An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 Gaelscoil Phort Laoise,

Mountrath Road, Portlaoise, County Laois

Uimhir rolla: 20081O

 

Date of inspection:  13 November 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 in Gaelscoil Phort Laoise in November 2009.This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in Irish, Mathematics and History. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

Gaelscoil Phort Laoise is a co-educational, all-Irish primary school under the patronage of Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna LánGhaeilge Teo.  It is situated in the town of Portlaoise and caters mainly for pupils from the town.  The school was established in 1998 and since then it has occupied three temporary buildings.  In 2008 it negotiated a three-year lease in a purpose built school belonging to the Vocational Education Committee. This is the first evaluation of the work of the school.

 

The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils on school rolls

209

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

12

Teachers in mainstream classes

8

Learning support teachers

3

Administrative principal

1

Special needs assistants

3

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1   Characteristic spirit, mission or school vision

The school aspires to provide primary education through the medium of Irish to the children of the locality.  It also wishes to foster Irish culture and to cultivate a positive atmosphere.  It aims to ensure the full educational, personal, social and physical development of the pupils in its care.  Credible, genuine efforts are being made to realise those aims, and the results of these efforts are evident in the classroom work, in the school playground and in the school’s participation in local activities and in activities organised by the Irish community.

 

1.2 The board of management

The board works effectively.  It is clear that the members are committed to the ethos of all-Irish education and wish to bear testament to this ethos in their work.  It is evident from the wide range of topics discussed at board meetings, that it plays a central role in the life of the school. The regular discussion of Department of Education and Science circulars at meetings and the consideration of matters directly concerned with teaching and learning at some meetings are specific examples of good practice which should be continued.  Minutes of meetings indicate that the board has devoted considerable time and effort to securing the future viability of the school through its ongoing work in sourcing a site and building. The board is also commended for the frequency of its meetings and for ensuring that its procedures adhere to the Constitution of Boards and Rules of Procedure (The Department of Education and Science 2007). Recently a new structure was implemented to manage financial matters more effectively, and, in accordance with this structure, school accounts will be certified annually. In order to further improve financial structures, a budget should be prepared for the school-year and expenditure priorities should be laid out in the context of annual income.

 

1.3 In-school management

The duties of the in-school management team are performed effectively.  The principal cultivates a cooperative spirit in the school and provides commendable leadership to the school community.  His vision prioritises the promotion of a positive regard for all-Irish education in the school, and this is shared with teachers and implemented in the school. The deputy principal provides valuable support to the principal and their mutual cooperation assists the smooth running of the school.  There are three other teachers on the in-school management team, and each has appropriate responsibilities across the three domains: curricular, pastoral and administrative.  These duties are performed effectively and are open to review in the light of the evolving needs of the school.  It is intended to convene regular meetings of the in-school management team and the school is encouraged to implement this.

 

1.4 Management of resources

The school’s resources are managed effectively.  It has an office, a staff-room, eight classrooms, rooms for special education and an outside play area.  A stimulating environment is created for the pupils throughout the school through displays and through celebrating pupil’s work.  A commendable range of resources is available to support teaching and learning in the various classrooms. Productive use is made of computers and interactive whiteboards to present lessons across the curriculum.  Audio-visual aids, software, concrete materials, books, science equipment, musical instruments, artefacts and sports equipment are available and catalogued in the school. This assists their distribution throughout the classes.

 

Classes are divided equitably amongst the eight mainstream class teachers. The system of regular rotation of classes between teachers is commended. Three teachers cater for the needs of pupils with special educational needs (SEN), a resource teacher for pupils with low incidence SEN and two learning-support teachers, one dealing with English and the other with Mathematics. All teachers display strong loyalty to the school and fulfil their duties conscientiously. Various opportunities for continual professional development of staff are undertaken. Three special needs assistants provide valuable support to the pupils in their care. The school employs a secretary and a caretaker, both of whom discharge their duties diligently for the benefit of the school.  

 

1.5 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

An open healthy relationship prevails among all members of the school community. Parents are welcome to discuss any issue regarding their child with teachers, and procedures are in place to facilitate this. In addition a parent-teacher meeting is organised annually and from this year onwards pupils’ standardised test results will be given to their parents, in written form, at these meetings. A written report on pupil progress is issued to the parents and, in some cases, parents have the opportunity to provide a written response. This is commendable practice.  Parents are kept informed about school matters through regular notes home and through a monthly newsletter.  A very effective parents’ committee operates in the school. This committee supports the work of the school by providing a forum for parents to discuss school matters, by organising extra-curricular activities, by providing practical help and by fundraising. The positive modes of communication between this committee and the board of management, and between this committee and the teaching staff are praised.  The parents’ committee have had experience in the development of school policies, including the homework and the anti-bullying policies.  It is now recommended that this good practice be extended through the provision of a role for them in the review and development of the school plan on a regular basis.

 

1.6 Management of pupils

The management of pupils is of a high standard and there is significant evidence of the school’s ethos in their conversation and behaviour.  They participate enthusiastically in classroom work and are well-mannered and cooperative throughout the school.  The staff is praised for their supervision of pupils and the convening of regular school assemblies assists the management of pupils.

 

 

2.     quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole school planning and planning for the classroom

The school fulfils its planning requirements in terms of administrative and curricular policies.  It has all the required administrative policies which are clearly written and contextualised to meet the needs of the school.  The fact that all policies are ratified by the board and that the majority have a specific review date is commended.  The school should now ensure that its enrolment policy conforms to equality legislation and to Department of Education and Science protocols.

 

The plan for Irish provides clear direction for teachers regarding relevant objectives for their classes under the four strands: listening, speaking, reading and writing. An appropriate emphasis is placed on the communicative approach and on language idioms, although provision could be made in the plan for the systematic, whole-school treatment of language idioms. There are very helpful elements in the Mathematics’ plan on the language of mathematics and on teaching resources.  The quality of the other curricular plans would be enhanced if they contained a section on the language of the subject, indicating the essential elements of language and the compatible language required at each level in the school.  The quality of the history plan would be improved if it provided direction on the selection of strand units in each class on an annual or biennial basis.  Clear guidance should also be given in this plan on the selection of topics from the menu curriculum in the middle and senior classes.

 

All mainstream teachers’ long-term and short-term plans are of an acceptable standard. The best plans were based on curricular objectives and this approach could be extended throughout the school.  It would also be worthwhile for the teachers to record in the short-term plans, the opportunities for developing the pupils’ Irish acquisition skills as well as identifying the essential language requirements of the lesson. Long-term plans are prepared in SEN classes, and a copy of the relevant plan is given to the majority of parents of pupils to whom it refers. This is commendable. Short-term plans and daily notes are also used to guide teaching in SEN classes. 

 

A range of approaches is used for monthly progress records.  It is now recommended that the staff adopt a whole-school approach in this area. In devising their approach the staff should consider the benefits of recording curricular objectives attained, as this would facilitate more effective monitoring of continuity and development in curricular areas throughout the school.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures 

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 (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

Irish is taught very effectively. Lessons at every level are presented in a lively, stimulating manner, pupils are provided with worthwhile opportunities to be actively involved in their learning and a wide range of methodologies is practised.  Skilled linkages are made between the four curricular strands and the communicative approach is emphasised commendably. Very beneficial language inputs are provided to the pupils through the use of information and communication technology (ICT) resources, display charts and language games. The pupils’ expressive skills are developed systematically. Valuable opportunities for real communication are organised for them and they are able to speak fluently on suitable topics.  Poetry and singing in the school receive due attention and are used to reinforce pupils’ language.  The standard of reading is commendable.  Good use is made of the novel and pupils understand the material they have read.  The reading groups which are organised in some of the classes are very beneficial as they enable pupils to read at their own level.   Pupils engage in enriched writing exercises in the various genres and the writing process is cultivated through the use of strategies such as dictation and transcription. Very appropriate work in being done in Irish grammar in the school and many pupils in the senior classes can handle challenging verbs and discuss grammar questions with understanding. 

 

3.2     Mathematics

Mathematics is taught effectively.  Lessons are presented clearly and different resources are used to present and explain concepts. A mathematics-rich environment is evident throughout the school and posters, software, charts and concrete materials are used to encourage pupils’ interest.  There is commendable variety in teaching methodologies and worthwhile emphasis is placed on active learning.  In some classes differentiated work for pupils with SEN was observed. However a greater emphasis should be placed on this approach throughout the school in order to make appropriate provision for the range of ability in Mathematics. Mathematical skills are being developed adequately and commendable emphasis is placed on mental arithmetic. The pupils’ written work is corrected regularly and helpful feedback is provided to them. Many pupils display good ability to solve problems orally, and, in order to further develop this skill, additional emphasis could be placed on written problem-solving in some classes. In planning for curriculum delivery teachers are advised to afford additional time to the strand Data and Algebra.

 

3.3     History

Teaching and learning in History is characterised by good practice. Throughout the school there is good balance between content delivery and skill development. Lessons are well-structured, pupils are questioned carefully and their interest in the subject is encouraged.  At all levels pupil participation is enhanced through regular implementation of active-learning methods, such as project work and group work.  In the majority of classes the timeline is used as a key resource, and this helps to develop pupils’ understanding of chronology. Pupils work frequently as historians and good use is made of artefacts and valuable evidential sources during this work.  Throughout the school pupils show good knowledge and understanding of the subject matter covered, and they are confident in discussing their own personal history.  In order to build on this good practice the school is advised to place more emphasis on acquiring resources for local history and to use local historical trails more frequently.  It is also recommended that more time be devoted to developing pupils’ cognitive language in History in order to assist them in accessing the programme.

 

3.4 Assessment

Appropriate use is made of assessment modes throughout the school. Assessment of learning strategies include a screening test which is administered to all senior infants, a standardised test in English, which is administered annually to every pupil from senior infants onwards, and a standardised test in Mathematics, which is administered to all pupils for first class onwards.  A non-reading intelligence test is also administered twice in pupils’ school life, and teacher-designed tests are widely used across the curriculum. In SEN classes pupils’ progress is regularly assessed and outcomes are clearly recorded.

 

Assessment for learning strategies include checklists, project folders and individual pupil profiles.  The quality of assessment would be enhanced by extending the range of these strategies. The school may find the publication Assessment in the Primary Curriculum – Guidelines for Schools from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment of assistance to them in this regard.

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

Effective assistance is provided to pupils with SEN.  There are three teachers on the SEN team and each follows a systemic programme, designed for the identified needs of pupils. The inclusion of aspects such as social and communication skill development in these programmes is especially commendable. Pupils are treated in a kind, sensitive manner during lessons, and good use is made of equipment, including ICT, to support learning. Overall the quality of lessons would be enhanced by placing a greater emphasis on functional, practical activities which would assist pupils in utilising their skills in realistic contexts. Taking the overall learning-support needs of the school into consideration, it is suggested that more attention should be afforded to the provision of support in Mathematics. It is recommended that the support team, in consultation with their colleagues in mainstream classes, should discuss the most effective ways of assisting pupils who have particular difficulties in Mathematics, and to develop their system accordingly. 

 

 

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 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, April 2010