Department of Education & Science
An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Whole School Evaluation
Inismaan, Co. Galway
Uimhir rolla: 12339I
Date of inspection: 29 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of Inis Meáin National School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for its further development. During the evaluation the inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. He interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. He reviewed school planning records and teachers’ written preparation and met various staff groups where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Inis Meáin National School is situated on the edge of Galway bay approximately nine miles south west of the city. It is a two teacher school that was originally built on the site in 1887 and that was refurbished and extended in 1943 and again in 1962. The school has three classrooms and currently caters for 14 pupils. The classes are divided, the principal teaching nine pupils from infants to second class, and the assistant teaching six pupils between third and sixth classes. The extra classroom is used for various activities such as a room for learning support, a practice room for many curricular and extra-curricular activities and as a store room. The school playground is small and is covered with cement that is now breaking up and needs to be resurfaced without delay.
The school also has access to the facility of the nearby community hall for events such as concerts and exhibitions that are regularly organised by the school for the community. This facility is significant in that it allows the school to display the high level of skill attained in the arts. This was evident in the pupils’ production of the musical ‘Cearbhallán’ which occurred during the period of inspection. This was a cooperative venture involving teachers, parents and pupils creating and presenting the musical. The creation was designed as part of the history programme, and the costumes were created and the stage design completed during the visual arts’ classes. The music was selected and practiced during music lessons. The script was amended and committed to memory during drama lessons. Other aspects of the curriculum were also linked to this venture including mathematics, geography, language enrichment in Irish, writing, poetry and composition.
There is also a playing field on the island where activities in skills’ and games’ development are organised through the school’s participation in a GAA skills’ development scheme. In recent years the school has participated in various games and festive activities and either the board of management or other community organisations subsidise most of the associated accommodation and ferry transport costs.
The board of management meets three times a year or more often if necessary. Records of these meetings have been retained in the school since these board meetings were first held in the school. Strict controls on expenditure ensure that debts don’t arise for the board of management, a difficult challenge given the additional costs pertaining to the management of an island school. As this is a Gaeltacht school it would be appropriate for the school to list as an agenda item for a board meeting the implications that arise from article nine, section seven of the Education Act and to prepare an integrated approach in conjunction with the island’s community organisations to agree strategies for the preservation of the language. Contact should be made with the language planning section of Údarás na Gaeltachta as an aid to this process.
The Chairperson meets with the staff more often than once a term, and community events and religious occasions provide opportunities for discussions on essential school matters. The staff confirmed that they get full support from the board of management for all the activities they undertake. At the preliminary meeting with the board of management the board recorded its satisfaction with the school and with the professional and diligent attitude displayed by the teachers. The extent and standard of investment for the school by the management board in electronic equipment, learning support software and pedagogical equipment is impressive. These resources are effectively used for teaching and learning activities in the school. The board also supports related activities that ensure that the school’s opportunities to develop pupils’abilities in athletics and aesthetics are not impeded by virtue of its location as an island school.
The board of management has identified as its short-term priority the improvement of the building and of the school playground. It is advisable that this work be completed as one project, rather than in a sequence of activities. There is an urgency in regard to completing this work in order to have a satisfactory level of accommodation available to pupils, and so that that the renovated building is also available for the Irish college as soon as possible. The Irish college uses the school during holiday periods and this provides families on the island with an income opportunity.
The school has access to a wide range of services and this provision is generally well managed. Two full-time teachers and two part-time teachers have been allocated to the school. The part-time teachers provided are a learning support teacher with an allocation of two and a half hours per week, and an education coordinator allocated as part of the overcoming disadvantage scheme. There has been no teacher functioning as education coordinator since the beginning of this school year because of the difficulties recruiting such a person. The school also has a part-time secretary for fifteen hours a week. The support provided by the secretary to teachers, pupils, visitors and parents is commendable.
The management of the school on a day-to-day basis is provided for through the posts of principal and a special duties’ post. Staff meetings are held regularly to review the work of the teachers and the operation of the school. It would be worth ensuring that the part-time teachers have an opportunity to attend these meetings occasionally, as well as other personnel that provide a service to the school. This recommendation is made with a view to ensuring the coordination of the work in line with the school plan. The school plan should be reviewed in light of this report in order to update various aspects of the plan and to take account of the work of trainers.
The work partnership of the teachers is evident, and this is extended to the inclusion and participation of parents in school decisions; this work ethic, and the professional approach to running the school is commendable. It would be worth assigning specific pedagogical responsibilities to the post of responsibility when the duties of the post are next reviewed, particularly in view of the experience and skills of the assistant teacher in the area of curriculum development.
The school has a wide variety of resources available to it and these include structural materials, electronic equipment, software and hardware for teaching and learning in addition to the full-time and part-time teacher resources that are available to the school. Although the school does not currently have a well-maintained school playground it has access to the community hall which is across the road, and to the nearby community playing fields. These facilities are regularly used to provide for a wide range of curricular and extra-curricular activities. The school events organised for the community are commendable and the school plays a pivotal cultural role in the life of the island. These activities should be included in the school plan as a means of recording their influence on the development of pupils’ skills.
2.4 Management of relations and communication with the school community
This is the only primary school on the island and the school is therefore central to all aspects of life on the island. The findings of this evaluation indicate that the school provides an excellent service for the island community, and that the pupils achieve good standards of education that reflect their potential. The majority of parents indicated that they were happy with the way in which the school was operating and they praised the diligence and professionalism of the staff. The school focuses on giving pupils developmental experiences in education and a wide range of opportunities are provided that develop the skills and talents of pupils. As a result the school has provided for excellent musicians who can play a wide variety of musical instruments, for the development of expertise in the arts, and for regular opportunities for all pupils on the island to develop their skills in field games and fitness. It would be worth displaying the value of this work to parents on a regular basis to alleviate the concern of a minority of parents who feel that not enough time is given to developing pupils’ academic abilities.
2.5 Management of pupils
The kind, empathetic and relaxed relationship between teachers and pupils, and the mutual respect they had for each other was evident. Fourteen pupils attend the school, eight of these in the infant to second classes, and the remaining six pupils with the assistant in the senior classes. Dramas and concerts are organised on a whole-school basis, and all pupils work together with roles allocated according to their ages and abilities. The pupils deserve high commendation for the standard of instrumental music and singing which they displayed in their production of the musical Cearbhallán which they performed during the inspection period. The production of this musical had a contemporary historical context which included costumes and dance, and it was evident that the production of this musical involved an integrated curricular approach. Pupils in the senior classes are dutiful and caring towards younger pupils, particularly when the school is involved in competitions and school tours and a kind and friendly atmosphere is in evident amongst them.
3.1 School planning, process and implementation
A written copy of the school plan is available in the school, and this includes thirty policy statements on various aspects of the school. The plan has been approved by the board of management in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science. Some of the policies have a review date included, and the implementation of the plan ensures that good practices outlined in the plan are adhered to in regard to the activities provided in the school. It is the teachers primarily who have drawn up the plan and it is recommended that the scope and influence of the plan be reviewed in light of this report. The board of management and the parents need to be included in the work of completing the plan, and structured opportunities should regularly be provided for all parties to have ample opportunity to examine the plan.
Evidence was provided that confirms that the board of management and the staff have taken the necessary steps to develop policies in line with the requirements of Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, new edition May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines and Procedures (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided that confirms these policies have been approved and implemented by the board of management. A liaison person has been appointed as required in accordance with the Department’s guidelines.
3.2 Classroom planning
The teachers engage in short term and long term planning for school work and they maintain ongoining records and profiles of the progress of pupils. The teachers work diligently and effectively in order to ensure the provision of a broad curriculum. Classrooms are well presented with samples of pupils’ current work on display, and materials and software to support learning are readily available to assist the learning process. The permanent staff meet regularly to plan for common activities, and responsibilities are allocated in accordance with decisions taken at staff meetings. Parents are also involved in the planning process when their assistance is required or as additional support for the work.
4.1 Overview of teaching and learning
In the reading buddies programme, opportunities are provided for older pupils to regularly support assist younger pupils. The communicative and literacy skills of both groups are developed at the same time. Information technology is used to support pupils’ work and research skills and pupils find this resource very beneficial. It would be worthwhile extending the work in the technologies, to include aspects of information and communication technologies, and to ensure that this is in line with the work as described in the school plan. Pupils are motivated and eager to learn and they are making progress in accordance with their abilities.
Tugtar an t-aitheantas cuí do chomhthéacs Gaeltachta an oileáin i bhfeidhmiú na scoile seo agus déantar forleathnú leanúnach ar mháistreacht na ndaltaí ar an mháthair theanga. Sonraítear caighdeán inmholta ar chruinneas, líofacht agus saibhreas úrlabhraíochta na ndaltaí suas tríd an scoil. Cothaítear ócáidí caidrimh, cluichí cumarsáide, geaitsíocht, agallaimh, díospóireachtaí agus scileanna smaointeoireachta na ndaltaí agus cinntítear dea fhoghraíocht agus saibhriú foclóra sa phroiséas. Sroichtear caigheáin ard sa léitheoireacht de réir inniúlachta na ndaltaí, baintear úsáid as foinsí éagsúla leabharlainne chomh maith le leabhair mhóra agus téacsleabhair. Déantar cíoradh agus taighde ar théamaí inspéise trí thionscadail agus obair riomhairí.
Tá ard chaighdeán ag na daltaí sa cheapadóireacht agus bhí samplaí líonmhara de shaothar na ndaltaí le samhlaíocht, firicí agus cruinneas ar taispeáint sna rangsheomraí agus sna hionaid phoiblí. Bíonn gramadach na Gaeilge freisin mar chuid shainiúil den clár teagaisc. D’éirigh leis na daltaí ar fad sa scoil leabhar a iontráil sa bhfeachtas scríobhnóireachta a bhí urraithe ag Bord na Leabhair Ghaeilge agus An Comhchoiste Um Oideachais Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoileanna chun leabhar as Gaeilge a scríobh a bheadh oiriúnach do dhaltaí scoile. Bhí soláthar na ndaltaí buacach sa dtionscnamh áirithe seo.
Ta raon cuimsitheach rann, scéal agus béaloideas ar eolas ag na daltaí agus déanannn said aithriseoireacht foirfe orthu. Tá ard mholadh tuillte ar an bhéim a chuirtear ar chothú féin-mhuiníne agus treallúsachta na ndaltaí tríd na cláir teanga agus bíonn cruthaitheacht agus samhlaíocht dá léiriú sna taispeántais.
The Gaeltacht status of the island is embodied in the schools’ activities and a structured developmental approach is taken to enriching gaeilge, the mother tongue of the pupils. A rich texture of speech and language was in evidence with fluency and phonological competence throughout the school. Structured language occasions, communication games, language activities, interviews, debates and decision making exercises were organised and emphasis was placed on language enrichment and developing continuous speech during the process.
A high standard in reading is attained by pupils commensurate with ability and good use is made of library books, large format books,as well as text-books to supplement the reading programme. Investigative themes are explored using Information and Communication Technologies and project work. The pupils experience writing exercises using a variety of genres and imaginative samples of pupils work are displayed in the classrooms and in public display areas. Attention to gramatical structure is an integral part of the language programme. The pupils in the school made submissions to the ‘ Write a book competition’ recently organised by Foras na Gaeilge and An Coiste Um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoileanna. Most of their submissions received merit awards.
The pupils know a wide repertoire of rhyme and verse and they present them very well. The emphasis placed on developing pupils’ confidence and self-esteem through the language development programme is commendable and the pupils’ imagination and creative skills are fostered.
A structured developmental approach to English is used in the junior section of this school; definite language objectives are identified and achieved. Use is made of English as a communicative tool to develop fluency. This approach is replicated in the senior classes and a range of integrated discussion themes is used effectively to develop pupils’ confidence and competence in using English. Pupils are encouraged to express their views and feelings in exchanging comment and opinions, use is made of group work and circle time to facilitate discussion and topics are frequently selected from current affairs and the written media. The pupils in all classes have memorised a repertoire of selected rhymes and poetry appropriate to their class level and opportunities are provided to appreciate and respond to poetry.
Early language activities are linked to the development of pupils’ skills in reading and emphases is placed on developing phonic and phonemic awareness in this approach. Cloze-procedure activities and flashcard games are used to foster the development of comprehension skills and large format books promote the pupils enjoyment of story in the junior classes. The novel is used to support the reading programme in the senior classes and the buddy system enhances competence and fluency. This approach supports the policy of continuous investment in appropriate library material adopted in the school. Overall the pupils achieve excellent standards in reading as is obvious from standardised assessment results.
Practical experience is provided for the pupils in the process of drafting, editing and rewriting in a range of genres and examples of pupils work is display in both classrooms and public areas. Their written pieces could be circulated to a larger reading public using a school newsletter or local publication. A whole-school plan on handwriting as part of the writing programme could foster the development of cursive writing using ink to enable the emergence of pupils’ individual styles as part of their language experience.
A well-structured Mathematics programme is organised in this school. It is based primarily on the school plan, and on textbooks, and mental arithmetic work is emphasised in classroom activities. Pupils’ understanding of concepts is further enhanced through the use of practical materials and activities. They also gain regular experience of problem solving both individually, and in group work and their analytical skills are developed as well as basic facts being memorised. Pupils’ skills in estimation and prediction are continuously developed, understanding of terminology is emphasised and the themes used in mathematics’ work are related to other aspects of the curriculum. Standardised assessment tools are used, as well as school examinations, to assess pupils’ progress, and the results are analysed and used to guide the work plan.
4.4 Social Environmental and Scientific Education
The influence of the environment is evident in this school’s learning programme, particularly in those aspects where the immediate environment is the subject under investigation. The natural flora, fauna and human aspects of the life of the island are interlinked, and historical, folklore, and cultural facts pertaining to these are investigated in this particular aspect of the curriculum. The historical aspects that are common to the life of the island are extended to include relevant national and international dimensions and pupils’ skills in understanding are developed very well. Textbooks, interviews, field work, photographs, projects, stories, drama and music are used to provide information on themes. Emphasis is also placed on the recollections of elders within the island community and the relationship of the pupils with the community is enhanced through this work.
Pupils have a significant level of knowledge of their own locality, of the country, and of other countries and they very much enjoy the opportunities provided for them to conduct independent research on themes of interest to them. Great attention is given to school based projects and it is commendable that aspects of the island’s archaeology have been documented. The work has been carefully recorded and is on display in the school. It would be beneficial if greater use were made of information and communication technologies to create a permanent record of the materials collected so that it remains as an information resource in the school. Priority should be given to compiling a development plan for the use of the information technologies in the school both as a subject itself, and as a resource for recording the school’s methods.
Both classrooms have display tables containing interesting objects pertaining to this aspect of the curriculum. A broad thematic curricular approach is adopted and attention is focused during the work on developing research skills. The school plan will need to be used to coordinate the various aspects of the programme and to ensure a systematic development of skills throughout the school. It would be worth including aspects of marine science and ecology in the work programme. The areas of living things, energy, forces, environmental awareness and care are studied by the pupils, and workshops are used to investigate the themes.
4.5 Arts Education
A broad and comprehensive programme is provided in all aspects of the visual arts and a pleasant aesthetical environment is created in the classes. Opportunities are provided for pupils to practice traditional and innovative techniques and what is produced is displayed throughout the school. The strands and strand units are covered and practical work is linked with other aspects of the curriculum. Discussion takes place on the creative work, and pupils are given opportunities to compare and to respond to various products and media.
The music programme presented to pupils is both comprehensive and motivational and the development of pupils’ music skills, which includes instrumental music, singing and musical literacy, is comprehensive. The singing is sweet and varied and includes both sean-nós and modern repertoires in different languages. The school resources include a varied compilation of instruments and these are used creatively with the support of schemes from Gaelacadaimh. A high standard of performance is achieved, and the manner in which the various skills have been integrated through the musical on Cearrbhalán, the famous Irish composer of the eighteenth century, is impressive.
Drama is used on an ongoing basis as a teaching method in the school as well as providing pupils with opportunities on a regular basis to engage in drama. The community hall adjacent to the school is used for stage productions during celebrations on the island. Pupils’ self confidence and presentation skills are developed and they all receive ample opportunities to practice presenting publicly. It would be worth providing a comprehensive account in the school plan of aspects of the drama policy that are being implemented.
4.6 Physical Education
The community resources, including the community hall and the local playing field, are used to implement this aspect of the curriculum. The school participates in the GAA skills’ development scheme from second to sixth classes and activities are provided within this scheme for boys and girls. Pupils can also avail of classes in traditional dances and they derive benefit and enjoyment from these varied activities. It is necessary at this point to develop a comprehensive Physical Education programme that includes all curriculum strands and strand units, and to include a prepared timetable for the programme to ensure that all themes are covered.
4.7 Social Personal and Health Education
The development of pupils’ assertiveness, self confidence and social skills is commendable and their skills in decision making are developed through role play, drama, debate, role improvisation and discussions. An integrated approach is used and this includes variations of teachers’ prepared materials and published programmes. This subject area is developed in a variety of contexts, but most particularly through the ethos and atmosphere of the school. Pupils are central to the learning processes and they are given ample opportunities to present their views and opinions.
A wide range of assessment methods are in use in the school including teacher observation, work portfolios, homework, projects, tests designed by the teacher and standardised tests. These are mainly used to provide an insight on the progress of pupils and to provide information for parents. It would be worth extending the use of the assessment instruments to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and learning and to assist in guiding the work programme. The role of summative, diagnostic and standardised assessment in the school should be included in the school plan and the approach to assessment should be agreed with the support teachers, and individual education plans designed for those pupils with particular needs.
5.1 Pupils with special educational needs
There is at present no pupil in the school with special educational resource needs. There is no resource teacher currently assigned to the school.
A learning support teacher is available in the school one day each fortnight and he provides support for seven pupils. Pupils with learning difficulties are identified at a very early stage in the school, based primarily on the observations of the classroom teacher. Standardised tests are also used, such as the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) for infants, to assist in confirming the views of the teacher. The service is provided on a withdrawal basis and Mathematics and English are the subjects where support is mostly provided. The cluster of schools on the islands did not succeed in appointing and education coordinator for the islands because of the difficulties in recruiting somebody. It is intended that this post will be re-advertised.
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.