An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

DRAFT

 

Gaelscoil Uí Éigeartaigh

Cobh, Co. Cork

Roll Number: 19899M

 

Date of inspection: 31 March 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context, background and mission

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of Gaelscoil Uí Éigeartaigh, Cobh, Co. Cork. 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’ association. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

 

1.     Introduction – school context, background and mission

 

This is a Catholic school under the patronage of the Bishop of Cloyne which places an emphasis on the promotion of Christianity as well as on the advancement of Irish in the school. Both aspects of this mission are implemented effectively in the weekly assemblies and in the charitable work done on behalf of people in the Third World, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Barrettstown Centre. The school holds an assembly each Friday in order to celebrate the special activities of a class, a group or an individual pupil; on this occasion also, prizes are presented to the Irish speakers of the week.

 

This Gaelscoil was established in 1986 with 13 pupils on roll. There are 160 on roll at present and the growth in enrolment is due to continue into the future. The school was located in the town’s old vocational school until the year 2000, when a new school was opened on a site presented to the Department of Education and Science by the County Cork Vocational Education Committee. The final report on the original school was written in the year 2000 prior to its transfer to the new setting. There are eight classrooms in the school, as well as a staff room, a principal’s and secretary’s office, learning support room and a hall. One classroom is used as a resource room. This is the first year that the school has had an administrative principal.

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

It is apparent that the board members discharge their responsibilities diligently and are strongly supportive of the whole school community. The board was appointed in accordance with the Department’s regulations and the chairman is in regular contact with the school. The board members share administrative duties among themselves, including safety matters, communication with parents and financial accounting. The principal keeps clear minutes of the board’s meetings and the treasurer presents a financial report at every meeting. These accounts are very carefully kept and are ratified in accordance with the provisions of the Education Act. The policies and plans come before the board and are discussed in detail. Accommodation issues are currently under consideration by the board. It is now recommended that a plan be prepared with a view to maintaining the accommodation in a neat and attractive condition. In this context, in addition to renovating the classrooms, it is recommended that a painting rota should be implemented. While the school staff is careful about allowing access to the building to visitors, it is recommended that the board should carry out further monitoring of the safety aspects of permitting entry to the school.

 

Some teachers organise an after-school homework club. The parents pay for this service and the parents’ association heartily welcomed this initiative at the meetings preceding the WSE. As this club is run by the school’s teachers and functions in the school building, it is necessary that the board would formulate a policy in regard to it. This club begins immediately after class work at the end of the day; however, it is in the best interests of the pupils that they would be given a break before embarking on their homework at the club.     

 

2.2 In-school management

The principal has given loyal service to the school, as a teacher for a considerable number of years and as principal with class-teaching responsibilities since 2000. He devotes time and considerable attention to school administration and ensures conscientiously that the Department’s regulations are being implemented. Now that he has attained a new administrative status, he intends concentrating more on planning matters. A promising beginning has already been made in this area. The principal gives open leadership to the staff and it is now recommended that his newly acquired status would be exploited with a view to acknowledging and disseminating good teaching practice.

 

It is clear that the principal receives the full support of the deputy principal and the three teachers with special duties posts. The responsibilities of these posts have been appropriately allocated and embrace a mixture of administrative and curricular duties. These teachers indicate an interest in school development and their duties have been set out clearly. Formal meetings of the in-school management team are held twice per term but informal meetings with the principal occur on a regular basis. A strong emphasis is placed on the use of Irish in the school and every member of the management team is charged with promoting the language among teachers, students and the school community in general. 

 

2.3 Management of resources

There is effective collaboration between the teachers and the principal, and also among the teachers themselves, in the interests of the school. Teachers alternate between class levels every couple of years, in accordance with the school policy. There are two special needs assistants in the school. These provide valuable assistance to the children under their care and they speak fluent Irish, which greatly enhances their effectiveness in a Gaelscoil context. The board employs a secretary and caretaker, who perform their duties effectively. There is a library in each classroom and it is now recommended that a policy should be devised to promote the use of books on a whole-school basis. There is an extensive range of resources available for the various Physical Education strands and appropriate use is made of them. There are computers in every room and these are used appropriately in the school.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Good practice is evident in the relationship between the parents and other members of the school community. There is an official parents’ association in the school and they hold regular meetings. The association participates in various school activities. They provide assistance to the Green Flag committee, in the running of Christmas concerts and with the school garden. Parents participate in the various projects organised by the school and it would be well worth while expanding this input. The parents raise funding for the purchase of resources for the school. The school has a very effective system of giving parents a prominent role in the planning process, whereby they are afforded an opportunity of studying and discussing plans among themselves before they are submitted to the board. The board discusses in detail the views of the parents’ association before officially sanctioning plans. The school has a newsletter which issues a number of times per year, and the parents’ association also makes use of the parish newsletters, as well as letters from the school, as means of disseminating news effectively.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

The majority of pupils collaborate willingly. They are supervised conscientiously during break times and are divided into two groups, seniors and juniors, during these periods. The teachers fulfil their supervisory duties conscientiously. The special needs assistants provide important support for teachers during periods of supervision. It is recommended to the staff that they would discuss the code of discipline with one another on a regular basis, so as to ensure that it is being implemented consistently throughout the school.

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

The school had done very good work in devising, discussing and publishing administrative policies. A beginning has now been made in furnishing English translations of the policies, so as to ensure that they are fully understood by the whole school community. It is recommended that the board should now review its enrolment policy, with a view to ensuring that it conforms to the provisions of equality legislation. As regards the curriculum, the school has done good work in drawing up plans for the various subject areas. The various support services are utilised as a source of advice in relation to planning matters. Some of the plans offer comprehensive guidance on the teaching of the subjects. Decisions have been taken as regards beginning reading in Irish and English, and an all-embracing plan has been devised for immersion education. Interesting plans have also been drawn up for the other subjects. It is evident, however, from the personal notes of some of the teachers, and from some of the monthly reports, that these plans have very little impact in the context of some classrooms. It is now necessary that teachers would carry out an on-going review of the curricular plans in order that decisions might be debated and implemented throughout the school. This would afford an opportunity to the whole staff of examining the practice in the school, so as to ensure that continuing development is being realised in the case of all subjects. It is further recommended that copies or summaries of all the plans should be made available to all teachers.

 

In accordance with Circular 0061/2006 (Primary) of the Department of Education and Science, evidence was provided to confirm that the Board of Management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). It was further confirmed that the attention of management, school staff and parents had been drawn to these child protection procedures; that a copy of these had been supplied to all members of staff (including new staff members); and that the management has ensured that all staff members understand the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person and a deputy have been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

The majority of teachers make extensive preparation for their teaching. They prepare assiduously both long-term and short-term schemes. It is now recommended that all teachers should endeavour to include in their personal planning the advice contained in the school plan; it is also recommended that all teachers should use the curriculum as the starting point for class planning. 

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1   Overview of learning and teaching

 

Good teaching was to be observed throughout the school. The pupils were given clear explanations and instructions, inspiring lessons were taught and classroom activity was well organised. A varied range of teaching methods was used, including class work, group work and work with individual pupils. The school environment, project work and experiments were well utilised in Social, Environmental and Science Education. The speaking of Irish is cultivated diligently in the school and the pupils demonstrated confidence and high levels of accomplishment while speaking, reading and writing the language in the course of the WSE.  

 

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

 

Irish

A good standard of Irish is to be observed among the majority of pupils in the school and a Gaelic atmosphere pervades the school. The efforts expended by the school staff to promote Irish are commendable. Some praiseworthy strategies are implemented, including ‘speaker of the week’ and the awarding of prizes to encourage the speaking of Irish. Some of the teachers undertake the step-by-step cultivation of the pupils’ linguistic skills and work of a high standard is to be observed in various classrooms. In the majority of classes, teachers make use of language games, rhymes, poetry, drama and a variety of resources, so as to create opportunities for communication for the pupils and to give them specific practice in using new language and vocabulary. It is now necessary that this good practice would be extended on a whole-school basis. There is a selection of Irish books available in some of the classroom libraries but it is now recommended that attention would be directed towards providing interesting reading matter in Irish in the middle and senior classes, so as to ensure the availability of stimulating reading material for this age group. A print-rich environment is created for the junior classes. Commendable work is done in certain classes as regards the development of reading skills. Effective use is made of silent and paired reading. It is now recommended that this good practice would be extended on a whole-school basis, so that reading skills might be developed in a graded way. Novels are read from the middle classes onwards and the pupils derive both enjoyment and benefit from this practice. In some classrooms, linkage is made between these novels and drama work and there is an emphasis on expanding the pupils’ vocabulary store.

 

Commendable care is taken with fostering the writing skills of pupils during the completion of applied tasks. In the junior classes, in addition to writing the news, much of the written work is based on workbook exercises. In the middle and senior classes, the pupils are afforded opportunities of engaging in personal writing on a regular basis and samples of their work are on display in the classrooms. These efforts are of a high standard. Pupils from the infant classes onwards should now be given further opportunities to practise their personal writing on a more regular basis. It is further recommended that the writing process should be implemented, in order to enhance the standard and quality of the written work throughout the school. Attention should be drawn to the school’s policy in relation to penmanship.     

 

English

Some teachers in the junior classes make effective use of specific programmes such as Chatterbox, rhymes, poetry and drama in order to cultivate the pupils’ oral language skills. This good practice should now be extended so as to form part of the practice of all teachers of junior classes.  In middle and senior classes, lively discussions on class novels and poetry are conducted as a means of practising oral skills. The classes in Drama contribute to this work also. In the junior classes, the print-rich environment, phonic recognition and class books constitute a firm foundation for reading. In the middle and senior classes, class novels are used very effectively to develop reading skills. As regards writing, the pupils are given regular opportunities to undertake writing tasks. In some classes, these lessons are based on workbooks and in other classes there is a greater emphasis on writing continuous passages in copybooks. The extension of this latter practice to classes throughout the school would be very worthwhile. In the middle and senior classes, the variety of approaches which the pupils encounter while engaged in writing for projects and on the computer, and the commendable use made of the writing process, are notable. In some of these classes, work done on writing poetry is to be commended.    

 

Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative

The school is making definite progress in relation to this project. German is taught to the senior classes and one of the staff teachers has undertaken this work. Good use is made of creative games and group work, so that the language is taught in a pleasant atmosphere involving the participation of the whole class.  

 

4.3 Mathematics

Mathematics is taught effectively in the school. A wide range of equipment is used for concept development and in the practice of skills. In certain classes, group work involving the use of equipment is utilised to teach stimulating lessons. In the course of the evaluation, good examples of direct teaching were observed, as were well-organised class games. It is recommended that the good practice that is evident in many classes should be shared on a whole-staff basis, and that a greater emphasis should be placed on mental mathematics throughout the school. It is further recommended that greater attention should be paid to the teaching of mathematical rhymes in junior classes. The majority of pupils obtain good results in Mathematics. These pupils reveal a good understanding of concepts and are accurate in their written work. Students with learning needs are given appropriate support in this subject.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

The teachers endeavour to cover all the strands in the History programme throughout the year. Story, drama and information and communications technology are utilised in order to cultivate the students’ knowledge of historical personages and events. In the lessons observed during the evaluation, the teachers succeeded in bringing about the participation of pupils. In one class, a collection of historical materials had been assembled in order to stimulate the interest of pupils, and interest and involvement in the subject were indeed fostered. Very commendable project work has been completed and some of the resulting output has been displayed attractively in the classrooms and along the corridors. There is an emphasis on local history in the school and classes study famous events and people associated with the area. Earlier in the year, the senior pupils went on a tour of the town and took photographs for comparison with old photographs of Cobh. This is a commendable approach.

 

Geography

It is apparent from the displays on the school walls that a proper emphasis is placed on local geography in the school. The attractive end-products of the projects done on Cork Harbour indicate good practice involving the integration of Geography with Visual Arts. In one class it was noted that a detailed study of local maps was in hand. In other classes, History and Science are linked cleverly to Geography. The projects done on environments abroad are creditable examples of this linkage and integration.

 

Science

Good lessons in Science were taught during the evaluation and interesting experiments were set up which included the pupils working with equipment. In some classrooms, effective use is made of science tables and in certain classes pupils are encouraged to undertake personal experiments. It is noted that the pupils discuss the results of experiments and this helps to strengthen and develop the pupils’ natural inquisitiveness. In general, particular care is taken with the teaching of Science in the school and it is clear from the teachers’ schemes and from the classroom displays that very good work is being done. The whole school environment is cared for very effectively and as a result of this a Green Flag has been awarded to the school. The Green Flag committee is currently active in promoting recycling in the school and will shortly be applying for a second Green Flag. This is a worthwhile initiative, requiring the collaboration of teachers, parents and pupils. Good work is carried out in the school in relation to plants and vegetation in the classrooms, and the parents and caretaker assist the pupils in caring for the school garden. This is very rewarding activity which involves the whole school community. 

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

It is evident from the samples about the school that the pupils are given opportunities of practising a wide range of techniques in the Visual Arts. The creativity of pupils is a core element of the art classes. Many samples of the pupils’ work are on display throughout the school. Some teachers place an emphasis on three-dimensional work but the majority of lessons are based on two-dimensional work. It is now recommended that a balance should be built into the pupils’ work. During the WSE, the pupils were perfectly satisfied to discuss their work and this foundation should now be built on and a greater emphasis placed on observation and on examining and evaluating the work of artists. This strand unit could be developed through the school plan.

 

Music

The standard of learning and teaching of Music in the school is commendable. The tin whistle is taught from first class onwards and the pupils have become very accomplished. Some teachers are able to play instruments in order to accompany the pupils effectively and this practice is heartily commended. Pupils throughout the school sing a selection of songs in English and Irish and in some classes a very broad-ranging musical experience is provided for the pupils. Some teachers present a most comprehensive programme of listening to music. At the Friday assembly, songs are sung regularly and musical works are listened to and this is a commendable practice. It would now be advisable, in the programmes for the various classes, that a greater emphasis would be placed on composing. The school plan includes worthwhile guidelines on the teaching of music, including approaches to the various elements of the programme, suitable songs for each class and the resources available. It is now recommended that this plan should be implemented throughout the school.

 

Drama

Effective use is made of Drama with a view to developing speaking skills in English and in Irish. An external teacher comes to the school in order to teach Drama through English. The lessons are based on the curriculum. The pupils pay fees for this service and the board of management pays a subvention towards the costs as required. This work is done effectively. It is recommended that the approach and practice of this teacher should be adopted for use in Irish lessons, so that the experience of Drama in Irish might be expanded. Particular events associated with Drama occur in the school from time to time, including the Christmas play. The whole school community participates in this work and it assists greatly in strengthening the spirit of the school.

 

4.6 Physical Education

Well-organised lessons in gymnastics were presented during the WSE. The idea of ‘the station’ was well utilised in order to engender variety in the lessons. The pupils worked collaboratively with equipment in groups at each station and the teachers were constantly on the alert in the matter of safety during the activities.  Physical Education forms part of the duties attaching to a special duties post and a very good programme has been drawn up, so as to increase the rate of participation by pupils in sports. Varying activities are organised for each month of the school year and these activities are organised for break times and after-school hours.  This is a very good plan and it could be expanded further if given additional support. One teacher teaches international dance after school hours.  

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

An acceptable range of methodologies is in use for the teaching of Social, Personal and Health Education. Of these, the following were observed in the course of the WSE: circle time, paired work, direct teaching and whole-class Drama. In certain classes, equipment was used effectively in order to teach lessons in this subject, while in other classes complex topics were addressed sensibly. A healthy food policy is implemented in the school and, in so far as charity is concerned, the school provides assistance for specific charitable organisations. In addition, a project in Ecuador under the management of a former chairman of the board is also supported. 

 

4.8 Assessment

Standardised tests are used effectively in making decisions in relation to providing support for pupils with special learning needs. In this school, the following standardised tests are used: MIST and NRIT (Infants), MICRA T (Classes 1 to 3) and Drumcondra Tests (Classes 4 to 6). The Drumcondra Tests are used for assessing Mathematics. The whole staff participates in a whole-school analysis of the results every year, and this analysis and the information thrown up by class tests serve to create a full picture of student’ abilities. The information is shared with parents and the records are stored carefully in the school. The results of tests of two years ago were examined with the assistance of a facilitator from the curriculum support service. In this scrutiny, computer software was used as a means of clarifying information on the pupils’ progress. It would be well worth while using this item of software on a regular basis, so as to enhance the analysis of the results of standardised tests. In various situations, particularly in the areas of learning support and resource teaching, effective use is made of assessment for learning. This form of assessment assists the teachers in preparing appropriate learning programmes for the pupils. Some class teachers place a proper emphasis on assessment for learning and on continuous assessment, so as to enhance the effectiveness of the teaching. It would be well worth while discussing both continuous assessment and assessment for learning on a whole-school basis, in order that good practice might be shared.  

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

 

The allocation of duties under this service is well organised and two teachers are involved ─ a learning support teacher and a resource teacher. As regards learning support, there is a well-structured early-intervention initiative in place with junior infants. At the beginning of the year, the class is divided into three groups and the learning support teacher works with all the groups during first term, with two groups during second term and with one group in third term. This is an effective practice. The work with groups is continued upwards through the school and the groups are generally taught apart from the class. The work is based on each group’s learning needs which are identified by means of tests and teacher observation. This is an effective approach but it would be even more effective if a system were implemented which would include both working in class and outside of class.

 

As regards resource teaching, a good beginning has been made in organising this service. This is the first year in which a full-time permanent teacher is functioning in this role in the school. The emphasis is on developing physical, communication, literacy and numeracy skills. The school makes an appropriate range of equipment available for this work and educational plans have been drawn up for all the pupils who avail of this service. The pupils’ educational plans are reviewed twice a year. In the course of the WSE, good practice was observed in the activities associated with the development of communication skills. Effective use is made of group work, computer work, self-analysis and group analysis in order to advance these skills. There is communication on a weekly basis between the teachers in order to discuss the week’s literacy and numeracy work, both for the classroom setting and the resource room setting. This is good practice as lessons in this department of the school must be very carefully planned. As this is a new service, it would greatly assist its development if the board of management were to give the resource teacher opportunities of visiting local schools in order to observe the practices that prevail in a variety of contexts. 

 

5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

 

This school has an open enrolment policy and pupils with special needs are welcome. As the school now has a full-time learning support teacher and a full-time resource teacher on staff, the resources needed to provide the appropriate levels of support have been made available. The school and board of management provide assistance to disadvantaged pupils on an individual basis. During the evaluation, there were neither minority nor disadvantaged groups in the school. 

 

 

6.     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, November 2009