An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection on Special Education
Meánscoil San Nioclás,
Rinn Ó gCuanach
Contae Phort Láirge
Roll number: 76066J
Date of inspection: 29 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Special Educational Needs
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil San Nioclás, Contae Phort Láirge. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in special educational needs and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day 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 subject teachers.
It is the stated policy of the school to attend to the educational needs of all students, and in particular students with special educational needs. Before the school year begins students are examined in the core subjects and the information in the psychological reports is also availed of. The school also contacts the parents and certain examinations are given to the students focusing on literacy and numeracy. Meánscoil San Nioclás is a small local school with very close links with the surrounding area. There is an interrelationship between the students, teachers, parents, patrons and external agents. The school understands the importance of this relationship in supporting student progression.
There is a withdrawal system functioning in the school whereby students come out of their usual classroom to receive additional support individually or in small groups. Access to all subjects is available to the students but it was revealed that the students usually come from the Spanish or Business Organization classes. The number of students receiving support and their needs are consistent with the national average. One teacher is qualified in special education and she is the coordinator of the department. There is another teacher who works consistently with students with special educational needs and this year some resource hours are being utilized by three other teachers. There is also a special needs assistant in the school and this report recognises the good work that is being done by the assistant. The school understands the importance of continuity and professional development of all the teachers working with students with special educational needs . Obviously, good teaching skills for students with special educational needs are transferable to any class.
The school has a specific resource room. This room is not suitable because of where it is situated and because it is too small. An application in respect of this has been sent by the school to the Building Section. This room is used as much as possible and a wide range of resources was on view in the room. Also there is a locked filing cabinet where the department’s documentation is kept. It was nice to see photographs displayed showing the students receiving national awards. It is evident that provision is being appropriately used for special educational needs in the school and that there is whole school support for same. The school has begun Individual Education Plans (IEP) for students with special educational needs and clearly this good practice will help with implementing sustained differentiated instruction in every class and in every lesson.
The coordinator doesn’t have a post of responsibility and there isn’t an opportunity to meet formally with the other teachers in the department. The coordinator and the progress made by the department are to be commended as is the intensive reflection and self-evaluation which takes place. It is suggested that the coordinator be given a certain amount of time to complete the department’s administrative duties and to meet with the students’ teachers, assistants and external agents when necessary. Obviously time should be made available to re-test as part of the official school planning time.
The Individual Education Plans (IEP) have started in the school. To supplement the good practice which is in place in the school it is suggested that the main teaching and learning goals of the IEP be placed on one page which would be in the possession of each student’s teacher. By outlining the learning targets and the target dates, every teacher can engage in regular and continuous monitoring, reviewing and evaluation.
A review of the withdrawal system merits consideration. Depending on the context, sometimes it is better to have the support teacher coming into the classroom instead of the opposite where the student comes out of the classroom. Through co-teaching access is available to all subjects and the teacher has the opportunity to come to the student’s assistance if needed. Also this practice ensures that consistent teaching methods are adopted.
The coordinator and support team act in a dedicated and professional manner which ensures a high standard of planning and preparation in the school. One was impressed by the work being done by the school with the local educational psychologist and with other schools in the area, who meet with one another and work together to improve the quality of learning and teaching. It was related that a meeting was arranged for after Christmas to examine IEPs. As part of the planning and preparation it is suggested that such collaboration continue with a focus on establishing a whole school approach amongst the teachers in the school. This opportunity should be seized in light of the already evident cooperative spirit in the school. The support site www.sess.ie would assist in accomplishing this, though it is recognised that the teachers are the most important resource in any school.
This is a small school and it was noted that in all the classes visited there was a welcoming atmosphere from the students as well as the teachers. There was a positive relationship between the teachers and the students. It was evident that the teachers had a genuine interest in fostering the students’ self-esteem. It was noted that the classes observed began with news of the day and the students were given the opportunity to tell their own story with the assistance of the teacher when necessary. The teachers had considerable knowledge of the lives and pastimes of the students. Such knowledge added greatly to the collaboration seen in the learning and teaching process. The students demonstrated that they were willing to participate and that they understood the subject matter well.
The lessons observed demonstrated that relevant planning took place and there was continuity between lessons. As is recommended the students were clearly shown the lesson’s objective at the beginning of the lessons. The students engaged with the work during the lesson and the teachers provided the appropriate balance of support and challenge to the learners.
In one class observed the student was preparing for a senior cycle Christmas exam. The lesson focused on a particular poem in Irish and on suitable study strategies. It was evident that the student had very good Irish and with a helping hand from the teacher attempted to answer the poem’s questions. Oral discussion preceded any writing and further discussion took place so that the student had an extra chance to ask questions and to receive clarification. As with all lessons observed a safe learning atmosphere was created where students were encouraged to take risks while engaged in their learning.
Another student was redrafting a composition that was written by hand and which was being transferred to the computer. It was clear that the student was busy with the work and that the computer assisted him greatly in refining his work. The small mistakes made were examined in detail and the options that the computer gave were discussed. A copy of his work was presented at the end and the student was rightly very proud of the story. As with other lessons observed student-centred teaching was to the fore and emphasis was placed on all communication skills, including oral skills.
Another student was assisted in examining three maths questions. The student was allowed to work on the blackboard and it is suggested, to support this method, that the student would be invited to explain verbally the work being done. Also, it would be worthwhile to give the student an opportunity to compose questions as well as answering them. Again the gentle correction was very impressive as was then manner in which the student was able to receive clarification without any difficulty.
The quality of learning and teaching in the lessons observed was of a high standard.
It was evident from the lessons observed that there is daily and ongoing assessment taking place. The students were also encouraged in self-evaluation and through praise they were informed of the amount of learning that they had done. It was interesting to hear the students saying, of their own volition, that they were very grateful for the support they received from all the teachers, and in particular from the support teacher. It was also evident that the teachers understood the importance of, and connection between, both the students’ subject development and personal development.
The students’ work was sensitively corrected with personal guidance provided. Given the close relationship between literacy and communication it is recommended that the students’ work be publicly displayed or made available in some public form. It was noted that lessons are also organised to provide students, who are applying for state examinations, with the opportunity to practice in advance, particularly those granted reasonable accommodations. Again, this approach is commendable.
As suggested earlier, time should be provided to re-test the students through the standardised tests that are in use in the school. Retesting should be engaged with a view to promoting learning and the students’ results should be circulated to the relevant teachers. The school staff should in turn continue to ensure that they are using differentiated and flexible methods when assessing students with special educational needs in specific subjects.
The following are the main strengths and the areas for development 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 school’s special educational needs support team and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.