An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Inspection of Special Educational Needs
Roll number: 91325R
Date of inspection: 1 February 2008
Report on the Quality of learning and Teaching in Special Educational Needs
This report has been written following a subject
inspection conducted as part of a Whole School Evaluation in
There is a named SEN team with defined roles. The members are qualified, knowledgeable, competent and caring. They work collaboratively to plan and support the students and their colleagues in the mainstream. Inclusion is the main goal and positive efforts are made to support the inclusion of all, especially the students in the designated unit for students with mild to moderate general learning disabilities. It is noted that special needs team meetings have been irregular. The team has made plans to meet termly but consideration should be give to more frequent meetings. There are four classrooms dedicated to resource and learning support use.
The special needs policy document, written and compiled by the SEN co-ordinator, is a comprehensive working document which contains substantial information about the structures, procedures and responsibilities related to the current provision for students with additional needs. The school should strive to continually develop this document. It is suggested that it be scheduled for a future review and, at that time, the document be reconceptualised and re-titled as a Whole-School Policy on Inclusion with reference to section 2.4 of the publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs (Department of Education and Science, 2007). As with all policies it should detail the names of the contributors, note the next review date, state how and when staff were consulted, and give evidence of ratification by the board of management. It would be advisable at the time of the review to ensure that the usage and definitions of the SEN-related terminology in the document are consistent with those of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the Department of Education and Science. This review would also be an opportune time to review the schoolís practices and procedures for identifying and supporting more able students. The document Gifted and Talented Pupils: Guidelines for Teachers published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA, 2007) provides relevant advice.
The co-ordinator and the team have compiled an SEN register for the school which lists all of the students with additional needs, their specific areas of difficulty and their class group. This initiative is commendable. The register is a useful reference for all the staff. It is advisable to use the National Council for Special Educationís disability codes in such documents to avoid any confusion. A listing of the codes is available on the Councilís website (www.ncse.ie).
First year students study the junior certificate programme. Students with additional needs, as other first year students, may choose to study a modern foreign language, but are often advised not to by the school because of their learning difficulties. As a general principle, the existence of a special educational need should not necessarily preclude students from experiencing a modern foreign language. It is important that the school management always ensures that parents and students understand the implications of such a decision and it should not be made too hastily. Students with additional needs who do opt to study a modern foreign language in first year, will require a differentiated approach to engage appropriately with the learning. In such cases, the school should facilitate a review of the decision with the student and the parents before the student enters second year.
There are seven mixed ability classes in first year. Small group, withdrawal resource teaching or learning support is provided for the students who require it. This year a small eighth class comprising a mix of students requiring learning support and newcomer students is being piloted. All members of this class are exempt from Irish and most have opted out of a modern foreign language. They receive extra Geography and Mathematics classes plus learning and language support. Newcomer students with limited English language skills are withdrawn as a group and individually for extra English classes with a focus on developing general English skills and subject specific vocabulary. While the creation of this eighth class has allowed the provision of additional support for all of the class members, the main goal of such intervention should be for these students to be fully included in mainstream classes. This pilot should be monitored by the school management.
In second and third year, setting occurs in English, Irish and Mathematics based on achievement in these three core subjects. Students who are exempt from the study of Irish due to learning difficulties are placed in smaller classes for English and Mathematics to facilitate more individualised support. Some students with SEN do a restricted Junior Certificate programme with no Irish or modern foreign language. A few of these students have dropped other subjects as well. It is beneficial that the gained time is used to provide significant specific learning and general academic support. Not withstanding, it is recommended that, as a matter of policy and practice, all students should be expected to participate in as full a range of subjects as possible; a reduced timetable should only be employed as an essential intervention.
In senior cycle, students with additional needs may opt for the transition year programme followed by either the established Leaving Certificate or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme or enter one of the leaving certificate programmes directly. Many of these students are exempt from Irish and many do not do a modern foreign language. They usually receive support during these class times.
The schoolís teaching allocation includes one ex-quota learning-support post. This teacher works mainly with small class groups of junior cycle students or with students who are withdrawn from an agreed subject. This teacher also works with some newcomer students providing a combination of literacy, language and cultural support. There are two additional resource teachers. One works fulltime in the area of language support and one works part-time there. They mainly cater for small groups providing literacy, numeracy and subject support for junior cycle students, and subject support for senior cycle students.
Five teachers have completed post-graduate courses in the area of special education and a number of teachers have completed relevant online courses. All of the staff have received in-service on differentiation. The competency of the staff to provide appropriate learning experiences for these students is good. However, the school should ensure the continuation of the professional development of all mainstream staff in areas relevant to inclusive education. It is recommended therefore that the school conducts an audit of staff training needs and facilitates additional training as required. This is a practical way of providing support for individual staff and a means of updating the existing skill-base. For this purpose, contact should be made with the Special Educational Support Service (www.sess.ie).
The school has a designated unit for students diagnosed with mild to moderate general learning disabilities. There is a permanent, whole-time resource teacher co-ordinating this unit. Each of the students is assigned to a mainstream class with a form tutor to facilitate inclusion. They attend mainstream classes in Art, Religious Education, Physical Education, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and computers with their peers. Some attend other subject classes as well. The vast majority of these students come from a similar unit in a local primary school. The students follow restricted programmes at junior and senior cycle. Those students considered with parental agreement to be unable to cope with either the junior certificate or leaving certificate programmes may study eight selected modules at Level 3 or 4 devised by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC).
Guidance counsellors work with students and parents regarding post-school placement and consult with specific support teachers. The unit teacher takes responsibility to co-ordinate post-school placements for students in the unit. There are good collaborative relations with the school, its National Educational Psychological Services (NEPS) psychologist and its Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO). The schoolís current five special needs assistants (SNAs) are trained and professional in their work. They are well accepted in the classroom by both staff and students and are given guidance and support by the management. The school is to be commended for the establishment of a lunch time games club to promote integration and inclusion.
The quality of planning and preparation for students with additional needs is very good. Teachers have access to a range of information to guide them in meeting the learning needs of their students particularly those with special educational needs. Information and support is provided to mainstream staff through the profiling system, the SEN register, briefings at staff meetings, an SEN notice board, ready access to the support staff for advice and the provision of in-class support, the distribution of advice sheets and a learning-support referral system.
The school policy on special needs describes a number of useful teaching strategies and teachers have access to additional resources such as software and materials to teach spelling and comprehension from the support teachers. Many subject departments including English and Mathematics provide guidance for teachers in their subject department plans. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate differentiation into their planning and in support of this all teachers have been given additional written advice on differentiation.
The planning work of the resource teachers and the learning-support teacher is documented and clear. All students with additional needs have SEN team-created profiles which inform the planning for individuals and small, withdrawal groups. This information is gathered as part of the enrolment process and includes records of the studentís performance on school administered tests as well as pertinent information which is provided by feeder primary schools and parents or contained in professional reports. This information is held securely and made accessible to teaching staff by the year heads and the support teachers on a need-to-know basis. There is a positive practice of collaborative planning with support teachers liaising with mainstream teacher.
Students in the designated unit have individual education plans (IEPs) created by their resource teacher using a template based on the one used in the feeder school unit. The other support teachers create individual learning programmes for their students using a school-designed template. All of the support teachers are to be commended for engaging in individual planning. The positive results are to be seen in the quality of their lesson plans and in the quality of their teaching. In some cases, planning documents might be improved by outlining the teaching approaches to be used, by noting the way in which content and approaches are to be differentiated and by showing how progress will be recorded. A future review of the individual planning process in the school should include considering how parents and students can be further involved in identifying and achieving learning targets.
Direct instruction was the predominant methodology employed in many of the observed support classes. In these classes, group instruction was provided but the language, pace and content were differentiated for individuals. During independent work teachers provided varying degrees of individual support depending on student needs. An excellent example of active learning was observed in the designated unit as students role-played a variety of characters in a restaurant setting to demonstrate their understanding of aggressive, assertive and passive behaviour. In a support class a teacher used a laptop and data projector to guide students in the interpretation of Irish vocabulary to aid the completion of application forms. The school is to be commended for providing learning support in Irish. Support teachers are encouraged to use technology to support their studentsí learning. All visited classrooms had desktop or laptop computers. There is also a good range of software to support students with literacy and numeracy needs
In the visited support classes, there was significant evidence of learning in the quality of student work and folders, the use of appropriate resources, the variety of methodologies, the differentiated approaches and the relevance of the work assigned. There was an informal but positive working atmosphere in all classrooms. Teachers carefully challenged students yet were responsive to student needs and were consistently supportive. A peer tutoring programme consisting of volunteer transition year students doing paired reading with first year students with literacy difficulties and newcomer students with English-language difficulties has been a successful initiative.
A few teachers have engaged in the co-operative teaching practice known as team-teaching. In this context a resource teacher works with a mainstream teacher in a mainstream subject class. They collaborate in planning and providing the curriculum to a class which includes students with SEN. This is an advocated method of providing inclusive support and a positive alternative to withdrawal. Teachers should be both encouraged and facilitated to participate in this approach.
The school has a range of assessment and reporting procedures in place. The schoolís two guidance counsellors and the first-year, year head supervise the administration and marking of the schoolís entrance tests in the March preceding entry. Additional diagnostic and cognitive tests are administered to selected students by the SEN team. In addition, the English teachers administer a standardised spelling test and a writing sample. All of this information is summarised and distributed to the relevant teachers. It also contributes to the student profiles and is used to create the SEN register. The results of these tests are recorded electronically and used with the information from parents, feeder primary school and professional reports to identify students with additional learning needs. This information also serves as a baseline for tracking student progress.
The performance of students with additional needs in termly subject examinations, periodic class-based tests, class work and homework is monitored by SEN team members. They regularly liaise with the mainstream subject teachers and check student journals. Teachers are encouraged to differentiate when setting and assessing the work of these students. Members of the SEN team also liaise with parents regarding the time and effort spent on studying and in completing homework. They provide support by teaching and reinforcing specific study and learning skills. Some students are provided with a cross-curricular spelling copy to track key subject words. Support teachers keep records of student achievement in their school diaries and retain work and test samples as supporting evidence. There is occasional re-testing of literacy and numeracy skills on an ad hoc basis.
Many students with additional needs who are due to sit certificate examinations are supported in their applications for reasonable accommodations. They are encouraged to experiment with a variety of accommodations before applying, for example, by doing homework or class tests on computer or on audio tape. Limited accommodations are also given in the schoolís trial examinations. Those students in the unit studying selected FETAC modules undergo continuous assessment monitored by an external examiner.
There is currently no overall assessment policy in the school. Future development should include a review of the existing procedures for assessing, tracking, recording and reporting student achievement. How these procedures might be improved should be considered. It is therefore recommended that the school creates a whole-school assessment policy. This policy should be focussed on outputs. It should include details of the entrance tests and of the diagnostic testing of students with additional needs, and provide information on the individual education plans and the individual planning processes. Advice on the development of an assessment policy is available in section 2.6.3 of the publication, Inclusion of students with Special Educational Needs.
Progress reports on all students are issued four times in the academic year. These reports are based on achievement in class tests and ongoing assessment as well as the formal tests set at the end of each term. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually. Parents may discuss student progress with the support teachers during these meetings but they can also access information on their childrenís progress and arrange meetings with support teachers during the school year by contacting the SEN co-ordinator. The school journal may also be used to inform parents of current student progress and parents are invited to use the journal as a means of communication with the school.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ The school management has demonstrated a strong commitment to inclusion through their deployment of resources and its support for the SEN team and the mainstream staff.
∑ Inclusion is the main goal and positive efforts are made to support the inclusion of all.
∑ There is a professionally competent SEN team that works collaboratively with the mainstream staff and parents.
∑ The special needs policy document is a comprehensive working document.
∑ The quality of planning and preparation for students with additional needs, including the use of student profiles and individual plans is very good.
∑ There was significant evidence of learning and a positive working atmosphere in the visited classrooms.
∑ Information, advice and support on SEN issues are available to mainstream staff.
∑ The school has a range of assessment and reporting procedures in place and the SEN team monitors and records student progress.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is recommended that, as a matter of policy and practice, all students should be expected to participate in as full a range of subjects as possible; a reduced timetable should only be employed as an essential intervention.
∑ The school should conduct an audit of staff training needs in the area of inclusion and facilitate additional training as required.
∑ A whole-school assessment policy should be developed following a review of current practice.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of students with special educational needs, the co-ordinator of special needs and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008