promote a healthy lifestyle. Their ability to make appropriate choices and decisions in matters of health are also developed.
Assessment is given a central place in the teaching and learning process. Assessment strategies are used which are geared to identifying pupils’ needs. A diverse range of assessment methods is used, including teacher observation, standardised tests and informal records. Standardised tests are used to assess pupils’ reading and mathematics standards regularly. The assessment results are communicated regularly to parents. A wide range of standardised tests is used at different levels throughout the school every year, to identify pupils who have learning difficulties and to get precise information about pupils’ progress. Class teachers administer these tests, with the help of the learning support team if necessary. Consideration should be given to the use of formal tests for Irish and Próifílí Measúnachta don Ghaeilge sna Scoileanna Gaeltachta agus Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge (Assessment Profiles for Irish in Gaeltacht Schools and All-Irish Schools) is recommended.
5.1 Pupils with special educational needs
Priority is given to early identification of learning difficulties and taking appropriate action accordingly. The teachers are alert to identifying learning difficulties in infant classes. The results of standardised tests are used to select pupils for diagnostic tests in order to identify the causes of their difficulties. Following these tests, the results are analysed and learning targets selected for the pupils. A detailed account of pupils’ progress is kept and there is regular communication between class teachers and the learning support team. The pupils’ learning targets are reviewed regularly. Provision is made for pupils who have difficulties with literacy, numeracy, and oral Irish. Suitable learning programmes are made available for the pupils and plenty of helpful activities are provided. A learning support teacher works in the infant classes and the needs of pupils from other classes are served in small groups, or individually, as appropriate. A wide range of teaching materials and aids is provided and used to advantage. Relevant information is regularly shared with parents. Contact is made with external services, for example the psychologist, the speech therapist, the visiting teacher for the deaf, and the Child and Family Centre.
5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups
There is a good relationship between the school and the local community. Many sporting and cultural activities are organised in the school and these activities are available to all pupils. Few pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds attend the school but grants from the Department of Education and Science are used to provide books for them and to provide them with opportunities to participate in activities that are organised from time to time. No pupils from minority groups attend the school at present.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a very positive atmosphere between teachers, pupils and ancillary staff in the school.
· The commitment and effectiveness of the board of management is commended.
· The teachers demonstrate high quality teaching skills.
· The principal works with great enthusiasm and gives excellent guidance to the staff.
· Irish is promoted with great dedication and the school takes part in Irish cultural events held in the area.
· The parents of pupils attending the school are commended for the help and financial assistance they give the school.
· The school building is in good condition and it is obvious that the pupils are comfortable in it.
· The school is highly praised for its attention to pupils with special educational needs.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The teaching staff is advised to continue with the curriculum planning process.
· It is recommended that designing and making be given a more significant place in the area of Science.
· The use of an assessment scheme for Irish is recommended.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and with the board of management, meetings at which the draft findings and recommendations of the assessment were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008