An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Gaelscoil Chaladh an Treoigh
Uimhir rolla: 20148U
Date of inspection: 07 May 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Gaelscoil Chaladh an Treoigh (Castletroy All-Irish National School). As part of the evaluation the inspectors conducted pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school board of management, the trustees and representations of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspectors interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. They met various staff groupings as 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 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 Chaladh an Treoigh was established in September 2001. The school is located on a temporary site in an urban location and it continues to be a developing school. There were103 pupils registered in the school on 30th September 2005. The school expects to have 202 pupils registered on 30th September 2009. It is anticipated that the above number will increase and that 220 pupils will be attending the school by 2010. The majority of pupils come from homes where Irish is not the primary language of the home. The principal began her administrative responsibilities in January 2008 and there are seven teachers currently teaching mainstream classes. Two learning support/resource teachers are providing for pupils with special educational needs or with learning difficulties. The parents’ committee is very supportive of the school. They hold a meeting at least once a month and they are involved in the planning process for the development of school policies. They assist the school in a practical way.
The board of management, teachers, parents and pupils work cooperatively to promote the spirit of ‘gaelscolaíocht’. The school operates within the management structure of Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge and under the guidance of the official board of management. The board members work diligently for the school community in the Gaelscoil. Board meetings are held once a month and the school adheres to Department regulations regarding the length of the school year, the length of the school day, school accounts and the employment of teachers. The board ensures that parents are generally informed about the school and about their children’s progress.
It was evident from information gathered during the evaluation that the core aims of the board are to support the staff of the school, to provide a high standard of education for all pupils in the school, to obtain an appropriate site and to build on this site, and to manage the finances of the school effectively. The board also ensures that every pupil is safe and happy at school, and that they are provided with opportunities to develop and learn in accordance with their abilities.
Structured and clear minutes of the business of meetings are recorded. A professional account is kept of school finances. School policies are regularly presented to the board and it is ensured that most of these policies are signed by the chairperson.
It is clear that the board also participates in the development of school policies. The board was responsible for reviewing certain policies and endorsing curriculum plans. It was reported during this evaluation that a planning group would be formed which would provide support for the board in regard to whole school planning. It is recommended that the in-school management team would continue their good practice in regard to whole school planning that they are fulfilling as part of their curriculum responsibilities. The board is currently in negotiations with the planning and school building section of the Department of Education and Science for the purchase of a school site for the new school. The board is deserving of great praise for the level of support provided to the principal and the staff in the creation of a pleasant learning environment.
The principal is deserving of high commendation for her commitment in regard to her administrative and leadership responsibilities. She displays a high standard of professionalism in her work. She undertakes her duties as principal with a clear vision, with certainty and diligence. The principal promotes a very friendly atmosphere in the school and she greatly influences the willingness of others to work cooperatively for the sake of the pupils. The principal cooperates with the various groups that constitute the community of the Gaelscoil. As a result of this cooperation all of those who are associated with the school can be proud of what has been achieved over the past eight years.
The in-school management team works very effectively in cooperation with each other to organise school matters and to appropriately supervise the pupils. All teachers’ strengths are acknowledged and they are given opportunities to use their strengths for the benefit of teachers and pupils. The staff openly supports the principal in implementing good behaviour in the school and in systematically implementing the whole school planning process. Administrative duties are fulfilled appropriately and detailed school records are maintained and updated.
The in-school management team meets once a week. Specific responsibilities have been assigned to each staff member regarding the curriculum, school organisation and pastoral care duties. Some of the duties pertaining to these posts include assessment throughout the school; a professional development programme; yard rota; a programme for staff meetings; a modern language programme; attendance, rolls; National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) records; book rental scheme; ‘Rainbows’ coordinator; security and safety, and mentor for the language assistant.
The in-school management team has responsibility for implementing various curriculum policies. These include policies for Irish, Mathematics, Science and English. Each member of the management team works diligently to ensure that the conditions attached to the duties are fulfilled effectively.
Staff meetings are held once a month to discuss curriculum activities and matters pertaining to the organisation of the school. This good practice is acknowledged. It is now recommended that these meetings are organised in accordance with Circular 14/04. It is clear from the regulations in this circular that school authorities are allowed to organise one staff meeting each term for one hour before the school closing time and for one hour after school closing time.
The school is very well organised although all classes are in prefabricated rooms. The school has seven temporary classrooms, the resource teacher’s room, a learning support room, the principal’s office and a secretarial office. All rooms are kept clean, tidy, neat, comfortable and stimulating. The physical environment of the school is very neatly maintained. The classes are divided in groups amongst the teachers with a fairly even distribution of numbers. Teachers generally change every three years to a different class level. A resource teacher and a learning support teacher are working in a full time capacity in the school to cater for pupils with special educational needs or learning difficulties. A range of teaching materials and technological resources have been provided by the board of management in all classrooms. There is a fairly extensive range of charts, diagrams, and learning support materials provided by the teachers themselves. These are used effectively as a support to learning and they greatly enhance the good practice and experience of pupils in school.
It would now be worth considering the provision of additional teaching resources to develop activity and discovery methods in all curriculum areas. It is recommended that the strands and strand units of the curriculum are reviewed and that the guidelines on resources are examined in detail in all areas so as to develop a list of priorities of the essential teaching resources for the school. It is recommended, in particular, that a wider range of teaching resources be provided in all classes so that teachers can make the curriculum accessible to the needs of all pupils. It is also recommended that a specific budget would be allocated each year to the purchase of these resources.
It was indicated that parents are very supportive of the board and of the staff of the school. They are excellent at attending school meetings, they provide great assistance for special occasions and they work diligently to increase the school funds. A homework diary is systematically used to regularly communicate with parents and a report is sent home each year on the progress of pupils.
Meetings are organised to provide parents with the opportunity to discuss the achievements of their children and further communications, both formal and informal, are welcomed throughout the school year. Parents’ representatives indicated that the parents have great regard for the school. The staff of the school was highly commended for the ‘open door policy’ that operates in the school and the manner in which parents are welcomed to actively participate in the life of the school. The school has a parents’ committee and it is clear that they are very proud of the standard of learning available in the school.
A positive working atmosphere is in evidence in all classrooms and good cooperation is in evidence between teachers and pupils. Pupils behave in a well-mannered friendly atmosphere towards visitors and they act respectful towards each other. It is ensured that a fair system is implemented in regard to behaviour and discipline.
The planning documentation displayed during the evaluation is of a high standard. The whole staff participates in the planning process and it is reported that time is allocated to the review. A clearly structured action plan has been developed. Parents are involved in the planning process, as appropriate, and information on the plan is communicated through the principal’s newsletter and through information meetings organised in the school from time to time. A wide range of curriculum policies have been developed by the school. It is clear that the staff and the board have developed a wide range of organisational policies which have been adapted to meet the context of the school.
Evidence was provided confirming that appropriate steps have been taken by the board of management and the staff to develop policies in keeping with the requirements of Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Guidelines and Procedures for the Protection of Children (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided confirming that the board of management has also approved and implemented the policies. A liaison person has been appointed as required by the Department guidelines.
Teachers prepare comprehensively and thoroughly for their teaching. All teachers have preparation which includes long-term and short-term schemes, individual education programmes and monthly reports. They provide a range of charts and diagrams. They manage to develop a learning atmosphere throughout the school by displaying pupils’ writing, projects and art work in an appealing manner. The planning, for the most part, is in keeping with the strands and strand units of the curriculum.
It is evident that the school has committed staff members who take their work seriously. The teachers have a high standard of Irish and it is ensured that a broad curriculum is provided in the school. There were positive expectations in respect of the pupils’ achievements. High learning outcomes are apparent in various curriculum subjects, particularly in Irish, English and Mathematics. A pleasant learning environment is created in the classrooms and it is ensured that clear communication and valuable interactions are established between teachers and pupils. All classrooms are neatly maintained and are stimulating. Consideration should now be given to the development of areas of interest within the learning environment for Mathematics and for Social, Environmental and Scientific Education in particular.
A variety of methodologies is used in some classes. Samples of whole class teaching, group work and pair work were observed during the evaluation. In some classes a greater emphasis should be placed on the application of a wider range of teaching methodologies, which would include cooperative methodologies and active work. It would also be worth seeking opportunities to handle concrete materials, to broaden the higher order thinking of pupils and to direct more attention to the application of differentiated teaching methodologies. It should also be ensured that emphasis would be placed on using the Primary Curriculum (1999) as the primary teaching source, rather than over-emphasising the use of textbooks. The effective use of information and communication technology materials (ICT) was in evidence throughout the school.
The school plan includes material on a policy for Irish that is specific and appropriate to the context of this school. Irish is the main language in the school. It is used throughout the school both as the teaching medium and the language of communication. The policy specifies that the aim of the school is to ‘enable pupils to connect more closely with the Irish culture and in this way, to derive pride and enjoyment from their Irish heritage and citizenship.’
An appropriate emphasis is placed on presenting informal listening tasks and formal listening tasks to pupils. Resources, such as CDs, radio, publications and suitable and attractive materials, are used to present the aspects of listening. Pupils display a good understanding of what they have heard. Phrases and proverbs are repeated effectively. There is skilful consolidation in some classes of content, verbal structures and new vocabulary.
It is evident in junior classes, middle classes and senior classes that pupils have acquired good language skills. The pupils are competent in giving verbal accounts and descriptions, in asking and answering appropriate questions, and in reading with meaning. In senior classes pupils displayed that they had a good understanding of the application and complexity of the verbs. It should be ensured, however, that the three communicative periods are used in every Irish lesson at each level. In some classes written Irish is extensively displayed in the learning environment. Such good practice is commendable.
In accordance with the school policy formal reading begins in junior infants and a pre-literacy programme is developed from infants onwards.
It is worth ensuring now that additional emphasis is placed on formally progressing and extending pupils’ reading skills, by practicing strategies such as word-building, word analysis and phonological skills, throughout the school. It should also be ensured at every class level that pupils learn a wide repertoire of Irish poems and songs by heart.
Pupils’ work is appropriately recorded in copybooks. Exercises in functional and in creative writing are presented. The writing process is developed and samples of pupils’ work are displayed in the environs of the classroom.
Appropriate attention is given to language awareness. In the Irish policy it is indicated that ‘a love of Irish and Irish culture will be developed’ and it is clear that activities such as Irish dancing, Irish music, and Irish sport and games are provided for pupils. Such good practices are commendable. Links have also been developed with different schools and with the local Irish community in general. These include the Credit Union, trainers with the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), Conradh na Gaeilge and the Aonad na Gaeilge (Irish Unit) in the University of Limerick.
The standard of literacy in the school is very good. The majority of pupils engage in oral, reading and written activities in a competent manner in all classes. Planning is carried out very effectively in respect of the teaching of English. Most teachers incorporate the strands/strand units and content objectives in their written preparation. In oral language, there is evidence of direct linkage between the school plan and individual teacher’s preparation and practice. Children express themselves confidently and fluently in English in all classes. In the infant classes, storytelling comprises an important aspect of the work. It is recommended that a discrete oral language programme be introduced that is explicitly linked to the oral language objectives as set out in the English curriculum. Specific topics for oral language development should be planned for and explored by the pupils at all class levels to ensure continuity and progression.
A very good programme in reading is organised throughout the school, from the emergent reading stage in the infant classes to the senior classes. Phonological awareness is developed in an effective manner in the infant and middle standards. Jolly Phonics is in use and appropriate emphasis is placed on the Dolch sight vocabulary. A variety of reading material is used including the classroom textbooks. Shared reading initiatives involving parents are also undertaken in infant classes. The approach to teaching the novel is particularly praiseworthy in the middle and senior classes. The pupils are given opportunities to respond to characters, situations and story details and in general, are given broad experiences in terms of articulating a shared response to fiction. A wide repertoire of poems is explored and the pupils are encouraged to respond in different ways through dramatising, miming, writing and comparing poems. Some teachers use computers skilfully to support and present the work undertaken by the children. There is evidence of effective integration across a range of curriculum areas.
There is a good balance achieved between functional and creative writing at all class levels. Personal and creative writing commences in the infant classes. This skill is further developed and emphasised in middle and senior classes, where book reviews, character reviews and a range of writing activities for different purposes and audiences is undertaken.
Teachers use a range of assessment strategies including teacher observation, teacher designed tests, monitoring of oral and written activities and standardised test results. Consideration should now be given to the acquisition of additional high quality reading materials such as large format books, sets of novels and library books.
This would provide greater opportunities for the teachers to differentiate and structure reading programmes. Consideration could be given to grouping children according to ability, developing pupils’ language skills, thinking, cognitive and creative skills and providing opportunities to vary approaches and strategies during reading lessons.
Modern Language Inititiative in Primary Schools
The school is involved in the pilot scheme for modern languages in primary schools. Spanish classes, under the guidance of the Spanish teacher and the class teacher, are provided for senior classes once a week. This initiative, taught entirely through Irish, is worthy of particular commendation. Pupils are making very good progress in Spanish. A good emphasis is placed on the various strands, communicative competence`, language awareness and cultural awareness. A wide range of effective teaching materials are used to good effect, including the interactive white board.
The school has a very comprehensive policy for mathematics included as part of the planning documentation. It is evident that pupils have achieved a high standard of learning in Mathematics. There is also evidence indicating that students do well in Mathematics by achieving good results in written examinations and by achieving high standards in formal assessments.
In some classes Mathematics is taught effectively by working on activities, by skilfully presenting the language of mathematics and by giving pupils opportunities to work with manipulatives. It is recommended that such good practice would be extended and that effective teaching strategies such as these would be applied in all classes.
It is also recommended that the creation of interest areas in Mathematics be extended to all classrooms and that number strips/hundred squares are clearly displayed in pupils’ immediate environment, as appropriate. It would be beneficial as well to provide more concrete materials during the lessons and to place more emphasis on the development of mental arithmetic. Furthermore it is advisable to ensure that more discrete time is allocated on a daily basis to oral work in each class.
Detailed policies are provided that are consistently based on the Primary Curriculum. It is clear that this documentation was written with the context and the specific needs of the school in mind. In History, Geography and Science elements of good practice were evident in some classes. Although attention is directed towards the appropriate development of pupils’ skills in SESE, it is now important to enable pupils to work as Scientists, Geographers and Historians so as to extend their higher-order thinking.
The History curriculum is systematically taught in the school. The application of active methodologies is commendable. ICT is used to good effect and interest areas are in use in some classes. Pupils’ project work is regularly displayed in some classes. The school environment and the local area is studied. Pictures from home are used in infants and in junior classes to indicate changes over time. Pupils are provided with opportunities to work as historians and to develop their research skills.
It is clear from displays in classrooms and from the Geography lessons taught during the evaluation, that there is an appropriate emphasis placed on local studies and on project work. It is now recommended that these good practices would be extended and developed to include all classes. Visual materials, oral work and discussion are used effectively to present geographical concepts. It is also clear that there is effective integration with other subjects by skilfully linking aspects of the lessons.
In Science pupils develop scientific concepts on living things, energy, forces and awareness and care of the environment. In some classes, activity lessons are based on a variety of subjects that are appropriate to the interest levels of pupils and they are given opportunities to apply discovery methods and to attempt simple experiments. It would be important at this stage to extend these examples of good practice to all classes. It should be ensured that an emphasis is placed on extending pupils’ scientific skills, that an investigation table would be established in each classroom and that pupils would be given regular opportunities to work collaboratively in Science.
Good work is being undertaken in Arts Education and in some classes an emphasis is placed on both making art and responding to art. Evidence of this good work can be viewed in the attractive displays in classrooms. It is clear that pupils’ imagination and
dexterity are being very well developed. Pupils are provided with a wide range of activities within the various strands and a sensitive approach is adopted to the use of themes from other curricular areas.
A comprehensive policy statement on Music is included in the school plan. It would be worth reviewing the policy at this point with a view to developing some aspects of the statement. It would be important, for example, that the policy includes clear guidelines on the entire teaching programme to be provided in the strands and strand units of Music from infants to senior classes. In this way there would be clarity regarding the Music programme to be taught in all classes and a systematic, developmental programme would be ensured from class to class. In those lessons observed during the evaluation, music lessons were provided with the support of compact disk, keyboard, and percussion instruments.
It is now recommended that it would be ensured that a full Music programme, ensuring breadth and balance across the subject’s strands and strand units, would be included in all classes. It would be important to ensure that activities are regularly presented to pupils to broaden their understanding and response to music and to develop their literacy skills in music. Musical literacy should be linked to song singing and instrumental work, and to the creation of exercises on composition. It is evident that some teachers have musical expertise and that a school choir has been recently established in middle and senior classes. The effort and time spent by these teachers in establishing after school activities in Music is commendable.
Drama is used as a medium to develop pupils’ creative ability. Pupils are provided with opportunities to explore conflicts and feelings in an imaginative context. Every pupil is engaged in creating spontaneous drama. They discuss their roles openly and willingly in partnership with the teacher. They examine social problems and remedies for these.
In this school a wide range of physical experiences, appropriate to the developmental needs of each particular pupil are provided in Athletics, Dance, Gymnastics, Games, Outdoor Activities and Aquatics. The facilities of the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) are also used. A wide range of activities are organised do develop the strands of the curriculum. Football, hurling, rugby and fitness activities are provided during the Physical Education lessons. The school has quite a lot of equipment which is stored in the school yard.
The characteristic spirit of the school is described in the following mission statement. “The vision of the school is that each person would respect themselves and that the entire school community would show respect for each other, for the school and for the environment. We would like each person to be courteous, well-mannered, fair, helpful and gentle with each other.”
It is evident that every effort is made to encourage the positive attitude and atmosphere as described in this statement. Teachers train pupils well in regard to behaviour and manners. Issues pertaining to pupils’ health and safety are sensitively discussed. Circle time, when appropriate, is used effectively as a teaching method in lessons.
A comprehensive policy in regard to Assessment and Record Keeping is provided in the school plan. The school is implementing a wide range of assessment strategies, both formal and informal. A time-frame for the implementation of the assessment calendar was noted in an assessment diary within the policy. Formal assessment is undertaken by means of MIST; Micra-T; Sigma-T and the Drumcondra tests. Students are enabled to engage in self-assessment during teaching activities, for example, by using the traffic light system in classrooms. Teacher designed tests are also used and samples of the pupils work can be observed in their copybooks. A variety of different assessment methods are used as a guide to lesson planning in some curricular areas. A detailed analysis is undertaken of the results of standardised tests and of pupils’ achievements in English and in Mathematics in particular.
5.1 Pupils with special educational needs
This school currently has two full-time support teachers responsible for pupils’ additional needs, a learning support and a resource teacher, and pupils are receiving an effective support service. Support is provided for English and for Mathematics for pupils with learning difficulties and special needs. The staff has developed a school policy for this provision which reflects the systematic approach outlined in the Department of Education and Science circular, Circular 04/03. In light of the change in the Department of Education’s view and also the increase in pupils numbers since the plan was made available in 2006, it would be timely to now review this plan. The review would be of great assistance in confirming school policy on various aspects of the plan. It is recommended, for example, that criteria would be outlined regarding the continuation or cessation of learning support. It would also be worth determining a policy regarding the amount of time teachers are assigned to the learning support and resource posts. It would be helpful to have one member of staff named as coordinator to guide and progress the review.
An emphasis is placed, as should be the case, on early intervention actions for literacy in infant classes. It is indicated that the standardised MIST test is assigned annually and that the learning support teacher implements the Forward Together Programme. In middle and in higher classes active teaching methodologies are applied to develop pupils’ literacy and mathematical skills. An emphasis is placed on the recognition of common words, on the development of phonemic and phonological awareness, on the use of a range of reading strategies and on understanding mathematical concepts. Software associated with teaching is used when required. The additional teaching is usually provided in the learning support teacher’s room. In other instances various pupils are provided with in-class support. It is recommended that the benefits of this approach be discussed with the staff and extended so that in-class support is selected in accordance with the needs of various pupils.
An individual education programme is provided for each pupil with special needs and specific learning objectives are identified in the work plans. In some instances it would greatly enhance the recording of pupil progress if these learning objectives were more clearly defined. Additionally, it is important to ensure that the learning objectives are appropriate to the ability level of the individual pupil and that they can be realised within a specific time-frame. This complicated work is very challenging. The teachers attend professional development courses to improve their knowledge of teaching strategies thus enabling them to support pupils with specific educational needs. It is recommended that the board of management would provide opportunities for staff members to apply for the post-graduate certificate in special education. This would greatly enhance staff competence in this area of support. Two special needs’ assistants provide excellent care for pupils for whom they are responsible. They fulfil their obligations effectively in accordance with circular 07/02 and the respect that both staff and pupils have for their work is commendable.
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 with the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, December 2009