An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs
Piperís Hill College
Naas, County Kildare
Roll number: 70710D
Date of inspection: 10 December 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Special educational Needs
This report has been written following an inspection of special educational needs (SEN) in Piperís Hill College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of the provision and the teaching and learning for students with special educational needs and makes recommendations for further development in this area 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 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, deputy principal and the ASD unit co-ordinator. The SEN co-ordinator was on leave during the evaluation. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Piperís Hill College, formerly known as St. Patrickís Community College, is a post-primary school under the patronage of the County Kildare Vocational Education Committee. The college has changed its name to mark a new beginning embodied in the recent move from the centre of Naas to a newly built school on the Kilcullen Road. The college has a mixed gender population of nearly five hundred students. This number is expected to increase significantly in the future and the new building has been planned to accommodate this. The college also caters for over one hundred post-leaving certificate (PLC) students.
The college has a long and positive history of acceptance and support for students with a range of diverse needs. The current management proactively maintains this tradition. Piperís Hill College has made a whole-school commitment to inclusion. There is evidence of this in the collegeís policies and practice and in the positive attitude of the management. Student needs are at the centre of whole-school planning in Piperís Hill and there is an acceptance amongst staff that all teachers have a role to play in the inclusion of all students. This is commendable. Students with special educational needs (SEN) are encouraged to take an active part in extra curricular activities and they are included as much as possible in all aspects of college life. The college has a range of procedures in place to ensure the early identification of students with additional needs and their smooth transition from primary school. The college has collaboratively produced a document entitled ĎSchool Policy on Provision for Students with SENí. This document is positive in its philosophy and contains good descriptive information. However, as with all policies, this document should be ratified by the Board of Management with an agreed review date.
Piperís Hill receives a teaching support allocation of 170 hours from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to assist the inclusion of a number of students with special educational needs. The college offers a wide range of provision based on individual needs including a range of appropriate junior and senior cycle programmes, team teaching, extra literacy and numeracy classes, withdrawal classes and a designated unit for students with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). Junior cycle students with special educational needs are placed in either one of the mixed ability classes or in a smaller support class which follows the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Placement in the JCSP classes is guided by defined criteria with consideration of learning ability and achievement level.† At mid-term, after entry, first year students are re-evaluated and their placement reviewed. This is exemplary practice. The college should now consider how students in the JCSP class might be given more opportunities to integrate with their peers from other class groups for some subjects. Most of the provision for withdrawal targets students with specific learning disabilities who need specific and individualised interventions.
The school plan states that all students have access to all subjects and levels. However, at the time of the evaluation not all students in the second and third year JCSP classes had access to Science, Geography and History (or Environmental and Social Studies), or a modern foreign language. The current first year JCSP students do study Environmental and Social Studies but not a modern foreign language. A broad and balanced curriculum should be available to all students including those with special educational needs.† It is recommended that the school review the current subject options and consider how all junior cycle students can be offered a wider range of subjects. It is positive that the college does provide ab initio modern foreign language classes for students who did not study a language at junior cycle but require the language for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) course.
At senior cycle students have the option of placement in a mixed ability transition year class or direct access to an appropriate leaving certificate programme. Guidance is available for students regarding their selection of subject or modules. The LCA classes are kept small to facilitate individualised support for all students. There is also limited provision of extra teachers to allow the sub-division of some class groups. Students with SEN in the senior cycle who are exempt from the study of Irish attend resource classes to develop literacy skills. There is also provision for withdrawal sessions to support some individual students. Learning support is also provided for the collegeís PLC students through a Higher Education Authority (HEA) pilot project which helps prepare students for third level.
The teachers of Piperís Hill College are positive in their efforts to provide support for students. The first staff meeting of each year devotes time to the dissemination of information on students with additional needs. The college also produces an annual list of all students with SEN. This is a good practice which assists the staff in their planning. However, it is suggested that the layout of the list be amended to de-emphasise the labelling of students by using a discrete coding system or by identifying students by their needs rather than their disabilities. The usefulness of this publication could be further enhanced by providing information for teachers on how best to cater for individual needs. Staff have ready access to support and advice from the SEN and the ASD unit co-ordinators. The co-ordinator of SEN holds a post as an assistant principal and the co-ordinator of the ASD unit holds a special duties post. They share an office where they securely store relevant student files and records. Both co-ordinators are given time for the significant work of planning, organising, collaborating and liaising. An SEN team consisting of the two co-ordinators, the principal and the deputy meets every term and minutes of these meetings are kept. †
The college has profited from staff participation in a range of professional development opportunities. Four teachers have post-graduate qualifications in the area of special education and one teacher is currently studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Learning Support and Special Educational Needs. All of the staff have participated in school-based training in mixed ability, disabilities and conditions, differentiation, team teaching and the transition from primary to post-primary. Some teachers have also completed courses related to special education at the local education centre or online. In addition, teachers have attended training for Project Maths which the college is piloting and a few have attended sessions on Instructional Intelligence, a concept which the college hopes to introduce in the near future. Staff members also attend the conferences of relevant professional organisations as well as cluster meetings hosted by the Co. Kildare VEC and the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). A general audit of staff skills would be a good next step for the college. Training opportunities for the continuing professional development of staff should be explored, particularly in relation to individualised planning and the implementation of teaching methodologies that support inclusion.
The college hosts an awards night each autumn which celebrates the achievements of students in various aspects of school life including excellence in state exams and awards scholarships to a few students. In addition, this year the college established a link with the Centre for Talented Youth based in Dublin City University to support students identified as being gifted. The college might now consider developing a written whole-school policy for the identification and support of all students who are gifted and talented. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessmentís publication Gifted and Talented Pupils: Guidelines for Teachers can provide some useful advice in this regard.
A designated unit for six students with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) was opened in the college in February 2008. Students with ASD apply directly for admission to this unit. Most of the current students receive a range of supports from the Beechpark Outreach Services. The college also caters for a number of other students on the autism spectrum who are fully integrated into mainstream classes. The unit supports these students by sharing information and resources with class teachers and providing respite for individual students as required. The ASD unit co-ordinator has completed a post-graduate certificate in autism and teaches approximately sixteen hours per week in the unit. The remainder of the teaching time is taken by a range of subject teachers some of whom come into the unit. For practical subjects such as cookery and woodwork the students attend purpose-designed classrooms. The co-ordinator and the subject teachers meet with the deputy principal weekly as an ASD support team to collaborate on planning for the students in the unit. The co-ordinator writes regular reports on the unit as well as reports on individual students for case conferences and for parents. In addition, the ASD unit co-ordinator organises a parent and family support group with the aim of promoting socialisation and developing friendships. A games club has also been developed with the support of the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) teacher
The six students assigned to the ASD unit are scheduled for a shorter school day than their peers. The 2009/10 college timetable shows that their weekly time in school is 25 hours and 20 minutes instead of the 28 hours required by circular M29/95. This was discussed with the management and the co-ordinator who together claimed that the students are exhausted by the end of the school day and are unable to benefit from teaching in the late afternoon. Nevertheless it is recommended that the college should review this situation. Solutions might include a re-arrangement of the timetable, the establishment of a rest area for students who tire easily during the day and the timetabling of one or more short rest periods during the day.
At the time of the evaluation there were seven special needs assistants (SNAs) working in the college although the number was due to be reduced as the result of an NCSE review. Two SNAs were assigned to the ASD unit while the other five were assigned to provide mainstream support for specific students with a range of care needs. The SNAs were all very positive about the college, the management, the teachers and their work in the college. It is college policy to rotate the SNAs to ensure a range of work experiences and to facilitate the development of the studentsí independence.† This is good practice. The current college policy on the provision for students with SEN has some brief descriptive information on the work of the SNAs. The college should expand this section to provide full details of the roles and responsibilities of the SNAs in the college.
Good examples of collaborative planning were seen in the support classes as well as in the mainstream subject classes that were visited. Subject teachers plan on either a yearly or a termly basis. The better subject plans include references to the needs of students with SEN and make provision for differentiation in the methodologies and resources to be used as well as in the modes of responses. This is good practice. In two of the classes where team teaching was observed, the lead teachers were responsible for the planning and for informing the second teacher of their role during the lessons. In a third class, the teachers planned together.
Planning for learning support classes is supported by the collegeís practice of creating student profiles of students with additional needs. These profiles note aims and objectives for the students which can be incorporated into the lesson plans. All teachers have access to the NCCAís Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities and should use them to inform their planning. It is part of the collegeís policy to involve students with special educational needs in a practical way in their learning programmes by interviewing them about their learning needs. The college has not yet fully engaged with the process of individualised planning, so should now consider how best to progress the existing good practice so that the individual needs of all students with special educational needs can be addressed. The National Council for Special Educationís Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process can be of assistance in this regard.
Planning by teachers in the ASD unit is of high quality with a focus on clearly stated aims and objectives. Students accepted for placement in the unit participate in a needs assessment which is used as the basis for planning. The results of this assessment along with information from previous reports and the comments of parents and previous teachers is used to identify long term goals for each student. Teachers complete a planning sheet for each half term with long term aims and short term goals. They also complete weekly summary reports and take part in scheduled planning reviews.
Commendably previous school planning and staff meetings have facilitated discussions on the whole-school development of literacy and numeracy skills and teachers have been given access to information and a range of resources to support students with literacy and numeracy difficulties in mainstream and resource classes. It is recommended that the college build on this by developing and documenting a whole-school strategy for the development of literacy and numeracy skills for all students.. It was reported that the college has put in place measures to monitor and evaluate student progress as part of its action plan for DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity for Schools).
The quality of teaching and learning observed in Piperís Hill College ranged from good to excellent. A number of inclusive practices were observed including differentiation in the use of questions and teaching materials and the regular elicitation of student responses to gauge learning. Some teachers use aspects of assessment for learning in that they share learning intentions, help students identify success criteria and provided prompts for improvement when correcting or commenting on work. In one support class, transition year students capably used scanning and skimming techniques to promote reading for information and then writing frames and graphic organisers to perfect their writing skills. In a second-year maths class, students worked enthusiastically with teacher support to improve their competencies with the basic operations. Good examples of direct teaching and active learning in particular were noted in many lessons. Most students were actively engaged in learning and positive about their studies. They were well-behaved and mannerly. An obvious mutual respect between staff and students was noted.
The college is participating in a Co. Kildare VEC team teaching pilot programme. †Three of the lessons timetabled for co-teaching were visited. In two of these, the teaching was led by the subject teacher while a resource teacher provided support for individuals. In the third classroom, the two teachers worked in tandem taking turns leading the instruction and providing individualised support. Both models worked well with the teachers clear about their roles. The teachers deserve praise for embracing the concept of co-operative teaching and should be encouraged to expand its use throughout the college.
The ASD unit provides a wide range of learning experiences for the students in a supportive environment. The main focus is on the development of communication, social and life skills but students also engage with core subjects such as English and Mathematics as well as sampling a range of others such as Woodwork, Art, Music, Cookery, Physical Education and Science. Instruction involves whole-class and group teaching as well as independent, guided work at individual stations. A range of autism-friendly practices was observed in the classroom including the use of visual schedules and individual timetables, motivational targets and modelling. Specific efforts are made to target challenging behaviours. Daily reports are written for each student and all incidents are recorded.
A good selection of resource materials are available to mainstream subject teachers to support inclusion and to resource teachers to assist direct instruction. Work is currently being undertaken to produce an electronic catalogue of all the collegeís learning support resources to maximise their usage. In line with this, time is allotted at SEN team meetings for the demonstration of new resources. The school has significant information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and software.
The college is commended for its pragmatic use of tests and the recording and safe storage of tests results. Prospective first year students sit cognitive assessment and literacy tests each February. The results of these tests are used to advise class placement and as a baseline to measure future progress. In addition, the collated results of previous standardised testing in literacy and mathematics in the primary schools help the college to identify the strengths and needs of the incoming students. Diagnostic tests are administered, and re-administered at regular intervals, to a select number of students to guide individualised planning. Other assessment methods in use include checklists, teacher observations, JCSP statements and LCA learning outcomes.
Students likely to require reasonable accommodations in examinations are identified early and appropriate application is made to the State Examinations Commission. Successful applicants are afforded the opportunity to avail of the accommodation in school-based exams. There is excellent practice in the area of assessment within the ASD unit. Each student receives a daily report on completing goals, good behaviour and language use for each class. All teachers also complete weekly reports on the students based on their observations and the work of the students. These reports, with the input of the students and their parents, inform a periodic review of aims and objectives for each studentís learning.
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 assistant co-ordinator of special educational needs and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, May 2010