An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

Report

 

Gaelscoil Ultain

An Cnoc, Monaghan, Co Monaghan

Roll Number :19936P

 

Date of Inspection: 1 October 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole- school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

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

 

A whole-school evaluation was undertaken on Gaelscoil Ultain in September and October 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school.  The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in Irish, Mathematics and History. 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.

 

 

Introduction – School Context and background

 

This Catholic co-educational all-Irish school under the patronage of the Bishop of Clogher is situated in Monaghan town.  The school was founded in 1986 and it has grown and developed ever since. The school serves families who seek education through the medium of Irish in Monaghan town and its environs.

 

The table below indicates general information on the school staffing and on the pupils who were enrolled at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils on school roll

214

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on school staff

11

Teachers in mainstream classes

8

Teachers working in support posts

2

Special needs assistants

1

 

 

1.         Quality of School Management

 

1    Characteristic spirit, vision or mission

 

The school aims to provide the highest standard of education for its pupils through the medium of Irish in a friendly, open and safe atmosphere. The teachers stimulate the pupils to work together for the good of all, to strive for excellence and to use their strengths to their advantage. As this is an all-Irish school every effort is made to advance, awaken interest in and nourish Irish culture throughout the whole school community.

 

1.2  Board of management

 

The board is constituted appropriately and plays an active part in the management of the school. The board operates effectually under the rules of the Department of Education and Science. The chairperson plays an active role in the running of the school and gives very effective educational support to the school. The board members have specific responsibilities and they give very generously of their time to the school. Good working relations are fostered among the interested parties of the school community. There is regular communication between the chairperson and the staff.  Board meetings are convened regularly and appropriate procedures are followed.  Proper attention is paid to matters of finance. The minutes of meetings are maintained carefully.  The board strongly supports the promotion of the school’s culture and ethos. The board of management has a systematic, ongoing plan for the school in relation to building and maintenance. The board of management ’s current priority is the procurement of a new school building for Gaelscoil Ultain.

 

1.3  In-school management

 

The in-school management team comprises  five teachers: the, principal, the deputy principal and three teachers with special duties posts. The principal was appointed when the school was founded in 1986. He is an inspirational and devoted principal who fulfils his responsibilities capably. He provides leadership to good effect in all aspects of school life. He directs school development effectively and systematically by putting in place a beneficial self-assessment system. The principal displays distinctive management skills and he ensures that the administrative system is very clear, organised and effective. The school’s chronicles are maintained carefully. The principal ensures that priority is given to teaching and learning in the school. He places much emphasis on the full and harmonious development of the pupils and he monitors their progress meticulously. He receives exceptional co-operation from the whole staff. The high esteem in which he is held by the school community is very well deserved.

 

An enthusiastic in-school management team, loyal to the school’s aims, supports the principal. They have curricular, administrative and pastoral duties which reflect in general the needs of the school. They indicate a very strong sense of team and they work energetically and co-operatively for the advancement and development of the school. The in-school management team recognises the importance that attaches to the process of ongoing reflection, development and improvements and a good start has been made in this regard. To build on the curriculum leadership that is being developed by them already, it would be worthwhile for the team to adopt greater responsibility in monitoring the implementation of the school plan.

 

1.4 Management of resources

 

There is effective management of human resources and of the school’s resource materials. There is a culture of co-operation, joint support and hard work in evidence among the entire staff. It is reported that teachers attend professional development courses on an ongoing basis to develop their teaching skills and to meet the needs of the school. Opportunities are afforded to the teachers over time to gain teaching experience in various classes. There are two classroom assistants and a special needs assistant appointed to the school. They greatly assist certain pupils to participate in class and to function as independent learners. A part-time secretary greatly supports the running and the daily functioning of the school.

 

Although the school is accommodated in an old schoolhouse and in prefabricated buildings, it is bright, comfortable and maintained neatly. The pupils benefit from the fine learning facilities that are provided both within and without. An ordered, attractive learning environment is created for the pupils. Beneficial use is made of various suitable resources that are provide for learning, especially those relating to information and communication technology. A local school local hall and a playing field, which are suitably equipped, are availed of for physical education and extracurricular activities.

 

1.5 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

The school is a central part of the community, from which it springs and there is a strong connection and positive inter-relationship between the various parties. It is obvious that Gaelscoil Ultain has found and created its own place, as a service to Irish-medium education, in the education system of the area.

 

The school has a very open policy with regard to relationships with its community. Good communication is cultivated between the school and home through a variety of strategies, including an information booklet and the issuing of a regular newsletter. Various cultural, drama and sporting events are organised to foster good communication within the community itself.  The parents receive appropriate information on the progress of their children through the parent-teacher meetings that are convened on an annual basis and through the written reports that are provided.

 

There is an active parents’ association in the school that supports the board and the staff in every possible way. The committee provides practical assistance on school occasions and it organises various events for the school community to strengthen the link between home and school and to foster Gaelic culture. It is commendable that conversation circles are arranged for parents to afford them opportunities to use and improve their Irish. At a meeting with the inspectors during the evaluation, parents from the association reported that they were very satisfied with the standard of education in the school, with the work of the staff, with the operation of the board and with the communication between school and home.

 

1.6 Management of pupils

 

The school’s codes of conduct and anti-bullying are being operated effectively. The staff creates a happy learning environment for the pupils where every pupil is safe, happy and content and experiences developmental and learning opportunities according to their ability. The pupils display much interest in learning and they approach their schoolwork earnestly and with interest.  They are commended for their good manners and their devotion to learning. A co-operative, hard-working and respectful atmosphere is admirably discernible among the pupils and teachers in the classrooms and in all the school’s surroundings. The pupils are given appropriate responsibilities to nurture respect for one another and for the environment. The self-esteem and self-confidence of the pupils are fostered successfully.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1  Whole-school and classroom planning

 

The quality of whole-school planning is of a very high standard. The principal gives particular leadership in the planning process and work methods and structures are developed which facilitate a consistent process of curricular and administrative planning. The various policies that have been prepared indicate that school management has a good understanding of the regulations that apply to primary schools and of the specific needs of the school. The policies have been developed with the various school partners over a period of time. The administrative policies are clear, helpful, easily understood and transparent. An action plan has been prepared to identify the school’s priorities and to direct the policy review. The curricular plans are based on the learning needs of pupils and adhere to the principles of the curriculum. It is commendable that the policies are reviewed in a timely manner to specify and clarify the contents. There is a comprehensive account in the plan of procedures in place for effective school organisation.

 

The quality of each teacher’s planning is good.  A whole-school approach towards the teachers’ planning is in place. The teachers provide effective short-term and long-term plans for their work.  They are compatible with the learning objectives that are outlined in the curriculum and there is emphasis on a graduated approach to learning and on the pupils’ learning needs. The monthly progress reports are retained carefully on a whole-school basis.

 

A comprehensive plan has been devised for Irish, which is based on the basic principles of the curriculum and is in line with the school’s context. It is a graded plan which develops the systematic learning of four language skills for pupils from class to class. Beneficial use is made of the teaching programme Séideán Sí to implement the plan in an effective manner. When the plan is reviewed it would be worthwhile to ensure that the language input serves the cognitive language needs of the pupils. It is recommended that provision is made in individual planning, not only for pupils who have learning difficulties as is happening now, but for able pupils who have Irish from birth or the equivalent and that definite tasks and learning targets are set out for them.

 

A comprehensive, reflective policy is available to accommodate the approach to and the methodology in Mathematics. Differences in the ability and in the styles of pupils’ learning are taken into account in this planning. A strategic three-year plan has been laid out by the staff  in a continuous format to meet the mathematical needs that have been identified by the school.  Excellent benefit accrues to this work and to the regular reviews. There is effective self-evaluation of what has been achieved and what still needs to be accomplished with regard to mathematical skills. In individual planning the strands, scientific methods and assessment are included.  A very effective link is made between Mathematics and everyday life.

 

A comprehensive whole-school plan has been set out for the teaching and learning of History.  The plan was reviewed in order to place greater emphasis on local history. It is commendable that the staff has researched local history. The school has an agreed practice in relation to the teaching and learning of History. The manner in which good use is made of the immediate historical environment of the pupils, in terms of people and buildings, and of a wide range of other resources in the teaching and learning of History is also praiseworthy. The staff provides attractive resources for the subject, especially for local history, to implement the plan.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with the 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.         Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1   Irish

 

A high standard pertains to the teaching and learning of Irish in the school.  A pleasant atmosphere is generated in the classrooms and throughout the school for the learning of Irish.  The pupils make use of Irish as a live language of communication and every opportunity is availed of to model and to consolidate it in a variety of contexts. The staff is congratulated on its successful efforts to maintain Irish as the principal means of communication in the yard and in the surrounds of the school generally. In this all-Irish context a good part of the learning in the other subject areas depends on the pupils’ proficiency in Irish. This language capability is being developed progressively to the extent that the pupils are able to learn the other subjects through the language to advantage.

 

Active listening is emphasised in the context of communication. The pupils’ listening skills are formally fostered. A wide range of strategies is used very effectively to develop these skills.  Numerous opportunities are given to the pupils to listen to stories, to poems, to short dramas and to rhyme where a richness of Irish can be heard.

 

During the inspection, excellent examples of teaching and learning in Irish were observed at various class levels. An admirable emphasis is placed on asking and answering questions, on dialogues, on completing specific tasks and on language games. The teachers place emphasis on drama and on learning the language through the means of stories and through role play. The pupils are given worthwhile opportunities to practise the Irish which they have learned and suitable scenarios are created for them to facilitate real communication. The manner in which grammar is taught on a formal basis in the senior classes is praiseworthy and the majority of pupils have a fine understanding of the syntax of the language. The pupils have good fluency in Irish. A good number of them achieve a high level of understanding and accuracy of pronunciation in Irish and an appropriate language input is provided for them.

 

An environment is created which stimulates interest in reading and writing. A commendable emphasis is placed on the development of the printed word in the classrooms to strengthen the pupils’ learning. A very good foundation for reading is laid in the early years. A very wide range of reading material is available and it is evident that the pupils read many books, especially in the middle classes. The pupils read with vigour, with fluency and with very creditable accuracy and they have a very accurate understanding of what they read. Commendable emphasis is placed on the teaching of reading skills and subskills on a formal basis. It is recommended that the work, which is in progress already regarding the identification of high-frequency words, is extended further.

 

The emphasis that is placed in the classrooms on integrating writing with the content in reading and conversation is very worthwhile. A number of fine samples of the pupils’ written work were observed. Functional writing of a satisfactory standard is done in all classes. However, there is not sufficient crossover from this writing  to creative writing. There is a lack of development by some pupils in exercises involving creative writing. It is recommended that writing is taught in a structured manner so that the pupils’ writing abilities are developed clearly and as a result they would achieve higher standards. It is recommended that a plan be developed for Irish writing to enable the pupils to practise with guided exercises, transcription, and free writing on a regular basis from the early years onwards.

 

3.2     Mathematics

 

A very satisfactory standard in Mathematics is being achieved by the majority of pupils in this school. Most of them display a good understanding of the relevant concepts. The language of Mathematics is taught systematically and the pupils are able to use this language with confidence and a commendable understanding. There is useful discussion in every class to emphasise and consolidate understanding of the concepts. There is admirable emphasis on mental work practice.  Challenging questions are asked of pupils to stimulate deep thinking. Very effective use is made of concrete materials throughout the school. Very beneficial use is made of activity methods in teaching in every class. For the most part the approach is based on the practical experience of the pupils from infants to sixth class. Beneficial work is done in problem solving and in this regard there is a fine certainty of approach.

 

The basic mathematical facts are taught with particular effect in every class and a fine standard has been achieved by a significant number of pupils, especially in arithmetic. The pupils’ level of readiness is tested before new mathematical topics are introduced. This information is used to advantage to group the pupils for Mathematics and to prepare extended and challenging activities for pupils who have particular aptitudes in the subject. Textbooks are used with understanding during the lessons. The pupils record their written work carefully.

 

3.3 History

 

A high standard applies to the learning and teaching of History in this school. A cross-curricular, integrated approach is employed to advantage. A broad and balanced programme is taught and there is useful focus on personal history, on local history and on national and international history. It is obvious that there is continuous development of the strands from class to class. An in-depth study of specific aspects of History is undertaken and a fine standard is achieved therein.

 

Good use is made of suitable resources in the teaching of History.  Regular visits are made to the local museum. Timelines and class museums are in use in a good number of classrooms. First-hand evidence is employed to develop the pupils’ skills as historians. Old people from the area are invited, as opportunities allow, to increase the pupils’ knowledge of past times. Effective use is made of the textbook, the digital camera, the interactive board and the internet to consolidate pupils’ understanding of History.

 

The teaching content is presented to pupils in a very stimulating manner and their participation is skilfully sustained. Helpful language preparation in the Irish class is conducted in advance. A worthwhile emphasis is laid on the development of skills, on activity methods and on the investigation of evidence during the teaching of History. In the lower classes wonderful opportunities are afforded the pupils to examine their own personal history and the history of their family to develop the concept of time. Pictorial timelines are used effectively to allow them to understand and to record a series of events relating to their own history. The manner in which the junior pupils are enabled to deal with simple historical evidence, in order to grasp the concept of change by making effective use of the museum and local shops, is commendable. In the middle classes good use is made of  legends and myths to further the pupils’ understanding of the lives of people who lived long ago and to enrich their interest in History. The project on the history of the local area undertaken by certain pupils in the school has greatly enhanced the understanding of history of other pupils in the school. Local history and national history are linked to good advantage.  In the senior classes the pupils’ understanding of the relationship between a range of communities, events and local periods and national and international contexts is developed to advantage. It is commendable that a recording was made on a compact disk of certain aspects of local history making use of drama. The pupils display a fine knowledge of what they have learned and they are able to display their knowledge of this history by means of poetry, projects and class discussion.

 

3.4 Assessment

 

Assessment is a central part of teaching and learning in this school. Formative, diagnostic, summative and evaluative assessment methods are being examined carefully at a whole-school level at present. There is good variety in the assessment methods that are used by the teachers, including teacher observation, checklists, collections of pupils’ work, projects, individual profiles, tasks and tests that the teachers devise themselves, standardised and diagnostic tests. A formal school analysis is conducted on the results of the assessment, especially the results of the standardised tests in order to direct the teachers’ planning and to appropriately differentiate the learning to meet the varying abilities of the pupils. The standardised tests are used to advantage also as instruments to assess the effectiveness of teaching and learning strategies and to assist planning and class teaching. Relevant information is given to parents on a regular basis.  Individual code files are kept on pupils to ensure continuity and progression during their time in school and to devise specific programmes for certain pupils.

 

 

4.         Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

 

There is a high standard of provision in the school for pupils with learning needs.  A comprehensive whole-school policy is devised which gives clear direction to the various parties regarding the effective provision for pupils with special education needs. Effective use is made of the staged approach in the selection of pupils for learning support. A very definitive and graduated approach is set out, for pupils who have been identified at an early stage with learning difficulties and an appropriate support plan is devised for them. The school has suitable strategies for early intervention, including Reading Recovery, a programme which allows for a certain period of individual assistance for pupils in literacy.

 

Individual and group learning programmes are prepared for pupils with learning needs in association with class teachers and parents. Specific, comprehensive aims and specific learning targets are outlined. Learning progress is recorded accurately. Teaching content, which is appropriate to the abilities of the pupils, is selected. Effective teaching methods and productive learning activities are employed to develop the pupils’ literacy skills to good effect. Emphasis is placed on the recognition of common words, on the development of phonemic and phonological awareness and on the use of a range of reading and writing strategies. The progress of the pupils is reviewed regularly.

 

The language of Mathematics is developed carefully in the support rooms to consolidate the pupils’ understanding of concepts. Very effective use is made of a wide range of active teaching methods, of effective learning strategies and of a wide range of resources to consolidate the concepts. There is differentiation in classroom teaching for those with varying levels of ability and a conspicuous link is fostered between classroom work and the work that the pupils engage in with the support teacher. Effective in-class support is provided and it would be worthwhile to build on this work to develop co-operative teaching even more. A pilot programme was conducted recently to support pupils of high ability. To build on this good practice a learning programme should now be developed and implemented for these pupils.

 

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

 

There is a small number of pupils in the school from a disadvantaged background and the school attends to their various needs appropriately.

 

 

5.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

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

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings with the staff and with the board of management were organised, to present and discuss the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation.

 

 

 

 

Published March 2010