An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh
Roll number: 19994G
Date of inspection: 14 December 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh, Knocknacarra, Galway. 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 with 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 was given an opportunity to express its views on the outcomes and recommendations contained in the report. 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.
Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh is an all-Irish, co-educational school with seventeen teachers on its staff. It is an excellent school. It is situated in Knocknacarra in Galway and it has 372 pupils on roll at present. These pupils come from the surrounding area. The school is very clean and very neat in all respects both inside and outside.
The Catholic bishop of Galway is patron of the school. The board of management of the school meets between seven and eight times each year and minutes of all meetings are written. The board is worthy of praise for the support that it gives to the school and for the regular contact that it makes with the teaching staff. It discusses all new school policies before ratifying them. The board’s main priorities at present are the building of new classrooms, the improvement of traffic conditions outside the school and the promotion of the use of Irish in school and local activities. In addition, the board experiences difficulty in acquiring new members with Irish when they are required. It is recommended that a development plan be drawn up for the upgrading of skills and language competence in order to alleviate this difficulty.
There is a principal teacher, a deputy and an assistant principal and five holders of special duties posts in the school. The principal carries out her work capably and diligently and she directs administrative, managerial and learning matters in a creditable fashion. Her vision for the school is that it would be a stimulating and joyous centre of learning for every child. She deserves commendation for the way in which she succeeds in bringing this vision to fruition.
The members of the school staff work together effectively. All members of the in-school management team carry out their work diligently. The duties attached to the in-school management posts are reviewed regularly. The roll books and all school documents are treated with due care.
Five or six staff meetings are held every year. Agenda are drawn up for each meeting and minutes are kept. All teachers are given an opportunity to put forward their views at these meetings. It is now recommended that a development plan be put in place for advancing the teachers’ skills for the future, bearing in mind the duty that each teacher has to preserve and enhance the school and its ethos in light of its size.
Appropriate use is made of each teacher’s strengths when they are being assigned to the various classes. The school secretary, the special needs assistants, the caretaker and the cleaning staff are due credit for the manner in which they support the work of the school.
The board of management has purchased a large amount of educational resources for the various curriculum areas. This is particularly noticeable in the cases of Irish, Mathematics, Science, Music and Physical Education. Emphasis is placed on the use of ICT in the school and there is a computer in each classroom. Almost all classrooms are organised and decorated in ways that are very attractive and that motivate learning.
2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community
There is a parents’ association in the school and there is obviously a good relationship between parents and the school. It is particularly evident that there is regular and effective communication between the association and the teachers. The parents participate in the life of the school in many ways. They are very satisfied with the school and with their children’s achievements.
A meeting is organised for the parents at the start of the school year for the purpose of explaining classroom matters to them. They are given verbal reports on the progress of individual children at the annual parent-teacher meeting. Apart from this, parents are welcome at any time if there is an issue that they wish to discuss. A school magazine is published annually for parents in order to inform them of school events and achievements.
The pupils of Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh are well-mannered and courteous. They respect their teachers and one another and they welcome visitors. A love of learning is cultivated in the school and the pupils’ attainment in the various curriculum areas is to be commended. Their social development is also fostered and it is clear that they are contented in school.
Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh has formulated a laudable and clear school plan. The staff members receive worthwhile support from support services personnel and this support has a favourable impact on the school planning process.
The school plan is at all times available to parents and their input is seen to be very important when many school policies are being drawn up. For instance, the parents’ views were taken into account in the formation of the code of conduct. There is a mission statement in the plan and plans are available for all curriculum areas. Policies are developed to cover appropriate aspects of school organisation and include a health and safety statement, an equality statement and an enrolment policy.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The teachers in Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh implement a broad curriculum based on the Primary School Curriculum and on their own school plan. A school system is in place for laying out teachers’ short-term and long-term planning and for maintaining a record of the work that they have completed. This planning for teaching is clear and appropriate. The school and the teachers adhere to a suitable timetable.
Individual education plans (IEPs) are developed for pupils in receipt of learning support or those with special educational needs. Appropriate records of this work are kept in the learning support rooms. Copies of the education plans are available in class teachers’ files also.
4.1 Overview of the quality of teaching and learning
The quality of the education provided in Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh is very high. Almost all of the pupils achieve a high standard in all curriculum areas. The school deserves special commendation for the way in which Irish is promoted all of the time in all curriculum areas. Varied and effective teaching methods are used in the school. The quality of teaching in almost all of the classes is high. Teaching of an excellent standard is to be observed in most of the classes.
Efficacy and variety are features of teaching and learning Irish in this school. An agreed and structured programme of work and approach, which comes under the influence of the school plan and is in accord with the reference frame of the curriculum, is followed. Emphasis is placed on developing listening and comprehension skills in the infant classes and the pupils’ desire to gain mastery of the language required to communicate with their classmates is cultivated at an early stage. This work is built upon as they progress up through the school and the school’s ethos, the wishes of the parents and the hard work of the teachers are combined with the pupils’ own efforts
to develop their ability to communicate fluently. Emphasis is placed in a commendable way on vocabulary development and on language enrichment as a central feature of teaching and learning. Also laudable is the breadth of the programme and the language experiences that are provided through literature, poetry, folklore and material for investigation. The pupils’ ability to communicate, act and articulate is illustrated in a worthy manner through drama, dialogue and presentations.
The pupils’ spirit of participation, achievement and creativity in learning is clearly to be seen in the many inventive experiences that are provided. The pupils’ sense of enterprise and accomplishment is raised as a result. There is a motivating merit in the constant partnership that is cultivated between parents and pupils, especially in the programme for the development of personal reading skills. The pupils receive commendable preparation for post-primary school and their learning and imaginative skills are raised to a laudable level of completeness in the sub-sections of the programme. They reach a creditable standard overall, they gain experience of a wide range of subjects, their skills in reading and personal writing are developed and their work is displayed in the classrooms and in public areas of the school. The partners live up to the school motto by way of a motivating and sensitive approach in the belief that to nurture his or her heritage is to develop the child.
Almost all pupils attain very high standards in English. There are many pupils who are exceptionally good at reading and writing. Oral language development is also appropriately emphasised. Almost all of the pupils can speak about themselves, their interests and a variety of other topics articulately. The recitation of rhymes and poems and the writing of poetry in almost every class are very impressive.
There is a print-rich environment in all the mainstream classrooms and throughout the school. Emphasis is placed on the development of phonological awareness, as part of the foundation of basic reading skills, in the junior classes. The emphasis placed on developing reading skills in the school helps to maintain the very high standard of reading in the school.
The school library is in use as a learning support classroom at present. Class libraries are well stocked and well presented overall. Some class libraries are excellently laid out and provide creditable reading and research centres for pupils. It would be worthwhile now to provide an even more impressive and continuous supply of books for readers at all levels of age and ability. This should aid in the creation of valuable centres of learning in all classrooms.
The standard of English writing throughout the school is very high. There are very good examples of pupils’ writing in a variety of genres on display in almost every class. The writing process is appropriately emphasised and written work is carefully edited and published in class. Copybooks and workbooks contain highly commendable work in functional and creative writing. This work is presented clearly and neatly, and is regularly checked and corrected by teachers.
Emphasis is placed on identifying and managing the language of Mathematics as a central feature of the approach in the junior sections of the school. The work is linked to play activities and to analysing characteristics and a wide range of strategies is used to develop concepts. Group work, working in pairs, closely-related themes and concrete equipment are organised to investigate the concepts of Mathematics and the work is linked realistically to other curriculum themes. Differentiated tasks are used to guide debate and discussion while structure, grading and memorisation of facts are features of classroom activities. This foundation work is built upon up through the classes so that the pupils perceive themselves as being successful and clever accordingly.
The pupils are given worthwhile opportunities to develop the skills of predicting, estimating and investigating and the discovery strategies that are used to develop their problem-solving skills are praiseworthy. Use is made of educational technology to illustrate concepts and the work is linked closely to other areas of the curriculum, particularly to aspects of Science, History, Physical Education and the Visual Arts. Use is made of school-based and standardised tests to assess and record progress and to guide the production of individual plans of work. Overall, a commendable standard is reached in the skills that have been referred to.
Creditable emphasis is laid on History in the school. It is clear that the pupils derive enjoyment and benefit from History lessons and activities. The majority of the pupils have an understanding of the events and occasions that have been studied. It is to be noted throughout the school that the pupils have a respectable amount of knowledge about historical matters of a local nature. There are timelines in a good number of the classes on which important dates in history are recorded. In the junior classes, significant work is done under the strand, My family and I.
The standards of teaching and learning in Geography are very good. Laudable emphasis is placed on the strand, The human environment, throughout the school. The majority of the pupils have a creditable amount of knowledge about the surrounding area, this country and other countries in the world. Maps are to be seen in every class and globes are also available in some of them. These resources are used during lessons. The pupils in some of the classes carry out commendable project work on geographical subjects.
High praise is due to the school for its approach and achievement in this curriculum area. Developing the pupils’ skills as scientists at work is emphasised. Continual use is made of equipment, field work and technology and also commendable is the range of interesting subjects that are included for investigation. Praise is also due for the link that has been developed with the faculty of science in the Galway and Mayo Institute of Technology. The input of these scientists into school activities adds greatly to the range and standard achieved by the pupils in their school work. The programme of activities is a versatile and complete example and credit is due for the work done so ably by the teacher with a post of responsibility to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the delivery of the school programme. This school succeeds in achieving distinction regularly in national and local projects and campaigns in Science. The spirit and merit of good standards of attainment are noticeable in the atmosphere and work ethos of the school.
Laudable work is done in the Visual Arts throughout the school. All of the classrooms and the corridors are attractively decorated with samples of the pupils’ art work. The six strands are comprehensively covered and balance is to be observed between two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. Due emphasis is also placed on looking at and responding to art.
A high standard is achieved in Music throughout the school. A good number of the teachers have excellent music skills. There is a school choir and band in Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh. They sing and play sweetly and tunefully. In the individual classrooms, Singing is covered in creditable fashion and the pupils in almost all classes can sing a wide range of songs in Irish, English and in some other languages. Effective work is carried out in the areas of rhythm and intervals and also on Composition. Identified as being worthy of commendation is the work done on listening and responding to music in some of the classes. It is clear that a love of music is cultivated in the pupils during those lessons.
Functional use is made of Drama to explore feelings, understanding and interesting themes in addition to adding to the pupils’ powers of discernment and self–confidence. The pupils display a commendable personal presence in the various classes that is age-appropriate and it is notable that that they perceive personal contributions to be important and central features of the work in school. The pupils were motivated and decisive in the selection of themes and they showed maturity and independence in the development of the work. They had opportunities to practise and develop the implications of various choices under the direction of the teachers as well as opportunities to present their achievements on numerous public occasions in the school.
It is part of the school’s mission to provide all pupils with a broad, progressive education that is in accord with their ability and that all pupils would derive personal satisfaction from their programme of work. A programme for the development of gymnastic skills, which is planned and challenging for each class and is based on the various strands of the curriculum, is laid out. Emphasis is placed on developmental needs and a differentiated approach is used. It is also worth using the policy that is being developed by the Physical Education support service personnel in reviewing the programme. The pupils are given the opportunity to participate in a long list of games and sports activities both during and after school hours.
An inter-related approach is practised in this area of the curriculum using a broad mix of activities, some of which are teacher-directed and some of which are guided by the pupils. Accordingly, the pupils are afforded personal opportunities to explore interesting themes across the various strands of the curriculum. Status is given to the school’s work mission in the approach used and the pupils are advanced and mature in their thinking. A range of pre-designed programmes is in use in the school as well and a fine level of self-responsibility and of caring for one another is cultivated through the work.
The school uses the Drumcondra standardised tests in English and Sigma T in Mathematics once a year. The results of these tests are stored at a central location in the school and teachers also keep the results that pertain to their own classes. It is possible therefore to compare the pupils’ results with those of pupils throughout the country. Pupils who have special educational needs are also identified. Folders and collections of samples of the pupils’ work in various curriculum areas are maintained. Additionally, widespread use is made of tests designed by individual teachers and of teacher observation in all of the classes to assess progress.
The Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) and the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) are administered in infant classes once a year. This assessment helps with the early identification of learning difficulties. In addition to this, the learning support and resource teachers use diagnostic testing to identify the specific difficulties of pupils. These assessments also assist the formulation of individual education plans (IEPs).
The school has developed a learning support and resource teaching policy. This policy assists the delivery of a service to pupils which is generous, understanding and effective. The consent of parents is obtained before the provision of supplementary teaching begins. A commendable effort is made to include the input of parents in planning for this service. In order to improve this process still further, printed copies of the IEPs should be given to parents from now on.
The learning support and resource teaching rooms are decorated in a stimulating way with charts. Samples of the pupils’ work are also displayed. Learning support is provided for all pupils who have needs in these rooms. The learning support teachers also do worthwhile work in the area of phonology on a whole-class in the infant classrooms.
All pupils are included in the life of this school. The school community always does its best to welcome every pupil and to provide him or her with a suitable education. The school tries to ensure that all pupils can get a comprehensive education and that their period of attendance in school is a pleasant one.
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 2008