Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Gaelscoil …anna

An Uaimh, Contae na MŪ

Roll Number:  19725C

 

Date of inspection: 17 October 2007

 

 

 

 

Whole school evaluation report

Introduction Ė school context and background

The quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

 

 

 

 

Whole school evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Gaelscoil …anna. 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 schoolís board of management, and representatives of the parentsí association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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.

 

 

1.†††† Introduction Ė school context and background

 

Gaelscoil …anna is an all-Irish co-educational primary school under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Meath, located in Navan town. The school was established in 1980 and at present there are eight mainstream classes in the school. Irish is the schoolís main language of speech and communication. The schoolís aim is to give pupils the ability to develop their full potential as individuals and to provide them with a pleasant learning environment.

 

 

2.†††† The quality of school management

 

2.1 The board of management

 

The composition of the board of management is in accordance with the practices and rules of the Department of Education and Science. Board meetings are held once per term at which a treasurerís report and a report from the principal are presented. The inspectors reviewed minutes of the board meetings during the inspection. It is recommended that a comprehensive financial account be provided at each meeting and that there should be a focus on teaching and learning progress in the principalís written report. The meetings are conducted through English for the most part. To support the implementation of the schoolís ethos the board should ensure that the Irish language is used as much as possible when conducting its affairs. †It is ensured that there are members on the board with particular skills which support the administration and management of the school. Members fulfil their obligations and the board of management values the generosity with which they use their skills for the schoolsí benefit.

 

The members of the board report that they scarcely manage to clear the schoolís expenses and that they are extremely grateful for the financial assistance provided by the parentsí committee. Parents are asked for a voluntary subscription to assist with school expenses. The new building provided in 2003 is expensive to heat, and the effectiveness of the heating system is currently being investigated. The schoolís Patron conducts an annual examination of the schoolís financial accounts.

 

A range of policies have been developed which deal with aspects of the schoolís administration and curriculum.† Members of the board examine the drafts provided by the teaching staff. Statutory policies that have been developed include an admissions and enrolment policy, a code of conduct and an attendance strategy. There is no written child protection policy as yet although a designated liaison person has been appointed. Aspects of health and safety are covered in policies dealing with the teaching of relationships and sexuality education (RSE) and in the behaviour code. In order for the board to fulfil their statutory obligations it is recommended that a health and safety statement, together with a policy on reporting child protection concerns, should be developed without delay. Board members have not attended a board of management training course. In order to ensure that every aspect of the boardís activities is in accordance with best practice, it would be worthwhile, for members to avail of training courses when a new board has been established.

 

The chairperson is in regular contact with the school principal and visits the school once a week. A very good relationship is reported between the board members and school staff. There is a member of the parentsí committee on the board of management and she facilitates communication between the two committees. The chairperson gives an annual report to parents on the work of the board. During the evaluation members of the board reported that they were very satisfied with the standard of education provided in the school. Their aim is to ensure that the school is a pleasant place which serves the needs of all the community.

 

2.2 In-school management

 

There are five teachers on the in-school management team: the principal, the deputy principal and three teachers with posts of responsibility. The principal was appointed when the school was established in 1980 and has guided the schoolís development since then. She fosters a pleasant atmosphere among the school community and she values the creation of a pleasant learning environment for the pupils. The principal ensures that an effective administration system is in place. In collaboration with the deputy principal she ensures school records are maintained accurately. Staff meetings are held on a monthly basis and an account is kept of matters discussed and decisions made.

 

Specific duties are set out for teachers with posts of responsibility. These duties generally relate to aspects of school administration, sports, promotion of music and to health and safety matters. The teachers carry out their duties effectively. During a meeting held with the in-school management team they indicated that they are always willing to take on additional duties as necessary and that they give a report of their work at staff meetings from time to time. This is an indication of their interest in the schoolís development. Meetings are not held among the in-school management team and there is no system in place to report on a regular basis on the fulfilment of duties associated with the posts.

 

The functioning of the in-school management team should be placed on a more formal basis. Duties associated with each post should be reviewed referring to the provisions of Circular 17/00 Appointment to Posts of Responsibility. In order to give recognition to the centrality of teaching and learning it is recommended that each teacher with a post of responsibility be appointed as a coordinator for a specific aspect of the curriculum, to provide guidance regarding its development on a whole school basis.

 

2.3 Management of resources

 

A fine new school building was constructed in 2003 containing eight classrooms as well as a large hall, rooms for support education and administrative offices. The school is surrounded by a large, spacious yard with a field at its perimeter, which provides a fine activity and play area for pupils. The building is kept clean and tidy. The classrooms are very bright and sufficiently spacious to implement the curriculum successfully. They are attractively decorated with teaching resources, displays and the pupilsí work. A fine range of teaching resources is provided in the classrooms and they are used productively. The teachers provide plenty of self-designed equipment to support the work programme. Suitable books are provided in each classroom and in the central library and good use is made of them to promote personal reading. Reference books are also used regularly.† Computers and suitable software are available in the classrooms. Staff should now consider the additional use of information and communications technology (ICT) on a regular basis.

 

The classes are divided fairly among eight mainstream teachers. Two teachers, one of whom is working part-time in the school, provide supplementary teaching for pupils with special educational needs. The staff get experience of teaching different age groups. The secretary effectively supports school administration. A school cleaner and caretaker are employed and they succeed in maintaining the school at a high standard of cleanliness and neatness. The school has access to the services of two special needs assistants who facilitate learning for certain pupils with special educational needs. The staff has attended the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) national in-service and other courses for Physical Education and for Relationships and Sexuality Education.

 

2.4 Management of relations and communications with school community

 

The school is a central part of the community from which it comes and there is a close link and positive association between the various partners. Good communication is fostered between the school and home by providing an information booklet for the parents. Parents are ensured of appropriate information on their childrenís progress through parent-teacher meetings organised once a year and a written report provided on each pupilís progress. An active parentsí association displays an interest in all the schoolís activities. The inspectors met with representatives of the association during the evaluation. They indicated their satisfaction with school management, teaching and communication between the school and home. A school newsletter would greatly enhance the home/school liaison and would give the pupils an opportunity to publish and share their work with the school community. It is recommended that ICT be used to achieve this objective.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

 

The school code of discipline and anti-bullying is implemented effectively and fairly in the various classes. Productive use is made of the Discipline for Learning system to manage pupilsí behaviour. It is reported that this system works well. There is a positive relationship to be observed between the teachers and pupils and they succeed in fostering a calm learning atmosphere in the school. A laudable emphasis is placed on pupilsí good conduct and as a result the children are commended for their good behaviour and their learning efforts. The positive, welcoming atmosphere of the school greatly helps in fostering these attitudes.

 

 

3.†††† Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

 

The staff have done good work in preparing a range of policies dealing with the administration of the school and with aspects of the curriculum. It is reported that members of the teaching staff, working collaboratively, drafted the policies and submitted them to the board of management for discussion before approval. When policies are being reviewed or additional ones being developed it would be worthwhile to form working groups of all partners in order to strengthen partnership in planning between parents, the board of management and the staff. The requirements of the school as a whole are addressed in the policies and in some of them definitive guidance is provided for teachers which assists them in ensuring that there is development in learning from class to class.

 

Many of the policies were drafted when teachers began to use the new approach in the Primary Curriculum (1999). It is now worth while, after intensive consideration of the strengths and aspects to be developed in the implementation of the curriculum, preparing an action plan to guide the review of policies. The effectiveness of the review would be greatly enhanced by the appointment of coordinators to lead this work.

 

Confirmation has not yet been provided, in accordance with Primary Circular 0061/2006 from the Department of Education and Science, that the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation has not yet been provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management and school staff or 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) †has been appointed as required by the guidelines, but a deputy DLP has not yet been appointed.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

The teachers provide short-term and long-term preparation for their work.† In the best practice observed specific teaching objectives were clarified under the curriculum strands. In some of the planning, however, further consideration should be given to the learning objectives outlined in the curriculum and to focussing on the progress in learning in each aspect of the curriculum. Classroom planning showed little evidence that provision was made for the various learning needs pupils. Teachers prepared a range of resources to support teaching and learning that created a stimulating learning environment in the classrooms.

 

The teachers record teaching progress in the monthly records and a school template is used for this. The template should be reviewed to ensure that not just the material taught is recorded, but also the skills developed and the learning activities in which pupils participated .†

 

 

4.†††† Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of quality of learning and teaching

 

The teachers display a good understanding of the curriculumís basic principles. During the evaluation the lessons observed were presented in a stimulating and lively manner. Lessons were well-structured and the teachers succeeded in gaining the pupilsí interest and fostering their participation effectively. Teachersí planning indicates that it is mainly class teaching is practised and regular use is made of group work during learning activities. Good use was made of a wide range of resources to support learning. Various aspects of the teaching programme were integrated well, which strengthened the pupilsí learning.

 

In order to serve the learning of each pupil better it is recommended that more use be made of group teaching and mini-lessons for pupils at different levels of ability. An analysis should be made of pupilsí attainments in standardised tests and in tasks designed by the teachers. Based on this information and on teachersí observations of pupils, tasks should be differentiated to ensure that the learning material is matched to the pupilsí different levels of ability. Additional emphasis should be placed on learning through play and using games to provide pupils with the opportunities to develop the appropriate concepts. In order to support the development of the pupilsí language skills in Irish it would be worth directing more attention to collaborative learning and cooperative work and making every attempt to encourage the pupils to communicate through Irish only.

 

4.2 Language

 

Irish

A pleasant atmosphere is created in the classes and throughout the school for the learning of Irish. Irish is used as the normal language of the school, which gives a communicative context for the pupils to use Irish on a regular basis. An Irish-speaking atmosphere is evident in the school and pupils value the language. A whole-school plan has been provided for Irish. When reviewing the plan it is suggested that the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and the School Development Planning Service (SDPS) be consulted. The plan should take account of the schoolís context as an Irish-medium school, of the pupilsí linguistic background, of the schoolís philosophy regarding bilingualism and of the development and enrichment of Irish as the first language in the school. Planning is also recommended, on a whole school basis, for the teaching and learning of Irish emphasising the development of exemplars and of the structure of the language in the context of the themes.

 

Pupils are afforded various opportunities to develop listening skills. Additional emphasis should now be placed on active listening in the context of the communicative approach. ††Listening activities should have specific objectives and allow pupils opportunities to demonstrate their understanding by activities or through speech. The spoken lessons are well-structured and new language input is taught appropriately. However there is a need to ensure that English is not used when teaching the target language and that the pupils are challenged in speaking the language. Pupils converse fluently in Irish and make appropriate use of verbs, prepositions and nouns. There was a lack of precision and a deficiency of vocabulary to their conversation, however, and often their sentences did not have the correct Irish structure. Senior pupils were mainly speaking in the inter-language. A whole school plan should be implemented to teach language exemplars and structures systematically on a whole-school basis. Various communicative strategies should be used during lessons to develop the pupilsí spoken ability and language precision. It is recommended that the pupilsí language be also systematically developed for learning in the other curricular areas through the second language.

 

Various appropriate strategies are used to teach reading. A wide range of reading material is provided. In the lessons observed suitable pre-reading oral discussion was developed and effective use was made of flash cards and phrase cards to assist the pupils in recognising new words. The pupilsí word-recognition and prediction skills were suitably developed. Reading was used to teach and use language exemplars in various contexts. On the whole the pupils read accurately and with understanding. The pupils write various texts and a range of tasks is practised to augment their writing abilities. It is recommended that this work be built upon and a comprehensive plan for the writing process be implemented in the school to enable pupils to write creatively and with guidance on a regular basis from early years. Mini-lessons could be organised to teach sentence syntax and grammar in the context of writing. Pupilsí writing skills in the various genres could be further enhanced through other curricular subjects.

 

English

Considerable emphasis is placed on the provision of a whole language experience where oral language, reading and writing are integrated. Commendable attention is focused on the development of listening skills and on engaging pupils in talk and discussion. To ensure progression and development it is recommended that a discrete oral language programme be introduced that is explicitly linked to the oral language objectives as set out in the English curriculum.

 

In the infant classes systematic attention is given to the promotion of emergent and early reading and a variety of approaches is employed. The acquisition of phonological and phonemic awareness and a range of reading strategies is skilfully promoted. Shared reading with parents further augments the development of pupilsí literacy skills. The use of a graded reading scheme throughout the school supports continuity in the development of reading skills. Novels are used in the middle and senior classes to cultivate an interest in reading and to provide a wider range of reading experiences for pupils. Comprehension and analytical skills in senior classes are judiciously developed and pupils are motivated to read for interest, information and enjoyment. Many pupils show very good ability to read fluently and accurately and to assimilate, analyse and summarise the content. Some pupils however experience difficulty in reading the class text. Appropriate reading material and differentiated learning programmes should be made available for these pupils.

 

Pupils engage in a range of writing activities in copybooks and workbooks. Pupils write in a variety of genres but in some instances the overuse of workbooks constrains the opportunities to write creatively. It is recommended that all pupils be provided with opportunities to engage in process writing on a regular basis. Mini-lessons and co-operative learning activities could be used to teach the conventions of writing. Enabling pupils to use ICT during the writing process will facilitate editing and redrafting and enhance the presentation of their work.

      

4.3 Mathematics

A whole school plan has been designed for Mathematics setting objectives for each class as well as general aims for the subject. When the plan is being reviewed it would be worthwhile recording a whole-school approach to the teaching and learning of numerical operations to ensure continuity and consistency. A common approach should be established throughout the school regarding mathematical terms and correct usage of symbol names. The lessons are well structured but it is mainly class teaching that is practised. Effective use is made of concrete materials to teach and consolidate mathematical concepts. Some pupils have a good understanding of numeric value. Numerical skills are developed in an enjoyable way by playing games and appropriate emphasis is placed on mental calculation. In some classes pupils are trained to solve simple problems orally. It is recommended that this important work be built upon in each class to develop the pupilsí higher cognitive skills. The teaching content needs to be differentiated and active methodologies used so that all pupils can undertake challenging work during mathematics lessons.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

Pupilsí interest in History is effectively cultivated and aspects of history are progressively †developed from class to class. Pupilsí understanding of the concepts of change, continuity and chronology is developed methodically. Pupils are enabled to study personal history and the history of people and events in past times, thus facilitating a balanced understanding of family history, local, national and world history. Stimulating teaching methods, are used during the teaching of history with particular emphasis placed on skill development, on investigation and on evidence enquiry. Effective use is made of firsthand evidence and old photographs to develop the pupilsí skills as historians and to compare their ancestorsí history with present-day life. Timelines are displayed in the classrooms and used effectively. It is commendable that a class museum is being developed to encourage pupilsí interest in this subject. The pupils are facilitated in recreating aspects of history imaginatively. Appropriate emphasis is placed on an integrated cross-curricular approach. Pupils should now be encouraged to express their historical understanding in different ways by placing regular emphasis on the subject vocabulary and by using ICT.

 

Geography

In Geography the pupils are enabled to develop a sense of place and the skills of graphicacy. The pupils have appropriate knowledge of some of the human and natural features of their immediate environment and that of their native county. They are facilitated in gaining an understanding of communities living and working in their locality and in Ireland. Pupils display knowledge of names and locations of the countyís main natural features. They are given an appropriate understanding of the connection between these aspects and aspects of the built environment such as roads, bridges and towns. While pupilsí investigative geographical skills are developed to a certain degree, a whole school plan should ensure a better balance between pupilsí skill development and knowledge acquisition.

 

Science

A whole school plan has been developed for Science to which teachersí planning is appropriately linked. A good range of scientific resources has been provided to implement the curriculum. An appropriate teaching programme is set out at each class level to foster the pupilsí knowledge and skills in Science and to give them an opportunity to work as scientists. It is commendable that appropriate use is made of equipment and practical experiments to cultivate pupilsí ability to understand, analyse and report in Science. A source of pride for the school is how well they succeeded in a national Science competition and the various projects undertaken by the pupils are commended. The pupils can knowledgeably report on bodily parts and functions, on living elements and on energy and forces. There is a need, however, to ensure that the language of science is used and developed on a systematic basis, incremented at the different class levels.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

In the school plan for the Visual Arts, activities are set out under the various strands, on a class-by-class †basis. The various examples of pupilsí work on display throughout the school indicate that pupils are given opportunities to practice various techniques during Visual Art lessons. The learning activities are linked appropriately to other aspects of the curriculum. A range of media are provided to promote the creation of art. In the visual arts lessons observed there was fine management of the learning activities and the pupils took an active part in the work.

 

Music

A teacher with special duties has responsibility for the promotion of music on a whole school basis. Lessons are taught in all strands of the curriculum on a developmental basis throughout the school. There is guidance in the school plan to support teachers in developing their own work plans. A collection of songs, tin whistle tunes and extracts is set out on which listening and responding activities are based for the different class levels in the school. In the music lessons observed the pupils were afforded the opportunity to develop their creative abilities by producing suitable sounds to illustrate a story. The pupils sang sweetly and pleasantly and they played capably and well in tune. Literacy ability is developed systematically and pupils take part enthusiastically in the rhythmic exercises. During the music listening activities pupilsí awareness of the sounds of orchestral instruments is cultivated. It is reported that the schoolís choir sings at cultural events, in unison and in parts, which gives pupils the opportunity to celebrate and share their skills with the school community.

 

Drama

The staff are very interested in drama and for many years pupils from the school have taken part in a national drama competition, where they succeeded in winning awards with plays written by members of the teaching staff. A school plan for drama is set out which gives guidance for the staff in implementing the drama curriculum. The teachersí plans contain provision for breadth and balance between curriculum strands and strand units. In the dramatic activities observed clever use was made of storytelling as a stimulus to develop pupilsí abilities in functioning in-role. Pupilsí cooperative skills were developed appropriately during the learning activities and their participation was cultivated during discussion and questioning to understand characters. The schoolís fine spacious hall is an excellent facility for the development of drama.

 

 

4.6 Physical Education

A whole school plan has been devised for Physical Education. The fine general purpose room and physical education facilities available in the school are used productively. Lessons are conducted in an orderly manner and the pupils gain benefit and enjoyment from them. Productive use was made of group work in the lessons observed and appropriate emphasis was placed on developing skills systematically, on enjoyment and on pupilsí participation during lessons. Aquatic training is undertaken with pupils from first class to fifth class. It would be worthwhile maintaining a record of the skills developed during aquatic lessons in the monthly reports. It is recommended that more emphasis be placed on the outdoor and adventure activities strand of the curriculum to ensure a balance in the physical education programme. The pupils take part in school leagues and in various sportsí competitions. Teacher observation is the main method used in assessing learning in Physical Education. It is recommended that various criteria be set out for assessing pupilsí attainments in Physical Education and their progress be recorded on a regular basis.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)

The school plan for Social, Personal and Health Education acknowledges the importance of providing an equal experience to boys and girls in school activities. The Stay Safe, Misneach, Beo go Deo and Be Safe programmes are used in implementing the plan. A relationships and sexuality education policy has recently been developed and it is intended to submit this to the board of management soon. The teaching staff compiled this policy. It is recommended that parents be consulted regarding the content of the policy before being submitted to the board. The teachersí planning indicates that a work programme is taught throughout the school which covers all strands and strand units of the SPHE curriculum. Significant integration is made between the learning in Social, Personal and Health Education and other aspects of the curriculum. In the lessons observed pupilsí understanding of health safety and fire safety was developed. The lessons were presented in a stimulating manner and good use was made of suitable resources to stimulate the pupilsí interest in learning. The learning activities showed great variety and class teaching and group work were used during the lessons.

 

4.8 Assessment

Various assessment methods are used effectively throughout the school. These include: teacher observation, checklists, collections of pupilsí work, some individual profiles, tasks and tests designed by the teachers themselves. Standardised tests are used to assess pupilsí attainments in Mathematics and English. It is commendable that each teacher maintains a class file containing a summary of pupilsí progress. Assessment is used to evaluate pupilsí progress in learning, identify pupils with special educational needs and to provide information to parents. It should be further used as an instrument to gauge the effectiveness of teaching and learning strategies and to assist in the planning of class, group and individual work.

 

 

5.†††† Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

 

The whole-school plan for support education is being reviewed at present. The guidelines in Learning Support Guidelines (2000) and in the appropriate circulars should be followed when reviewing the plan. The school is advised to ensure that the support teaching is based on the staged approach as set out in the Department of Education and Science Circular SP 02/05 Organisation of Teaching Resources for Pupils who need Additional Support in Mainstream Primary Schools. The support teachers provide an individual profile and learning programme for each pupil attending learning support. Each plan contains an account of the assessment of the pupil, of the strengths and main learning needs together with a general description of the pupilís learning programme. It should be ensured, however, that the learning objectives are appropriate to the pupilís level of ability and that the targets set are attainable within a specific time period. Regular informal contact and discussion takes place between the support teachers and mainstream class teachers regarding the progress of pupils with special educational needs. Support education in its entirety is discussed at a staff meeting at the end of each school year. The support teachers have regular meetings with the parents/guardians to discuss their childrenís progress. It is recommended, however, that parents/guardians are also involved in the design and implementation of the learning programme.

 

The supplementary teaching is undertaken in the rooms of the learning support teachers. Pupils with learning needs are taught in groups and individually. Active teaching methodologies are used to develop pupilsí literacy and mathematical skills.  Emphasis is placed on word recognition, on the development of phonemic and phonological awareness, on the use of a range of reading strategies and on the understanding of mathematical concepts. In certain cases the pupils are taught bilingually during the teaching and learning of Mathematics. It is recommended that only one language be used in the teaching of Mathematics so that the pupilís mathematical language will develop systematically thus facilitating his/her incremental understanding of the concepts. Pupilsí progress is reviewed regularly. However, criteria should be now outlined in the whole-school plan as regards continuing or ceasing the supplementary teaching for pupils with special educational needs. It is important that there should be a close link between mainstream class work and the work in the support classes. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the coordination of the support through collaborative team teaching between support and mainstream teachers to promote a range of agreed teaching strategies for pupils with special educational needs in the school.

 

5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged and pupils from minority groups or other groups

 

There is a small number of disadvantaged pupils in this school and every effort is made to serve their needs. Discrete support is given to these particular pupils and the parentsí committee funds any cost associated with this work.†

 

 

6.† Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the strengths recognised in the evaluation:

 

         A pleasant welcoming atmosphere is fostered in the school so that pupils have a happy learning environment.

         A strong united community, which includes parents, teachers and board of management, is working together for the benefit of the pupils.

         The teachers present the lessons in a stimulating manner.

         Structured class-teaching and active methodologies are practised in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education.

         The pupilsí aesthetical skills are effectively developed during learning activities in Arts Education.

 

As a way of building on these strengths and in order to focus on areas for development, the following recommendations are made:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and with the board of management at which† the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published September 2008