An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Gaelscoil na nDéise

Bóthar Grásta Dé, Port Láirge

Roll number: 20050D

 

 

Date of inspection: 15 January 2008

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008

Report on Whole-school Evaluation

1.     Introduction – school context and background

2.     Quality of school management

2.1 Board of Management

2.2 In-school management

2.3 Management of resources

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

2.5 Management of pupils

3.     QUALITY OF SCHOOL PLANNING

3.1 School planning process and implementation

3.2 Classroom planning

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

4.1 Overview on quality of learning and teaching

4.2 Language

Irish

4.3 Mathematics

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

4.5 Arts Education

4.6 Physical Education

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

4.8 Assessment

5.     Quality of Support for Pupils

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

6.  Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

School Response to Report

 

 

 

 

Report on Whole-school Evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of Gaelscoil na nDéise. 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 parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspectors interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. The inspectors reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. They 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

Gaelscoil na nDéise is a Catholic school and is under the patronage of the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. This is the first evaluation on the work of the school.  The school was established in 1996 and at the time comprised one teacher and an enrolment of twenty pupils from junior infants to first class. The school has developed considerably since then and currently has an enrolment of 180 pupils. Initially, the school was located at Lady’s Lane in Waterford city centre and as a result of the increase in numbers it was divided between two buildings in 1999. The entire school was relocated to a new site on Grace Dieu Road, Waterford in 2000. The school has been located there since then and comprises entirely of pre-fabricated rooms at that location. The school has acquired a new site and the Department of Education and Science is due to build a new school there in the future. The delay regarding the commencement of this project is a major cause for complaint for the school, as is the difficulty in attaining any update on the matter. 

 

As it is an all-Irish school, it serves boys and girls in its immediate environment as well as from other areas throughout the city. The principal and staff are experiencing great success in promoting the Irish language in accordance with the vision of the school, and Irish is very prominent in the school setting. A commendable emphasis is placed on the conservation of Irish culture in the school, music in particular. The ability of pupils to express themselves in Irish is given high priority within the school. The pupil’s ability to use the Irish language is being developed in line with the school plan on immersion in the language, in line with the Departments’s policy. Generally, pupil attendance levels are very satisfactory.

 

During the Whole-school Evaluation, many changes were noticed in relation to staffing. There were two substitute teachers working in the school when the evaluation was carried out. One teacher was on study leave, another was on maternity leave and a third teacher had changed to a Gaeltacht school in the area. During the evaluation the principal stated that Gaelscoileanna, in particular, have great difficulty in finding qualified substitutes.

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of Management

 

The Board of Management was appointed in accordance with the Department’s rules. It is clear that the members of the board carry out their duties competently and operate in a conscientious manner to ensure that pupils in the school are provided with a broad and effective education.  Meetings are held regularly, comprehensive minutes are taken pertaining to each meeting and these were made available during the evaluation. A financial report is also given at each meeting.  The board itself provided funding for a classroom assistant to provide additional assistance to pupils and teachers. They regularly assist in the organisation of information technology in the school and considerable work has been done in relation to health and safety matters. Their active role regarding planning and policy development for the school plan is commendable. During the pre-evaluation meetings, the amount of time spent dealing with the subject of the site for the permanent building was brought up by the board. The board members have concerns regarding the lack of communication in relation to the commencement of this development. Waterford City Council and the Department of Education and Science have publicly announced that, from September 2009, the school is to be located in the new site.  Should this fail to happen, it would be necessary for the board to carry out additional development within the current site.  

 

2.2 In-school management

 

The school principal has acted in this position for the past three years and is held in high esteem by those in the school community. He has spent considerable time and effort on running the school. He demonstrates competent management skills and successfully organises and manages the school. He is competent in guiding the school in planning matters and has put excellent structures in place in relation to this. A strong relationship exists between the principal, the staff, the board of management and the parents, and a positive atmosphere pertains in the school. The principal is very effective in organising and promoting the positive role assumed by the parents in the school and it has been expressed at meetings with parents that they are always made very welcome. In order to further develop that role in the future, it will be necessary to undertake additional monitoring and evaluation in relation to the learning outcomes in various areas of the curriculum.

 

The deputy principal and two other personnel hold positions of responsibility in the school. All three undertake a variety of organisational, pastoral and curricular duties, as they should. It is commendable that teachers with special duties are willing to review their duties as new priorities and needs arise in the school. They fulfil their responsibilities with diligence. Informal meetings are regularly held with the principal in order to discuss school matters and events. Even though such flexibility is important, formal meetings should be organised regularly in order to give the in-school management team the opportunity to assist in the guiding of the school, in decision making and in general leadership. In this context, it may be worthwhile to formally share the important role in relation to the induction of new teachers and newly qualified teachers with members of in-school management. 

 

2.3 Management of resources

 

Currently, the school staff comprises one principal, seven classroom teachers, a support teacher and a part-time resource teacher.  Recently, the school was granted permission to appoint a permanent resource teacher.  In one instance junior class, there are two teachers who job-share, and their preparation demonstrates satisfactory co-operation between both teachers. Two special needs assistants are also employed as a support for children with special needs. These assistants accomplish great work in the classroom through the medium of Irish. The school has a part-time secretary who provides invaluable support to the school.

 

Every year or every second year the teachers change the level of the class they teach. This policy should be reviewed on an the basis of giving in-depth experience to new teachers and ensuring continuity in certain classes if necessary.  As it is the duty of the principal to designate teachers to classes, it is important to consider the experience of the teacher when classes are organised and allocated.

 

The temporary building is very well-maintained.  A cleaner and caretaker are employed by the board of management and their work is commended. The pre-fabricated rooms are adjoining and there is a central walkway.  In addition to the seven classrooms, the school also comprises a staff room, offices for the principal and the secretary, a general purpose room, a room for the special needs teachers, a small library and a room for the Naíonra. There is also an outdoor area which is used for the purpose of recreation and physical education.  

 

The classrooms and walkway are decorated in an appealing, creative manner with teaching aids, displays and examples of the pupils’ work. There is an ample supply of learning resources in the school. A central area in the staff room stores resources for Geography, History and other subjects.  There are also cupboards for Science, Art and Physical Education.  There is a library in each classroom and one of the post-holders is also putting together a central library. Consideration should now be given to enhancing the provision of attractive, suitable books in English and Irish in both junior and senior infants’ classrooms. It is important to that a good selection of books are available to pupils in this age group in order to encourage them in their reading.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

The excellent relationship between school staff and parents was evident at the meetings held prior to the evaluation. Parents give great support to the work of the school in relation to both the curriculum and to the provision of funding. They regularly visit the school and lend their assistance to ‘reading buddies’, swimming, sport and other activities. There are also parents on the ‘Green Flag’ committee. Although a parents’ committee always existed, they have only recently amalgamated with the National Parents’ Association. They hold regular meetings and communicate with the school community via newsletter and circulars which are issued regularly. 

 

2.5 Management of pupils

 

A pleasant learning atmosphere pertains in the school.  The staff should be highly commended on the excellent habits promoted and developed in the pupils in relation to good manners and behaviour. Good work practices are maintained in the classrooms and a spirit of cooperation is evident amongst the majority of pupils.  The code of discipline is implemented effectively and a positive relationship and respectful attitude is displayed between members of staff and children.

 

3.     QUALITY OF SCHOOL PLANNING

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

 

The teachers, under the guidance of the principal, have spent considerable time and energy on planning matters. In accordance with good practice, the staff devise action  plans at the beginning of each school year to outline priorities for that  year. They determine objectives, responsibilities and time limits, and evidently, this system is successful. Comprehensive minutes are kept at the meetings held throughout the year. The board of management has an active role in devising a number of planning documents. The majority of the administrative policies are carefully laid out.  These include policies on discipline, sexual harassment, a policy which promotes equality and a policy regarding attendance. The board should review its enrolment policy to ensure that it adheres to the positive spirit of the school regarding pupils with special needs. Further opportunities should arise for parents to take part in planning matters from now on with the establishment of the new Parents’ Committee in the school.  

 

Despite the significant input that staff had in creating plans for the curriculum, they are now advised to review the content of the plans to ensure their impact on teaching and learning.  Clarification is recommended regarding the subject matter in every class to ensure that there is development in the learning in every aspect of the curriculum. It would be more beneficial to the teachers if the plans gave clear instructions and more definitive guidance regarding the school’s approach to various subject areas. This would also be of great assistance to both new teachers in the school, and teachers who are changing classes. The manner in which the school plan is given to each classroom teacher in a special folder is commended. 

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person and a deputy designated liaison person have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

 

The majority of teachers prepare both short-term and long-term plans for their teaching. Some teachers include a description of the textbooks and the workbooks, together with lists of general objectives, in the short-term plans. This type of planning did not impact greatly on classroom practice. However, some teachers had excellent sytems in place where learning objectives and the teaching methods employed are clearly oultined.  It is recommended that the teaching staff decide on a common template for the entire school to ensure that all aspects of the curriculum are aply implemented in every classroom. The principal keeps a copy of the monthly reports in the office.  The template for this provides a space for the monthly reports relating to each subject, and this is usually completed in a narrative form. The template could be revised to create a more comprehensive and useful document. In this way, a clearer record would exist regarding objectives, subjects, skills and knowledge aquisition.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview on quality of learning and teaching

 

The teachers in this school are successful in creating a congenial learning environment for the pupils under their care. They employ a good combination of teaching methods to respond to the pupils’ varying needs. The majority of pupils participate actively in their classrooms. Whole-class instruction was observed in some classrooms, while teaching was guided by use of textbook in others. Good examples of pairwork and group work were demonstrated throughout the school.  The Irish language is fundamental in the school and the pupils have a high standard of spoken Irish. 

 

 

 

4.2   Language

 

Irish

The Irish lessons in the junior classes have a clear structure. Lesson objectives are clear and the teachers have prepared interesting resources which add immensely to the effect of the lessons.  The preparation ensures that opportunities for the development of listening and communication skills are interwoven in the lessons. The pupils demonstrate competent understanding and speak Irish well as a result of this good work. Planning records and the minutes taken at meetings clearly indicate that the staff continually endeavour to develop Irish as the main language of communication in the school. Awards and prizes are given as an incentive. A large number of the pupils have reached a reasonable standard in reading. A wide range of reading books is used in every class. The reading system in the senior classes where there is an emphasis on diversity in reading materials and texts is highly praised. Good use is made of magazines, newspapers, textbooks, workbooks and simple novels, along with a reading scheme. Further emphasis should be placed on the development of handwriting in the middle classes, and opportunities should be provided for creative and freewriting in in the junior and middle classes. The ‘writing process’ is practiced to in the senior classes  and the reading work is aptly linked with the written tasks. Pupils have learned a selection of poems and songs. 

 

English

Teachers in the junior section of the school have devised very interesting methods to develop oral English language skills. These methods involve linking story reading by the teacher with imaginative recounting by the pupils. This work is then further linked to work in phonics and creative writing. In some classes, very good practice involving these methods was observed during the WSE. In order to develop sound reading skills, the school has organised a buddy reading scheme whereby senior pupils work with junior pupils. The parents help with the supervision of this work. It is recommended that in organising this work the junior pupils are given adequate time to practise their own reading and the supervising parents might also be encouraged to listen to pupils read. A brief training session with both parents and senior pupils in order to develop this scheme would be beneficial. The Jolly Phonics programme is used for pupils from infants to first class. This is proving very beneficial but teachers should ensure that there is adequate challenge for all pupils following this programme.

 

More attention to penmanship would prove beneficial in some classes and more emphasis could also be placed on allowing pupils to write regularly in their copies and with more freedom.  In some classes, the pupils are given opportunities to practise their reading at home through the paired reading scheme. The special needs assistants help in the organisation of this work and it is a very worthwhile initiative. In developing reading in class, more emphasis needs to be placed on paired reading. Paired reading in class should be developed whereby pupils read aloud to each other and pupils should be encouraged to discuss their reading in pairs in order to develop basic critical faculties around books and reading choices. In senior classes pupils are given ample opportunity to engage in regular writing activities. High standards are achieved and pupils display the ability to sustain narrative at an appropriate level. Pupils are given opportunities to respond imaginatively to writing stimuli and there is evidence on the walls of both the range of genres undertaken by pupils and the quality which is also noteworthy. Pupils have written blurbs for books, film reviews and have undertaken research for a project on the heart and written up the results of this research. Pupils have learned poetry and can discuss it with confidence in the senior classes.

 

 

 

4.3 Mathematics

A useful Mathematics plan has been developed in the school. The emphasis on the development of the language and terminology of mathematics is to be commended. A comprehensive list is set out for all classes. A review should now be undertaken to investigate the implementation of this terminology. Agreement should be reached on the language for number operations on a whole school basis and it should be clearly recorded in the school plan to facilitate clarity and consistency. This is vital for new and substitute teachers. The plan places commendable emphasis on the development of mental Mathematics and good examples of this was evident in the classrooms during the assessment. Time is set aside each day for this work. The use of illustrative and other concrete materials to aid in concept acquisition in some classes during the inspection was also commended. This practice should adopted in all classes as part of the Mathematics lessons. It would be worth considering a whole school approach to lay out of copy books.  During the Whole-school Evaluation, the resource teacher came into the class during Mathematics lessons to assist particular pupils with practical maths activities. Classroom assistants also assisted other groups. The fact that the classroom assistant and the resource teacher had good knowledge of Irish greatly assisted the class teacher’s efforts in conducting all lessons through the medium of Irish. The system worked well because of the levels of preparation.

 

 

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

Interesting work is being carried out in this area of the curriculum and a broad history programme is taught in all classes. Great emphasis is placed on local history. In junior classes lessons are based on personal history and on the immediate environment of the pupils. The lives of the present day pupils and those of the past is compared. Considerable work is carried out on the art of Irish storytelling in some classes, and project work undertaken by pupils is on display. A timeline is developed in some classrooms and this practice is to be highly commended.  This assists the pupils in understanding timelines and chronology. Good work is done on local history and some teachers have put together collections of suitable photographs.

 

Geography

Geography is taught in an effective, interesting manner in many classes in the school. The work is integrated proficiently with other subjects. Lessons are extended from points of local interest, progressing to a much wider perspective. Thighly commendable project work on lighthouses was was carried out in the senior classes, beginning with the local areas immediate environment and then the entire country. This work was successfully integrated with Science and Art lessons. In junior classes much work is based on the weather, the seasons, people and the immediate environment.  The nature tables in these classes are highly commended.

 

 

Science

A good school plan has been developed for Science. The plan outlines an annual work scheme for each class, and also has a list of the equipment and resources available in the school. Emphasis is placed on developing scientific and inquiry skills as well as an inquisitive mind. In the majority of classes, the approach towards Science is practical, and scientific experiments are regularly carried out. The school took part in the ‘Discover Science’ initiative under the guidance of the subject co-ordinator and they received an award last year. Certain classes had to carry out experiments for this award. Pupils also had to write a report about the experiments and their results. The school will take part in ‘Discover Science’ again this year. The teachers, pupils, and co-ordinator must be commended on the work they have put into this initiative.

 

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The visual arts programme provided in the school is highly commendable. A plan is made out that designates certain strands for each term.  Clear guidelines are therefore provided for teaching and this helps to ensure that all strands are comprehensively covered in each class. Many excellent samples of the pupils’ visual art work is displayed in the classrooms and in the hall. The pupils creativity was aptly engaged during the activities observed during the evaluation period. In some classes pupils are given the opportunity to view the work of local artists as well as the work of other famous artists. The importance given to ‘looking and responding’ in teachers’ preparation for certain classes is commendable.

 

Music

Great emphasis is placed on the teaching of music throughout the school and it is well taught overall. Tin whistle classes are organised for pupils from first class onwards. A music teacher attends once a week and extra practice is undertaken by the teachers. Most pupils have reached a good standard. Good quality lessons in the development of rhythm and composition skills were observed during the evaluation period. The list of songs set out for each class is highly commendable. This list ensures that each pupil will have a fine repertoire of songs by the time they reach sixth class.

 

Drama

Drama is used very effectively as a teaching method for various aspects of the curriculum. Some teachers were preparing for the Christmas concert during the Whole-school Evaluation. Teachers dedicated a lot of time and effort to this work and particular aspects of the Arts Education were skillfully linked with Drama. Pupils in the middle classes performed a piece which featured tin whistle, dancing and an imaginary response to music.

 

 

 

 

4.6 Physical Education

 

A programme for Physical Education programme is laid out for the year. Therefore all strands are covered in each class. The vocabulary and language for physical education and the games which accompany the plan is highly commendable. It ensures that each pupil has a sufficient  knowledge of Irish to participate in the games and it also develops the pupils’ verbal expression in an enjoyable manner. The play yard, together with a small general purpose room is used for lessons.  The school has accumulated a wide range of resources and equipment for Physical Education and these are put to good use. Physical Education lessons are delivered in a skillful manner and commendable emphasis is placed on pupils’ enjoyment and participation during the lessons. Classes are well organised and pupils are given clear guidelines. Some teachers organise games after school hours and pupils have the opportunity to participate in competitions with other schools from the area. Irish dancing is taught in the school by an external teacher. This was observed during the Whole-school Evaluation. The pupils had acquired a wide range of dancing skills and had reached a high standard in the performance of these dances.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

 

This subject is presented to the pupils through the schools positive attitude and atmosphere. Personal development and health development are fostered through various events. This subject is linked to the school’s ethos and aim concerning ‘the individual child’s potential for complete development within the comprehensive curriculum which is taught’. There is great emphasis in the school on developing self-respect and respect for others. Collaborative games, circle time and projects are used effectively to develop pupils’ skills and character.  Each class is taught health education, which instills good habits in the pupils.

 

 

4.8 Assessment

 

An assessment policy is included in the development plan for this year. A wide range of assessment methods is used to monitor pupils’ progress. Among these are teachers’ direct observation, checklists, tasks, teacher-designed tests and standardised tests. Some teachers keep accurate records of results and progress. Junior class teachers record pupils’ progress in word recognition, phonics and numbers. The Middle Infants Screening Test is used in Senior Infants, and Micra T and Sigma T is used from first class to sixth class to assess pupils’ achievements in English and Mathematics, and to recognise pupils with learning difficulties. The school has begun to analyse these results but it is recommended that further use be made of the results to adapt learning and teaching to the various levels of ability in the classes, and to assess the effectiveness of teaching and learning.  

 

 

5.     Quality of Support for Pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

 

The emphasis in the learning support context is very much on the development of English literacy skills. The school has four major programmes to support literacy in English. The Toe by Toe programme is used by the learning support teacher to identify the English language difficulties of individual pupils. Once the difficulties have been identified, the teacher then prepares a specific programme to meet the needs of that pupil. This approach is worthwhile and is leading to success for the pupils concerned. On a whole school level, there is a paired reading scheme involving parents and there is a buddy reading scheme already noted. The fourth plank in the school’s overall support strategy involves team teaching involving the learning support teacher and a middle/senior class. This work involves English reading, discussion and follow-up group/pair work by the pupils. During the group/pair work the learning support teacher and the class teacher pay particular attention to pupils who are in receipt of learning support. This is very good practice. Overall, team teaching is a strong feature of the learning support system in the school. The tasks and teacher cooperation is well planned enabling both class teacher and learning support teacher help individual pupils in a beneficial way. Individual learning support lessons in English are prepared with great care and include weekly general planning, maintenance of progress records, individual planning and time-tabling.

 

A resource teacher spends nine hours per week in the school. This teacher prepares activities conscientiously for the groups attending her. To enhance the effectiveness of this work, it is recommended that formal contact is established between the class teacher and the resource teacher to learning discuss needs and progress.

 

 

6.  Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation: <0}

 

 

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 managment where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.


 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

  

 

Area 2:     Follow-up actions completed or planned since the inspection activity was completed to implement the inspector’s conclusions and recommendations.

 

The school’s Board of Management would like to state that the school’s internal management team has commenced holding formal meetings to foster leadership and we intend to hold two meetings each term.  The Board of Management has reviewed the policy on allocating teachers and classes at the end of the school year to ensure that certain classes have continuity and to give a depth of experience to teachers. In addition, the entrance policy and the conditions of entry for children with special needs have been reviewed. The Parents’ Committee is now fully involved in the planning process and are given opportunities to share and discuss their opinions with school management.  In order to foster curriculum planning, the school teaching staff is clarifying/illustrating/highlighting the material to be taught in each class to ensure development and continuity in all areas of the curriculum. Also, a weekly planning session has been allocated to the learning support teachers to establish regular, formal contact with class teachers to assess and discuss the children’s progress.