An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs
St. Paulís Secondary School
Greenhills, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60902G
†††††††††† Date of inspection: 19 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Special Educational Needs
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Paulís Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning for students with special educational needs (SEN) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of students with SEN in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and teachers. 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.
St Paulís Secondary School is an all-girls post-primary school which is located in the suburban area of Greenhills in south-west Dublin. It was opened in 1965 in response to the rapid increase of the local population and is still owned and managed by the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul the Apostle. In the current school year, 761 students are enrolled. They come from diverse backgrounds in a large catchment area. The school has a fulltime learning-support post and has been allocated ninety resource hours and ninety-six special needs assistant hours by the National Council for Special Education.
Prior to entry, the students sit a school-based assessment. This, along with information gathered from the feeder schools and from parents, is used to place the majority of the students in mixed-ability classes for all of the junior cycle. A small special needs class is created to cater for students transferring from the designated special class in St. Paulís main feeder school and from the other feeder schools. This is largely made possible by combining the allocated resource hours of these students. There is one of these classes in each of the junior cycle years. These students benefit from individualised instruction and follow a differentiated curriculum. They have the same subject choices as their peers and, although exempt from the study of Irish in accordance with the terms of Circular 00/94, they study a non-exam, school-based course of Ďtouristí French or Ďtouristí Spanish.
Students in the mixed ability classes who are eligible for learning support or resource teaching and who are exempt from studying Irish (Circular 00/94) or who are not studying a modern foreign language receive support during these class times. Those with additional needs who are studying Irish and a modern foreign language are withdrawn from classes as individuals or small groups. Students in the three special needs classes and some junior cycle and transition year students who are withdrawn from other classes receive additional support teaching through attendance at Key Skills classes. Senior cycle students have the option of following the established Leaving Certificate Programme or one of two alternatives, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). A small group of sixth years follow a reduced Leaving Certificate programme and receive individualised support in literacy and numeracy skills. Additional support for students in the senior cycle is facilitated through small group teaching in the LCA programme.
The special educational needs team in St. Paulís consists of an ex-quota learning-support teacher and two resource teachers. The former teacher has been appointed to a special duties post with the responsibility of co-ordinating the provision for students with special educational needs (SEN). The possible duties and responsibilities of the co-ordinator and the SEN team are speculated upon in the document titled, ĎDuties of Special Needs Co-ordinatorí. This document lists much of the work that needs to be done but doesnít specifically allocate the responsibility to the co-ordinator or to anyone else. This document should be revised to clarify the roles of each team member. Two of these teachers have completed relevant post-graduate training and all have completed a range of other relevant shorter courses. The team has weekly timetabled meeting. Meeting minutes are recorded and distributed to members as well as to management. The SEN teamís master file contains a range of documents that guide and detail the schoolís provision. They reveal significant forward planning by the department. There is historical evidence of evolving good practice and reflection.
There is clarity in the documentation which shows how the school has used its support allocation. The school creates a register listing all of the students for whom they hold a psychological report. This register is distributed to staff so that they can monitor their own students and consult the information compiled by the team which details the nature of each studentís abilities and needs along with a summary of the recommendations made by the psychologist. The SEN team also provides advice to mainstream teachers on a range of support strategies including multi-sensory teaching and differentiation.
There are two designated classrooms for resource provision. The rooms are equipped with desktop computers. The special educational needs team liaise with the schoolís information and communication technology (ICT) department regarding software and the use of ICT to reinforce learning. A range of resources including software is stored separately off the classrooms and in the common resource area off the staffroom. Teachers also have access to the five computers in the shared resource area. There is no separate budget for the SEN department but teachers reported that they have no problem in accessing the required resources. The school has been fitted with a lift to accommodate students with physically disabilities and one classroom is equipped with a sound field system to facilitate a student with impaired hearing. The school works closely with a visiting teacher for the deaf to ensure this studentís full inclusion.
Overall the teachers and management of St Paulís have a positive attitude which supports the principle and procedures of inclusion. Visits to a number of mainstream classrooms during the evaluation yielded evidence of inclusion in practice. Students with a range of diverse needs were included in all activities and were provided with appropriate assistance as required. Peer support was also in effect. Mainstream subject planning documents demonstrated awareness of individual needs and the differentiation required.
There are four special needs assistants (SNAs) working in the school. They are welcomed into all of the classrooms and are included in all aspects of school life. The SNAs have all benefited from training and are assigned to specific students with physical and sensory impairments and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. The SEN team has consulted with the mainstream teachers and produced a document on the role of the SNAs in St. Paulís. Consequently, the SNAs work collaboratively with the teachers and the management. This policy document correctly stresses that SNAs should promote independence in the student. SNAs are encouraged to liaise regularly with the class teachers and the resource teacher and to keep records of work done in each class as well as notable incidents.
At the time of the evaluation, a large number of teachers were involved in the delivery of the Key Skills classes. While it is sensible to involve mainstream teachers in the delivery of support for students with additional needs, the quality of that support can be better maintained by limiting their number. Mainstream teachers used in a support-teaching capacity require significant support with opportunities for collaboration and professional development. This is more feasible with a smaller number. Ideally, mainstream teachers recruited to deliver resource teaching will volunteer to do so and will be compensated by the school actively supporting them and investing in their professional development. Training might be provided in-house by the members of the schoolís SEN team or accessed outside of the school through established providers.
Many staff members have benefited from the managementís positive view of facilitating continuing professional development in the area of special educational needs and many teachers have attended courses and conferences on a range of relevant topics. It would be useful now for the school to engage in an audit of all the staffís training needs to ensure that the school continually builds on the present capacity. The school can access support and advice on professional development opportunities through the website of the Special Educational Support Service (SESS) www.sess.ie
There is no overall whole-school policy on the provision for students with any additional needs. It is strongly recommended that the school conduct a review of all existing practices and procedures for the provision it currently makes and begin the process of developing a whole-school policy on inclusion. Section 2.3 of the Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (Department of Education and Science, 2007) will be a useful reference in this endeavour. As with all policies it should detail the names of the contributors, note the next review date, state how and when staff and other relevant stakeholders were consulted, and give evidence of ratification by the board of management
The school has pro-actively identified a number of students in each year group who are gifted and talented by liaising directly with the feeder primary schools and tracking the entry assessment scores. The school maintains contact with the Talented Centre for Youth (TCY) in Dublin City University. A number of students have attended TCY programmes and entered the Young Scientists and the Maths Olympiad competitions. The school actively promotes science as a subject choice. These practices are praiseworthy. It is recommended that the school now formalise these procedures by developing a policy statement describing how the school identifies and supports students with exceptional ability. The publication Gifted and Talented Pupils: Guidelines for Teachers (NCCA, 2007) is a useful reference for developing both policy and practice.
The school actively promotes regular contact with parents. Parents of students with special educational needs are met before their daughters enter the school and are consulted about aspects of provision such as class placement, additional teaching and SNA support. They receive written reports of their daughtersí progress and can meet with a member of the special educational needs team at scheduled parent-teacher meetings or by making an appointment.
The school has received the support of a School Development Planning Initiative facilitator and the SEN team has created a subject department plan. This document provides a good overview of the departmentís work but does not adequately describe actual practice such as detailing how the stated aims and objectives will be achieved. This plan needs work and in a future review the team should strive to include information on the agreed procedures and practices of resource teachers in areas such as planning, collaboration, record keeping, and tracking student progress.
At present teachers devise their own schemes of work for the Key Skills and withdrawal classes in consultation with the students to provide the appropriate support. They can and do avail of the assistance and support of the special educational needs team. There is a focus on developing literacy, numeracy and independent study skills but specific subject support, in consultation with the mainstream subject teachers, is also provided. Resource and Key Skills teachers liaise with subject teachers to access key subject vocabulary. †There was some degree of planning in all classrooms visited but it varied greatly in quality. Most planning documentation consisted of lists of topics, resources and activities and gave no indication of the purpose or the intended outcomes of the teaching. Without this, there is no real way of measuring success of the interventions.
The school has not yet engaged in the individual education planning process. The individual education plan (IEP) is an effective process through which a studentís special educational needs can be addressed and by which an appropriate education can be provided for her. The SEN team already gathers the necessary relevant information in order to identify each studentís learning needs and strengths. This information should be used to set targets for learning to be implemented by teachers in the resource, withdrawal and mainstream classes.† The targets can be used later as a guide to review progress. The IEP process can help to identify priorities for planning across all curriculum areas. It can provide a means to monitor and report on student achievement. IEPs are also an effective means of involving students and their parents in their learning. The Guidelines on the Individual Education Process (National Council for Special Education, 2006) can provide some useful information on this process.
It is recommended that teachers review and develop current practice in classroom level and individual level planning. Both the Inclusion of Students with SEN: Post-Primary Guideline (Department of Education and Science, 2007) and the Learning-Support Guidelines (Government of Ireland, 2000) contain pertinent advice on planning for students with special educational needs.
Overall the standard of teaching and learning in the special needs classes is of good quality. Teachers follow the junior cycle curriculum but modify presentations and differentiate for individual needs as required. Students engage in a wide variety of curriculum-based activities which promote independent learning. Lessons began with overviews of previous learning and reviews of related homework. Teachers outlined learning objectives when introducing new topics and effectively used active learning strategies and visual aids to consolidate learning. There is a strong emphasis on student participation. Students are encouraged to ask questions and to problem solve together. Teachers are consistent in promoting the development of basic skills in areas such as oral and written language. There is evidence that a wide range of methodologies including role play, discovery learning and games are also employed. Teachers make a conscious effort to make appropriate cross-curricular links and to maintain a relevance of the work to the studentsí home lives.
Teaching in the withdrawal and Key Skills classes focuses on direct instruction to develop specific skills in the areas of literacy and numeracy or on specific aspects of the curriculum identified by subject teachers as requiring attention. There is an informal but positive working atmosphere in all classrooms. Teachers carefully challenge students yet are responsive to student needs and are consistently supportive.
While the school has a variety of arrangements in place for the provision of additional teaching support for students with special educational needs, the school is advised to also consider the value of co-operative teaching in extending this provision. In many situations, co-operative teaching practices such as team teaching, where a resource teacher works collaboratively alongside a mainstream teacher, can provide more inclusive support for students, help mainstream teachers develop support and differentiation strategies, and be a more effective use of resource hours.
Students with special educational needs partake as other students in the school-based assessment prior to entry. The SEN team collect and summarise the results or reports of previous educational or psychological assessments. The summaries and the recommendations of reports are disseminated to each studentís teachers. Once enrolled, student assessment consists mainly of continuous assessment as in the mainstream classes. Teachers collate work samples, records of homework and class presentations and class-based assessments to store in student folders. The SEN team advises teachers on how to modify class tests to suit student needs and to ensure a degree of success. Additional tests, including diagnostic tests, are administered as appropriate to gain additional information about each student and to assist in monitoring progress.† There is an awareness of the importance of issues surrounding storing data and appropriate measures are in place to ensure confidentiality and security.
All mainstream teachers can refer students whose academic progress is of concern to the SEN team for investigation. The team responds appropriately by reviewing all available information on the student, administering additional tests if necessary and making appropriate recommendations for interventions, such as additional support or psychological assessment.
Homework is set in all classes, including the three special needs classes, to check understanding and to monitor progress. Guidance on homework for special educational needs students is given in the department plan. It appropriately suggests that homework should emphasise review and reinforcement rather than introducing new work. It also suggests that teachers set reasonable time limits to spend on set homework.
There is no whole-school assessment policy and the information in the SEN subject department plan lacks sufficient detail. It is recommended therefore that the school conduct a review of the existing procedures for assessing, tracking, recording and reporting student achievement including how these procedures might be improved. The conclusions of this review should be used in conjunction with the advice provided in Section 2.6.3 of Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (Department of Education and Science, 2007) to draft a whole-school policy on assessment. This policy should focus on outputs and include details of the entrance tests and of the diagnostic testing of students with additional needs, and provide information on the development of individual planning for students with special educational needs.
It was noted with interest that a staff member was conducting a subject-by-subject audit of the junior and leaving certificate results of the schoolís students with special educational needs at the time of the evaluation. It was planned to compare the results in St Paulís to the national statistics. The results of this project should provide useful information in the schoolís own evaluation of its provision for students with special educational needs
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 teachers of students with special educational needs and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2009