An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Special Education
Roll number: 70920O
Date of inspection: 28 and 29 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in special education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Ghobnatan. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Special Education and makes recommendations for the further development of this aspect of teaching 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 the relevant teachers.
Coláiste Ghobnatan is a small, local school, an integral element of the fabric of life in the surrounding district. Students, teachers, parents and guardians, and external agencies maintain open communication with one another. The teaching staff are cognisant of the importance of retaining these links in the interests of the students under their care. They are also aware of the obligation of inclusion resting on them in respect of all the students in the school, in order that every student is given the opportunity of participating in every aspect of the life of the school. The motto of the school is ‘go buaic do chumais’ (‘to the pinnacle of your powers’), and it is apparent that they act accordingly in relation to the students of the school, including students with special needs. At the time of the visit, an allocation of 25.08 hours for special education was in place. The range of educational needs in the school was in keeping with the average and appropriate use is made of the resource hours allocated to the school.
The school has a written policy for students with special educational needs. This policy is prudent, positive, comprehensive and commendable. Before the beginning of the school year, the students are examined in the basic subjects and the information contained in psychological reports is drawn on also. In addition, the school consults with parents and administers special standardised tests to the students, focussing on literacy and numeracy. One teacher is qualified in special education and she acts as the co-ordinator of the department. This report affirms the good work being done by the co-ordinator and the support she receives from senior management.
There is a learning support system in place in the school and the students are withdrawn from mainstream class in order to be given additional support individually or in small groups. They are given this support by the co-ordinator or by other teachers. Within the one school year, the students come into contact with these same teachers in the course of a week. It is recommended that this desirable practice should be extended and that continuity would be ensured from year to year, by taking these teachers into account when the school timetable is being drawn up.
There is a special learning support room in the school and at the time of the visit a second room was being fitted out, with an interactive white board and computers to be installed in due course. This investment is to be commended. It is recommended that consultation should be initiated with other Gaeltacht schools, so that the most far-reaching use would be made of these facilities and in order to share resources and ideas. It is apparent that appropriate use is being made by the school of the hours provided by the Department of Education and Science for special education and that it is being given whole-school support. The school is constantly on the lookout for various methods and means of enhancing the quality of learning in the school. A beginning has been made on devising Individual Education Plans for students with special needs and this good practice will certainly be of assistance in having a continuing differentiated input implemented in every class and in every lesson. The school participated recently in a pilot scheme, under the auspices of the County Cork Vocational Education Committee, based on the link between special education and information and communication technology. Effective use is made of a homework club and of Irish language assistants in order to give all learners every opportunity of learning.
The standard of planning and preparation is of a high order in the school, given the professionalism and diligence of both co-ordinator and teachers. The school is to be congratulated on the progress made by the special education department and the deep reflection and self-evaluation done to date. By virtue of her special-duties post, the co-ordinator ensures that every aspect of planning and preparation for special education is properly ordered and arranged.
In order to further enhance the good practice being implemented in the school, it is recommended that consideration should be given to the advantages associated with co-operative teaching. Depending on circumstances, it is sometimes better that the support teacher would go into the mainstream class, in preference to the alternative of withdrawing the student. It is recommended that the opportunity would be grasped, particularly given such a strong spirit of co-operation among the teachers.
It is recommended, as an aspect of planning and preparation, that this collaborative approach among teachers on a whole-school basis should continue. The importance of continuity and of the on-going professional development of all the teachers, while working with students with special educational needs, is understood in the school. The specialised teaching skills required for teaching these students are, of course, transferable to any other class. The internet support site www.sess.ie would be of assistance in bringing this about, but the teachers are the most important resource in any school.
As discussed, the board of management should review the enrolment policy of the school in order to ensure that it conforms with the most recent legislation and with the philosophy of the school in general.
In the majority of classes visited the teachers were working with individual students and, in one instance, with small groups. It was clear that the atmosphere existing between students and teachers was welcoming and open. The teachers were conversant with the students’ lives and this knowledge was used to advantage in order to draw the students into the lesson. There was an easy relationship between them and it was apparent that the teachers were strongly committed to fostering the self-respect of students.
This situation contributed significantly to the co-operation which was to be seen in the learning and teaching process in hand. The students indicated that they were willing to participate and that they had a clear understanding of the subject and of the progress made by them.
The classes observed revealed that appropriate planning had been made for them and that continuity was being achieved. There is daily contact between the class teacher and the learning support teacher. Individual Education Plans are also utilised, in order that the work in hand is monitored and that appropriate learning goals are discussed and attained. The progress of learners is in keeping with their abilities.
Students were clearly informed of the aims of lessons at the beginning of class, as is recommended. The students addressed themselves to the various activities during class and a balance was achieved between support and challenge. The self-confidence exhibited by all students was noteworthy. They showed a willingness to answer aloud as appropriate and to put questions to the teacher from time to time. These same students had no hesitation in voluntarily initiating a conversation with the inspectors not only in the classroom but also about the school, and it was obvious that they considered that the school belonged to them and that they were proud of it.
In the senior cycle, classes were observed in which the students were working as individuals with the teacher. A balance was achieved between basic skills of literacy and specific needs arising from a particular syllabus. The students were assisted in putting their thoughts in order beforehand and the learners’ efforts were frequently praised. From time to time, effective use was made of computers in these lessons and the computer was particularly useful in redrafting. The students were given the opportunity of practising their reading skills, and occasionally their writing skills, and they attained a good standard in reading.
A similar situation obtained at junior cycle, whereby the students were being withdrawn from certain classes in order to be given additional learning support and a safe learning environment was created in which students felt free to take risks while engaged in learning. As in other classes, the students’ work was corrected in their presence and this was of great assistance to the learner, especially where the teacher’s demeanour was courteous and compassionate. In one of the classes observed, a small group was attempting questions in mathematics. As is proper, the class was informed that the answers to the questions posed could be arrived at by a variety of methods. Paired work and group work would, of course, have helped to bring this good work to fruition. Again, in this class, one was impressed with the gentle approach to correction and the way in which the student was enabled to obtain clarification without difficulty.
The teaching in the classes observed was student-centred and an emphasis was placed on all the skills of communication, including speaking skills. The quality of learning and teaching was of a good standard in the classes observed
Prior to entering school, contact has already been made with the parents and the primary schools in the catchment area. In addition, the students’ abilities in literacy and numeracy are assessed. The school correctly places a particular emphasis on the progress being made by the student in the classroom. The best method of intervention, whereby additional learning support is provided, is based on the particular student. Daily assessment and continuous assessment are implemented and it was also clear that the teachers appreciated the importance of and the closeness of the link between the progress of students in learning and their personal development. In addition to daily assessment in class, the students are assessed by means of examinations at Christmas and in summer. Students awarded reasonable accommodations are given the opportunity of becoming familiar with them in advance of the state examinations. Parents are given the opportunity of meeting with the teachers during the year.
The school has begun to implement a policy of academic levels. As regards this commendable approach, it is recommended that this policy should be taken into account when the school is addressing any assessment policy in the future. It would be highly beneficial if the following were to be addressed: differentiated homework and examinations, the education of gifted students and appropriate methods of providing feedback to every student. It was observed during the evaluation that the work of students was corrected compassionately and that prudent and personal guidance was given.
It is further recommended that the work of students should be put on display or should be made publicly accessible, as there is a close link between literacy and communication.
It is recommended that time should be set aside for the reassessment of students by means of the standardised tests available in the school. It would be worthwhile doing reassessment, in the interests of learning and also of sharing information on the learning attainments of students in an appropriate form with the staff in general.
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 teachers of special education and with the Principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2008