An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Lettermullen National School

Lettermullen, County Galway

Roll Number: 20345W

 

Date of inspection:  23 October 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole school evaluation was conducted in Lettermullen National School during the month of October 2009.  This report presents the outcomes of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school.  The evaluation focussed on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Music. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

There are seven teachers employed in this Gaeltacht school which is situated on the coast on Gorumna Island in Galway Bay approximately sixty kilometres from Galway city. The island is renowned for its natural beauty, friendliness of the people, and its rich Irish culture. The school is situated on the western edge of the island, elevated above the Atlantic Ocean in the shadow of Golam Head and the tower, on a site with a magnificent view but limited in terms of yard space.  It is believed the original structure on the site was built in 1888, and the new building which comprises three classrooms, a staff-room, a work station for the learning support and resource services, home-school-community liaison coordinator and classroom assistant working in the school at present, was erected on the site in 2008. The old building was converted to provide a general purposes room and an administrative centre. Arising from the amalgamation with Drom National School (Roll number 13528Q) which took place this year, a new classroom has been financed to provide a teaching space for the additional teacher on the staff. The hall belonging to Comhar Chuigéal Teoranta, which is situated across the road, is being used for sports activities during the inclement weather and also for practising the wide range of traditional and visual arts activities which are organised within and outside the school timetable. The parents cooperate with local cultural and development agencies in resourcing the programme. The school yard is being re-surfaced with tar macadam at present, and it is planned to line and equip the play area for games. The car-park and church lawn are also used for games during fine weather. There are 59 pupils on rolls at present and it is believed the number will remain firm for the next few years.

 

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

 

 

Number

Pupils on school rolls

59

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

7

Teachers in mainstream classes

4

Learning support teachers (shared)

3

Special needs assistants

0

 

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1   Characteristic spirit, mission or school vision

 

Like all Gaeltacht schools at present, the vast majority of pupils hail from Irish-speaking homes and the majority of them are native speakers with enriched language. A percentage of pupils attending the school present with English only as the language of communication, and it is customary for pupils from other European countries and America to present with English as their normal language. The school plan recognises the school’s responsibility to provide a first-class education to every pupil irrespective of the language which is used at home. Although the multiple languages present a lot of difficulties for management and the school staff, the majority of pupils are successful in acquiring fluent and accurate Irish before transferring from the school. The mission of the school’s partners is to provide a full education in a pleasant atmosphere with assistance and support and fairness to everybody. In this regard it is proclaimed that this school is a Christian Catholic school where appropriate recognition is given to other faiths and traditions, where a comprehensive developmental education service is ensured to develop the pupils intellectually, spiritually, physically and culturally, so that they will be prepared to benefit fully from the opportunities of post-primary education. The mission statement asserts the school will cooperate with the parents, and currently the school makes worthwhile efforts to involve the parents in the pupils’ learning activities.

 

1.2 The board of management

 

The board of management convenes five meetings during the year or more frequently if necessary. Since the beginning of this year, school refurbishment and the worthwhile amalgamation with Drom National School have been the main priorities for the board of management. Permission has been granted to provide an extra classroom in the school and the board hopes to have a contractor on site before the end of the year. The board has been elected in accordance with the rules of the Department of Education and Science. Due to the amalgamation with Drom National School, it is now necessary to elect a new board.  It is customary to compile a programme of work for the duration of the board and 13 targets have been identified by the current board for the period 2009/10. It would be worthwhile to transfer to the new board when it is established, those targets which were not reached by the current board. The board functions entirely through the medium of Irish, expenditure is controlled, and minutes of meetings and a financial report were made available for this inspection. This is an effective energetic board as is manifest in the various developments which have been completed during recent years. The board fulfils its responsibilities and has developed policy statements for a wide range of school activities. The board should update some of the policies in response to this report and to the legislative changes and practices in recent years. As part of the review, it would be worthwhile to develop a plan on school pedagogy as well as defining the differentiated approach which is being used in the teaching and learning. It would also be worthwhile to review the enrolment and school transfer policies as well as devising a plan for the development of management and staff skills. A plan directed at section 9 (h) of the Education Act (1998) is also required. Contact should also be made with the local language centre on the island, which is being resourced by the Gaeltacht Authority, as well as the other interested Gaeltacht organisations in order to reach agreement in their plan regarding the school’s Gaeltacht mission. The various ways of sharing ownership of the new plan with parents, as well as common practices in this regard, were discussed with the board.

 

1.3   In-school management

 

A wide range of services is available in the school and these are managed effectively. The principal is efficient and effective in terms of development and functionality and she is aided by the school staff in a professional and diligent manner. The four classroom teachers work diligently, and the learning support teachers, resource teacher and the home-school-community liaison coordinator provide beneficial assistance to ameliorate the pupils’ learning difficulties, and cultivate self-confidence and resourcefulness in the pupils who are in their care. The secretary, the classroom assistant and the care-taking team provide worthwhile support for the school activities in general. The infant classes are being taught together, first and second classes are being taught as a group by the deputy principal, third and fourth classes are in the care of the teacher consequent to the amalgamation, and fifth and sixth classes are being taught by the principal. They all ensure that a safe and virtuous atmosphere prevails in the school, worthwhile teaching methods are practised, equipment and support software are used regularly, and plans are currently being developed to make more use of information and communication technology. There is an active calendar for the in-school and out-of-school activities taking place during the year, as well as the participation in curricular project work. The teachers are praised for their enthusiasm and professionalism in taking ownership of the approach to, and standard of education in the school. Credit is also due for their efforts under the provisions of the scheme Developing Educational Opportunity in School (DEIS) in raising the standard of literacy and numeracy during recent years, and it is confirmed they are achieving success in that project.

 

1.4   Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

The board of management and parents’ representatives asserted their satisfaction with the effectiveness and professionalism of the teachers and with the operation of the school in general during the pre-evaluation meetings. It is a testament to the local camaraderie between the parties that there are no significant debts in the locality after the very significant investment in the school and the locality in recent years. The building is maintained in a decorative and clean manner internally and externally, and all the rooms and school corridors are decorated tastefully as a result of the work. It would be worthwhile to make more use of the school’s investment in technology, by providing a periodic newsletter for the community, publishing details of local and school activities. It would also be beneficial  to cultivate electronic networks with other schools on islands near and far away, as well as with Gaeltacht and English-speaking schools and schools on the continent.

 

1.5   Management of pupils

 

Note was taken of the kind, open relationship between the school partners. Fifty-nine pupils currently attend the school, and pupils and teachers are on first-name terms in their interactions. Although the attendance levels are good in general, there is a need to record a particular policy to improve the attendance of a small number of pupils. The staff rarely need to resort to the school’s code of discipline, and it is customary for the senior pupils to take care of the junior pupils during school activities.

 

 

2.     quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole school planning and planning for the classroom

 

During the evaluation it was agreed to make some changes to aspects of the school plan, and to place the plan before the parents prior to its ratification by the board. It was also agreed that copies of the individual education plans would be made available to the relevant parents. The school records are up-to-date and a school action plan covering the main school activities has been compiled. At the post-evaluation meeting the order of priority for the drafting of the outstanding policies was agreed. It is necessary to make a significant investment in the school’s educational resources particularly in the area of information and communication technology and the school library. It is understood this will be challenging in the context of the expenditure and the developmental work already completed on the building and the school yard. The teachers undertake individual planning for their class work using the curriculum framework and a general outline of work to be taught is identified. It would be beneficial to develop an agreed format for this process, to identify specific teaching targets, to research differentiated methodologies and practices for particular groups, as well as weaving ongoing assessment strategies into the work programme.  

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3. Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Language

 

Irish

The policy for the teaching of Irish in this school has credible and effective impact. A conscientious effort is being made to reach the proper balance between the cultivation of the pupils’ pre-language skills in Irish, their skills of understanding, and the development of early language exercises, as well as attending to pupils who are well-equipped and resourceful in the language before commencing school, and who are ready for learning already. The teaching of Irish as a learning instrument for those pupils is emphasised and the natural sophistication of the pupils’ language is enriched and extended accordingly. A range of language development schemes including Séideán Sí is being used, and a range of textbooks is used to develop pre-reading and reading skills. The school library is used to develop silent reading, and it is worth investing further in the library, especially in the collection of Irish books by modern authors. A wide range of material in composition and written work is undertaken in the school. The pupils participated last year in the Write a Book scheme and attention is also directed towards the development of penmanship skills. It would be beneficial to give opportunities to pupils to present their written work to a wider public through the internet and periodic school publications.

 

English

The school plan identifies the curricular framework and methodologies and the key principles of developing skills in English are presented on a structured sequential basis throughout the school. Developing higher order thinking skills is emphasised in the approach and there is a discernible increase in standards as identified by standardised tests over the recent years. Due emphasis is placed on developing oral language skills, phonological awareness as well as structured reading and writing programmes of work. Emphasis is placed on the communicative approach through drama, circle time and discussion, and an excellent anthology of poetry and rhyme is offered to develop language appreciation. Pupils generally achieve a good level of proficiency in expressive language which is a considerable achievement as the school provides the primary opportunity for using English in this community. Parents are encouraged to engage in shared-reading exercises with the pupils, personal reading is a leisure activity practised by all the pupils, and further investment in library books in English is required. Writing is taught in a developmental fashion with editing and re-writing being a feature of the approach. Pupils’ progress is carefully monitored through a variety of assessment procedures including teacher observation, questioning, written tasks, correction of copies and books and the use of standardised tests. 

 

3.2 Mathematics

 

Memory work, as well as a focus on the development of the vocabulary of Mathematics in both languages, comprises a regular practice in the programme for Mathematics. Workshops and concrete material are used to develop an understanding of the basic principles, although the textbooks in the main are directing the work programme. It is recommended now that more use be made of environmental Mathematics to demonstrate the application of Mathematics to the pupils. Group-work is organised effectively to respond to the pupils’ range of abilities in the different classes, and good use is made of activities to reach the teaching targets. The pupils are provided with opportunities to develop prediction and estimation skills, and the strategies which are being used to develop problem-solving skills are commendable.

 

3.3 Music

 

Emphasis is placed in the school plan on the development of the essential skills in Music based on individual preparation and the strand and strand units of the curriculum. The pupils participate in cooperative work, they use equipment and software to analyse rhythm, pulse and movement, and the outcome of their efforts is being recorded on the white boards and on the school’s only interactive board. Use should be made of the curriculum support service to agree the range of activities in the music literacy programme on a class basis. The singing proficiency in both languages in terms of old-style and modern material, which has been perfected by the pupils, as well as the instrumental music skills on different instruments and the accompaniment as demonstrated by the pupils during the inspection, are highly praised.

 

3.4 Assessment

 

Standardised assessment instruments and referenced criteria are used to monitor the pupils’ progress. It would be of benefit to add to the range of tests being used to identify individual learning programmes in accordance with pupils’ interests and to record the outcome of evaluation on a class basis. Additional strategies such as teacher observation, checklists, work portfolios, work samples, projects, tasks and teacher-devised tests are being used to assist the assessment process. It would be of benefit to take into consideration the outcome of the work during the development of individual work programmes for more able pupils or pupils with needs and also to use them to provide a perspective to parents in the progress reports.

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

 

Effective teaching support is made available to students with special needs who attend this school, and the shared planning undertaken by the teachers in this regard is commendable. The pupils are enabled to participate in school activities on an equal basis. The learning-support and the resource teachers provide additional teaching in English and Mathematics to those pupils who have learning difficulties, and a programme to develop the abilities and skills of pupils is being followed. It would be beneficial to add an additional module to the programme to strengthen the characteristics of pupils as learners. The withdrawal of pupils in groups or individually is the common model of service delivery used, although cooperative teaching is practised in the junior classes on a regular basis. 

 

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

 

The school asserts that the pupils are local, indigenous children at the present time. The school is participating in the DEIS programme and the budget for the provision of services and extra supports on a pre-arranged basis is well used. It is necessary to focus on the complex language question in the community with a view to implementing policies and an action plan among all the schools. The coordinator organises a wide programme of activities for parents and pupils, and the association and alliance between this and the other schools in the locality at both primary and post-primary levels is praiseworthy.  It would be worthwhile to discuss on a regular basis at board of management level, the plans and effectiveness of the scheme.

 

 

5.  Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, April 2010