An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Gaelscoil an Ráithín

Garryowen Rugby Club Dooradoyle Limerick

Roll number: 20181S

 

Date of inspection:  9 February 2009

 

 

 

Report on 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


 

 

REPORT ON WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION

 

This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of Gaelscoil an Ráithín. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the whole school and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. As part of the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the board of management of the school and representatives of the parents’ association. The assessment was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspectors interacted with the pupils and with the teachers, inspected the pupils’ work, and had discussions with the class teachers. They reviewed school-planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. They met with various staff-groups, 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.

 

  

INTRODUCTION – SCHOOL CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND

 

Gaelscoil an Ráithín was founded in 2003 under the Patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Limerick. The aim of the school was to provide primary education through the medium of Irish for the community in the suburban area on the southside of Limerick City.

 

The school provided a mission statement which illustrates the following philosophy: “It is our vision that every pupil will reach his/her full potential in a stimulating, happy, safe learning environment. We intend to focus on moral, spiritual, physical, academic, aesthetic and cultural aspects of the child’s development. We wish to provide education of the highest quality for every child in our care. We intend to foster a school atmosphere in which the members of the board of management, teachers, parents and pupils of the Gaelscoil show respect for one another, a place in which every member of the Gaelscoil community feels happy and safe.”

 

The board of management is commended for drafting this mission statement. It sets out strategic guidance for the school which gives pride of place to the quality of the teaching and learning. The aim of the school is to develop each child fully within a school community which is functioning in a lively, energetic manner. It is an ambitious vision which must be retained and regularly reviewed and reinforced. The challenge facing the board and all members of the school community is to keep in mind the values which are an integral part of the school’s vision statement, when, in the future, the work is being reviewed, improvements are being implemented and the direction of the school is being shaped.

 

Twenty one pupils were enrolled in the first year of the school’s operation and two teachers were employed on the staff. The school has grown and prospered since then and there are 167 pupils on the rolls now. At present there are ten teachers in total on the teaching staff. Among them are an administrative principal, seven teachers in mainstream classes and two support teachers for pupils with specific learning needs.

 

Although the school serves mainly Dooradoyle, Raheen and neighbouring localities, a large number of pupils travel to the school from widely-spread areas around Limerick city. At present, Irish is not the mother tongue of the pupils who attend the school.

 

Because the school year 2008-2009 is the sixth academic year since the school was founded, fourth and fifth classes, combined in a single group, comprise the most senior class in the school. The school is growing year on year. Pupil attendance is at a high level and the school has no problems with absenteeism.

 

This school functions at a temporary location in the grounds of Garryowen Rugby Club, Dooradoyle, at present. It is located a few hundred yards in from the main Dooradoyle road. The school itself is based just beside the clubhouse. There is admirable co-operation between the club and the school management and the clubhouse hall is made available regularly for school activities. All the representatives of the school community mentioned this attractive, safe, secluded location, well away from the main road, as well as the playing fields around the building, as major elements of the strengths of the school.

 

The school is accommodated in a prefabricated structure, with the classrooms on two storeys. The classrooms are narrow by contemporary school architectural standards. The board of management is negotiating with the Building Section of the Department of Education and Science since Gaelscoil an Ráithín was founded, regarding the acquisition of a permanent location and building for the school.  

 

2. QUALITY OF SCHOOL MANAGEMENT

 

2.1 Board of Management

The constitution, role and functioning of the board of management of the school accord with the requirements and directives of the Department of Education and Science. Responsibilities are assigned to individual members of the board and they fulfil these duties very conscientiously. The board meets about five times a year. Members are nominated to attend diocesan training meetings. The board keeps accurate accounts of income and expenditure. The chairman and other members of the board have long experience of school management and of matters of teaching and learning. The chairman visits the school regularly and he has a clear understanding of the specific issues which arise from day to day in the organisation of the school. The school has compiled a wide range of administrative and curricular policies.

 

The board participates in policy development, approval and review. The board of management discusses draft policies before they are ratified. The board has ensured that every aspect of its activities accords with best practice, taking its own local circumstances into account. It is clear, therefore, that board members possess the necessary ability and application to make certain that internal structures and processes are instituted in the school, which will ensure that target standards of quality are achieved.

 

In order that the board will continue to cast a critical eye on the functioning of the school by promoting self-evaluation strategies, it is recommended that the board would begin to discuss the document “Looking at Our School” issued by the Department of Education and Science. The board could use this approach to identify the implications of this self-analysis for the future of the school. It is recommended that the content of the school plan be simplified a little, by placing further emphasis on the policy aspects of the documentation. The part played by teachers and post-holders in implementing the school plan and the quality of that implementation might be considered. It is recommended that arrangements for monitoring and assessing the school plan be linked the responsibilities assigned to post holders in the future.

 

It is recognised that securing a permanent site for the school is a priority for the board and a long-term strategic plan for the school has been laid out. It would be advisable for the board to determine at this stage what the maximum enrolment might be.

 

 

2.2 In-school management

The principal was appointed when the school was founded in 2003. For six years she has had teaching as well as administrative responsibilities. In the current year, she is a full-time administrative principal. She is capable, professional and effective in her work. Regarding management, organisation and teaching, she directs the work of the school ably and energetically. As a result of the tremendous work she has done within and outside school-hours, a very effective administrative system has been developed in the school. A positive co-operative culture is being developed in the school, with every effort being made to utilise fully the individual talents of the teachers fully for the benefit of the pupils. Priority is given to planning matters and to the standard of teaching and learning throughout the school. The challenge which will face the principal in the future, will be to ensure that leadership in curriculum matters will continue to be shared among the staff and that continuous self- evaluation to achieve the highest standards will remain a central part of this leadership.

At present there is a deputy principal as well as three teachers with special responsibilities on the school staff. The duties of post-holders are reviewed annually according to the priorities and needs of the school. It is ensured that curriculum leadership duties are an integral part of those responsibilities and the broadening of these responsibilities will assist in self-evaluation towards improvement in the future.

 

 

2.3 Management of resources

The number of pupils in this school is still growing, and, in that context, appropriate efforts are made to assign the seven class teachers in order to cater fairly for the different numbers of pupils in the various age-groups.  It is recommended that current arrangements be reviewed again at the end of the school year.

 

A full-time learning-support teacher and a resource teacher for pupils with special needs, who is shared with another school, function effectively as members of the staff.

 

It is clear that teachers are afforded the opportunity of developing their expertise and sharing it at different class-levels. The commitment of the staff to continuous professional development is commendable, particularly the manner in which specialist knowledge is disseminated. The two special needs assistants work enthusiastically under the guidance of the class teachers. Classes in Irish dancing, elocution and drama are organised and it is now recommended that the financing of these activities be reviewed.

 

The classes are taught in temporary well-equipped rooms and part of the Rugby Club building is also used. There is an extensive playing field beside the classrooms. The car park is also used for the children’s recreation, particularly in inclement weather conditions. The staff, the board of management and the parents’ association deserve high praise for the manner in which they made funds available to provide a wide range of resources to facilitate the implementation of the curriculum. Foremost in the school’s recent priorities was that there would be an interactive whiteboard in every classroom and that these boards would be used effectively to promote teaching and learning. It is noted also that every learning area has been organised and decorated very attractively by the teachers.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Relations in this school between the partners in education are very good. This relationship is reinforced by policies which ensure that the teachers, the board of management and the parents are kept closely informed about school events. The parents’ association indicate how satisfied they are with the education provided. A post-holder has been nominated to attend meetings of the parents’ association. An ample amount of letters and notes are sent to parents as necessary and the pupils’ homework diaries are also used as a medium of communication. An internet site has been created which will enhance the already good communication. Parent-teacher meetings are organised annually to discuss pupils’ progress and a written report on each pupil is sent home at the end of the school year.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

During the evaluation, it was observed that the pupils were polite, friendly and co-operative. It is clear that the school’s code of discipline is based on positive affirmation and on the development of mutual respect between teachers and pupils and among the pupils themselves. Effective methods of teaching help to develop a positive outlook among the pupils.

 

 

3. QUALITY OF SCHOOL PLANNING

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

Staff meetings are regularly organised and planning matters are discussed at these meetings. It is evident from the documentation provided, resulting from this activity, that the teachers have invested time and effort in planning matters, under the guidance of the principal. Administration policies are carefully set out. Whole-school plans have been developed for all areas of the curriculum. A copy of the plan has been provided for every teacher, to provide guidance for individual practice. The evaluation team was informed that the prompts provided by the Primary Professional Development Service to help schools to record their decisions on curriculum planning, were followed when the school plan was being drawn up. It is recommended that the policy statements already embedded in the curriculum plans be reviewed. This approach would ensure that specific documentation would be generated which would be concise and clearly focused on precise aspects of policy.

 

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.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

Teachers regularly and conscientiously make short-term and long-term plans for their teaching. The majority of the teachers had made short-term preparation which was very good, because the learning objectives and the teaching methods which would be used were clarified. In a minority of classrooms, where differentiation is being effectively implemented, the teachers ensure that the content, the teaching approaches, the learning tasks, the activities and the resources support the diverse learning needs of the pupils. It is recommended that this practice would be extended to every class. It is recommended that pupil progress in relation to particular learning targets be recorded systematically.

 

 

4. QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

In general, the quality of teaching and learning is good. In certain classes, the standard is very good. On the whole, the pupils are enabled to access a broad-ranging, balanced programme of learning across the curriculum. Teachers devote substantial amounts of time to active teaching. The classes are well structured and opportunities are provided for the development of concepts and skills. Good use is made of different teaching methods. In certain classes, great skill was evident in the teacher’s questioning and in the generation of thoughtful responses. In these classes, the teacher got the pupils fully involved and encouraged them to offer their own opinions, to ask questions and to think critically and creatively.

 

The pupils demonstrate high levels of stimulation and great interest in the learning activities. The pupils’ achievements are impressive. Many pupils demonstrate understanding in the questions they ask and in their answers to questions. Results of various assessment tests indicated ongoing improvement in learning outcomes and there is evidence also of progress and development in students’ knowledge, skills and abilities throughout the whole academic year. Certain use has been made of the evaluation evidence to assess the quality of pupils’ learning outcomes and to improve the teaching. The progress made by individual pupils in certain areas of the curriculum is tracked.

 

4.2 Language

 

Irish

It is evident in the comprehensive plan compiled that philosophical and practical aspects of teaching Irish as a first language have been thoroughly researched and considered. The main issues around teaching the language are minutely dealt with in the plan. The school is paying particular attention, at this time, to the development of language awareness, focusing in particular on developing pupils’ ability to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the structure of the language. The school has designed a particular scheme to implement this.

 

It is clear that the school staff is passionate in its approach to promoting Irish. The teachers are effectively creating a pleasant communicative context in which the pupils can develop fluency and confidence in speaking the language. The pupils’ efforts to communicate are commended and accepted and, meanwhile, the teachers are on the alert to ensure that pupils’ language accuracy is improving year on year. It is accepted that the parents’ role in developing the language is particularly important and that role is enhanced by organising a reading club. The school has purchased a wide range of books to accomplish this. Furthermore, parents are given guidance on how to undertake shared reading with the children.

 

The communicative approach is supported by using various teaching methods during lessons and by providing pleasant opportunities for oral language. The interactive whiteboard is ingeniously used in class as a teaching and learning resource. The inventiveness of the teachers in deriving maximum benefit from this new technology is commended. The pupils demonstrated their ability by telling stories, relating news, saying rhymes, singing songs, reciting poems and taking part in little sketches.

 

The reading-lessons are very well structured and preliminary discussion, scanning and intensive reading are noticeably emphasised. The pupils read with understanding and accuracy. The abundance of print on display throughout the school facilitates the acquisition of literacy skills. A good range of tasks is assigned to develop pupils’ ability in written language and this work is well monitored. Particularly praiseworthy are the neatness and accuracy of the work. To achieve even greater success in the teaching of Irish in the future, further emphasis could be placed on free writing and on the writing process.

 

English

The quality of teaching to meet the learning needs of pupils in English is predominantly very good. A very comprehensive school plan for English underpins the delivery of the curriculum. Many policy decisions which have been made are embedded within the body of this extensive plan and could now usefully be extracted to be utilised as overarching school decision statements, which will guide policy implementation in the future.

 

A number of very stimulating lessons were observed where teachers displayed very good questioning skills. The competent use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in teaching and learning activities was also apparent. In a minority of classes the dominant approach observed was that of whole class teaching but in most classes a variety of approaches, which also include group work and individual work, is adopted. Most teachers display a high degree of awareness of the strand unit structure of the English curriculum. As a result, the approaches these teachers adopt to oral work, reading and writing are based on the principles that the pupils’ cognitive, emotional and imaginative skills, as well as their expressive and receptive language skills, should be developed during the English lessons. In some cases, a more focused approach to the development of oral English, based on the outcomes envisaged in the English curriculum, should be adopted. Most pupils however, displayed good expressive oral language skills and an ability to discuss topics with ease. There was evidence that good listener-speaker relationships had been established. It was also evident, during the lessons observed, that oral tasks are well integrated with reading and writing activities. Pupils recited poetry with expression and obviously enjoyed this aspect of the curriculum.

 

The pupils’ attainment in reading is good and in some cases very good.   It is evident that they are enabled in the infant and junior classes to use a variety of strategies in learning to read. The provision of additional reading material is very good. An extensive range of age-appropriate books is provided in each class library. Pupils are encouraged to read through shared reading with their parents, alternating between Irish and English books. From first class upwards, the study of a class novel as well as a class reader occurs. Among other strategies undertaken in encouraging children to read widely, the “Drop Everything and Read” approach is adopted. Visits to the local County library are regularly organised.

 

Pupils’ written work is celebrated throughout the school. There are writing corners in some rooms and samples of written work are presented in various formats. Teachers encourage pupils to draft, edit and re-draft their work and to write for a variety of audiences in a variety of genres.

 

 

4.3 Mathematics

A high standard of teaching and learning of Mathematics has been achieved in the school. The school planning and the practice observed during the evaluation indicate that, in the school, predicting, estimating, active learning and the teaching of the language of Mathematics are given priority. The staff has selected preferred terminology which facilitates uniformity and continuity. Also observed were pair-work, group-work, discussion, problem-solving and mental Mathematics as central planks of the approach to teaching the subject.

 

Mathematics lessons are appropriately paced and structured. A broad range of strategies is used to develop concepts. The work is linked to the environment and to the pupils’ own experience. Teachers ensure that all pupils handle and manipulate concrete materials, to develop an investigative approach. Rhymes and songs are effectively used, especially in the junior classes, to add an element of enjoyment and attractiveness to the teaching. The manner in which co-operation, discussion and consultation is encouraged through the organisation of activities and games for small groups in the Mathematics classes is particularly praiseworthy. This approach facilitates development of the pupils’ own personal, internal structures in a developmental way. Standardised tests, as well as tasks and tests designed by the teachers, are used to assess pupils’ progress and to guide the provision of individual work programmes. To build on the impressive work being already done in the Mathematics classes and to derive further benefit from the school’s fine environment, Mathematics’ trails could be designed based on the strands or topics of the curriculum.

 

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

In the teaching of History, the teachers understand the importance of maintaining a balance between the acquisition of knowledge and the development of the historian’s skills. A high emphasis is placed in the junior classes on the pupils’ own personal histories. As they progress through the school, they acquire a balanced sense of local history, Irish history and international history. Opportunities are provided for the pupils, in a general way, to develop an understanding of chronology and of the main events of certain periods of history. Teaching approaches are utilised which ensure that use is made of the local historical environment as a starting-point for the development of skills. The pupils are encouraged to work as historians and they are also afforded opportunities to develop their skills of analysis as well as skills in using evidence.  Interesting resources are exhibited on display tables in the classrooms. The pupils also receive opportunities to use primary sources, including documents, artefacts and photographs.

 

 

Geography

Geography is taught in an effective, interesting way in the school. The work is professionally linked to other subjects. The emphasis in Geography is placed on the geography of the country and of the world, as well as ways of life of peoples throughout the world. During the evaluation period, good practice was in evidence throughout the school and pupils were observed using maps, globes and working on projects. Full use was made of the school’s advantageous location and, in certain classes, a commendable emphasis was placed on the geography of the school and of the locality. A variety of teaching methods was used, including demonstration and enquiry methods. The ICT resources which were provided enhanced the provision of interesting, concrete, resources.

 

Science

There is a wide-ranging school plan for science. It includes an inventory of equipment and resources available in the school. Scientific and questioning skills are emphasised, as well as the development of an attitude of enquiry. The effectiveness of the planning in this area ensures continuity in developing the skills, knowledge and understanding of the work which will suit the needs of all the pupils. The teachers approach the teaching of this curriculum area with enthusiasm and a wide range of activities is provided in Science. The pupils are eager to learn and their active participation is welcomed. The pupils report enthusiastically on the experiments they have observed or in which they have participated. There is an area dedicated to scientific investigation in the majority of the classrooms.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The activities organised in the area of the Visual Arts are highly commended. This work is guided through a comprehensive school plan compiled by the staff in 2007. In this plan, the staff agreed to try to adopt a thematic approach to certain elements of the programme, the seasons, for example. The result of this work and of work in the arts in general, can be seen in the attractive exhibitions mounted in the classrooms and in other locations throughout the school. In this work, the pupils’ creativity and individuality is emphasised, as well as their aesthetic development. There is a balance, in the approach, between 2D and 3D media and between producing artwork on the one hand and looking at and responding to it on the other. During the year, the pupils are afforded opportunities to practise various techniques, by undertaking work in all strands.

 

Music

It is evident that Music is taught with great enthusiasm throughout the school. Certain teachers are particularly talented musically and they generously volunteer their talents to promote the pupils’ singing and their performance on musical instruments and also to provide accompaniment to pupils’ efforts. Teaching of the tin whistle is commenced in First Class. The school choir sings a broad repertoire of songs, in both Irish and English. The sweetness of their singing is praiseworthy and the pupils enjoy singing in harmony. The school band plays a wide range of instruments skilfully and confidently. In individual classes, appropriate attention is focused on improvisation and on the creation and development of (musical) literacy. Music is thoughtfully integrated with other areas of the curriculum.

 

Drama

Creditable use is made of drama as a resource to afford pupils the opportunity of investigating feelings, information and ideas, to foster understanding. The pupils are given opportunities to consider the meaning of stories and songs, so that they can investigate emotions and conflicts in imaginary contexts. In this work, teachers and pupils participate in role-playing situations. The pupils co-operate willingly in the creation of drama and they display a good level of participation in the discussion which the teachers encourage following the drama activity.

 

4.6 Physical Education

Because the school is located in Garryowen Rugby Club, a wide-ranging programme of Physical Education is implemented. Opportunities are provided for experiencing various elements of Physical Education. Irish dancing is an integral part of this programme. Coaches from the G.A.A. and from the I.R.F.U. train the pupils in hurling and rugby and the pupils also attend swimming sessions. Among the games offered are rugby, hurling, tennis, basketball, Gaelic football and soccer. The school also gives attention to the teaching of gymnastics and athletics. The school plays an active, productive part in competitions which support the promotion of these activities. The full support of parents is given to this participation. Significant levels of involvement and enjoyment among the pupils were clearly evident and the classes observed were well structured.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is presented to the pupils through the positive vision and atmosphere of the school. It is clear from the teachers’ work-plans that a programme of work which covers all the strands and strand-units is taught throughout the school. Pupils’ learning in SPHE is impressively integrated with other aspects of the curriculum. The social, personal and health development of the pupils is fostered through a range of events. Great variety was observed in the activities undertaken.

 

4.8 Assessment

An assessment policy has been compiled which involves formative, diagnostic and summative assessment. This policy is reviewed annually. A wide range of assessment methods is used to monitor the pupils’ progress. Among these are standardised tests, diagnostic tests, teacher observation, checklists, as well as teacher-designed tasks and tests.

 

The teachers keep an accurate record of the assessment results and of the progress made. The principal and the learning-support teacher analyse the results of the standardised tests. Information on pupils’ progress is formally shared with the parents at the parent/teacher meetings. The school co-operated with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in 2006 in developing templates for national report-cards. The school recognises that the main objective of the report-card is to share assessment information with parents in an accessible format, so that they can use the information to enhance the child’s learning ability. The report-card is sent home at the end of the school year.

 

5. QUALITY OF SUPPORT FOR PUPILS

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

A policy concerning pupils with special educational needs, which directs this work in a thoughtful pre-planned way, has been submitted to the board of management recently. The learning-support teacher and the shared resource teacher operate co-operatively in two small rooms which are attractively decorated and well-equipped with helpful resources. Pupils come to these rooms in groups for the most part, but an effort is made to provide in-class support also. In this context, a programme of early intervention is provided for senior infants and first class. Early identification of needs is a priority, to avoid learning difficulties. In this regard, it is recommended that the policy be reviewed, in the future, in order to examine the possibility of increasing the amount of early intervention provided. In the school policy, the step-by-step approach used to implement assessment, identification and planning is set out in detail. A wide range of diagnostic tests is used, among them the Belfield Infant Assessment Test (BIAP), Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST), Quest, Aston Index and the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability (NARA).

 

The teachers compile very impressive documentation in relation to their work. In co-operation with class teachers and external professionals where necessary, the support teachers prepare an individual learning profile for every pupil. This plan provides a comprehensive record of the pupil’s learning needs, objectives and progress. It is reported that these plans are discussed with parents/guardians.

 

5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

 

The school provides assurance that at present all pupils are from similar local backgrounds.

 

 

6. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER  DEVELOPMENT

 

The following are the strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

To ensure that a culture of self-evaluation is supported and developed in the school:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings with the staff and with the board of management were organised, and at these meetings, the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, October 2009