An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Special Educational Needs
St. Aidanís Community School
Brookfield, Tallaght, Dublin 24
Roll number: 91338D
Date of inspection: 6 November 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Special Educational Needs
This report has been written following an inspection of special educational needs (SEN) in St. Aidanís Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the provision and the teaching and learning for students with special educational needs and makes recommendations for further development in this area. 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 and the SEN co-ordinator. 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.
St. Aidanís Community School was established in 1984 to serve the areas of Brookfield and Fettercairn. The school is both open and inclusive in its policies and practices. The schoolís admission policy states that it acknowledges the right of all children to an education and welcomes applications from students with special needs. The school maintains a positive and accepting whole-school attitude towards all students. At the time of the evaluation the student population was 490 and the school had an allocation of 137 teaching support hours from the National Council for Special Education to support twelve students with low incidence disabilities and forty-five students with high incidence disabilities - nearly 12% of the total cohort. There is an appropriate and flexible use of available resources to support all students including those with identified special educational needs and those who require learning or behaviour support.
Both the principal and the deputy principal are resolute in ensuring that the school lives up to its commitment to maintain a caring and inclusive school which provides an appropriate education and a safe learning environment for all students. They facilitate the work of the in-school management team, the care team and the SEN team in this goal. The whole-school plan is currently under revision. It is recommended that, as a part of this review process, the existing policies and practices for special educational needs and learning support be reviewed and written up as a whole-school policy on inclusion. Chapter Two of the Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines can assist this endeavour. The schoolís recent development of a whole-school language and literacy development policy is commendable. The policy is based on the sound principle that all teachers are responsible for developing student language skills and it provides some practical advice in support of this.
St. Aidanís has a history of being pro-active in partaking in new initiatives and programmes to support students. The cumulative effect of this has been to significantly improve student attendance, literacy levels and numeracy skills as well as parental involvement in school life. The school participates in the School Support Programme under DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) and because it is in a targeted urban RAPID ((Revitalising Areas by Planning Investment and Development) area receives extra funding and has benefited from a range of initiatives such as the School Completion Programme and the Home-School-Community Liaison (HSCL) Scheme. With the support of the National Education (Welfare) Board (NEWB) since 2004-05 the school has dramatically improved the total number of absences and suspensions from the school. As part of the recently established National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS), St. Aidanís maintains a behaviour support classroom for a select number of targeted students and participates in the whole-school approaches Back on Track, a literacy initiative, and Belonging Plus, an induction programme for entering students.
St. Aidanís is also involved in the South Dublin County Council initiative Connect School. The aim of this project is to improve educational outcomes for students through an investment in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in area schools. In 2006, all teaching staff were provided with laptops and training. In the following years each new first year student was issued with a laptop. Students are trained in the technology through timetabled computer classes and they use the laptops for school and home work. The school has installed Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) for staff and student use and there is a data projector in every class room.
The school has evolved efficient and effective procedures for gathering information about incoming students. The schoolís entry assessment tests are conducted in the feeder schools each spring. The results of these tests along with parent interviews, psychological and other professional reports, and the views of the feeder school teachers are used to place students in appropriate classes and to identify students requiring additional support.
There are four class groups in each year of the junior cycle, a top class, a middle band of two mixed ability classes and a smaller learning support class. Three classes follow the traditional Junior Certificate programme while the learning support class follows the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Students in the JCSP class study English, Irish, Mathematics, Environmental and Social Studies (ESS), Physical Education, Home Economics, Art, Craft and Design, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Civic, Social and Personal Education (CSPE), Religious Education and computers. Most students with high incidence special educational needs are in this class based on an assessment of their learning needs, but some are placed in one of the two middle band classes. All JCSP English classes have two assigned teachers which facilitates both team-teaching and the dividing of a class to provide more individualised work. The two classes in the middle band have three teachers assigned for the core subjects of English, Irish and Mathematics.
The school operates a variety of models of support including in-class support, team teaching and smaller classes. Commendably, there is only a limited practice of withdrawing students from classes for individualised support. This is mainly provided by qualified support staff, although some mainstream teachers are involved. Support in the senior cycle consists mainly of placement in a LCA class with some withdrawal.
The school has devolved much of the responsibility for the provision for students with special educational needs to a co-ordinator who holds a post. The duties of the co-ordinator have recently been defined for the revised whole-school plan. They include programme planning, assessing and monitoring progress, record-keeping, supporting and consulting with teachers, supervising the SNAs and liaising with the feeder schools, parents and external personnel such as the special educational needs organiser and the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologist and more.
There is an SEN support team which consists of the co-ordinator, three other resource teachers, the principal and the deputy principal. However, this team only meets informally on an occasional basis. It is suggested that regular working meetings be scheduled for the SEN support team to facilitate the collaboration that is required for planning and organising the provision. The SEN co-ordinator also attends the schoolís care team meetings which co-ordinates support for Ďat riskí students.
Five teachers have recognised qualifications in the areas of learning support and special educational needs. They have responsibility for most of the resource teaching. Only a limited number of resource hours are given to other teaching staff. The role of a resource teacher in the school has also been recently defined for the revised whole-school plan. It is clear from the role description that teachers are involved in both withdrawal sessions and team teaching and are responsible for individualised and group level planning, collaboration with colleagues and tracking progress. They receive ongoing support from the SEN co-ordinator.
The support provided in mainstream subject areas is planned, delivered and monitored by resource and mainstream teachers working together through a model of in-class support and team teaching. Subject teachers ensure that support and individual assistance is provided through collaborative subject planning in consultation with the SEN co-ordinator and the SEN support team. Significant resources, including a range of software and teaching materials, are available to support resource teaching and inclusion. These are stored in a room off a classroom used by the SEN co-ordinator.
Nine fulltime special needs assistants (SNAs) have been allocated by the schoolís special educational needs organiser (SENO) to support ten students with low incidence needs. SNAs are timetabled appropriately by the SEN support team and work under the guidance of the SEN co-ordinator. All of the SNAs are qualified and well-integrated into school life. They are welcome in all classrooms and work in collaboration with the teachers. They are clear about their role and work assiduously to promote student independence. There is a written role description for SNAs. They provide behaviour and classroom management support plus hands on support in practical classes for targeted individuals and others as needed.
There are a number of established procedures for communicating with parents and this is supplemented by the work of the Home-School-Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. The school has created a new parentsí room to encourage parents to come into the school and to feel welcome. The HSCL co-ordinator has organised a number of events to support parents, including courses in drug awareness, parenting and computing.
Teaching staff have a range of supports available to them to support their planning for students with special educational needs. The co-ordinator creates individual profiles of students with special educational needs and includes positive advice for their support. These are distributed to the teachers that teach the specific students. In addition to this, relevant information on new students with special educational needs is disseminated to staff orally in September. All psychological assessment and other professional reports are kept in secure storage but are accessible to staff on a need-to-know basis. Staff have engaged with relevant professional development topics including collaborative teaching, learning difficulties, differentiation, ICT and behaviour management. This established good practice can be continued through a regular audit of staff training needs in the area of supporting students. The school is advised to engage with the Special Education Support Service (SESS) regarding relevant training opportunities.
The quality of teacher planning and preparation is good. Subject teachers produce monthly and yearly plans listing topics to be covered as well as noting the skills, concepts and language to be developed. Subject planning documents reference appropriate modes of differentiation and intervention and list relevant resources. Not all subject teachers were aware of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessmentís Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities. The guidelines provide significant advice regarding potential areas of difficulty for students with mild general learning disabilities in each subject area of the junior certificate curriculum. It is recommended that all subject teachers consult the guidelines as part of their curriculum planning for students with special educational needs.
Teachers make an effort to ensure that whenever possible school work is relevant to studentsí home and life experiences. Good practice was noted in the use of appropriate font type and size and the frequent use of symbols and illustrations on handouts and projected text to improve the readability, and therefore accessibility, of information for students. Classroom walls have posters relating to JCSP reading initiatives such as the Reading Challenge and many display keywords as a visual reinforcement to learning. Planning for LCA classes focuses on the achievement of the specific learning outcomes for each module in tandem with differentiating for the needs of individual students.
The planning by resource teachers focuses on providing literacy and numeracy support but resource teachers also provide subject support in collaboration with mainstream subject teachers. Building confidence is seen as an important goal in resource teaching.† Overall, the quality of planning is good but to be in line with best practice it should continue to evolve. It is recommended that the SEN support team progress the schoolís model of individualised planning by focussing attention on identifying learning and behaviour targets for the individual students with more complex needs. These targets could then be shared with all relevant teaching staff to inform their planning and to ensure consistency in the support provided across the school. The team might also consider how mainstream teachers, parents and students might become involved in identifying targets.
The quality of the teaching observed in all classrooms was very good. Most teachers shared learning outcomes orally or in writing at the start of each lesson and continued to reference them during the lesson.† This is good practice. Lessons typically featured strong links with prior learning and teachers showed competence in the use of differentiated questioning techniques which kept all students involved and learning. Teachers maintained a good rapport with students. Good examples of individualised support and differentiation were observed in classrooms. Students benefited from the supportive but work-oriented atmosphere promoted in classrooms. Lessons properly contained significant opportunities for repetition and reinforcement of learned knowledge and skills. There was good use of praise with studentsí efforts being consistently affirmed. Teaching methodologies made possible through ICT-enabled classrooms were used to good effect as were active learning and peer support. Overall there was a good level of teacher-student interaction. The quality of work produced by students was deemed to be appropriate to their abilities.
Two models of team teaching were observed in mainstream classes. In one two qualified subject teachers taught in tandem. In the second a subject teacher led the instruction while a resource teacher provided individual support and behaviour management. There is a strong emphasis on the direct teaching (reading, spelling, meaning, usage) of subject-related and exam language in each class.
Resource teaching provided by withdrawal was diagnostic in nature and based on individual achievement and need. It tended to focus on developing basic reading skills. Students are selected by the co-ordinator and a resource teacherhose selected to receive support may vary during †the year depending on changing needs.† Direct literacy instruction is also provided for a small number of targeted students in the NBSSí Back on Track programme. These students attend for 1:1 support in the behaviour support classroom. The SRA Corrective Reading Programme is used for literacy development. In the learning support mathematics classes, students were guided by two teachers as they followed individualised programmes at their own pace. Students are supported in other maths classes through withdrawal. This is done in collaboration with the mainstream maths teacher. ICT and games are used in learning support maths classes to practice and reinforce learned skills in areas such as multiplication, fractions, time telling and percentages.
The schoolís demonstration library, funded by the JCSP, opened in 2008. This new facility is staffed by a full-time librarian and contains a wide range of learning resources including reading and reference materials and four desktop computers. All JCSP classes have one English class per week in the library. This session promotes reading development through structured silent reading while the class teacher, the librarian and the SNA circulate and listen to individuals reading orally. †Other students have access to the library on request and through the co-operative efforts of class teachers and the librarian.
The school has a range of good assessment practices in place. General progress in the curriculum areas is monitored through the use of teacher observations, class work, homework, JCSP statements, LCA learning outcomes, class-based tests and school-wide testing in December and May. Student work is kept in individual folders and samples are laminated and displayed proudly in classrooms. Teachers keep records of work completed. Parents are informed of student progress through midterm and end of term reports.
A range of standardised and diagnostic tests are also in use. These are used as part of the school entry process and to identify specific support needs as well as to re-test literacy and numeracy skills annually to fulfil a DEIS requirement. The school was dissatisfied with some of the tests in current use and so it was advised to review the tests that are currently in use by first noting what information is needed to facilitate teachersí planning and the monitoring of student progress and then to investigate which tests suitable for an adolescent population could help the school gather the required information. The school was referred to the Departmentís list of tests approved for use in post-primary schools. It is recommended that this review of tests be the catalyst for the development of a whole-school policy on assessment. Assessment should always be carried out for a particular purpose and a formal policy can clarify to the school community what assessment takes place, their purpose and how the results are used. Section 2.6 of the Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-primary Guidelines (DES, 2007) contains some useful advice on assessment.
The school identifies students who may require reasonable accommodations in exams, makes applications on their behalf to the State Examinations Commission and when possible provides training and the accommodation in school exams.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Both the principal and the deputy principal are resolute in ensuring the school lives up to its commitment to maintain a caring and inclusive school providing an appropriate education and a safe learning environment for all students.
∑ The school has evolved efficient and effective procedures for gathering information about incoming students and operates a variety of models of support including in-class support, team teaching and smaller classes.
∑ There is a post-holder with defined responsibilities to co-ordinate the provision for students with special educational needs who is supported by a special educational needs support team.
∑ Five teachers who have recognised qualifications in the areas of learning support and special educational needs have the main responsibility for resource teaching.
∑ The support provided in mainstream subject areas is planned, delivered and monitored by resource and mainstream teachers working together through a model of in-class support and team teaching.
∑ There is a range of supports available for mainstream teaching staff and all have engaged with relevant professional development topics.
∑ The quality of teacher planning and preparation is good while the quality of teaching observed was very good.
∑ The school has a range of good assessment practices in place to measure general progress in the curriculum, to identify specific needs and to track progress in literacy and numeracy.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is recommended that the SEN support team progress the schoolís model of individualised planning by focussing attention on identifying learning and behaviour targets for the individual students with more complex needs.
∑ It is recommended that the school begin the development of a whole-school policy on assessment.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the co-ordinator and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, March 2010