An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Inspection of Special Educational Needs
St. Brendanís Community School
Birr, County Offaly
Roll number: 91491L
Date of inspection: 24 October 2007
Report on the Quality of learning and Teaching in Special Educational Needs
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Brendanís Community School as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in special educational needs (SEN) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of students with SEN 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and teachers.
St. Brendanís Community School is an inclusive school. This is reflected in the schoolís mission statement and enacted in day-to-day practice. As a result, students with a wide-range of ability and disability are enrolled in the school.
The schoolís additional support provision is led by a core team of qualified teachers under the direction of two named coordinators for SEN and learning support. Many individual teachers and the staff as a whole have engaged in relevant professional development with the support of the management. The schoolís special needs assistants have all completed a training course. They attend staff meetings and participate in relevant whole-school training.
Support for students with special educational needs is provided in a variety of formats. In consultation with parents and the special educational needs organiser, students with significant needs are placed in one of two school-created special classes. Students requiring less support are placed in mainstream classes and receive targeted support through withdrawal or optional timetabled study skills classes. In consultation with the teacher, students as individuals or in small groups are withdrawn from class to receive literacy, numeracy or subject-based supplementary teaching. Additional support for students is provided through differentiated instruction in the mainstream classes.
The significant accommodation includes two dedicated base classrooms for the special classes and a number of smaller rooms used for learning-support groups and offices. There is no dedicated budget for special educational needs or learning support, but teachers reported unanimously that extra resources are provided readily on request. Teachers have access to a range of texts, reading books, workbooks, programmed reading kits, and social and learning games. Equipment available to them includes digital cameras, televisions, DVD players and tape recorders. All classes observed had access to desktop or laptop computers and some groups use a school computer room for developing word-processing skills. The school was a participant in the National Council for Technology in Educationís Laptop Initiative and this has left the school with an understanding of the use of ICT in the education of students with learning difficulties.
According to the Circular M29/95 ĎTime in schoolí the minimum number of instruction hours per week in second-level schools is twenty-eight and the minimum number of instruction hours per day is six. This year one of the special classes in St. Brendanís is timetabled for less than twenty-four hours per week. This deficit in instruction time must be addressed as soon as possible.
The school has evolved good practice in the planning and preparation for students with special educational needs. This practice is based on the recognition of the needs and abilities of the students and the desire to provide appropriate challenges and learning experiences. The teachers develop student profiles and individual learning support programmes using the information gleaned from the assessment reports by external professionals such as psychologists and speech-language therapists, the facts and observations supplied by parents and previous and present teachers, and the results of school-administered diagnostic testing.
The teachers in the learning-support department and the teachers who contribute to the special needs department, under the direction of their coordinators, have each produced constructive department policies and planning documentation which state the aims and objectives of their work and act as a useful guide to classroom and individual planning. The learning-support teachers meet on a weekly basis to discuss the needs of their students. In addition, the close proximity of the working areas of the learning-support teachers affords them frequent opportunities for informal consultations. There is no whole-school policy on inclusion. It is strongly recommended that the school develop such a policy to reflect the current situation and to guide inclusive practice and planning in the future.
The teachers who teach specific subjects to the students in the two special needs classes use a school template to create their subject plans. These yearly plans list the subject aims and objections and link to the schoolís mission statement. The information provided includes the structure of the provision, the methodologies and resources in use, and the procedures for assessment, evaluation, record-keeping and reporting. Teachers use the Junior Certificate syllabuses as the basis of their planning but do so with an awareness that the needs and the abilities of their students require that significant modifications be made. The teachers who contribute to the special needs department submit their teaching plans to the coordinator and attend formal meetings on a monthly basis.†
The coordinator of the special needs department also has responsibility for the creation of individual education plans (IEPs) for the students in the two special needs classes. This is a proactive endeavour and good practice. Consideration should now be given to extending this to involving parents and students in the development and review of the specific learning targets and to providing this information to all relevant staff to guide their planning.
Classes typifying the different types of provision were visited. Students who are eligible to receive learning support either attend timetabled study skills classes or are withdrawn from a selection of subject classes. The withdrawal classes are on a one-to-one or small group format. Students who are exempt from the study of Irish attend during Irish class. The students receive remedial support in developing literacy or numeracy skills or are provided with specific subject support. The former is individualised, based on the studentís specific learning deficits. The latter is guided by the mainstream class teachersí observations of the studentís current needs. Only one example of in-class learning support or co-operative teaching was cited by the school. It is strongly recommended that the school consider extending the use of this form of supplementary teaching.
In addition to the above, students who self-identify as requiring additional academic support can opt for a study skills class that meets five times each week. When students make their final subject choices at mid-term of first year, they have the option of selecting study skills as one of their three choices. There is an 11:1 pupil-teacher ratio in these classes. The teachersí brief is to provide support in whatever subject or skill area the student identifies.
Teachers responded appropriately to the individual learning needs of the students in the withdrawal class lessons observed. Teachers worked from a diagnostic teaching model of teaching and testing simultaneously and constantly observing student reactions.
The two special classes spend the majority of their day in their base-classroom. The students have access to a relevant curriculum that is differentiated to their particular level of achievement and ability. Subject teachers travel to the class to provide instruction. The class is timetabled for a broad range of subjects including English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Home Economics, Technology: Wood, Physical Education, Art and Music as well as being scheduled for periods of time noted as Ďgeneral subjectsí. In practice, this time is used as additional time for the previously named subjects as well as other topics such as Social, Personal and Health Education. It is recommended that this generic term be avoided and that all scheduled classes be labelled with the subject under instruction so that it is clear how much time is devoted to each curricular area.
All teachers use a range of teaching strategies and concrete materials to provide positive learning experiences. A variety of active learning methodologies including guided-discovery learning and peer tutoring was observed in the classrooms. Teachers successfully engage the attention of the students in their work with challenging activities and probing questions. The delivery of the curriculum was enabled by effective classroom management skills.
The assessment of all students prior to entry is part of the schoolís information gathering process. Standardised tests of attainment and reasoning ability are administered each November by the learning support coordinator in the prospective studentsí primary schools. This, together with information provided by teachers and parents, is used to support the identification of students with additional needs and to form mixed-ability first year classes. Students likely to experience learning difficulties are assessed in the school with a suitable range of diagnostic and standardised attainment tests. These test results are used in the planning process. Retesting with the same instruments later in the year provides one means to monitor progress. The results of school-based tests and assessments are kept in secure storage, along with the reports of psychologists and other external professionals.
All learning and teaching programmes are evaluated through ongoing assessment of pupilsí progress. Teachers record student achievement and the attainment of learning programme and IEP targets. Teachers also use daily observation, check lists, work samples, class tests and end of term examinations to monitor attainment.
All students including those in the special classes are set homework on a daily basis. Homework, like all assignments, is differentiated to meet the needs of individual learners. Students use homework notebooks to record assignments and to facilitate communication between school and home. Homework is checked daily and recorded.
The parents of students in the two special classes meet the coordinator on a scheduled basis annually. In addition, they, along with the parents of students receiving learning support, can meet with the coordinator or relevant teachers on request.† Regular contact with the parents of students receiving additional support is good practice.
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 students with special educational needs and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008