An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs

REPORT

 

Scoil Phobail Chionn tSáile

Cionn tSáile

Co. Chorcaí

Roll number: 91499E

 

Date of inspection: 2-3 October 2008

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

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

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kinsale Community School, Kinsale, Co. 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 was given the 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 to this report.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

The quality of support for students with special educational needs in Kinsale Community School is of a high standard. The many well-established inclusive practices significantly influence the quality of provision and whole-school support for each individual student enrolled in the school. The reflective and proactive nature of senior management and of the members of the special educational needs team, has placed the school in a position of strength and in a position to successfully act upon the recommendations in this report. 

 

The school’s total allocation of 102.5 hours for provision for special educational needs is used appropriately. The school is the only post-primary school in the town and a wide range of diverse special educational needs are identified and met in a variety of ways. Among the needs identified are students with low-incidence and high-incidence disabilities, students with low achievement in literacy and numeracy, and students requiring English language support. The school also recognises the learning needs of students who are deemed to be exceptionally able and gifted. Two well-qualified teachers are at the heart of the school’s support team and are ably assisted by a considerable number of colleagues who engage in delivering a programme of support that complements mainstream teaching. This appropriately flexible programme employs a number of delivery models including individual withdrawal, small-group withdrawal and team-teaching. The decision to withdraw students from classes is only made following consultation with students, their parents and relevant staff. Every effort is made to ensure that such decisions are made in the best interest of the student and that they don’t diminish a student’s perception of themselves as learners or diminish future career choices. There are five fulltime special needs assistants appointed to the school and their contribution is duly acknowledged in this report. The school’s well organised provision is further enhanced by the appointment of a staff member who coordinates provision for students studying English as an additional language.

The school is mindful of the large number of teachers who are involved in the delivery of support to students with special educational needs. To ensure that the involvement of such a large number doesn’t undermine the quality of the support provided, the school has taken a variety of measures which, in turn, have subsequently assisted in promoting a whole-school approach among teachers, for all students’ learning. Among the measures taken is the good practice of factoring the allocation of additional teaching hours into the timetable at the time of its construction and thus ensuring continuity of personnel with particular students, from day to day and from year to year. Such good practice was also seen to facilitate suitable planning arrangements between the co-ordinator, the support team and other personnel. Efforts to promote a whole-school approach also include supporting team members in accessing a variety of relevant continuing professional development opportunities, where such learning is shared with other colleagues. The commitment to continuing professional learning is a notable feature of the special educational needs support team. How best to extend opportunities for learning among other staff members, including advanced learning for the already well-qualified special needs assistants, merits consideration. In more recent time the school has facilitated in-house presentations by colleagues and such good practice is a further opportunity for staff to share expertise in a manner that is context-sensitive and grounded in classroom practices.

 

The school, despite the challenges associated with physically accommodating the growing numbers enrolled, provides two designated rooms for individual and small-group withdrawal. These rooms are resourced with a range of learning materials including computer software packages. It is suggested that the website of the Special Education Support Service www.sess.ie would provide future guidance regarding the latest resource materials available as would the website of the National Centre for Technology Education in Ireland www.ncte.ie/SpecialNeedsICT/.  

 

Interventions to support students usually focus on specific language and mathematical needs, while a suitable balance is struck between individual prioritised learning needs and access to the broader curriculum. Good use of setting in the timetable allows for the creation of a smaller class for students in first year. The school skilfully ensures, when such a class is formed, that there so as not to foreclose on the subject choices or levels to which students wish to aspire. The very small number of students with special educational needs who are exempt from the study of Irish is indicative of the school’s positive philosophy regarding students’ learning capacity. The school is also mindful that learning is a social activity, both within, and outside the classroom. In conversation with the students it is clear that the wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities on offer are appreciated by the students and that such activities also foster a sense of belonging among the student population. The wide range of photographs and artistic displays on the corridors, as well as the general atmosphere throughout the school, also assists in this regard.

 

There is very good provision and support for students with special educational needs in Kinsale Community School. In addition there is a clear and collective understanding among staff, that such provision is a key driver in determining and sustaining school improvement.

 

Planning and preparation

 

The aforementioned high quality provision and support for students with special educational needs is due to a number of factors including the quality of planning and preparation which is undertaken individually and collectively by teachers and senior management. Early engagement with the primary schools and representatives from NEPS and NCSE ensures that the vast majority of allocated hours are confirmed by the end of the previous school year. Consequently the school allows itself to be proactive in the area of planning and preparation. A similar systematic approach is adopted in assessing students and in engaging with parents, which informs school personnel regarding students’ strengths, interests and learning needs.

 

The school has a documented special educational needs policy and the staff handbook also makes reference to the role of the learning support teacher and the resource teacher. The school has also formulated related policies in an exemplary publication focusing on a number of issues including attendance, anti-bullying, punctuality, interculturalism, inclusion, admissions and participation. The school may be well served by engaging in a review of how these policies interconnect with one another and also to use such a review to clarify particular roles and responsibilities relating to the special educational needs team, other teachers and special needs assistants. The Department of Education and Science Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines (2007) may assist in this regard. It may also be opportune to adopt agreed understandings on such terms as ‘inclusion’, ‘diversity’, ‘whole-school approach’, ‘co-operative learning’ ‘literacy’ and ‘numeracy’. The collation of data into a detailed register of students identified with special educational needs is also recommended. Such a register should include the names of students in receipt of support, their learning needs, the amount of additional hours allocated to them by the DES, the manner in which these hours are used, the teaching and non-teaching staff involved and the progress students make. The construction of this register will be made all the easier as the school has already documented much of the data required.

 

The school is commended for its ability to identify and to respond to the changing and diverse needs of students. This is reflected in the school’s varied support models and, in particular, in the effective and increasing use of team-teaching where two or more teachers work in the same classroom. As discussed, such in-class support promotes inclusive practice while also enhancing the learning opportunities for identified students. In planning for inclusion the school is mindful of attending to individual needs of students. In more recent times the school has extended its understanding of diversity to include students who are deemed exceptionally able and gifted. Good work has commenced in this area and the aforementioned team-teaching may also be of benefit in attending to the learning needs of such students. Formal individual education plans are not formulated and attention is drawn to the need to prepare in advance of when such plans are mandated by legislation. The school’s admission policy is in keeping with legislation and it was agreed that some very minor changes regarding wording and sequencing were required.

 

While there are some areas that require attention, the overall quality of collective planning and preparation in the school is very good, with admirable leadership being shown by senior management, co-ordinators and teachers alike. Individual teacher planning and preparation as witnessed during the inspection was uniformly of a high quality and impacted very positively on the quality of teaching and learning observed.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

During the course of the inspection eight lessons were observed. These lessons ranged in size, from one-to-one withdrawal, to whole-class team-teaching. The lessons observed focused on literacy and numeracy, on developing specific individual skills while also attending to certain subject disciplines such as Business Studies, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) module, Mathematics and English. The overall quality of learning and teaching observed was very good and the quality of student learning was in keeping with students’ ability levels.

 

Lessons began with a roll call and in most cases the lesson objectives were outlined in advance to the students. Homework was often used at the beginning of the lesson to determine, individually and at whole-class level, the twin goals of learning acquired and learning required. Student-teacher relations were uniformly positive and mutual respect was shown throughout all lessons visited. Teachers’ knowledge of both their subject and their students assisted in determining the pace of the lesson. Questions were framed, distributed and answered in a variety of different ways. The purposeful and safe learning environment encouraged students to ask questions and seek clarifications where necessary. Judicious use of praise and humour also cultivated a positive learning environment. Lessons were very well planned with a range of appropriate resources used to good effect. The whiteboard was used to introduce the lesson topic and, in some cases, was in turn availed of at the end of the lesson to show the progress made over the duration of the lesson. The practice of displaying students’ work was witnessed on occasions and further extension of such practice is encouraged. Such displays have been found to foster among students a sense of being valued by, and of belonging to, the school community. They also motivate learners by showing students that they have a potential audience for their work and therefore correction and subsequent redrafting or redesigning are relevant, important and the norm for all.

 

A team-teaching English lesson saw optimal use being made of two professionals working in collaboration with each other. All students, either publicly or privately, were engaged with by the teachers. Exemplary differentiated material was prepared in advance and the overhead projector was used to scaffold both the lesson and the students’ efforts in debating the pros and cons of the chosen topic. Indeed upon questioning, the students were very complimentary and insightful in their assessment of team-teaching and how it assisted them in their individual and collective learning. In another lesson, individual withdrawal for one particular student focused on developing ICT skills. Time to talk, to plan and to be listened to were clearly valued and of use in promoting the student’s overall learning and self-esteem. In this case the close co-operation with external support agencies was used to good effect in guiding the learning objectives and the sequence in which learning outcomes would be achieved. Good use of ICT was also witnessed in a lesson where two students completed their LCVP work on laptops and engaged in the very useful exercise of self- and peer-evaluation.

 

In Mathematics and Business-related lessons good use was made of oral work to check for learning and understanding. Problem solving and higher-order thinking were to the fore and discussion around solutions and strategies were actively encouraged by teachers. In some cases co-operative learning was facilitated through group work and paired work with good use made of teacher-generated, high quality flashcards which were used to stimulate interest and guide paired work. The school is encouraged to examine in greater detail how such co-operative practices can be incorporated into lessons. Research indicates that such practices promote learning for all students and also facilitate teacher intervention with identified students. The advantages of inviting students to compose, as well as respond to, questions were also discussed, as was the use of role play.

 

 

Assessment

 

The school engages in a comprehensive range of procedures to assess students’ learning and to inform teaching. Students’ engagement and achievements are communicated to home on a regular basis. Attendance is closely monitored and quantitative data is regularly examined to determine trends and patterns. 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. As well as pre-state examinations, formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer. Students’ work is monitored, stored and used sensitively to assess and determine progress. Increasingly the culture within the school is focused on celebrating diminishing needs for support and such a development reflects well upon the school’s teaching and assessment practices.

 

The school is currently examining new standardised tests which will attend to students’ cognitive abilities. The school is encouraged to examine the feasibility of testing cognitive and affective domains with a view to also retesting these at a later date.  In order to promote a collaborative and whole-school response, it is recommended that the findings from retesting, along with other student gains, should be appropriately shared with colleagues. The school’s good use of statistics would further assist such an endeavour. In more recent times, members of the special educational needs team have presented to colleagues and it is suggested that such good practice should be extended to facilitate sharing of assessment information, based on entire year groups or individual case studies.

 

In consultation with the local 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 accommodation provided, though the growing numbers involved and the limitations of space was reported to be causing difficulty in providing such arrangements. Students’ participation and achievement in state examinations are rightfully a source of pride for all concerned.

 

The student journal is used to monitor assigned work and to communicate with home. The school homework policy could be further developed by examining how homework may be differentiated to reflect different learning styles, abilities and learning needs. Both individual and whole-class feedback was a common feature of all lessons and such practice assisted in affirming acquired learning and informing desired learning. Feedback was seen to be particularly facilitated by the team-teaching practices observed. Previously mentioned peer and self-evaluation practices also allowed students to monitor progress and identify further learning goals. Students’ written work was found to be regularly corrected, and on occasions signed, dated and with concluding comments to encourage students in their learning.

 

As with the other aspects of this report, assessment practices and the subsequent use of the information acquired are used in the best interests of the students attending the school.

 

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The quality of support for students with special educational needs in Kinsale Community School is of a high standard.
  • Support is well coordinated with responsive structures in place to meet individual student’s needs.
  • The support team is committed to their work and engages in impressive continuing professional development.
  • Early planning and preparation allows the school to be proactive in the area of planning and preparation.
  • Additional resources are used appropriately and are factored in at the time of the timetable being constructed.
  • The overall quality of learning and teaching observed was very good and the quality of students’ learning was in keeping with their ability levels.
  • The school engages in a comprehensive range of procedures to assess students’ learning and to inform teaching.

 

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

 

  • Planning and preparation for individual education plans and the collation of data in the form of a school register are recommended.
  • A review of how school policies interconnect with special educational needs is recommended. Such a review would, in turn, identify particular roles and responsibilities relating to the special educational needs team, other teachers and special needs assistants.
  • Further examination of professional learning opportunities for all staff, through sharing of identified good practice, such as co-operative learning, is recommended.
  • In order to promote a collaborative and whole-school response, it is recommended that the findings from retesting, along with other student gains, should be appropriately shared with colleagues.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Published, January 2009

 

 

 

 

Appendix

School Response to the Report

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report

 

The Board of Management of Kinsale Community School wishes to sincerely thank the Inspector of Special Educational Needs for his very professional assessment of the work undertaken by the teachers within the Special Educational Needs Department of our school. The Board is pleased that the diligent endeavours of these teachers has been noted and that the report acknowledged the many aspects of good practice engaged in by teachers for the benefit of the students in the school.

The Board welcomes the recognition that the “individual teacher planning and preparation as witnessed during the inspection was uniformly of a high quality and impacted very positively on the quality of teaching and learning observed.”

The Board is also pleased that the report acknowledges how the support provided for students is “well coordinated” and contains “responsive structures” to meet the needs of individual students and that “the overall quality of collective planning and preparation in the school is very good with admirable leadership being shown by senior management, co-ordinators and teachers alike”.

 

 

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

The Board of Management is proud of the excellent quality of Special Educational Needs provision within the school. The Board fully endorses the recommendations made by the inspector, and is aware that at the time of writing the Special Educational Needs teachers are actively collating data in the form of a school register. A review of how the school policies interconnect is currently being undertaken. Opportunities for teachers to share good practice will be further encouraged. The possibility of retesting and identifying gains to be shared with colleagues is being explored.