An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs
St. Patrick’s Road
Roll number: 62540I
Date of inspection: 21 September and 9 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Special Educational Needs
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Deerpark CBS, Cork. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching in provision for special educational needs (SEN) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of students with special educational needs 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 students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school 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 members of the school’s special educational needs support team. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Deerpark CBS is a Christian Brothers’ school serving the south inner city and surrounding areas of Cork. The school attends to all students’ learning in a manner that was found to be collaborative, flexible and inclusive. The inclusive ethos of the school reflects its stated aim to serve ‘all of the community regardless of ability’. The leadership shown by senior management and the special educational needs support team is deserving of much praise.
The school’s total allocation of 101 hours for provision for special educational needs is used appropriately and creatively to maximise the benefit to student learning. There is a considerable number of students with a wide range of needs presenting in the school, including students identified with low- and high-incidence disabilities, students with learning-support needs and students requiring English language support. Two well-qualified teachers are at the heart of the school’s support team. Another teacher is employed as a resource teacher to work with a small group of first-year students identified with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). The support team’s complement is completed by a small number of teachers who have a proportion of their timetable specifically allocated to assist students with special or additional educational needs. The members of the support team have a broad and complementary range of skills and interests in such subject-specific areas as: English, Mathematics, Science, Drama, History, Geography and Music. Teachers’ external interests are also used to good effect in helping students’ access co-curricular and extracurricular activities. The ongoing individual professional development undertaken by many of the team members is significant and is commended.
The school is conscious of the need to provide interventions that are cohesive and systematic. The provision of support is very well coordinated by one of the support team who undertakes such work in a voluntary capacity. It is suggested that such good work would be further served by having the learning-support provision and known resource hours factored into the timetable in advance of its construction. The school provides additional support for learning through a number of interventions, including individual and small-group withdrawal, as well by engaging in team-teaching where the support team members work in the mainstream classroom. As a result of the high degree of collaboration, between the support team and mainstream teachers, students have access to and can beneficially participate in the full curriculum offered by the school. Apart from those with exemptions from Irish, all students access all subjects. In this regard, the particular contributions of the coordinator, the resource teacher for students with ASD and the special needs assistants (SNA) are duly noted.
The school is commended for clearly documenting the role of the special needs assistant. The school’s draft policy on special educational needs is also well constructed and the recently published Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines (2007) will assist in further development and ratification of this and other related documentation. In light of recent legislation, relating to provision for special educational needs, it is recommended that the school’s admissions policy be reviewed. The school is aware of the need to attend to the learning needs of students who are exceptionally able and gifted and any future review of school policies should take more active account of such learning needs.
The positive discipline system and detailed tracking and monitoring of attendance reflect the school’s commitment to its students. The school seeks to constantly improve the quality of provision and is involved in a number of joint projects with third level institutions. Participation in Department of Education and Science sponsored projects, such as the DEIS initiative and NCCA pilot programmes, is used to good effect. The school works closely with local special schools and is currently involved in a pilot project, The Special School as a Resource, which is organised by the Special Education Support Service. The school provides two well-equipped resource rooms for individual and small group withdrawal. An additional room has recently been converted into a suitable base room for those first-year students who present with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). There is very good provision and whole school support for students with special educational needs in Deerpark CBS. Such provision and support allows all to have a sense of place and a sense of belonging.
Planning and preparation were found to be of a high standard. Good lines of communication with primary schools, parents and representatives of external agencies assist in gathering relevant information in advance of students’ arrival. Standardised tests are administered to further inform learning strengths and possible learning needs. Relevant information pertaining to individual students is conveyed sensitively and appropriately to the mainstream teachers. All documentation, including a very well constructed and maintained register of needs, is recorded and stored appropriately.
As stated in the school’s draft special educational needs policy, there is a clear recognition of the need to adopt a whole- school approach in meeting special educational needs. The school has increasingly adopted team-teaching as a mode of delivery which promotes inclusive practice while also enhancing the learning opportunities for identified students. All involved in this mode of delivery are deserving of much praise. Where deemed appropriate, the continued extension of such good practice is encouraged. Allied to such interventions is the development of the school’s individual education planning process. The school uses the templates in the Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process (2006), as published by the National Council for Special Education. Individual teacher planning was of a high standard in all lessons visited. The lesson plans met the stated aims as documented in the short and long term goals for individuals and class groups.
The school is conscious of the need to adopt a collaborative approach among all teachers and the special educational needs support team engages both formally and informally with their colleagues on a regular basis. The coordinator attends all necessary pastoral and curricular meetings. Core members of the special educational needs support team meet at a regular and formal time each week. This time is sometimes used to liaise with representatives from external agencies. Consideration should also be given to how the school shares information with colleagues. It is suggested that the support team be facilitated in presenting progress reports to colleagues which may outline, for example, the improved standardised test scores of a particular cohort or improvements in achievement and engagement as witnessed in individual case studies.
It was reported that, in the past, the school has engaged in peer tutoring and cross-age tutoring among students. A proposed re-examination of the benefits that such good practice may have for particular students in the school should prove worthwhile.
The positive interaction between teachers and students was a noticeable feature during the visit. It was clear that a high degree of mutual respect exists between teachers and students. A balance was maintained between the amount of time spent on priority needs and the time spent accessing the wider curriculum. Students felt comfortable asking questions and seeking help from both teachers and peers. Such a positive learning environment is due in no small way to the quality of teaching observed. A range of lessons was observed, including a team-teaching lesson on Science, an individual lesson focusing on a specific reading programme, a number of small withdrawal groups which concentrated on advancing language and mathematical skills, and time was also spent with the aforementioned first-year group in their base room, where emphasis was placed on improving oral and social skills.
In all lessons observed, a student-centred approach was adopted with the learning content being woven into the students’ experiences and interests. Lessons were well paced with objectives and outcomes explained in advance and revisited at the end of the lesson. As a result, learning was reinforced and a sense of achievement was instilled among the learners. Regular checking for understanding was achieved in a variety of ways, with praise and support evident throughout. Students were actively involved in the lessons and knowledge of students’ learning styles further assisted teachers in personalising the lesson for each student. In some lessons, good use of group activities promoted discussion and debate around certain topics. On occasions, teachers took full advantage of group work to attend to individual needs in ways that were both subtle and effective. Further examination by the support team of the benefits that can accrue from the sharing and extension of co-operative learning practices is recommended.
The team-teaching lesson observed took place in a first-year mainstream science class. Along with the science teacher, the resource teacher for students with ASD and a special needs assistant were also present to ensure that learning occurred for all present. A combination of open-ended and closed questions was used throughout the class and by the end of the lesson all students had participated and benefited from being involved. Good teacher mobility and knowledge of students informed who best to question individually and what questions suited a more collective response. The small-group lesson which focused on language development made very good use of ICT to engage the students in a collective writing exercise. Among the many positive features of this lesson were the students’ self-correction and peer-correction as they planned and displayed their writing in real time, using PowerPoint slides and a data projector. The use of audience to further enhance and motivate student writing via publication of students’ work was also discussed. Very good use of practical examples of mathematical concepts such as ‘area’ and ‘perimeter’ were witnessed with another small group of learners. The practical and functional uses of such skills were kept to the fore by the teacher, who was also very much aware of the different learning needs presenting. The sequence of producing theory from practical problem-solving was appropriate and effective. Similar good work in this regard was witnessed in another lesson where two learners co-operated to produce mathematical-based sentences, and thus combined in an authentic manner both language and mathematical skills. As with all lessons observed, the quality of learning and teaching during a one-to-one reading session was also of a high standard and relevant to the learning needs of the particular student. The assigned first-year resource teacher works with the students in all lessons, including their attendance at his first-year mainstream classes. A specific lesson is also organised each day in their base room. These specific lessons are designed to assist in promoting social skills. During the inspection, a board game was successfully used to practice ‘turn taking’ and ‘making polite interjections’. Attention was also devoted to other important dimensions of social learning, such as being able to express and recognise feelings and emotions. Again, the diversity of needs presenting among this small group was not only known by the teacher but was addressed to ensure that all participated and benefited from the lesson.
The school engages in a comprehensive assessment of students. Students’ progress and achievement are communicated to home on a regular basis. Parents are facilitated, on request, to meet with teachers. Appropriate standardised and diagnostic tests are used to determine learning and inform teaching. Students’ progress is also assessed on a daily basis by subject teachers and by class-based examinations. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer. Students’ work is monitored, stored and used sensitively to assess and determine progress.
In consultation with the local National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologist, the school adopts a systematic approach to arranging Reasonable Accommodations in Certificate Examinations (RACE). Students are facilitated in becoming familiar with the relevant accommodations provided and are assisted in accessing these when they sit their pre-examinations. The participation and achievements of students with special educational needs in state examinations are rightfully a source of pride for all concerned.
A homework policy which includes reference to students with special educational needs is under consideration. It is recommended that such a policy would support a whole-school approach to the issuing, completion, correction and monitoring of homework. The policy should differentiate between ability levels and allow for various modes of presentation, assessment and feedback, as witnessed during the course of the visit. Students’ written work was found to be regularly corrected, on occasions signed and dated, and always with concluding comments to encourage students in their learning. The schools’ stated aim of developing the whole person is witnessed in the many awards presented, from within and from outside the school, which give due recognition to student engagement as well as achievement.
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 members of the school’s special educational needs support team and principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.