An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs
Killarney Community College
Roll number: 70450D
Date of inspection: 13-14 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Special Educational Needs
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killarney Community College, Co. Kerry. 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 college’s special educational needs support team. 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.
Killarney Community College has an above average enrolment of students with special educational needs, and engages in a range of above average responses to meet such needs. A very favourable evaluation of special educational needs was documented as part of the inspectorate’s whole school evaluation in 2006. During the course of this inspection it was found that the college has continued to further improve provision and whole school support for all its students. Such continued development and improvement has occurred during a time in which the college has witnessed considerable changes in teaching personnel, including the appointments of a new principal and deputy principal.
The school’s total allocation of 140 hours for provision for special educational needs is used appropriately and effectively. Among the needs identified are students with low-incidence and high-incidence disabilities, students with learning-support needs and students requiring English language support. Two teachers, who are well-qualified in special educational needs, work closely with a small core group of teachers to deliver support for learning in a variety of ways. 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. This support is provided in a flexible and student-focused manner and includes individual student withdrawal, small group withdrawal as well as some team-teaching, where two teachers work together with students in one classroom. The decision to withdraw students from classes is made following consultation with students and their parents. 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 3 fulltime special needs assistants appointed to the school and their contribution is duly acknowledged in this report. Kerry Educational Services are very supportive of the college’s inclusive practices and also assist with the coordination of provision for students with English as an additional language (EAL). The good work of the coordinator is also acknowledged in this report, as is the overall effective teamwork between all involved.
In more recent times the college has disbanded the practice of forming a special class with a reduced curriculum. These students, now in second and third year, have access to the full range of subjects as well as additional supports where deemed necessary. The good use of concurrent time-tabling, where subjects occur at the same time, facilitates student movement across levels in accordance with their ability in particular subject disciplines. In light of the needs presenting among the first year cohort, a small first year class was established this year to induct a group of students with a variety of low-incidence disabilities. The college is mindful of the need to ensure that these students enjoy as beneficial and as inclusive an experience as possible and already these students are integrated with their peers into the full range of subject options offered by the college. The college is encouraged to continue to examine and review what is best for these students on an individual basis.
Of late the timetabling of classes for students with additional resource allocation, in particular students with EAL, has occurred at the time of the timetable being constructed. This has resulted in supports being in place at the start of the academic year. Similar work in the timetabling of additional hours for students with special educational needs, including planning time for the coordinator, has also commenced. Such good practice will also support future plans to co-ordinate the extension of delivery models such as team-teaching. The college believes in a whole-school approach to meeting the needs of all its students. A very impressive range of continuing professional development activities has been accessed by individual teachers and collectively by the college. In more recent times staff members have begun to address colleagues on various issues and the college is encouraged to foster the sharing of in-house expertise where colleagues can support one another formally as well as informally. A focus by staff on specific aspects of teaching and learning was discussed and an audit of staff strengths and interests might also be beneficial in this regard.
The college environment is a credit to all who avail of it and care for it. Resources are available on request and two designated resource rooms are side by side and are equipped with a range of appropriate materials including laptops and software. A small investment in one or two printers would facilitate students’ work being displayed in these rooms, which would have the dual effect of motivating learners while simultaneously promoting a sense of belonging and inclusion. A wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are open to all students and this in turn assists in welcoming and including students in all aspects of school life.
There is very good provision and support for students with special educational needs in Killarney Community College. Staff are committed to meeting the needs of all their students and engage in collective and individual evaluation of provision on a regular and ongoing basis.
An information handbook for new students and the ‘Getting to know all about Killarney Community College’ are two publications which are indicative of the quality of planning and preparation that takes place in advance of students attending the college. A systematic and well co-ordinated approach to planning and preparation is adopted by the college. Early engagement with the twenty-one primary feeder schools, combined with assessment of students’ abilities and engagement with parents, all take place before the end of the previous academic year. Such good practice is conducted by members of the special educational needs team with the assistance of the college’s Home School Community Liaison Teacher and Guidance Counsellor. Engagement with relevant external agencies is also conducted so as to access the necessary resources and to subsequently facilitate the construction of the college’s timetable. In this regard due cognisance is given to ensuring that there is a consistency of personnel and approach when working with students from day-to-day and from year-to-year.
The college has constructed a very detailed and useful special educational needs policy which reflects the college’s commitment to all its students where inclusive practices are seen as a vehicle for school improvement. Roles are clearly identified in the policy and it is suggested that these roles be also incorporated into the staff handbook. Notwithstanding the good work of the special needs assistants some further clarification on their non-teaching duties would be of benefit. The Department of Education and Science Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines (2007) may assist in this regard as would the generic KES SNA Handbook. Detailed reference to the teaching and learning practices engaged by teachers would also serve both publications well, as would clear statements on such concepts as ‘inclusion’, ‘whole school approach’, literacy’ and ‘numeracy’.
During the evaluation some discussion took place in relation to individual education plans (IEPs). The school has made good headway in this regard, though it is correctly mindful that the post-primary context requires some thought if an effective collective response to individual students needs is to be achieved. Teachers are well aware that the focus of each IEP should stretch beyond the construction of the plan and also give due regard to the implementation, evaluation and review of each plan as seen through the desired learning outcomes achieved by students.
A student register detailing the students needs, additional hours allocated to a student, the teachers and non-teaching staff involved, the models of delivery and the programme of work being undertaken is already in place. With some additional information this register will serve to inform and guide all staff in their engagements with individual students. Additional information could include, an outline of students learning styles and strengths, the progress made and when further progress will be reviewed, and by whom,. Furthermore such a register would assist in tracking the cumulative effect of certain delivery models upon the overall additional hours allocated.
The college is commended for its ability to identify and to respond to the changing and diverse needs of students. This is reflected in the schools 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. Other supports such as the extension of peer tutoring were also discussed.
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.
Over the course of the two-day inspection 12 lessons were observed. These lessons ranged in size from one-to-one withdrawal to whole class team-teaching and spanned across both junior and senior cycle. The lessons observed focused on, development of literacy and numeracy skills, specific individual learning needs while also attending to certain subject disciplines such as, Mathematics, English, History, Home-Economics and Science. The overall quality of learning and teaching observed was very good and, as discussed at the post-evaluation meeting, the formation of a learning and teaching committee where good learning and teaching practice could be shared among colleagues, merits consideration. Such a committee may wish to explore how to maximise the impact of collaboration between members of the special educational needs team and other subject teachers.
Lessons were well planned and well paced. Mutual respect between teachers and students was evident throughout the school and the inclusive atmosphere as witnessed in the staffroom was also evident in the engagements between staff and students in the classrooms. Questions were framed and distributed in a variety of different ways. The purposeful 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.
In the lessons observed students were engaged in a range of meaningful and purposeful learning activities. Lessons began with an outline of the objectives of the lesson. In some lessons a more focused student response was achieved by initially indicating the homework that was to follow on from the learning which was about to take place. Students were visibly comfortable in answering and asking questions in class. Some teachers made good use of open and closed questioning and allowed sufficient time for student responses. Students responded well to each others efforts and gave each other every chance to participate.
Differentiated practice was used to good effect in creating a learning- centred and learner-centred environment. Such an environment allowed individual and curricular needs to be addressed in a manner that appropriately challenged each learner within the framework of syllabus and programme requirements. Humour, praise and laughter were evident in all lessons and students appeared to sense that the college was a place where they belonged and where it was safe to be yourself. Such an atmosphere clearly supports and encourages students to persevere with their learning and to take pride in their learning.
The school’s attitude and efforts towards accommodating all students was manifested in the adjustments made to the height of certain classroom tables. In some lessons very good use of paired and small group work among students also promoted student participation and learning. Use of peer review and self–evaluation exercises similarly engaged students in their own learning and in supporting others in the class. A range of skills including, turn taking, teamwork, use of technology, use of graphic organisers, public speaking, higher order thinking skills and listening skills were also witnessed during the course of the inspection. Student self advocacy was also promoted by some teachers and students were confident in what they had to say and were respectful in the manner in which it was said.
The quality of learning and teaching was very good and student learning was in keeping with their ability. The college is encouraged to examine how best it might share with colleagues the good practice witnessed during the course of the inspection
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 with 4 reports home each year. As well as pre-state examinations, formal examinations take place at midterm, Christmas and summer. Parents are facilitated, on request, to meet with teachers. It is reported that the practice of requesting students to attend formal parent teacher meetings has a positive influence on learning. 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. Students’ work is monitored, stored and used sensitively to assess and determine progress. The school correctly identifies assessment as a measure of their teaching as well as a measure of their student’s learning.
The school is encouraged to examine the feasibility of testing and subsequently retesting affective domains, as well as cognitive domains. Some retesting is already undertaken with regard to the JCSP and EAL programmes in the college. 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. Such findings could in turn feed into the aforementioned student register. 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.
A range of nationally accredited curricular programmes are on offer in the college. The college makes particular use of the flexibility provided by the Junior Certificate Schools Programme to provide national accreditation in a manner that is inclusive and student-centred. The college did voice concerns about the need to provide similarly suitable and accredited programmes at senior cycle level. Participation and achievement in state examinations are rightfully a source of pride for all concerned. 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.
The student journal is used to monitor assigned work and to communicate with home. The school homework policy highlights the reciprocal need to differentiate assessment as one differentiates teaching. 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, usually signed, dated and with concluding comments to encourage students in their learning. Teachers obviously give time in composing their comments and students were seen to value same.
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 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, February 2009