St Mary's Pre-School Centre, Cloughcor, Strabane, Co Tyrone 2Bb-0346

St Mary's Pre-School Centre, Cloughcor, Strabane, Co Tyrone 2Bb-0346

/ Providing Inspection Services for
Department of Education
Department for Employment and Learning
Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Inspection of St Mary’s Pre-School Centre, Cloughcor,
Strabane, Co Tyrone
(DE Number: 2BB-0346)
A Report by the Education and Training Inspectorate
October 2001


1.St Mary’s Pre-school Centre is under voluntary management. At the time of the inspection, a total of 21 children attended the centre; 19 were in their pre-school year.

2.The inspection is part of a programme to ensure that appropriate standards of education are provided in centres receiving funding as part of the Government’s expansion of pre-school education.

The Quality of the Educational Provision

3.The centre has a very positive ethos. There is a warm and welcoming atmosphere; relationships between the staff and the children are very good. The staff provide a secure, supportive environment, which helps the children grow in confidence and independence. They are quick to respond to the personal needs of the children and encourage good behaviour. The children are at ease with the staff and comfortably turn to them to meet their needs and participate in their play. They are beginning to relate well to one another and generally settle quickly to play. The staff have worked hard to create a bright and stimulating environment; good use is made of a wide range of the children’s artwork to create colourful displays around the playroom. The room is arranged thoughtfully into distinct areas for play; interest areas, supported by appropriate books, photographs and pictures, stimulate the children’s curiosity and increase their knowledge of the environment.

4.Due to the majority of children being transported to the centre by bus, the staff place a high priority on developing effective links with parents. Prior to the children’s admission, an open day and booklet are used to inform the parents about the work of the centre and its policies. A monthly newsletter and displays on the parents’ noticeboard provide information about the educational programme and are designed to encourage the parents to play a fuller role in the education of their children. In addition to the informal contact, which may occur at the beginning and end of the day, the parents are invited into the centre twice during the year to discuss their children’s progress and development with the staff. They also consult parents about the work of the centre and actively seek their views through questionnaires. There are clear procedures for handling queries or concerns.

5.The inspection provided opportunities for the parents to express their views about the centre. Almost all of those who responded were satisfied or very satisfied with the centre’s provision. A minority was less satisfied with the information they received about the centre’s work and their child’s progress. Some parents included written comments praising the work of the staff and the quality of the provision.


6.The centre’s written policy on child protection provides suitable detail of the steps to be taken to report matters of concern. The staff have a good knowledge of, and implement, appropriate procedures to safeguard the welfare of the children. The staff report that, during the information meeting, they explain to the parents the centre’s policy and practices.

7.The centre has compiled appropriate and well-developed planning which is designed to foster the child’s all-round development. The planning identifies clearly those aspects of learning which the staff intend to promote through the various play activities. Themes and topics are incorporated skilfully into the planned programme to provide stimulating and varied learning experiences, which the children clearly enjoy. The staff’s evaluations of the children’s responses are used to inform future planning and to ensure progression in learning. Individual play plans are also used effectively to target the specific needs of some children. The centre should now set aside specific time to ensure that the planning is disseminated amongst all staff members.

8.The daily timetable is well organised and provides a good balance of free play and activities organised by the staff. There are good opportunities for the children to make choices, explore freely the full range of activities and develop their play. At the time of the inspection, the leader reported that, following a request from parents, the management committee had decided to extend the centre’s hours. While most of the children are able to cope with the length of the session, the staff and the committee need to ensure that the sessions are appropriate to the needs of the children, that there is adequate time for planning and evaluating the programme, and that the arrangements support appropriate settling-in procedures. The children’s snack is organised informally and operates efficiently. Routines are unobtrusive and play materials are changed appropriately to sustain interest and encourage productive play. Effective use is made of all the time available to promote the children’s learning and development. The smooth organisation of the session and involvement of the children ensure a very relaxed and flexible programme.

9.On the day of the inspection, there were five adults in the centre, three of whom were students. At times, the high ratio of adults to children limited the children’s opportunities to develop independence and over-emphasised attention on ideas such as shape and colour. There were occasions when the staff engaged the children in valuable discussion about their play and experiences and participated sensitively in the activities. This effective involvement was evident particularly during play in the water, the ‘florist shop’ and at the dough activity. The staff are generally skilful in using questions which stimulate the children’s thinking.

10.The centre’s programme promotes effectively the children’s personal, social and emotional development. The range of activities provided offers good opportunities for learning in most of the other areas of the pre-school curriculum. The points which follow illustrate specific aspects of the programme.

  • The careful attention given to promoting the children’s personal, social and emotional development is evident in the children’s abilities to make independent choices of activity and to attend to their own needs. The children have ready access to resources and materials and display responsibility in replacing equipment and in caring for the environment of the centre. Their play is generally settled and purposeful. Most of the children display a good level of concentration in their activities; they co-operate with one another and interact with the adults.
  • The children’s abilities to control small tools such as scissors, glue spreaders, paintbrushes and pencils are promoted effectively. Currently, the centre has access to the adjoining playground which is not enclosed securely. The staff also make regular use of the school hall in the primary school for energetic play. Although the range of equipment available is limited, the children gain some valuable skills.
  • The range of creative activities encourages the children to explore and experiment with different materials and tools. They are developing skills in painting, printing and collage as they express their own ideas. The children have regular opportunities to play with a variety of musical instruments; they join in enthusiastically during singing and rhyme sessions. The staff share the words of new songs and rhymes with the parents in order to help them support the children’s learning at home.
  • The staff are aware of the importance of developing the children’s language. During the inspection, the children were keen to discuss the many photographs taken of them at play. The staff provide an attractive book area; stories are read throughout the session and appropriate books are incorporated into interest areas and other areas of play. Text is introduced incidentally through captions displayed around the room and through appropriate use of the children’s names at snack time. Some children show an awareness of individual letters.
  • There is effective promotion of early mathematical ideas as integral elements of the play. The tidy-up routines are used effectively to develop early mathematical ideas involving, for example, sorting and matching. The provision of a set of scales to extend the dough play helps to foster the children’s awareness of weight. During the inspection, some of the children displayed an interest in exchanging money when playing in the ‘florist shop’. This area of play helped them to compare the number and size of flowers and to sort them according to their colour, texture and name.
  • The children are helped to become aware of the properties of materials through interesting play with sand, water and dough. There are opportunities for the children to learn about the living environment by growing seeds and bulbs. Currently, work is underway to create a children’s garden in the outdoor area which the staff plan to use to provide additional opportunities for learning about the living environment. Technological ideas are developed through the use of a range of constructional games and building blocks.
  • Carefully chosen topics provide a useful focus for learning about the environment. Ideas about the different jobs people do have been incorporated into aspects of play. The staff are currently developing their resources for imaginative play to extend the children’s awareness of and interest in the world around them. Throughout the year, the children’s experiences are extended usefully by members of the local community and others who visit the centre, and by visits to places of interest.

11.The staff know the children well and have developed good strategies to monitor and evaluate the children’s play, and to record their achievements and needs. These observations are used purposefully by the staff to guide their work with the children. Information on the children’s progress is shared regularly with the parents.

12.There are excellent links with the adjoining primary school whose staff value the work of the centre and offer additional resources and support. Primary school staff visit the centre each year, and the children in the centre attend special assemblies and visit their primary class. The thoughtful planning of the centre’s location provides the children with natural opportunities to be part of the primary school environment. These arrangements help the children make a smooth transition to year 1.

13.Currently, the staffing of the centre includes the leader, an assistant and trainees on placement. The centre has identified appropriately the need to employ another full-time member of staff in order to develop more fully a team approach to planning and developing the programme for the children. The centre is managed and organised effectively. The leader has a clear understanding of the pre-school curriculum and brings a high level of skill and enthusiasm to her work. She is developing further her qualifications in child care and education. The staff are hard-working and dedicated; they co-operate well together. Much has been achieved over the last year; the staff also recognise that some further developments are needed. Those involved in the management of the centre need to ensure that adequate support, time and resources are provided to enable the staff to make further progress in developing the educational provision.

14.The quality of the accommodation is good; storage space is limited. The playroom is bright, attractive and well maintained, and the staff have made effective use of all available space. There are deficiencies in the provision for outdoor play. There is an adequate range of good quality equipment and materials; the staff have identified appropriately the need to develop the resources further in order to provide additional challenge and to support the planning of progression throughout the year.

15.The strengths of the centre include:

  • the caring, friendly atmosphere and the attractive learning environment;
  • the thoughtful organisation of the daily timetable;
  • the progress made in planning and implementing a broad and balanced pre-school curriculum;
  • the effective methods used to monitor and assess the children’s learning;
  • the excellent links with the primary school;
  • the many instances of purposeful and productive play;
  • the methods used to communicate with parents and involve them in the life of the nursery;
  • the effective leadership and the enthusiastic and hard-working staff.

16.Overall, the quality of the educational provision in this pre-school centre is good; the needs of the children are being well met. The staff should plan to address the few areas which require attention.


Health and Safety

1.The outdoor area used for physical play is not enclosed safely and the gates leading onto the road are left open.

2.More attention should be given to ensuring that all external doors are secured properly during the session.

3.The floor surface around the water play becomes very wet and slippery.



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Copies of this report may be obtained from the Inspection Services Branch, Department of Education, Rathgael House, 43 Balloo Road, Bangor, CoDownBT197PR. A copy is also available on the DE website: