An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Inspection of Special Educational Needs

REPORT

 

Larkin Community College

Champion Avenue, Dublin 1

Roll number: 76077O

 

Date of inspection:  7 and 8 November 2007

 

 

 

 

Inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of learning and Teaching in Special Educational Needs

 

 

 

inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Larkin Community College 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 special educational needs in the college. 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 students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed college planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the 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.

 

 

subject provision and whole school support

 

Larkin Community College is a co-educational post-primary school under the remit of the City of Dublin Vocational Educational Committee (CDVEC). There is open entry to the college. The current population of nearly 400 students comes from over seventy primary schools and includes students with a diverse range of abilities and needs. Many are attracted to the college by its unique Learning through Soccer, Learning through Arts and Larkin into Further Education (LIFE) scholarship programmes. The college is designated as disadvantaged and is part of the DEIS initiative. At the time of this evaluation the college had a total allocation of 140 teaching support hours from the National Council for Special Education for thirty-one students with low and high incidence special educational needs. The college’s mission statement proclaims its endeavours to provide the very best learning opportunities for all of the students. This inclusive statement is actualised in many of the college’s policies and practices. The principal has a clear vision for the college and clearly prioritises inclusion as a goal. He has an admirable knowledge and awareness of the needs of the college’s intake and he has made praiseworthy efforts to appropriately deploy the available resources and to keep the needs of the students at the centre of planning.

 

Larkin Community College maintains a flexible system of intervention and support which is monitored closely and reviewed regularly. The challenge of maintaining a capacity to adapt and change is acknowledged by the principal. The designated special educational needs team is led by a named co-ordinator with a post of responsibility for this area. The other members of the team are a teacher with the role of programme co-ordinator, the college’s guidance counsellor and a City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee psychologist. The team has a weekly time-tabled meeting which is often attended by the principal or deputy principal. Minutes of these meetings are recorded and circulated. The business at these meetings includes the identification of students who require additional support and organising the provision for them as well as the overall monitoring of that provision. The team liaises with the special educational needs organiser (SENO) regarding allocations. Mainstream teachers can refer students for the team’s consideration by using a college-created referral form which allows them to detail the difficulties they have observed and encourages them to suggest an action.

 

A mentoring system for students with SEN was being piloted during the time of this inspection. A group of six teachers act as mentors for approximately ten students each. They have planning and co-ordination time from the college’s resource allocation. The mentors are responsible for collating all information available on a student. They share relevant information by creating student profiles and offering advice to the class teachers. They also provide advice and support to the students. Their direct contact with the students may be in the form of withdrawal, in-class support or co-operative teaching. The mentor in consultation with the class tutor maintains contact with parents by telephone and through the students’ homework journals. Parents in turn can contact the class tutor or the mentor directly about their child’s needs or progress. This innovation is a constructive attempt to share responsibilities and to evolve a pragmatic support system.

 

At junior cycle, all students follow the traditional Junior Certificate course and a number of these students also follow the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) while at senior cycle students may be placed in the Leaving Certificate established (LC) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. It is good practice that no single programme is used as a default programme for students with SEN and there was evidence to this effect in Larkin Community College. All students have access to all subjects and programmes including Italian. Students who are exempt from the study of Irish receive extra literacy classes. Extra-curricular subjects such as rock climbing, swimming and drama are available. Participation is often used as a motivator.

 

Overall there is a positive attitude amongst staff to the inclusion of students with SEN. A total of seven staff members, including the three team members, hold post-graduate qualifications in the learning support / SEN area and there are a number of other staff members who have taken shorter courses in the area. These teachers deliver the bulk of the supplementary teaching for students with additional needs but there are also a number of teachers who have volunteered to be allocated a few classes a week for support teaching. The college staff have received in-service on the individual education plan process and the teachers who attended post-graduate training have provided additional whole-staff in-service. In general, the competency to provide differentiated learning experiences for these students is very good. The college should ensure the continuation of professional development of mainstream staff in areas relevant to inclusive education by conducting an audit of staff training needs. This is a practical way of providing additional support for individual staff and a means of updating the existing skill-base. For this purpose, it is recommended that contact be made with the Special Educational Support Service (www.sess.ie)

 

A committee of eight teachers including the SEN team has created a policy which creditably documents Larkin Community College’s whole-school approach to special educational needs. The policy lists the duties and responsibilities of the co-ordinator and provides information on how provision is organised and progress monitored. This is of assistance to all staff. The appendices of the policy refer to the legal context for provision and provide templates for creating and monitoring individual education plans and referring students for support. This policy was not dated and no date for review was stated. Best practice suggests that all policies should state their implementation date and authorship and give a date for review.

 

The special needs policy document stresses that co-operative teaching in conjunction with withdrawal support is the college’s preferred model of provision. In practice, the second teacher may provide student support in the class or may withdraw one or more students for one or more lessons. Alternatively, for specific work, the two teachers may opt to split the class. To operate this model close co-operation and communication are integral but can be a challenge to maintain. The management and teachers have responded admirably to this challenge to provide a flexible system which is responsive to student needs within the context of an inclusive college.

 

The college has recently created a policy to support gifted and talented students and plans to name a co-ordinator for this area. This is a practical demonstration of the college’s commitment to facilitate all children in reaching their potential. This document emphasises forward planning noting how opportunities for extension and enrichment will be built into the curriculum. Appropriately the policy states that in consultation with parents/guardians, students and teachers the policy will be reviewed as necessary. It is suggested that such a review takes due consideration of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA, 2007) publication ‘Exceptionally Able Students: Draft guidelines for teachers’.

 

A mission statement in the college’s policy on special needs declares that “The school strives to minimise and/or eliminate barriers to learning, which may prevent students with special educational needs from participating fully in the life of Larkin Community College” and the admissions policy states that the college ‘welcomes students with special educational needs.’

There are a number of passages in the Admission Policy’s section on the enrolment of children with special needs which set conditions for the enrolment of students with SEN and thereby contravene the policy of inclusion as endorsed by the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act (2004) and promoted by the Department for Education and Science. It is recommended that this section of the policy be reviewed and revised. Section 2.4.1 of the Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines will provide some clarification in this regard.

 

Larkin Community College has been pro-active in the development of a number of policies and practices such as the special needs and gifted policies and the mentoring system which work together to provide a positive and inclusive learning environment for a range of students with diverse needs. As a means of building on this success, all of this should be brought together in one over-arching policy on inclusion. A focus for future development in this area would be a review of all existing practices and procedures for the provision of learning support, language support and resource teaching to 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 can provide guidance.

Planning and preparation

 

All enrolling students sit a combination of standardised and diagnostic tests in the autumn prior to entry. Feeder primary schools are asked to complete profiling forms for each student. Students with declared special needs are asked to submit any existing reports and individual education plans to the college to aid planning and any students with unidentified but suspected needs are referred to the CDVEC psychologist. Additional diagnostic tests are administered as required. This information and that collected from parents is available to the teaching staff to plan their intervention and support work. Access to the student profiles helps subject teachers to adapt teaching methodologies to the learning styles of students.

 

Teachers providing supplementary teaching engage in group and class level planning with good effect. They liaise informally with the relevant class teachers every week. In support of the mainstream teachers, the SEN team disseminates information to the staff on how to support and intervene with a range of commonly exhibited learning behaviours and difficulties as well as information on the needs of specific students.  Guidance on suitable teaching methodologies for students with general learning disabilities is provided to aid planning. It is suggested that teachers make more use of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities.

 

The college has been using individual education plans (IEPs) for a number of years. On the date of the inspection the sixty-six students on the college’s SEN register had IEPs with academic targets that had been collaboratively drawn up by the SEN team and other relevant teaching staff including the mentors. It is an important role of the mentor to guide and to ensure the implementation of each student’s IEP. Procedures were also in place to conduct IEP reviews three times annually. Two areas for the future development of the IEP process have been identified by the college. One is the establishment of procedures to engage parents and the students in the IEP process. Rather than just being informed, parents and the students should play a pivotal role in the recognition of student strengths and meaningful goals and in implementing and reviewing the plan. A second area is the inclusion of social and behavioural targets where appropriate in each student’s IEP. Such targets would help mainstream teachers to reinforce targeted behaviours. It is recommended that the college take these next steps in the process by actively engaging parents and students and by facilitating the mentors to develop social and behavioural targets for their students.

Teaching and learning

 

There is no dedicated room for learning support / resource teaching so teachers move around using a variety of classrooms and the library. There is secure storage for student files in the guidance counsellor’s office. Information and communication technology (ICT), including desktop and laptop computers and seven multi-media classrooms, is accessible to support staff. Participation in the Laptop Initiative has left the staff aware of the potential uses of ICT with students with SEN. A range of resource and learning support materials, stored in the library, is available for use by all staff. The college library is a Junior Certificate Support Programme-funded demonstration library. Many of the literacy support teaching activities take place in the library with the librarian acting in a supporting role.

 

Six classrooms were visited during the evaluation. Small group, withdrawal and classes with co-operative teaching were observed. In general learning support was of a good quality. Direct instruction, guided learning and active learning are some of the effective methodologies in use. In an observed maths class, after direct instruction on sets, students consolidated their learning by grouping and re-grouping themselves in sets of students with brothers and students with sisters. The existence of a set of students with a brother and a sister was used to demonstrate intersection. In another maths class, students were encouraged to imagine travelling up and down on a lift to comprehend the concept of negative and positive numbers. In these, as in most observed lessons, the students were stimulated and worked purposefully. Teachers readily received student questions and consistently encouraged students to express their own opinions. The questioning of students by teachers was differentiated in language and in the depth of knowledge required for the answer. Pace and timing of lesson delivery was good. Helpful oral feedback was given to students and efforts were praised and reinforced with acknowledging words and smiles.

 

Most teachers whose classes were observed were well-prepared and subsequently delivered structured lessons that engaged students. Lessons usually began with a review of previous learning and an explanation of the lesson’s objectives. In one classroom, the lesson objectives were unclear to the students due to the poor directions given by the teacher. There was a lack of clarity in purpose for this lesson and as a result there were some class management problems.

 

Support for students in Transition Year and the Leaving Certificate Applied programmes often consisted of the withdrawal of one or two co-operative learning groups to access ICT or the support of a resource teacher. These co-operative learning groups often worked independently but under guidance and supervision.

Assessment

 

Assessment of all prospective students is carried out under the direction of the Psychological Services and the CDVEC Chief Education Psychologist. The results of this assessment are used in the selection of students for additional support, the formation of class groups, and the creation of student profiles and is shared with relevant staff.

 

The college deserves commendation for its well-developed system of monitoring and recording student progress. Assigned learning-support teachers keep a running record of work done on a college-created template and evaluate progress after a designated period of time. Feedback is given to students and parents every eight weeks with written reports giving grades and comments. All staff are responsible for monitoring student progress in literacy and numeracy. Literacy and maths skills are re-assessed on a regular basis. The college uses a college-based, computerised tracking system to record progress from first to sixth year as an action research project. Collected data includes the results of entry exams, diagnostic tests, cognitive assessment, psychological reports, junior certificate and leaving certificate exam results. In addition, teacher observation, homework and class work and the feedback from students, parents, class tutors and year heads are all used to monitor student effort. In summary, assessment outcomes are used constructively for forward long-term planning.

 

The college facilitates a number for students in their applications for reasonable accommodations in the state exams. The college also attempts to provide these accommodations in college exams.

 

Commendably, the improvement of the existing reporting system to students and parents and particularly its influence on the student’s learning plan is a stated goal of the college. The college does not have a written policy on assessment but there are in place a range of procedures to facilitate the monitoring, recording and reporting of student progress. It is recommended that the college documents all existing practices to create a draft whole-college policy on assessment. The review of this draft should be on the agenda for future school development planning.

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The management and the teaching staff demonstrate a positive commitment to inclusion.
  • The college maintains a flexible system of intervention and support which is monitored closely and reviewed regularly.
  • The quality of the preparation and planning of the SEN team, the mentors and the support staff is excellent.
  • There is a good quality of teaching and learning including a competency to provide differentiated and active learning experiences.
  • Relevant policy development is at an advanced stage.
  • The college uses a variety of means to plan work and to measure progress including IEPs.
  • The needs of the students with SEN remain central to the planning and the appropriate use of allocated supports.

 

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

 

  • To ensure the continued professional development of staff, it is recommended that an audit of training needs be conducted and that contact be made with the Special Educational Support Service.

 

  • In light of recent legislation and Department policy, it is recommended that the admission policy’s section on the enrolment of children with special needs be reviewed and revised.

 

  • As part of the continuing development of the IEP process, it is recommended that the college actively engages parents and students and facilitates the mentors in contributing social and behavioural targets to the IEPs.

 

  • It is recommended that the college documents all existing good practices to draft a whole-school policy on assessment.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of students with special educational needs, the co-ordinator of special needs and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published September 2008