An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Cora Droma Rúisc, Contae Liatroma
Roll number: 20212D
Date of inspection: 12 February 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Gaelscoil Liatroma. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and parent. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Gaelscoil Liatroma is an all-Irish primary school located in Carrick-on-Shannon. Boys and girls from the town itself and from surrounding parishes attend the school. An Foras Pátrúnachta is the school patron. The school was established in 2005 as a result of the efforts of a group of parents from the organisation Comhluadar to provide education through Irish for their children and for children in the area. The school has received permanent recognition from the Department of Education and Science.
In its first year of operation the school accepted pupils from junior infants to third class and the school has grown greatly since. At present, there are 174 pupils on the rolls and they are enrolled in each class from junior infants to sixth class. The rapid growth of the school presented considerable challenges, especially as regards developing the language ability of pupils in the middle and higher classes to access the curriculum through the medium of Irish. There have been significant changes also in the composition of the teaching staff over the three years since the establishment of the school. The board has acknowledged these challenges. The school community works very diligently and they have made great efforts to create an Irish-language community in the school. Teaching and learning is of a high standard and rich learning experiences are provided to pupils.
The composition of the board of management is in accordance with the procedures and rules of the Department of Education and Science. Board meetings are held monthly and reports from the principal and the treasurer are submitted to the meetings. Board members participated in training to support them in managing the school. The board’s practices regarding management of the school’s financial resources and the practices regarding appointments and promotions are effective. A cleaning company is employed to look after the cleaning of the school.
Board members display pride in the school and in the Irish-speaking community being developed among the parents. They are committed to providing high-quality education through Irish in the school and to prepare pupils for the life ahead. The board makes great efforts to encourage the pupils’ parents to use their Irish. Language classes have been provided to support those who wish to improve their Irish.
The chairperson of the board is appreciative of the fact that the principal has a wide experience of school management, and he consults her continuously concerning aspects of the school’s work. The board gives great support to the principal and the staff in the planning process. The board is aware of the statutory requirements of the Education Act (1998) as regards the preparation of a code of behaviour, school attendance and health and safety policies. Statutory policies on curriculum, pastoral care and administration have been designed but not yet approved by the board. As the school develops, it is recommended that the board have a more central role in cooperative work with all the staff in both designing and developing policies in the future.
The board is strongly recommended to consider the school’s future growth and development, in the context of the area’s population and the future demand for education through Irish. Consideration should be given to exploring ways in which an Irish-medium pre-school could be developed in the area to provide pre-school education which would help to prepare children for education through Irish.
The principal provides leadership to the staff and the whole school community. She is very enthusiastic about her work. It is recommended that the team spirit be even more fostered in order to cultivate an active common understanding among all staff about the school’s vision.
There is a strong emphasis on the use of Irish in the school and among the parents. It was clear to the inspection team that Irish was the primary means of communication throughout the school. The principal’s leadership role in this aspect is acknowledged by the inspectors.
The duties of the teachers with posts of responsibility are outlined in the school plan and implemented effectively. A good emphasis is placed on curricular leadership in the duties of these teachers. The practice of holding weekly meetings of the in-school management team is commendable.
There are seven class teachers on the staff as well as an administrative principal and a learning support teacher. It is reported that teachers attend courses and lectures to develop their teaching skills. External tutors provide support in presenting aspects of Physical Education and the manner in which the mainstream class teachers work in collaboration with them is commendable. A special needs assistant assistant has been appointed in the school. A part-time secretary and a part-time caretaker provide effective support for the daily functioning of the school. The school is located in a prefabricated building on a site owned by the Gaelic Athletic association (GAA). This building is bright and comfortable. It has eight classrooms as well as an office, staff room and learning support room. The teachers have the use of a small hall situated next to the school.
There is a fine range of resources available to support teaching and learning. Productive use is made of the class libraries and a range of concrete material is used productively in the teaching of Mathematics. Audio-visual equipment, musical instruments, art equipment, computers and software are used to support cross-curricular learning. The school uses e-page successfully as a learning resource. The staff has compiled a fine collection of workbooks in useful booklets. The teachers are to be commended for adapting educational materials to suit the requirements of the school and the pupils.
During the assessment it was clear to the inspectors that parents were welcomed in the school and that there was a respectful, cooperative relationship established between the staff, the board and parents. The parents give enthusiastic support to the school. They are preparing their own constitution at the moment. A parents’ committee has been re-established, having lapsed for a while. It is recommended that the board give appropriate support to the parents to link this newly-established committee with the National Parents’ Council.
A weekly newsletter is issued; this is a very positive practice which fosters good relations among the school community. Parents who met the inspectors reported that they were very pleased with the standard of education in the school. Class meetings are held to present the year’s work to the parents. Formal meetings with individual parents are held yearly to discuss their children’s progress. Written accounts of the pupils’ progress are sent to parents at the end of the school year.
Every pupil is dealt with respectfully and sympathetically in this school. Pupils are regularly given positive affirmation. The teachers have created a comfortable learning atmosphere in the classrooms. Care is taken with the pupils’ health and safety and the pupils’ total participation in every aspect of school life is cultivated. A satisfactory code of behaviour has been designed and implemented effectively.
Much work has been done on preparing a range of policies dealing with the effective running of the school. Comprehensive and considered curricular policies have been prepared. It is commendable that all these policies are available to all staff on a memory stick. All this planning work is valuable, especially when the newness of the school is taken into account. The principal has given particular leadership in this respect. It would be worthwhile now reviewing each policy one by one to see if each conforms with the practice in the school and to get the opinions of all staff members regarding the most appropriate and effective teaching methods. In future, an action plan should be developed to guide the implementation of learning.
Confirmation was provided, in accordance with Primary Circular 0061/2006 from the Department of Education and Science, that 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 the attention of the management, school staff and parents was drawn to these child protection procedures; that a copy of the procedures was provided to all staff members (including all new members); and that the management has ensured that all the staff understands the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person and nominated replacement have been appointed as required by the guidelines.
The teachers provide charts, worksheets and flashcards to increase the effectiveness of the teaching in the classes. The sites of interest compiled by the teachers to encourage the pupils’ interest in various subjects are commendable. The classrooms are well-organised and a wide range of teaching methods is utilised. The school plan is used in the design of the individual teachers’ planning. The teachers set out a long-term work plan for their classes under the strands and strand units in the curriculum. It is recognised, however, that the teachers’ creativity could be marked even more by giving them opportunities to plan in accordance with their interest and ability.
At present the work completed is certified by a system of ticks on the short-term plan. It is recommended that this system be reconsidered to ensure that the learning of the pupils is built upon from month to month and from year to year. The monthly account should function as a basis for the teachers’ planning.
A high standard of teaching and learning is in evidence in this school. The learning activities in the classes are of a high quality. New learning is based on what has already been learned. There is good coordination between aspects of the curriculum. The environment is central to learning. Staff members have a very good understanding of the pupils’ language requirements. They take every opportunity to help the pupils acquire the new language needed to internalise aspects of the curriculum. The pressure on the school staff, when the school was established, to accelerate the language skills of the pupils in the middle and higher classes, is acknowledged. Therefore, there was a limited curricular range available in some aspects. Now that this problem has been overcome, there is a need to ensure that there is a balance in the strands for each subject throughout the school.
The basic principles of Irish-medium education are being implemented completely in this school as regards the teaching and learning of Irish.
The Irish-medium education approach presented challenges to the small number of pupils in second and third classes who did not have an in-depth ability in Irish. The staff acted commendably to overcome this sociolinguistic problem. Now, the majority of pupils have a rich and wide vocabulary as well as a widening mastery of the structure and syntax of the language. Interlanguage is observed occasionally, but it is clear that the pupils’ speech is becoming accurate. The pupils answer challenging questions on various themes with commendable fluency. An extremely rich print environment is created in the classrooms, which encourages vocabulary enrichment. Great emphasis is placed on learning poetry and the pupils have a good grasp of the pace and natural rhythm of the language as a result.
The literacy skills are established and consolidated with ability and diligence in the lower classes. Very effective use is made of the large books for reading in these classes. The phonological system designed by the school at this early year level is commendable. The Seideán Sí programme is very effectively used on a whole school, staged basis. The pupils read the class texts with understanding in the middle and higher classes. The pupils regularly read novels and this approach is commendable. There is a need to ensure, however, that there is sufficient differentiation. It is recommended that the cross-curricular reading be extended and that these sources be regarded as material for the Irish lesson from time to time. It is recommended that a deeper examination be made of the number of texts and the level of difficulty appropriate for pupils and that group work be practised accordingly. Continuous assessment of the development of literacy is recommended. To this end, it is recommended that the assessment programmes for Irish that are currently available be used.
The pupils are achieving a fine standard of writing, both functional and creative. It is clear from the analysis made of the writing of the pupils in the higher classes, in particular, that most pupils have internalised the structure and richness of the language. For example, most pupils were writing a wide range of texts, news and short stories and essays.
The provision for English in this school is fully in accordance with Departmental regulations for Irish-medium schools. Stimulating learning environments for English are provided in all classes. The stories and poems written by pupils are celebrated by vivid displays. Discussion and storytelling are emphasised during oral work. Highly effective attention is given to the discussion of news, topics and other aspects of the curriculum. Pupils in junior classes recite a wide repertoire of nursery rhymes with great enthusiasm. Pupils are given frequent worthwhile opportunities to listen to and discuss a variety of stories and novels using appropriate vocabulary. Effective use is made of games to enhance vocabulary development and to develop skill in particular language functions. Drama is used effectively as a means of developing oral language and pupils are encouraged to express their opinions with confidence.
Highly satisfactory reading standards are ensured through the systematic development of a range of word identification and comprehension skills using class readers, novels and supplementary novels. While the whole-school approach to using novels and reading resources is commendable, there is a need to recognise pupils’ individual learning needs and to differentiate their reading activities accordingly. This will necessitate additional focus on phonemic awareness, in particular, and on in-class support as a means of developing group work. Pupils are developing independent writing practices from an early age. A review of scripts indicates that high standards are being achieved in pupils’ writing. The process writing in senior classes is worthy of much commendation and plans are in place to extend this practice even further, as an outcome of the school’s own self-review. Some of the aspects for development in relation to the English curriculum have been identified by the school staff in the revisions made to the English plan. This valuable work has been led by the co-ordinator for English. Pupils’ knowledge about language and how it works is being well developed by a committed approach to the teaching and learning of grammar and writing conventions, especially in senior classes.
Most pupils in this school are achieving a satisfactory standard in Mathematics. Most of the pupils display a good understanding of the appropriate concepts in Mathematics. Textbooks are used sympathetically during lessons and it is noted that oral work is practised regularly to connect meaning with the learning. The teachers are congratulated for their work in translating English-language textbooks to Irish to help mental mathematics in particular. Good care is taken in teaching mathematics terminology in a structured manner. There is productive discussion in each class to strengthen understanding of the concepts. Learning activity methods and mathematical games are used in each class. It should be ensured that these games always have a specific function.
The work on numeric value and on numeracy in general is highly commended. It was noticed that some pupils had certain difficulties with fractions, decimals and with problem solving. Group work would greatly help to provide productive support to these pupils. The positive role of the principal is acknowledged in her daily work teaching Mathematics to the pupils in fifth class. Extremely effective use is made of information and communications technology in this approach. The pupils record the written work carefully. Assessment is made by teacher observation, standardised examinations and regular correction of the pupils’ work.
4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education
The teachers’ planning shows that there is good attention to the history strands being taught. Legends and mythology are used effectively to develop the pupils’ understanding of the lives of people who lived a long time ago and to enrich their interest in History. The teaching material is presented in a very stimulating manner and the pupils’ participation was skilfully encouraged. A commendable emphasis is placed in certain classes on local studies and project work is practised productively to foster the pupils’ independent learning skills. The field work practised enhances the pupils’ learning in this aspect. The pupils showed a fine understanding of what they had learned about their own locality. It is recommended that the new language for a new historical concept be prepared in the Irish class in advance so that the focus during the lessons would be on the history skills primarily.
Enquiry skills are being skilfully developed in the teaching of Geography. Teachers base the teaching programme on the material outlined in the school plan. There is a need now, however, to ensure that there is width and depth to the curriculum in each class. Lessons are based on the pupils’ personal experiences to develop their understanding of the world in which they live. The pupils in the early years have a good understanding of nature around them and they are able to speak confidently about a range of topics which have been studied. Teachers link investigation of topics closely with the use of maps in many classes. Beneficial work on the world’s oceans was observed during the assessment. The pupils are able to speak knowledgeably about aspects of the human environment and the natural environment.
The science teaching programme focuses on the various strands of the curriculum. To ensure that there is balance between these strands there is a need, however, to design a whole-school approach as regards doing all threads of the curriculum regularly. A range of teaching aids is provided for the teaching of Science. In the science lessons observed the pupils’ interest was stimulated through active methodologies. Practical experiments are performed in the classroom. It is clear that many of the pupils love observing, predicting and analysing. There is a need to ensure, however, that experiments are performed on a regular basis in each class throughout the year. There is an emphasis on fostering an inquisitive attitude and enquiry skills in the pupils during the lessons and the displays of work done are to be commended. The pupils are able to speak capably about work completed. Good use is made of open questions to discuss the pupils’ thoughts and interests. The pupils give an insight into the topics they have studied and they answer questions about learning material with a commendable accuracy.
The planning in this aspect concurs with the material and guidelines of the Primary School Curriculum (1999). There is commendable variety in the teaching programme. Laudable focus on teaching particular skills, especially those dealing with understanding of colour and texture, is also evident. Interesting examples of the pupils’ work were to be seen in the many displays around the rooms. The pupils are encouraged to consider the features of the work of famous artists. The pupils can give a very good account of this work using appropriate language. It is recommended that a continuous photographic record be made of examples of the pupils’ work.
Highly commendable work is being done in Music in this school. Attention is paid to the three strands in the music curriculum: listening and responding, performing, and composing. The pupils are encouraged to listen acutely. Feelings, knowledge and thoughts are investigated to develop understanding of music. The pupils sing a wide range of Irish songs tunefully and sweetly. The pupils know both tunes and words and they all show that they enjoy singing. Excellent work is being done regarding instrumental music in the classes, where the class teachers teach the tin whistle to nearly all the pupils. A tutor comes in two days a weeks to teach musical instruments during school hours and the pupils pay for this service. This work is beneficial and a fine standard is being achieved by pupils in violin, mandolin and flute. However, it would be worth reconsidering this practice since not all pupils take part in these classes. It is recommended that other ways be examined to do this good work by providing after-school lessons.
There is a high standard of teaching and learning of Drama in this school. Dramatic skills are being developed imaginatively through the medium of poetry and storytelling in particular. The pupils’ creative capacity is developed, as well as self-confidence and emotional vocabulary, in the lessons observed during the evaluation. At present, Drama is also used as a methodology to internalise learning in other subjects.
The Physical Education lessons are conducted in a capable and ordered manner and the pupils derive benefit and pleasure from them. Emphasis is placed on the pupils’ participation, enjoyment and attention. The teachers’ written records illustrate that ball skills, yard games and team games are taught. Trainers from the GAA come in to teach aspects of the programme. Irish dancing is taught to a high standard; the céilí dancing lesson observed during the assessment was very good. The pupils from senior infants to sixth class go to a swimming pool weekly throughout the year to practise swimming skills. When taking into account that swimming is just one of five strands of the curriculum, this practice should be reviewed to ensure that a balanced, wide programme is available in each class. It is recommended that more emphasis be placed on athletic and gymnastic activities and on developing skills in these aspects.
The opportunity is taken to develop the pupils’ social and personal skills informally during cross-curricular activities and during extra-curricular activities. There is a commendable development of pupils’ understanding of a healthy lifestyle. The lessons are presented in a stimulating manner, and pupils’ participation is capably fostered. There is a fine variety to the learning activities and a pleasant learning atmosphere can be felt during the work. The Relationship and Sexuality programme (RSE) is being implemented appropriately.
Appropriate assessment strategies have been set out in the school plan and they are being implemented effectively. The pupils’ progress in the different subjects is monitored and assessed regularly through the use of school-based examinations and standardised tests. Questioning, teacher observation, spelling tests and informal strategies are used to assess the pupils’ learning standard in the classrooms. However, it would be worth examining all this information more to establish a differentiated learning system in the classes. Pupils’ copybooks and written work are monitored regularly in all classes. Standardised assessment tests are used to assess the pupils’ reading ability and to select students with learning difficulties. It is now recommended, however, that Irish language skills be assessed as set out in the assessment system Comharthaí Cumais na Gaeilge. Pupils’ progress is registered at the end of the year and the appropriate details are sent to the parents. Copies of these reports are kept in the school.
The school policy compiled regarding support for pupils with special educational needs is of a high standard. A very definite and very graduated approach is set out as regards identifying pupils with difficulties early and designing a plan for them. In the teachers’ planning, however, it is necessary to address more effectively the learning needs of a certain number of pupils in Irish, English and Mathematics. To this end, class work must be differentiated in order to foster a more conspicuous connection between this class work and the work done by the pupils with the support teacher who comes into the class. Pupils are selected for learning support provision following an analysis of the standardised test results and discussion with the class teachers and parents. The special needs assistant’s work is well directed.
The school has a full-time support teacher. Clear learning objectives are set out in the work plans on an individual pupil basis and learning progress is registered regularly. The approach to learning activities is of a satisfactory standard when there is clarity and certainty to the role of the class teacher and the role of the support teacher. Most of the time, the support teacher works with individual pupils in the corner of the classroom. Literacy skills in Irish and English and in Mathematics are developed during these lessons. There is a lack of certainty, however, in this in-class approach at times. More benefit could be derived from this in-class work by identifying the pupils’ needs and practising group work in collaboration with the class teacher. This approach would ensure that a continuous teaching programme would be provided to pupils with special needs. This approach needs to be restructured. It would now be worthwhile for the school to contact the Primary Professional Development Service to assist the school staff while implementing this restructuring process.
At present there are no pupils from minority groups attending the school. It is clear, however, from the entrance policy that every pupil is welcome.
The following are the strengths recognised in the evaluation:
As a way of building on these strengths and in order to focus on areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· To ensure that each pupil is being served appropriately, more focus should be placed on planning to cater for their differing learning needs and abilities. There is a need to differentiate in the learning activities and to practise more group work, especially in literacy and Mathematics.
· It is recommended that the system in place in the school for special education be restructured to gain the most benefit from the resources available to support pupils with learning needs.
· It is recommended that more balance should be placed in the class work programmes, especially in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education and in Physical Education to ensure that the strands are covered equally throughout the year.
· It is very important in the early years of the school that team spirit be fostered among the teachers and that co-ownership of the school’s vision be encouraged. Definite structures and an approach must be developed to facilitate staff co-operation.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and with the board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The school staff and board of management are very happy with this report.
We believe that it is fair and that it gives a good description of the excellent work being carried out in our school.
We would like to thank the two inspectors who came to our school to conduct the evaluation and, without doubt, their recommendations and opinions will be very helpful to us in these formative years of the school and as it is grows and develops.
The evaluation report was discussed in detail at a meeting of the board of management on the 6th May 2009 and it is the intention of the staff to implement the recommendations of the WSE in our planning for the future.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
We intend to restructure the special education provision and apply for an additional room/put an extra room at the disposal of the support teacher.
It is our intention to implement team teaching next year, especially in the context of support teaching.
We will use the Irish language assessment scheme of Comharthaí Cumais na Gaeilge next year. We are already involved in the standardisation of Trialacha Nua Gaeilge (New Irish Tests).
The board of management has agreed to instigate a new campaign to collect money towards the costs of lessons in musical instruments (violin) so that every child can have access to the “jewels of music” that are central to our school.