An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Special educational needs
De La Salle College
Roll number: 62310O
Date of inspection: 26th and 27th September 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 De La Salle College, Macroom, Co. Cork. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning 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 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 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 college’s special educational needs support team
De La Salle College, Macroom, seeks to adopt a whole-school approach in providing for and supporting students with special educational needs. The college has a relatively small number of students with special educational needs. The needs presenting include learning support needs as well as low-incidence and high-incidence disabilities. The college uses the allocated 25.41 hours appropriately to allow students to access, participate in and benefit from the learning experiences provided by the school curriculum.
The school has a qualified teacher in special educational needs who, as part of his role as assistant principal, ably co-ordinates support for students with special and additional educational needs. The members of the college’s special educational needs support team include the co-ordinator, another teacher and a special needs assistant. Members of the support team work efficiently and effectively with one another and other colleagues to attend to a variety of desired learning outcomes. Senior management supports such good work and teachers are encouraged to access relevant resource materials and professional learning opportunities. The designated rooms are well resourced.
Students are usually withdrawn from Irish and/or French language classes and the college is cognisant of the need to ensure that there is consistency of approach and continuity of interaction between teacher and student when withdrawal classes are being formed. Usually students who are withdrawn from class meet with a member of the core team. The core team focuses on promoting English language and mathematical skills. It was found that the core team is well placed to attend to students’ learning needs.
On occasion, other teachers are timetabled for withdrawal classes and it was agreed that, in order to maximise the quality and consistency of interventions and minimise the number of teachers used, it would prove more beneficial for the allocated provision to be factored into the timetable at the time of its construction. It was also agreed that the increasingly recognised benefits that might accrue from team-teaching merited closer examination, as did the career implications of withdrawing students from certain classes.
The general atmosphere, the positive discipline, the purposeful tracking and the monitoring of students’ participation and performance in the college facilitates the college’s goals of ‘inclusion and respect for diversity’, as outlined in its enrolment policy. The good work witnessed and proposed is captured only to some extent in the school plan and it is recommended that the sections of the plan pertaining to students with special educational needs be reviewed. The recently published Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines will assist in this regard.
Planning and preparation for students with special educational needs is well advanced. The college attends to enhancing students’ learning in a manner that is both systematic and responsive to individual needs. Good lines of communication exist between college staff and its students, local primary schools, parents and external agencies. All documentation is recorded and stored appropriately. Relevant information about incoming students is collected before the end of the previous academic year via consultation with schools and parents. Such information, combined with the result of standardised tests administered by the college, helps to identify the learning strengths and needs of individual students and informs the subsequent teaching strategies to be deployed. Such information is conveyed sensitively and appropriately to the mainstream teachers.
The commendable interaction between the special educational needs support team and the mainstream teachers is a noticeable feature in planning and ensures that learning occurs in this college. The recommended three-staged approach to assessment is adopted by the special educational needs support team and, where appropriate, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is devised. The crucial importance of the mainstream teachers’ role in selecting and attending to students with special educational needs is witnessed in many ways, not least in the value extended to mainstream teachers’ views following initial observation of first-year students. Provided interventions are not delayed by a prolonged period of observation, such practice can, and does, play a very important role in informing learning and teaching and in enhancing collaborative practice among teachers.
Collaborative practice is also witnessed in the school’s use of IEPs. The organised and well-recorded system created by the school co-ordinator, with the cooperation of colleagues, plays a key role in reaching agreed learning outcomes for students. All involved are deserving of much praise in this regard. Planning and preparation are also enhanced by the attendance of the co-ordinator at the weekly meeting of the senior management team.
The members of the special educational needs support team are dutiful in attending to their own professional learning needs. It is suggested that the Special Education Support Service (www.sess.ie), where professional learning and classroom resources can be accessed, could be of assistance to all teachers in this regard.
In the lessons visited provision was made on a withdrawal basis. The quality of learning and teaching observed was good. While learning expectations are set high by the college, they are also realistic and flexible in responding to and meeting the individual learning needs of students. Knowledge of student, of subject matter and of various teaching methods ensures that students are supported in their learning. A pleasant working environment was evident during the lessons and the judicious use of humour and praise kept students on task and ensured that they were successful in achieving the learning outcomes set out in the lesson. Lessons focused on advancing literacy and numeracy skills as well as addressing specific learning difficulties and content knowledge in certain subject areas. A balance was maintained between the amount of time spent on priority needs and the time spent accessing the wider curriculum. Students were encouraged to actively engage in their own learning and the high level of trust and engagement between student and teacher was evident in the quality of the questions asked by the students.
The lessons observed focused on both cognitive and affective outcomes and students were given every opportunity to engage in dialogue during each stage of the lesson which, in turn, raised their level of thinking and questioning. When asked, students spoke openly and confidently about their own learning and appreciated the support they were receiving. Consideration should be given to increasing the use of ICT. Displaying students’ final drafts in printed form and the use of software to engage and track progress will assist in fostering learning.
The challenge facing mainstream teachers is to personalise students’ learning. The good practice witnessed in the lessons observed suggests that the special educational needs support team can play a key role in supporting their colleagues in differentiating syllabuses for their students. The use and expansion of the IEP process will support such work, and other modes of delivery, such as team-teaching, merit consideration.
Students’ achievement and engagement are measured in a variety of ways and the tracking of all students’ attendance and engagement is commended. A variety of assessment modes such as standardised testing, diagnostic testing, teacher observation and class-based examinations are used to capture learning achievements and further inform teaching. Students’ work is monitored, stored and used sensitively to assess and determine progress.
The school plan makes reference to the effectiveness of formative assessment. Further collaborative engagement between the support team and mainstream teachers in assessment for learning, as well as of learning, merits consideration.
Homework is differentiated to meet the individual needs of students. The college facilitates students with Reasonable Accommodations in Certificate Examinations (RACE) and makes arrangements to allow students practise such accommodations in the pre-examinations. Assistive technology is also availed of where appropriate. The participation and achievements of students with special educational needs in state examinations are rightfully a source of pride for all concerned.
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 college’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.