An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs
Newtown, County Limerick
Roll number: 76073G
Date of inspection: 1 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in special educational needs
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Castletroy College, Newtown, County Limerick. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in the provision for special educational needs 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 teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
The quality of provision and whole-school support for students identified with special educational needs is of a very high standard in Castletroy College. This report reflects very favourably upon all involved and the suggested recommendations are well within the remit of the college.
An assistant principal co-ordinates all aspects of provision for students with special educational needs to a very high standard and is supported by senior management and a core team of teachers who are qualified in this aspect of education. Enrolment in the college is considerable and the school’s total allocation of 134 hours for provision for special educational needs is used appropriately and for the purposes intended. The exemplary tracking system in place ensures that optimal use is made of the resources provided. Among the needs identified are students with low-incidence and high-incidence disabilities, as well as students with low achievement in the area of literacy and numeracy. Students requiring English language support receive additional resources and the college’s programme for these students is cognisant of the potential for special educational needs, including giftedness and exceptionalities, to also exist among this cohort. All first-year classes are formed on the basis of mixed-ability groupings with all students having access to all subjects in first year. Option choices in second and fifth year are first made available to students identified with special educational needs. Students in senior cycle may take Geography if not pursuing a modern language to Leaving Certificate level.
The six teachers with additional postgraduate qualifications in special education work closely together and with other teachers to deliver support for learning in a variety of effective ways. The wide range of subject expertise among this core group adds to the quality of provision as does the range of levels taught by these teachers, with no teacher being over-identified with a particular cohort of students. Interventions to support students usually focus on specific language and mathematical needs, while a suitable balance is struck between individually prioritised learning needs and access to the broader curriculum. This support is provided in a flexible and student-focused manner and includes smaller class sizes in English and Mathematics, individual student withdrawal and small group withdrawal. The decision to withdraw students from classes is made following consultation with students and their parents. Every effort is made to ensure that such decisions are made in the best interest of the student and that they don’t diminish student perception of themselves as learners or limit future career choices. There are 4.5 fulltime special- needs assistants appointed to the school and their contribution is duly acknowledged in this report.
Timetabling of the additional teaching hours provided, is done in tandem with the construction of the main timetable resulting in the school being able to provide a more consistent, cohesive and structured sequence of lessons across the school week and from year to year. Such practice is highly commended and allows for the creation of a core, but not exclusive, team of teachers to work with identified students and access relevant continuing professional learning. As discussed with teachers and principal, where fragmentation of provision lingers it may be alleviated in the future by an examination of the timetable for students with exemptions from Irish. It may also benefit from the introduction of alternative modes of support such as team-teaching arrangements where, as an alternative to students being withdrawn from class, two teachers teach in the same class at the same time.
The school is purpose built and accessible. The more recent extension facilitates students with special educational needs with a wide range of suitable and up-to-date resources in a number of classrooms that are located near to one another. While teacher-based classrooms result in many students changing classes regularly, such movement was seen to be conducted in an orderly fashion and students were seen to be polite, courteous and willing to help each other when necessary. Students are encouraged to participate in all aspects of school life and the subtle work of the special needs assistants in allowing students to interact with one another was also noted during the course of the inspection. Fourth-year students meet and engage with first-year students in a range of ways which assist new students with their induction into school life. Similarly the needs of those teachers or special needs assistants new to the school are facilitated by a range of supports including teacher mentoring. Such inclusive practices among adults add considerably to the creation of an inclusive environment for all students.
In planning for inclusion the school adopts a highly structured, detailed and effective approach. Such attention to planning and preparation is clearly expressed in the college’s very impressive special educational needs plan. Individual teacher and subject department planning, as well as term-based individual student plans, were also seen to be of a high standard with good lines of communication and action taking place.
Parents are encouraged to contact the college before enrolment and to stay in contact with the college thereafter. Such contact is usually initiated as part of the college’s systematic and well co-ordinated approach to the enrolment of first-year students. Following the offer of places the school administers suitable standardised tests and engages with the students’ parents and primary schools as well as relevant external personnel. The sequence of events above is in keeping with inclusive practices where assessment follows enrolment. The school’s admissions policy draws on the relevant legislative developments and in this regard it makes considered and specific reference to students with special educational needs. Relevant external agencies are contacted and the school works closely with the Special Educational Needs Officer (SENO) as well as with representatives from the Visiting Teachers Service and the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).
The aforementioned comprehensive special educational needs plan outlines clearly the work the college engages in and, among others, highlights the college’s enrolment procedures, assessment and attendance policies, continuing professional development, its efforts to encourage full student participation in all aspects of school life, as well as how the school seeks to provide a meaningful curriculum and engage with others working to achieve a similar goal. Drawing on the Department of Education and Science Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines (2007) the non-teaching duties of special needs assistants are outlined in this document as are the roles and responsibilities of others within the school.
Effective timetabling practices facilitate communication among the relevant teachers. Staff meetings are used to facilitate communication among all colleagues and the core team of teachers is timetabled to meet regularly. These team meetings are minuted and in such a large school, clearly serve a very important purpose in striving to achieve a whole-school approach to meeting the needs of all students. Access to information relating to individual students is undertaken responsibly with certain data being available in the staffroom while more confidential information can be viewed and discussed by teachers on request. The planned engagement with seminars devoted to individualised planning may further assist in this regard as may the use of the school’s information and communication technology (ICT) administrative packages.
As with the quality of provision for support, the school is commended for the quality and impact of its planning and preparation. The learner-centred and learning-centred approaches witnessed, significantly and positively impact upon student experiences. In planning and preparing for further developments it is recommended that the school examine the merits of team-teaching arrangements as outlined in the Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines (2007).
In total ten lessons, involving eight teachers were inspected and these lessons were of forty minutes duration. All lessons formed part of a cohesive sequence and detailed written lesson plans were evident in all cases. These lessons ranged from small class groups to individual withdrawal and group withdrawal. Lessons concentrated on a range of appropriate skills including the development of literacy and numeracy skills, as well as skills associated with specific subjects and programmes such as Mathematics, English, Art, Geography and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) modules. Lessons which focused on needs specific to individual students were also visited.
Teachers’ knowledge of pedagogy, of subject matter and of individual learners ensured that the overall quality of teaching and learning was very good in the lessons observed. Despite some fragmentation, where students received support from a number of teachers, good communication among teachers supported learning in a cohesive and co-ordinated fashion. Individual teacher’s plans linked with subject plans and with the identified needs of students. Good teacher-student rapport was evident throughout and the positive discipline ensured that every effort was made to catch the student behaving and performing well. Students responded well to such encouragement and praise and seemed appreciative of the additional support being given.
Where applicable, paired and small group work was seen to very good effect and merged content learning with the development of social skills. Assistive technology was also used to advance learning in a number of cases and the good work between the school and the Visiting Teacher Service, combined with the special needs assistants’ engagement with their own up-skilling, is duly noted in this report. Good use of ICT and other visual stimuli and the quality of teacher planning and questioning ensured that lessons were of interest to students. Lessons were well paced and resulted in advancing learning in specific subject content and in more generic skills.
A notable feature in all lessons observed was the opportunity taken by teachers to listen to students and engage with students. Students clearly benefited from their interaction with teachers and with one another. Appropriate time was given to students to respond to questions and where difficulties occurred other students were respectfully requested to assist. Regular and appropriate praise for students’ contribution and effort was also used to good effect by teachers as was the judicious use of humour.
In conversations with teachers it was clear that, as professionals, they were always seeking new ways to improve their practice. As discussed, one such way is through team-teaching where, not only are more opportunities created for students to be engaged with individually, but teachers may also learn from one another in real time during their daily practice. Apart from the skills mentioned above, teachers could share the good practices as witnessed during the course of the inspection. For example, teachers may wish to discuss the range of questioning techniques they use in class, how they check for learning by asking students to compose questions, or examine the approaches teachers adopt to weave the promotion of literacy and numeracy skills into the subject-specific aspect of their lessons. The practice of displaying students’ work and its impact upon student progress also merits being shared with each other as does the use of keywords, mindmapping and other strategies practiced by individual teachers.
Consideration should be given to sharing such good teaching practices through devoting a section of the aforementioned impressive special educational needs plan to teaching and learning. Similarly, teachers may wish to use this publication as a conduit to communicate their shared understanding of what exactly is meant in their school by terms such as ‘inclusion’, ‘literacy’, ‘numeracy’, ‘differentiation’, ‘co-operative learning’ and other concepts associated with all students’ learning.
The school engages in a comprehensive range of assessment practices. Daily classroom observation and interaction with students combine with more formal assessment practices to inform teaching and learning. The key role of the mainstream teacher in promoting inclusive learning for all students is affirmed in the college through the good lines of communication between the special educational needs core team and other mainstream teachers. Subject teachers’ input into discussions concerning individual students inform decision making, including whether a student requires continued support or otherwise.
Students’ progress, attainment and achievement are communicated to home on a regular basis. Parents are facilitated, on request, to meet with teachers. Class-based examinations are administered on a regular basis and Christmas and summer results are appropriately monitored, stored and used to track students’ progress. Standardised and diagnostic tests are used appropriately with results similarly shared and interpreted among staff. To further support a whole-school approach to literacy and numeracy, and the work already being undertaken, it is recommended that formal retesting be administered during the course of students’ junior cycle programme. Such findings can be examined by staff in relation to a particular cohort or as part of tracking an individual student’s progress. Such findings could feed into the existing tracking system forming a register of resource inputs and learning outcomes. Other gauges of achievement could also be included and where appropriate individual case studies could form the basis for consideration and analysis.
The school administers a questionnaire to sixth-year students near to the time of completing their time in school. As discussed with the teachers and principal, a questionnaire of first-year students determining how well they have settled into the school may also be of benefit. In this regard, the Organisation for Economic Development’s (OECD) publication Student Engagement At School, A Sense of Belonging and Participation (2003) may assist with both initiatives.
The participation and achievements of students with special educational needs in State examinations are rightfully a source of pride for school management, staff and parents. The bar of expectation is set realistically high, as indicated by a review of recent state examination results and the levels taken. The school is also mindful of students who are identified as exceptionally gifted and talented. 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). In general students are facilitated in becoming familiar with the relevant accommodations provided and are assisted in accessing these when they sit their pre-examinations. It was noted that the school facilitated twenty-five special centres for its students which were provided by the State Examination Commission in 2009.
A homework club also assists students with their learning. Students’ work including copies and journals were maintained to a high standard. Students’ written work was found to be regularly corrected, on occasions signed and dated with concluding comments to encourage students in their learning. Selective and prioritised correction was the norm and the positive discipline structures were also seen to motivate students to try their best.
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 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.
Published, January 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The school is pleased that the report acknowledges the excellent work of all members of staff in providing the best possible education for students with special education needs.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
A whole staff in-service on team-teaching is scheduled to take place in March 2010. It is intended to incorporate team-teaching into the timetable for 2010-2011.