An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Date of inspection: 04 March 2009
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation in Gaelscoil Riabhach, Loughrea. The report 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 from the Parents’ Association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the 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. They met with various staff groups, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
1. Introduction – School context and background
Gaelscoil Riabhach is situated in the heart of a
housing area on a temporary site in Loughrea, Co.
Eight teachers, a special needs assistant and a part time secretary are on the school staff. The school is under the patronage of Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge. The school has formulated both a vision statement and a mission statement, and a special programme is taught based on the ethos and philosophy of the school. Irish is the language of school management, the language of instruction and the language of communication among the pupils. Through discussion, activity and normal school practices, pupils are trained to respect themselves, each other, the school, the environment, Irish culture and the culture of others.
The board of management was appointed according to appropriate procedures. The board undertakes the management of school affairs and the fulfilment of its responsibilities with diligence. Approximately seven meetings of the board are convened each school year. Minutes of the meetings are clearly recorded. They indicate that there is usually a report from the principal and from the treasurer at each meeting. In addition, school policies and aspects of school life are discussed, action is agreed and responsibility for tasks is shared among the members. Working groups or subcommittees are organised from time to time which greatly enhance the effectiveness of the board. Members of the board attended a training course which was organised recently for new boards of management.
The school benefits greatly from the members’ various skills and their active involvement in the life of the school. The board fulfils its legal obligations as regards furnishing policy. It is recommended however, that aspects of the admissions policy be reviewed, that positive strategies to encourage good attendance be included in the attendance policy and that a report on the operation of the school be provided to parents on an annual basis.
The board is involved in approving the school’s programme of events at the beginning of each school year. These events include enjoyable activities such as tours, shows and games, as well as meetings with parents, after-school activities and practices to ensure pupil safety. Days are also set aside for assessment tests and for special occasions and events that support the various aspects of the curriculum. This programme has a significant influence on classroom planning. It would be very beneficial now to review the year’s activities and to give preference to the teaching and learning priorities. To assist the work of the board, it would be worth formulating a strategic development plan for the school which would include the agreed priorities in relation to accommodation, policy formulation, curriculum development and the achievement of learning objectives.
The board recognises the importance of fostering good relationships and communication with the parents and with the community in general. A great effort is made to welcome to everyone to the school especially parents who do not have much Irish. The core values of the school are clearly identified in the school plan and the board co-operates earnestly with the parents’ association and with the staff to promote those values in the school.
The in-school management structure comprises the principal and three teachers who have specific posts of responsibility. The principal has a strong vision for the school and this is enthusiastically shared with the staff. A very positive atmosphere is fostered in the school and both teachers and pupils are encouraged to express their opinions regarding school provision. Staff meetings are conducted on a regular basis to discuss and decide the organisation of events, the development of the school and curriculum priorities. The principal also meets with teachers individually to discuss the school’s objectives and to support them in realising those objectives.
The in-school management team has six meetings a year during which they outline and arrange a programme for meetings with the staff. Minutes are kept of the decisions taken and of the policies outlined. The team has a particular role in the leadership and functioning of the school and they openly support the principal, the staff, the students and the parents. They display professional and developmental skills in discharging their duties and they work in the best interest of the pupils and staff.
The committee has outlined a three-year development plan to raise standards and enhance practice in the school. The development plan was discussed with the inspectors during this evaluation. The work priorities outlined in the plan were agreed as a means of effecting change in practice and in curriculum structures so as to raise standards and pupil achievement generally. For this purpose, a pedagogical plan is being compiled and classroom planning and practice is being restructured accordingly. As part of this restructuring, it was recognised that a review of the duties attached to the posts of responsibility should be undertaken.
The principal and five other teachers teach mainstream classes. Eight classes are divided among them fairly in single or dual class groupings. Two support teachers provide for pupils with learning difficulties or special needs. In-class support is organised and pupils are withdrawn from classes for supplementary teaching in English and Mathematics. A special needs assistant co-operates effectively with the teaching staff to provide for the care needs of the pupils. A part-time secretary plays a very active role in the day-to-day running of the school.
The importance of teachers’ professional development is recognised. The teachers have opportunities to undertake various roles in the school, to change classes and to engage with the support services. The teachers are encouraged and supported in undertaking appropriate training courses. A policy on the role of staff is articulated in the school plan but it is recommended that the section relating to teachers’ professional development be expanded. It would be beneficial to indicate clearly in the policy the good practices in operation in the school and to include information about the support services and the national projects which enable the teachers to develop their skills. It is also recommended that a personal skills’ development plan be compiled to assist in addressing the school’s developmental needs.
At present, the school is located in prefabricated buildings on a rented site. Three prefabricated buildings provide six classrooms, two support rooms, a small staff room and an office. The majority of the teachers make every effort to cultivate a stimulating atmosphere in the classrooms by organising learning areas and by attractively displaying visual aids and the pupils’ work. The school is cleaned daily and board members, teachers, pupils and parents tend to the flowerbeds and other necessary tasks. The school is also used as a centre for classes and activities for the local community outside school time. The board conscientiously addresses safety issues with safety and child protection forming part of the agenda at every board meeting. There is need now to repair a wall in the yard and to erect handrails beside the steps going into certain classrooms.
A good range of teaching resources is available in the school and they are effectively utilised in the majority of classes to stimulate interest and to develop skills and concepts. While it is customary to store the teaching resources centrally, it would be worthwhile to ensure that basic teaching aids and basic concrete materials are available in every classroom to facilitate activity and discovery-based learning. It would be of benefit now to compile an investment plan for equipment and for the library as a means of supporting the dissemination of agreed practice throughout the school and the implementation of the new plan for pedagogy.
Particular emphasis is placed on the management of relationships and communication with the school community. This stems from one of the school’s principal aims, namely to create an Irish language community around the school that would be an example of Irish language usage for the pupils as well as being a source of support for the school. Great effort and work is devoted to the task of developing such a community. The organisation of social events, entertainment and recreational activities is a core facet of this developmental work. Learning facilities and refresher courses are offered to the community thus fostering positive attitudes, linguistic ability, interpersonal skills and community development. So successful has this work been in contributing to public life and festivities in Loughrea that the Gaelscoil is represented at all events in the town.
During the pre-evaluation meetings all parties recorded their satisfaction with the school’s policies and approach. Their involvement as partners in the school’s decision- making process was mentioned as well as their sense of ownership of the activities and happenings in the school. Various methods are employed to maintain contact with parents. A file of work is sent home on a fortnightly basis, a newsletter is issued regularly and an annual survey is carried out on the work of the school. There is at least one parent-teacher meeting in the year during which individual pupil progress is discussed. At the end of the school year a written report on attainment and social development is sent home.
It is also commendable how a sense of responsibility for the work atmosphere and operation of the school is fostered in the pupils. Pupils are elected onto the pupils’ committee every year and the committee regularly meets with the principal and other staff members to discuss various aspects of school life. At a meeting with the pupils’ committee, it was indicated that the pupils were happy with the running of the school and that they had an influence on the school’s investment in sporting equipment and library resources. They felt that they had a recognised role in fostering in-school relationships with the various parties.
Pupils in this school are well mannered, well behaved, kind and enterprising. Friendliness and respect exist between the various parties in the school and this greatly enhances pupil participation in the programme of learning and contributes to the healthy atmosphere of the school in general. There is a definite supervision programme at break times and the companionship and good relations which exists between the senior and junior pupils is noteworthy. Pupil representatives are given an influential role in formulating the school’s code of conduct and the programme of school activities and in deciding the sanctions that are exercised. The staff reported that they rarely have to resort to the school’s code of conduct. The anti-bullying policy was updated last year as part of an ongoing review process and the staff are satisfied with it at present. The pupils are well prepared for post-primary education and the confidence and personal maturity which is indicative of their behaviour before leaving the primary school is praiseworthy.
3. Quality of school planning
The school plan is developed in co-operation with the staff, parents and board of management. Usually, staff members take responsibility for drafting different policies. The draft policies are discussed, amended and agreed before copies are presented to the parents’ association and the board of management. From time to time working groups are formed at board level to examine in detail the content of the policies. The code of conduct and the healthy-eating policy were reviewed recently and meetings will be convened shortly to discuss the policy on relationships and sexuality education.
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 pupil 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.
It is necessary now to review particular aspects of the school plan in light of this evaluation and it would be worth including the timeframes for such work in the school development plan. It is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on teaching and learning activities in the school plan, that the various practices in use at present be recorded at each class level and that the areas of the curriculum and the principles of differentiation be examined and recorded to suit the circumstances of the school.
3.2 Classroom planning
All teachers provide individual long-term and short-term classroom planning and tick monthly schemes as a means of recording progress. As the in-school management team is currently compiling a school development plan, it is felt that the planning templates should be altered so that teaching targets may be identified more clearly in terms of the class level involved, the approaches to be used and the content to be covered. More exact periods of time for short-term planning should be agreed and the planning should make reference to methodology, the principles of the curriculum, the supporting software and equipment pertinent to the tasks and workshops. Reference should also be made to the evaluation, review and monitoring strategies to be employed. It would be worth compiling a definite programme of work sequenced according to class as the core work of long-term planning in order to provide a structure for progression and to ensure continuity. School conventions in relation to handwriting, organisation and management of copybooks, spelling, memorisation of facts and pedagogical practices should also be recorded.
In many classes, the curricular areas are integrated in a creative manner. In some classes, commendable emphasis is placed on promoting understanding of a range of language in Irish as a basis and preparation for the teaching of other curricular areas. It is recommended that this practice be adopted throughout the school. For this purpose, it would be beneficial to identify the main language requirements for the various curricular areas and these could be attended to in advance through the programme in Irish. Teaching and learning activities are extremely well paced in some classes but the standard of work needs to be raised on a whole-school basis. It is recommended that a research and development policy be compiled to raise the standard of literacy and mathematics in the school in the short term as identified in the targets set for the year. There is a need to ensure that teaching is appropriately differentiated for the various class levels and that tasks of a suitable standard are presented to pupils in all classrooms.
Oral ability is fostered as a priority in this Gaelscoil and the pupils can converse in a free-flowing continuous manner before leaving the school. Emphasis is placed on the development of phonemic and phonological skills in the junior classes. Continuity of speech and vocabulary enrichment are fostered and the pupils are active in their learning in the different aspects of the curriculum while functioning within a restricted register of language. The work in the junior classes is consolidated in the senior classes, thus increasing the confidence and ability of the pupils. Emphasis is placed on fostering literacy skills through a developmental programme of language skills and pupils make creditable progress in reading. A broad programme of literature is presented to pupils in senior classes. Emphasis is placed on poetry, storytelling, singing, drama and reading. The programme also generates pupils’ interest in different cultures and traditions. However, it would be worth investing more in the library resources, particularly modern Irish books in order to enhance silent reading.
Composition is based on themes of work previously discussed, on research projects and on personal writing which includes imaginative work, journalism, creative extracts and commentary. More emphasis should be placed on the process and techniques of the work, and good handwriting and the organisation of written work should be stressed in accordance with the development plan. In the school plan, the approach to language enrichment should be formally recorded at each class level and grammatical development should be identified for all classes. The approach to writing should also be clarified including how common errors may be addressed and passages drafted and redrafted. There is a need also to identify common school terminology in the various curriculum areas and to plan its consolidation at the different class levels. Greater use should be made of technology in various school activities.
The teaching of English is commenced during the second term of Junior Infants. The programme initially focuses on the development of phonological and phonemic awareness. At other class levels teachers adopt a fully integrated approach to oral language, reading and writing in English. During discrete oral language lessons, emphasis is placed on extending vocabulary and on enabling pupils to communicate confidently using full sentences. Pupils also explore an appropriate range of poetry at most class levels. It is recommended that the early stages of the English programme should be extended to include aspects of language development which can be approached through story and rhyme. At some class levels discrete oral activities are based on a narrow register of language and purposeful planning is required to ensure that an appropriate range of language is addressed during these sessions.
Print-rich environments are cultivated throughout the school and support the attainment of reasonably good standards in reading and writing. Appropriate emphasis is placed on enabling pupils to develop sight vocabulary and a structured programme is used beneficially at each class level to develop phonological and phonemic awareness and enhance word-attack skills. Big books, graded texts, class novels, library books and a range of supplementary materials are used to good effect to engage pupils in the reading process. Pupils in general read with fluency, show good awareness of the reader-listener relationship and display interest in the works of a broad range of authors. It is recommended that greater emphasis should now be placed on developing higher-order thinking skills and that an analysis of standardised test results should be undertaken in order to isolate reading skills which require particular attention in the classrooms. It would also be of benefit to develop classroom libraries further.
Writing activities are judiciously and very creatively integrated with oral language and reading activities at many class levels. It would be of benefit however to place greater emphasis on ensuring progression in writing through regular and careful monitoring of the assigned tasks. There is scope at many class levels to develop greater understanding of the conventions of punctuation, to implement a staged approach to developing a neat cursive style of writing and to enhance the presentation of written work in general.
In Mathematics the curriculum, school plan and textbooks all influence the teachers’ individual work and practice to some extent. Concrete materials and worksheets are used to explore concepts and teaching objectives are discussed and revised. It is recommended that staff identify and record mathematical language at each class level. Practical strategies are employed to develop basic concepts. Worthwhile opportunities are provided for pupils to practise prediction and estimation skills, and problem solving skills are fostered through mental work and paper exercises.
A development plan focused on raising standards in numeracy has been compiled by the staff as a priority and it is recommended that the objectives identified in that plan should be implemented to expedite this process. The approach to differentiation should be recorded in the plan, together with the associated methodologies and classroom practices. In addition, the variety of tasks chosen to match the different abilities and levels of attainment in the classrooms should be identified. It would also be worth clarifying the objectives for each class and noting the associated language in the action plan. A revision programme should be agreed and a system for evaluating progress should be incorporated into the monthly progress records. These progress records should be passed on annually as core information on each class.
History is taught capably in most of the classes observed during the evaluation. The pupils are given worthwhile opportunities to investigate the past at family, local, national and international levels. Skilful use is made of storytelling to develop understanding of the progression of time and interesting evidence is presented to the pupils in the form of pictures and photographs to afford them the opportunities to work as historians and to practise historical skills. Suitable timelines are used to good effect at the different class levels to illustrate the concept of chronology. The pupils display interest in the learning content and they play an active role in the various tasks assigned to them. It is recommended that a definite programme be compiled for each class level to ensure balance across the strand units and to ensure appropriate progression from class to class. The school has begun collecting artefacts and photographs, and it would be worth supplementing these with other historical resources such as old local maps, old newspapers and a range of suitable books in order to cover this aspect of the curriculum in its entirety.
A well structured plan of work is followed in Geography. The work is linked to the other aspects of the curriculum and themes are investigated by using fieldwork, projects, the internet and class group work. The results of the various investigations are displayed in classrooms and in public areas. Studies of the human environment are linked with environmental awareness and care, and with studies of the natural environment. It is a matter of pride that the green flag is flying outside the school again this year. The pupils gain experience working as scientists while investigating particular themes. There are nature tables and interest corners in the classrooms and the pupils’ natural curiosity in their own environment is nurtured. The ecology of lakes should feature consistently as a theme for school surveys and the relationship which exists between surrounding place names and the landscape, geography, farming practices, agriculture and fishing should be investigated in addition to deepening the pupils’ understanding of their background and local heritage.
One of the priorities mentioned in the plan for this curricular area is the development of the ability to think like a scientist and this ensures that opportunities for research, testing and problem solving are incorporated in the plan. Co-operative workshops, organised in the classrooms, and work based on the school plan and on textbooks, all serve to deepen the pupils’ understanding and knowledge. The programme now needs to be tailored to include investigations of the ecology and scientific aspects of the local lake. Fieldwork and the findings of guided research should be listed in the school’s information bank and participation in various science projects should be organised with modern technologies featuring as a central element of the approach.
The Visual Arts
In general, the visual arts programme is very successfully implemented throughout the school. A broad range of activities is organised to promote understanding of the elements of art. Due emphasis is placed on making art as well as on responding to art. Pupils are regularly afforded the opportunity to engage with a range of media and class displays bear testimony to the individual creativity of the pupils, to the use of a variety of techniques and to skilful integration. Commendable emphasis is placed on the language of the visual arts in certain classes and it would be of benefit to address this aspect of the work in a more structured way in the school.
The curriculum in Music is skilfully taught at certain class levels. Age-appropriate activities are organised for the pupils including listening and responding activities, singing, playing music and composition. The students regularly have opportunities to listen to different musical styles and to respond physically, verbally, emotionally and cognitively. A nice range of songs is taught in most classes and at certain class levels opportunities are provided to sing rounds and part songs. Good use is made of class computers to provide musical accompaniment. It is recommended that this good work be enhanced further and that a suitable selection of songs in Irish, English and from other countries be included at each class level. The pupils are enabled to play tin whistles from the middle classes onwards. Tunes are played musically and it is obvious that the pupils both enjoy and benefit from their performances. A well-structured programme is followed in particular classes to deepen understanding of music literacy. Planning is insufficient however in some classes and the programme is limited as a result. The range of activities for each class level should now be agreed on a whole-school basis and the individual steps of the literacy programme should be clearly set out. It would be of value to set aside a space in each classroom so that a range of musical instruments, tuned and untuned, handmade and bought, are freely available to support the teaching.
The school’s approach to drama encompasses the examination of emotions, thoughts, decisions and pupil understanding. Emphasis is placed on nurturing the pupils’ aesthetic senses and the personal traits, communication skills, assertiveness and self-confidence displayed by the pupils during the inspection are noteworthy. The school participitates in drama competitions and public performances both locally and nationally and it is a school tradition to travel near and far to attend the events in cooperation with parents and teachers. The pupils performed shows that they had prepared for An Taibhdhearc, the National Irish Language Theatre and for other occasions, and it was evident that all pupils had the chance to participate in events suited to their class level. Co-operative work is emphasised, themes are identified and explored while imaginary and real-life situations provide the basis for the expression of ideas. The pupils love using different effects and devices to enhance their performance such as props, make-up, costumes, songs, musical instruments, art and poetry. The manner in which the drama programme is linked to other aspects of the curriculum is to be commended.
Although the school lacks suitable accommodation for Physical Education, every effort is made to provide an interesting programme for the pupils. In the junior classes enjoyable activities are organised in the classrooms. These activities are skilfully integrated with music to develop physical movement. Pupils are competently led to appreciate movement as a means of expression and communication. Pupils work as a class group and in pairs, and all the activities are well paced and enjoyable.
A nearby hall and field are utilised for the organisation of activities for pupils from first class upwards. A swimming programme is also organised for the classes every second year. On account of very inclement weather during the evaluation, the activities in the hall and field were cancelled. It is reported that an external instructor comes to the school to support the teaching of game skills and that pupils attend the activities if they wish. It is recommended that a review of this system be undertaken to establish that all pupils participate in a suitable range of activities in Physical Education and that the recommended minimum amount of time allocated to this curricular area is taken into account when organising these activities.
The manner in which the pupils’ confidence levels and assertiveness are fostered in this school is commendable. It is clear from the way pupils present themselves and from their communication and discussion skills that they are accustomed to having a continual input into their own educational experience. They are provided with opportunities to make daily choices, to discuss those choices with the teachers directly and to rethink adverse decisions as appropriate. Comprehension and reflection skills are fostered in conjunction with the drama programme and with relationship development. It is good that discipline and behavioural routines are practised in accordance with the code of conduct agreed among the parties.
A comprehensive policy on assessment is available in the school plan. Clear guidelines are given as regards the broad range of techniques to be employed when evaluating pupils’ progress. However these techniques need to be implemented in an effective manner in the school. Towards this end, it would be of value to explore the formative, diagnostic, summative and evaluative roles of assessment and to use the techniques consistently throughout to evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching strategies, to identify pupils’ learning needs, to select suitable educational experiences and to guide classroom planning.
The staff depends a lot on the results of standardised tests which are administered annually from first class and on other forms of assessment of learning. Assessment for learning should also be emphasised and learning should be analysed as a integral element of daily teaching. As part of this practice, it would be of value to monitor and analyse the written work of the pupils regularly and to use the results of such an analysis to identify the individual needs of the pupils and to plan classroom work in the short term. The results of the standardised tests are recorded in the school which facilitates the monitoring of individual pupil achievement over the years. Staff have begun to identify patterns in the results and to base their teaching objectives on these patterns.
Standardised and diagnostic tests are used to identify pupils with learning difficulties and the staged approach is implemented to provide for pupils with learning needs. An individual programme of learning is prepared for every pupil, based on test results and on specialist reports. The class teachers and the pupils’ parents are involved in the process. Pupils’ competencies and priority needs are clearly identified and regularly reviewed. The teachers provide planning for the short term also and it is recommended that the learning objectives, along with the methods and strategies used to achieve them should be clearly recorded.
The teachers work diligently to support the pupils. Supplementary teaching is organised in English and Mathematics and an early intervention programme is implemented at senior infant level. Other cross-curricular activities are mainly focussed on the individual needs of particular pupils. The support teachers operate in the mainstream classes and also organise activities in the two available support rooms. The rooms are attractively decorated with visual materials and with samples of pupils’ work. Good use is made of technology during teaching. In order to develop the service further it would be beneficial to expand the range of books and teaching resources which are permanently available in the support rooms.
It is evident that everybody is welcome in this school. A small number of students from minority groups attend the school and it is reported that they have opportunities to participate in all the activities that are organised in the school. At the moment particular pupils with poor records of attendance are being monitored carefully. It is recommended that the school now review the attendance policy and record therein the range of positive strategies being employed by the school to encourage good attendance.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to focus on areas for development the following recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were organised with the staff and with the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2010