An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

St Joseph’s Primary School

for  

Children with Visual Impairment

Gracepark Road, Drumcondra, Dublin 9

 

Uimhir rolla: 18417J

 

Date of inspection:  14 November 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St Joseph’s Primary School for Children with Visual Impairment. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and a representative of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management.  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

St Joseph’s is the only designated school in the Republic of Ireland for children with visual impairment. Most pupils who attend come from Dublin and its surrounding counties, with a small number residing on campus for part of the week. St Joseph’s School is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. The school is unusual among special schools in that it supports an ‘able to complex needs’ continuum. The school has a current enrolment of thirty-nine pupils, twenty-three boys and sixteen girls. The teachers consider that the range and severity of the pupils’ disabilities have increased in recent years with a greater number of pupils having a visual impairment with one or more additional disability. A majority of the pupils follow the mainstream curriculum. A minority have highly complex needs and pursue an adapted experiential curriculum. The teachers make use of the NCCA Guidelines for Pupils with General Learning Disabilities and where appropriate they have tailored the programmes to cater for children who are visually-impaired and who present with multiple disabilities. There are eight teachers and principal and six of these have been in the school for less than two years. After a period of instability and change, the new leadership and management are now seeking to move the school forward. The school has adopted a new motto ‘Together we can do so much’.

 

With the appointment of a new principal in 2007 the school has engaged in a process of rigorous review and it has a clear idea of its strengths and what should be improved. This year the principal, working with the Special Educational Needs Organiser, reorganised the class structure in order to meet more effectively the needs of the children. Previously, classes were arranged primarily by age. Today the school has a designated class for children with multiple disabilities and who are visually-impaired, who require an adapted curriculum and a class for pupils with additional support needs and visual impairment. This system is supported by another teacher who withdraws specific pupils for individual tuition or for small group work. A number of mainstream curriculum classes are maintained where the children are grouped by ‘age and stage’.

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

 

The board of management meets regularly and is representative of the various stakeholders in the school community. The board works hard in the interest of the school and its pupils. The chairperson and principal have recently attended training sessions which were organised by the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education. Board members are aware that the school is experiencing a period of significant change and in particular an increase in the number of pupils with physical and other disabilities. The board sees the need for the school to respond appropriately in order to facilitate both physical access and curricular access for pupils. Board members are also aware of their responsibility to create a working environment which promotes the learning and welfare of students and which facilitates the professional development and welfare of the staff. The board expresses its ambition to provide a learning environment that is caring and stimulating and in which all individuals are valued. It strives to offer a high quality of education and support to its pupils so as to promote their personal development to the fullest possible extent. The recent priority of the board has been supporting the principal and seeking to develop the in-school management team. Recent meetings have concentrated on health and safety issues, the summer building project, and the Comenius Project.

 

The board considers the strengths of the school to include dedicated staff, supportive families, favourable pupil-teacher ratio and the school’s favourable location. The school has a long association with St Joseph’s Centre for the Visually-impaired. Important links are maintained with the advisory services such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy. It is noted however that not all pupils have up-to-date psychological assessments. A number of external teachers provide tuition in music, swimming, pottery, word-processing and mobility. A summer course on the educational implications of visual impairment was organised for staff in 2008 and next year St Joseph’s Centre will host an International Conference on Visual Impairment and this will coincide with the 150th anniversary of St Joseph’s. The centre is to seek financial assistance from the Department of Education and Science to support this. The board has supported and encouraged staff to attend training courses at home and abroad. These courses cover areas such as Multiple Disability - Visual Impairment (MDVI), Functional Vision Assessment, and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).The Special Education Support Service of the Department funds post-graduate training for staff in visual impairment.

 

As well as providing professional support, St Joseph’s Centre makes other resources available to the school and has been very supportive in providing substantial financial support. The centre is conscious that such a level of support may no longer be available in the coming years. The board expressed concerns in relation to the quality of the accommodation and to the funding of various therapies. Notwithstanding the efforts being made to improving the quality of the accommodation, the board continues to communicate its concerns to the Department of Education and Science. Another concern for the board of management is that some teaching posts in the school are under temporary contracts. The school has been informed that due to the review of special classes that is currently taking place, no permanent new posts can be sanctioned. This is reported to cause a level of uncertainty for staff in the school.

The role of the board to date has been largely supervisory, receiving the reports of the principal and the treasurer and offering advice as necessary. Recently policies were approved which relate to admissions and enrolment and a code of discipline. A comprehensive annual report on the operation of the school has been prepared by the principal and approved by the board. A health and safety statement has been adopted for the entire centre and covers the school. However the members of the board of management rarely engage with the teaching staff in relation to teaching and learning and a more proactive role is now encouraged. The decision to hold the meetings of the board of management in the school is welcome as are suggestions made by the principal that board members visit classes during school hours to meet staff and pupils. Teachers indicated that they would welcome greater involvement by members of the board in the life of the school.

 

While the school has clear policies on the admission and enrolment of pupils with special educational needs it is recommended that the policy statement about enrolment of students with particular needs be reviewed to ensure that it complies with the provisions and the spirit of the Education Act 1998 and other relevant legislation. It is recommended that steps be taken by the board to ensure that the time-table provides for a minimum daily period of formal secular instruction and recreation in accordance with the Circular 11/05 of the Department of Education and Science which relates to time in school.

 

2.2 In-school management

 

The in-school management structure provides for a principal, deputy principal and three special duties posts. The newly appointed principal has had a significant impact on the school since his arrival. He displays a high degree of dedication and commitment in the performance of his duties. In his short time as principal, he has promoted and brought about significant change that has benefited pupils’ learning opportunities and he has responded with enthusiasm to the various demands that are made of him. He has initiated organisational and administrative developments and he has brought strategic direction, a clear vision and a real sense of purpose to the work of the school. He has successfully communicated to the management and the professional staff of the school his understanding that the school must adapt to provide for pupils whose needs are far more profound and complex than those of the pupils who attended the school a decade ago. He actively supports the development of further professional expertise among the staff to enable them to work successfully with multi-disabled visually-impaired children. The principal also plays a full part on the board of management and on St Joseph’s Campus Management Team. In the day to day administration the principal is well supported by a competent and committed school secretary. The administrative work involves an extensive network of activities such as compiling documentation for state agencies, the development of methods of record keeping, facilitating the continuous development of staff, and fostering good external relations.

 

While the principal keeps an oversight of all facets of the school, responsibility for some aspects has been delegated to senior members of staff who carry out their roles with integrity, skill, and enthusiasm. The delay in appointing a deputy principal is unfortunate in this regard and the immediate priority for the management is the appointment of a deputy principal. A job description for the deputy principal has already been agreed at a staff meeting. At present the school’s post holders have responsibilities which concentrate mainly on the provision of resources and the various duties are carried out assiduously. Although not listed in written contracts, the present post holders also assist colleagues in other ways. Members of the middle management team pointed to the changing pupil profile and the staff changes which heighten the need for staff training. In particular the staff expressed the desire that pupils have greater access to the therapeutic and professional services of St Joseph’s Centre.

 

The responsibilities of the existing special duties posts now need to be reviewed in line with the changing needs of the school and in accordance with Circular Guidelines 30/07 with post holders undertaking a broader range of duties addressing administration, curriculum and pastoral areas within the school. The new deputy principal and post holders could assume wider roles in leading and implementing the management of the curriculum in particular. Current practice does not provide opportunities for the in-school management team to meet or to plan collaboratively. It is advised that a schedule be formulated to provide for formal meetings of the team so that the contribution of this group to whole-school management can be developed and nurtured. There is need for the principal, the in-school management team and the staff to address issues of teaching and learning and to explore how the implementation of the revised curriculum can best be achieved. Although the staff members have already devised some whole-school plans, policy statements for several areas of the curriculum have yet to be developed.

 

Minutes of staff meetings are maintained. The topics discussed are relevant and include individual care needs, resources timetable and other important matters. In all areas of the school the teachers share the very high aspirations of the principal. Staff members throughout the school are very dedicated to providing a quality learning experience for the pupils. In light of the significant staff changes in recent times, attention should now be given to establishing good communication systems and collaborative decision-making procedures throughout the school.

 

2.3 Management of resources

 

The school is located in a single storey, felt-roofed building on the large campus of St Joseph’s Centre for the Visually-impaired in Drumcondra, Dublin. Within the school building, the classrooms are arranged in two separate corridors with the linking area containing the office accommodation, music room and staffroom. The school has access to a canteen facility and hall area in an adjacent building on site. The swimming pool is located nearby also and is much enjoyed by the pupils. The school building itself is all on one level with very few steps or changes in floor level. Some alterations have been made to the environment for safety and access to buildings and classroom by pupils with physical disabilities. A ramp has been installed to allow wheelchair users to gain easy access to the swimming pool although a suitable hoist is not yet available within the pool area. The outdoor as well as the indoor environment has been reviewed recently. There are now quiet and active areas in the playgrounds. Playground games are clearly painted and maintained. Most recently, successful fundraising has helped the school to erect an impressive range of playground equipment on a soft base. Some open areas at the back of the school are not used at present as the surfaces are uneven and hazardous to the students.

 

The recent improvements and investment in the fabric of the building are welcome. The accommodation continues to present considerable challenges for pupils who have severe loss of vision and additional adaptations are necessary. Further alterations to the environment are planned to address safety concerns and to provide access to buildings and classrooms by some pupils. The general décor is to be examined with a view to using colour and texture as an aid to location for the children. The school office has been expanded and the principal’s office has been relocated to a more central position. Some remodelling of the classrooms to meet the pupils’ needs has taken place already. One of the classrooms has been sensitively refurbished to accommodate pupils with multiple disabilities. Plain marmoleum on the floor is of significant benefit to the pupils who can readily locate items. However, across the school the internal floors generally have a variety of linoleum tiles which are laid in a random fashion with light and dark tiles juxtaposed together. This can lead to disorientating experiences for the pupils in moving around the school. Use of contrasting colours rather than complimentary ones would clearly define boundaries and allow the pupils to distinguish between the vertical and horizontal surfaces.

 

For pupils who have little guiding sight, the environment is reasonably orderly and predictable and mobility training is provided. However the internal corridors that the pupils use for mobility training include large protruding radiators with unprotected surfaces that pose potential hazards when heated during the day. Some wall displays are set at a low level and can create difficulties for a few pupils in finding their way around the school. Corridor space is sometimes used to store materials and these can cause an obstruction. Outside the school the car park is very busy at assembly times in the mornings and in the afternoons. There is no demarcated set down point for buses or taxis and no clear line for pedestrian access from the car park to the school gate.

 

Staff members are aware that particular attention needs to be given to the provision of appropriate lighting throughout the school generally and to meet the needs of individual pupils. In some classrooms a combination of strong sunlight and large reflective surfaces impact negatively on pupil comfort and visibility. As a consequence many of the window blinds are kept closed during the school day. The lighting system lacks the flexibility to provide optimum lighting levels for individual pupils who require task lighting and dimmer switches. As various eye conditions require different lighting levels, maximum flexibility in the lighting system would be of significant benefit to the pupils.

 

The school has high ceilings and hard surfaced walls which reflect sound, causing reverberation. In addition, there is a lot of ambient noise from the movement of classroom furniture and equipment, and from the traffic noise outside. Practical approaches to reducing environmental noise would help pupils who need to rely more on their hearing as a channel for information. Carpets, carpet tiles or rubberised floors would help to keep background noise low, and to allow meaningful sounds to be more audible. It is recommended that the board continue in its efforts to refurbish the school’s accommodation and should engage with the Planning and Building Section of the Department of Education and Science.

 

In classrooms and on the walls in corridors, there is a balance between teacher-devised and pupil-produced work on display. Good practice guidelines for display work in contexts where there are visually-impaired pupils have been adopted. The staff ensures that Braille signs are included on many of the displays and notices. Three dimensional materials are used to display pupils’ work and contrasting borders serve to highlight work samples. Good use is made of Braille and font size to allow the pupils of all classes to read the displayed materials easily.

 

The teaching staff comprises a principal and eight teachers, six of whom are allotted class groups while a seventh teacher works in the morning and afternoon in two classes in a supporting role. One other teacher withdraws individual children who present with additional needs including ASD or challenging behaviour. A significant number of teachers from the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC) also work in the school. There are two teachers of music, a tutor for word processing and typing, a swimming coach, an orientation and mobility instructor and a teacher of pottery. A qualified teacher of pupils with visual impairment is also employed under the VEC scheme to support St Joseph’s Centre. In addition to supporting learning and teaching this role involves the development of an adapted programme for pupils with multiple disabilities and the promotion of information technology.

 

In allocating pupils to classes it is expected that most pupils will progress through the various class levels in a way that is broadly in accordance with their chronological ages. The diversification of the pupil population has meant that within any class grouping there are now considerable variations in the pupil’s learning profiles. At present two of the classes are designated for pupils who have more significant additional needs. Consideration may need to be given in the future to changing the model of provision to enable the grouping of pupils in accordance with ability for the core subjects and reverting to age-equivalent class groupings for the other subject areas.

 

The support that is provided by external teachers has been very valuable in enriching the curriculum and particularly in supporting staff members who are new to the area of visual impairment. The multiplicity of interventions by VEC teachers and therapists from St Joseph’s Centre has an impact on the capacity of the teachers in some cases to plan for and to provide the pupils with a broad and balanced curriculum with time allocations that are in line with the guidelines in the curriculum. The generosity involved in sharing of skills is commended and the development of collaborative practice between teachers and therapists is encouraged in the context of curriculum delivery. However management and staff should note that the ultimate responsibility for the management of the various learning activities, the selection of methodologies and the organisation of learning objectives remains the responsibility of the class teachers. In maintaining an oversight of the various interventions, the class teacher needs to manage the holistic education of each pupil and to ensure that a wide range of curricular experiences is provided and guarantee that a balance is maintained between the strand elements within each subject area.

 

The additional external teachers provide support not just for pupils in the primary school, but for students in Pobalscoil Rosmini as well as in the Vocational Educational Unit of St Joseph’s Centre. The management of these teachers places an additional and significant administrative burden on the principal and administrative staff and there is ambiguity around the line of management with regard to these teachers. A number of non-primary pupils are taught on the school premises by teachers from the VEC during and after-school hours. The question is raised about the appropriateness of non-primary aged learners in school during school hours. The board should ensure that there are adequate supervision arrangements in place during these periods.

 

There are thirteen special needs assistants (SNAs) who are deployed across the class groups on the basis of need. The important contribution made by SNAs is acknowledged and commended. In addition to assisting pupils with impairment of sensory function, SNAs were observed carrying out other care duties that relate to toileting and helping pupils with significant other needs including impairment of physical function and those pupils who present with behavioural difficulties. The special needs assistants also contribute substantially to the curriculum delivery within the classes and to promoting pupils’ independent mobility around the campus. The board of management has decided to train one SNA to act as instructor for other SNAs in patient handling. The board is also organising training for bus escorts to help them respond to emergencies including epileptic seizures and illness.

 

The school has given considerable thought to improving the quality and quantity of learning resources within classrooms. All rooms have computers and the school also has an interactive whiteboard. Information and communication technology is used well across the curriculum but IT could be used more in areas such as Social, Environmental and Scientific Education. Digital photographs are used well across the school to record pupils’ experiences. Where appropriate, pupils use a wide range of switches to access the curriculum. Individual pupils were observed to work successfully with the adult, using the computer to help them in early reading and writing activities. Pupils also visit the sensory room which is located in the Family Resource Centre where they can avail of a range of multi-sensory experiences. This valuable resource has much potential for enhancing the delivery of the curriculum.

 

The school has recently become involved in a Comenius Project – OPTIC (Optimising the Inclusive Classroom). This involves eight organisations from across Europe that are involved in provision for children visual impairment.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

The staff endeavours to work in partnership with parents, despite the fact that some children live a considerable distance from the school. The parents receive clear information about their children’s progress and learning, and formal parent-teacher meetings are organised. Parents are welcome to meet the principal and other members of the staff informally to discuss issues that may arise. Home-school contact books are used to keep parents well informed on how well their children are doing. Parents also know they can telephone the school at any time and their queries or concerns are answered. Regular letters and newsletters let them know about events in the school and to share in the pupils’ experiences and achievements. There is no parents association. However recent efforts to establish a parents’ association appear promising, and notes of interest have been received from several parents. As soon as it is established, it is recommended that the parents’ association affiliates with the National Parents’ Council. This would enable parents to avail of relevant supports and facilitate the meaningful engagement of parents in school planning and other school activities. Although both parent representatives were present at the pre-evaluation meeting with the board, only one parent attended the meeting with the inspector. That representative reported satisfaction with the educational provision in the school. Parents are said to be very happy with what the school provides for their children. In particular the parent representative reported that a broad curriculum is provided and a range of extensive extra-curricular activities is organised by the St Joseph’s Centre.

 

St Joseph’s School is firmly embedded in its local community and is assisted in its work by a wide range of supportive agencies. Links with the local and wider community are good, particularly the financial support that the school receives through fundraising and donations. Good relationships have been fostered with local organisations and services such as the business community, Dublin Dockers and the Fire Brigade Service.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

 

The management of pupils is generally very good. The pupils engage successfully in their lessons and achieve high standards of behaviour. The individual needs of pupils are well understood and teachers endeavour to match the work to pupils’ needs and capabilities. Respectful relationships between staff and pupils bring about a caring, warm, and friendly school atmosphere. For those pupils whose additional special educational needs include behaviour problems, the consistent support they receive over time enables them to cope well with their frustrations. Ambulant pupils learn to move about the school independently, making use of the trailing skills that they have been taught. They carry out jobs that benefit others, such as calling the rolls and returning the registers to the office. Arrangements at meal times and break times promote pupils’ independence in eating and drinking. The principal reports that the school has now established a pupils’ committee and this is to meet once a month. This is an exciting development and all involved in its inception are commended.

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

 

A significant amount of work has taken place since September 2007 introducing or revising key school policies in the administrative areas and an extensive range of policies has been developed which support the smooth operation of the school. The school has produced a school development plan for 2008/09 and the school authorities are commended highly for its effective use of the school self-evaluation publication of the Department of Education and Science, Looking at Our School. Areas for future action that were identified include developing the in-school management team and improving resources. A consideration of time scales and criteria for success are laid down. There is now a need to develop curriculum documents along the same lines. The school recognises this and the school development plan has already targeted the development of curricular policies in Mathematics, Language, and a plan for pupils with multiple disabilities. A plan for Orientation and Mobility is also targeted for this year.  

 

To ensure that the curriculum continues to evolve to meet pupils’ needs and to provide an effective means for monitoring the quality of both teaching and learning outcomes, curriculum co-ordinators now need be appointed. They should begin by conducting an audit of resources in their subject and then go about designing effective school policies in the various curricular areas in collaboration with the other members of staff.

 

The class teachers seek to ensure that there is a balance between the demands of the ordinary curriculum and the particular needs of the individual pupil. The teachers are conscious of the importance of meeting diverse needs through the individualisation of programmes. The roles that teachers fulfil in educating visually-disabled pupils are diverse and they realise that they need to be forearmed by appropriate training. Some of the teachers already have extensive experience in working with visually-impaired pupils and one member of staff has extensive competence in Braille. An in-house summer-course was organised in 2008 and a distance education training programme is being pursued by one teacher. This training is supported by the Special Education Support Service (SESS). Common planning templates have been adopted including Individual Education Plans. Recommendations arising from assessments carried out by relevant professionals are included in the individual education plans. Steps are taken to obtain any specialist equipment that the pupil needs. The school has easy access to relevant literature on special educational needs in the library of St Joseph’s centre. The availability of such a valuable resource has the potential to greatly enhance the professional knowledge of staff.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

 

All teachers undertake long-term and short-term planning in accordance with Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools. The staff has adopted whole school planning templates and these have been supplied on CD-ROM to staff so that they can be completed electronically. Monthly progress in the various curriculum areas is recorded and teachers indicate where cross curricular linkages can be made. Teachers’ schemes are developed with care and interesting activities meet the needs of the pupils and stimulate them to respond and learn. Plans are succinct and in the best examples reference is made to the strands of the curriculum and to the evaluation of specific learning outcomes. The content of the short-term schemes is well matched to pupils’ abilities and reflects the targets in pupils’ individual education plans. In addition to short-term and long term plans, Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are also written. In the IEPs reference is made to pupils’ learning characteristics and to the individual targets of pupils. This helps to ensure that what is taught is relevant and at a level that is attainable but challenging.

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

 

The staff has a good understanding of pupils’ needs and about how to meet these needs. All teachers are committed to ensuring that all pupils, however profound their needs may be, are included in the learning and leisure activities of their group. Pupils’ learning experiences are well matched to their capabilities. The teachers are effective in capturing the interests of most of their pupils and getting them to participate in lessons. In all classrooms the teachers seek to create a learning environment that minimises the effects of the sensory impairment and maximises the opportunities for learning. Care is taken to ensure that pupils have sufficient time to use their sense of touch when handling objects relevant to the lesson. Teachers and special needs assistants talk to the pupils constantly, informing, questioning, and guiding them. Because of this very good support, individual pupils experience lessons in the manner that suits them. The teachers are aware that pupils with visual impairment are more reliant than other children on how the teacher organises, plans and delivers programmes and much high quality teaching was observed during the evaluation period. The teachers adapt their teaching styles and create an appropriate balance between whole class teaching, group work, and individual work. Active learning experiences are a frequent feature of teaching and learning. Some pupils depend on tactile and auditory means of learning and real objects are used for illustrating lessons where appropriate. Routines and structure are well established and lay the foundations for development in all areas.

 

When writing for the class the teachers ensure that there is clear contrast in the print used. The school makes some use of adapted reading materials and much material is photocopied and enlarged. A few pupils are learning to use Braille and curricular materials are produced during the summer in the local National Braille Production Centre. Several Perkins Braillers are available. Recently Mountbatten equipment has been acquired, but this equipment is not yet used to any great extent. There is a fine tactile globe but tactile diagrams are rarely used for accessing information. Tactile books are used in a number of classes. Visual materials are generally presented in ways that reduce the amount of information and this allows for easy access by pupils. Some classrooms contain equipment which allows small or detailed visual material to be projected as an enlarged image on to television monitors.

 

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Múintear an Ghaeilge go rialta i ranganna áirithe agus baineann na daltaí taitneamh as na ceachtanna. Is inmholta an cur chuige cumarsáideach a úsáideann roinnt de na hoidí. Moltar an chur chuige seo a úsáid trasna na scoile agus úsáid an Bhéarla a sheacaint i rith an cheachta Ghaeilge. Sna ceachtanna ab fhearr a chonacthas baineadh úsáid as fearas oiriúnach chun an comhrá a chur i láthair agus a fhorbairt. Baineadh úsáid as raon maith acmhainní agus as cluichí agus drámaíocht chun cumas cainte agus éisteachta na ndaltaí a fhoirbairt i slí taitneamhach. Chinntigh oidí go raibh an t-ábhar ceangailte le timpeallacht na bpáistí agus in oiriúint dá gcumas. Tugadh seans do na daltaí an teanga a úsáid agus an foclóir nua a chleachtadh trí agallaimh bheaga. Tá raon cúng rannta agus amhrán ar eolas ag na páistí. B’inmholta níos mó Gaeilge a úsáid i rith an lae agus d’fhéadfaí roinnt úsáide a bhaint as an nGaeilge mar theanga bhainistíochta ranga agus scoile.

 

Tuigtear go bhfuil cead ón Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta ag roinnt mhaith daltaí sa scoil seo gan Gaeilge a dhéanamh ar scoil. Mar sin féin, ba chóir don fhoireann oidí deis a thabhairt dá ndaltaí uile, feasacht éigin teanga (idir labhairt agus éisteacht) agus cultúr na Gaeilge, dá laghad é, a bhreith leo nuair a bheidh siad ag tabhairt aghaidh ar phlean don Ghaeilge a chur le chéile. D’fhéadfaí plean a dhréachtú ar stráitéisí a chabhródh leis an scoil dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge a chothú sna daltaí, maron le straitéisí chun feasacht cultúir a chothú ionas go mbeidh tuiscint níos fearr ag na daltaí ar oidhreacht chultúrtha na tIre. Dóibh siúd atá i dteideal díoliúne a fháil ón nGaeilge, ní mór na critéir a bhaineann le Imlitir 12/96 a chomhlíonadh.

 

Irish

Irish is taught regularly in some classes and pupils enjoy the lessons. The communicative approach being used by some teachers is praiseworthy. It is recommended that this approach is used throughout the school and that the use of English during the Irish lesson be avoided. In the most successful lessons observed suitable apparatus was used to present and to develop conversation. A range of resources, games and drama were utilised to develop pupils’ speaking and listening skills in a pleasant way. Teachers ensured that the material was related to the pupils’ environment and in line with their abilities. Pupils were given opportunities to use the language and to practise new vocabulary in little discussions. Pupils know a limited range of rhymes and songs in Irish. It would be worthwhile using more Irish throughout the day and Irish could be used to some extent in class and whole-school management.

 

It is understood that several pupils in this school have permission from the Department of Education and Science not to study Irish. At the same time, when they are developing a whole-school plan for Irish, the teaching staff should provide opportunities for all of their pupils to acquire some awareness of the language and of Irish culture, however little. Strategies could be selected in the draft plan that will assist the school in fostering a positive attitude towards Irish among pupils along with strategies to foster language awareness so that pupils will have a better understanding of the cultural heritage of the country. The appropriate procedures as outlined in Circular12/96 should be followed for the pupils who are entitled to an exemption from studying Irish.    

 

English

The school staff is conscious of the need for effective communication and that language provides the basis for all learning. Teachers are aware that their pupils will have reduced access to normal literary experiences and print-rich surroundings. As a result, they can find it more challenging to realize that language can be represented by print, Braille or Moon symbols. For pupils who acquire competency in reading or writing, such tasks can take more time than for pupils with normal vision and may be more tiring. The teachers display an awareness of these issues in their individual planning for English and they make adjustments in task presentation, duration and sequence that suits best the particular pupils in the class. Teachers make good use of the strand structure and layout of the English curriculum to systematically build on pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding with particular emphasis given to the development of oral language competency.

 

The acquisition of everyday concepts can be challenging in that the pupils with visual impairment may require multiple examples of everyday objects to form mental concepts of nouns or adjectives. Teachers are careful to include the haptic sense in provision of resources for language lessons so those pupils with total loss of vision can participate and remain fully included in oral discussions. The news time and circle time sessions that were observed varied from sensorial experiences of weather and daily events to discussions on seasonal topics and items of news. Good use was made of a commercial oral language scheme to support choice of topics for class lessons. Throughout the school the pupils demonstrated good ability in listening attentively and recalling information accurately. They spoke articulately and with confidence about wide-ranging issues such as the U.S. presidential election and areas of personal interest in class discussions. Excellent use was made of poetry in all classes to expand language experiences and provide opportunities to link difficult concepts such as colours to sensations that the pupils can relate to.   

 

In a class for pupils with more complex needs, the staff members use a range of methods to communicate with the pupils. Some pupils are assisted to use the Canaan Barrie on-body signs which use signs from British Sign Language as a base. These 150 adapted signs give maximum auditory and tactile feedback in a simpler manner than signs in space as they always have a reference point on the body. In this class pupils’ participation in stories is enhanced by the use of objects of reference that serve to illustrate the text. Pupils are assisted to smell and touch various objects that are connected to the story experience. Pupils who have no oral language are enabled to make their response to questions or provide a contribution using short recorded messages by activating the Big Mac switch. Pupils are encouraged to vocalise even if they do not articulate actual words and all attempts receive immediate praise and acknowledgement. The further creation of a daily tactile schedule in the form of a calendar box would assist the pupils to build up sequencing skills, assist memory and recall of completed activities and conceptualise time and routine events.

 

Good use is made of CCTV and magnifiers to assist pupils in accessing print material in addition to the provision of adapted texts, which are magnified to the appropriate font size. Seven of the 39 pupils are working on pre-Braille or Braille as their main means of gaining literacy. Pre-Braille  activities are provided and involve the use of story bags, tactile books, thermoform books and objects. These are used to good effect in individual and group lessons. The school has purchased a commercial pre-Braille scheme based on favourite children’s stories that have a variety of small books to develop left to right orientation and tactile sensitivity in detecting various surfaces within the pages of the books. Some of the textures contained within the books are quite difficult to detect and require considerable sensitivity on the part of the user. As a result the teachers will need to devise resources on an individual basis to meet the pupils’ needs. A number of pupils initially learn to read basic letters and basic punctuation in Grade 1 Braille. Progression to Grade 2 introduces short forms and contractions. Grade 2 Braille takes considerably longer to learn than Grade 1 but once learnt it may be quicker and easier to read and write. Some of the pupils in the school who are introduced to pre-Braille and Braille work may never progress to Grade 2 Braille as a consequence of their additional needs. 

 

The school should now review the provision of Braille generally and should develop clear policy guidelines around the place of Braille and Moon in the delivery of the curriculum. As noted earlier there has been an increase in the number of pupils with visual impairment and additional needs. The school should consider diversifying the approaches to developing literacy and including the use of Moon as an approach for teaching literacy for those pupils who may not achieve the sensitivity for using Braille or who do not have sufficient motor control to create Braille using a Perkins Brailler. The school has acquired two Mountbatten Braillers as an additional resource and although the teachers have not yet maximised their potential, these devices will provide considerable assistance to pupils with severe loss of vision. These machines integrate modern computer technology and have multiple applications which can provide speech feedback in forward and backward translation. In addition, a printer can be connected to provide a print translation of the Braille output. 

 

Many pupils with low vision find handwriting particularly challenging and time-consuming as the formation of letters may be poor.  The pupils have considerable opportunity to develop word processing skills and to use computer technology for drafting and editing their writing which is prominently displayed on the classroom walls. A part-time teacher teaches word processing and typing. Precise language and instructions around the use of computers are taught and there is considerable linkage with the class work that is undertaken in various areas of the curriculum. Many pupils achieve certification in formal examinations in word-processing and typing.

 

 

4.3 Mathematics

 

During the evaluation, some very good teaching was observed in Mathematics. The work was well focused on the promotion of independence by the application of Mathematics to real-life situations. The emphasis was on teaching mathematical skills, knowledge, and understanding. Teaching resources have been improved in recent years and across the age range. Use is made of suitable techniques to convey number concepts. These include the singing of counting songs and the use of tactile markers and counters. Pupils are introduced to money and the denominations of coinage. The younger pupils listen to number stories, poems, and rhymes. Work is carefully matched to individual children’s learning programmes, which include opportunities for children to experience simple mathematical concepts. Older pupils are given ample time to complete tasks, and sometimes a process is demonstrated on a one-to-one basis. Real objects are used to teach measurement and tactile rulers are available. Pupils have access to large-print calculators and handle actual objects. The interactive whiteboard is used to good effect. By way of further development more appropriate calculators including talking calculators could be utilized.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

Due to current timetabling arrangements in the school, the allocated time available to teach History, Geography and Science is somewhat diminished. The timetable should now be adjusted to ensure that students have appropriate and balanced access to these subjects. 

 

History

In the lessons observed, the teachers carefully matched the level and nature of the activities to their pupils’ capabilities. Teachers made learning active and promoted pupils’ understanding through the good use of simple resources. The teachers demonstrated a good knowledge of the pupils’ learning needs and they planned lessons with a view to developing the pupils’ auditory and tactile senses. The teachers use story very effectively to teach History. Appropriate emphasis is places on personal and local history. The History lessons also serve to reinforce the skills taught in other subject areas. For example, in Drama and Visual Arts pupils are encouraged to make and colour “Egyptian” artefacts. Textbooks for History are modified to make the contents meaningful to visually-impaired pupils. Other senses besides vision could be used more in history lessons. The school could assemble suitable resources including audio tape, and audio visual resources. Further use could be made of songs, role play, smells, textures, historical artefacts and visits to museums.

 

Geography

Geography is taught in a cross-curricular manner. The children are encouraged to take part in a variety of activities to explore, through their senses, the immediate and wider environment. At assembly time children are introduced to different cultures and religions. Visual materials are talked through and when moving around school, the staff ensures that pupils are constantly exposed to directional and descriptive vocabulary and landmarks. The pupils look closely at objects and feel as well as see teaching resources. Images can transferred to Closed Circuit Television screens allowing zooming in to enlarge specific parts. There is a satisfactory range of resources for Geography, including tactile globes for pupils who can benefit from these. In one or two rooms there is an assortment of maps of Ireland and of the wider world. Some of this material is very detailed and includes unnecessary visual clutter. Models of landscapes made from sand, clay, foam, and cardboard are sometimes used. A superb example was the effective use of a tactile map of the campus to enable the pupils experience the local area and to develop a sense of place. Additional use could be made of this approach to create tactile models of landscape features in conjunction with the pottery teacher. Extensive use is made of the digital camera to record pupils’ experiences and achievement although the potential of computers and ICT to add impact to learning and to improve accessibility is not yet fully exploited.

 

Mobility training is sensitively undertaken, giving pupils opportunities to develop confidence in free movement in a secure environment. Under supervision, pupils learn how to find their way round the school, touching items to identify their locations. The staff involved has high expectations and they encourage pupils to become confident and independent. The mobility officer also works very well with pupils to develop their ability and confidence during walking sessions around the local area. Care is taken to ensure that pupils understand the meaning of descriptive terms – steepness, height, shape etc.

 

Science

In Science lessons there is a high degree of sensory exploration. Teaching resources in the classrooms include tables of interest, pictorial displays and books. These resources are used effectively to support student exploration and to increase their awareness and engagement in the learning process. Teachers are aware that with careful preparation and adaptation, children who are visually-impaired can access an in-depth and varied science course. The curriculum strand Living Things receives a good deal of attention across the school although greater attention could be given to the strands Energy and Forces and Materials. Topics explored related to the human body and to seasonal changes and provide a focus for lessons and for cross-curricular activities.  Some lessons observed were very exciting and stimulating. Students were provided with opportunities to engage in practical activities, sensory exploration of materials using listening, touch, and smell. The pupils’ learning opportunities are broadened through the many opportunities to visit the Sense and Grow project which is located on campus and provides many valuable opportunities for pupils to learn about gardening and horticulture and to look after poultry and small animals. The Sense and Grow project is funded by the AIB Better Ireland Programme. The experiences provided offer particular benefits for pupils who are tactile defensive as they are given ample time to overcome an unwillingness to use their hands to explore objects.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

There was little evidence of whole-school planning that would guide the teachers in adapting the six strands of the visual arts curriculum to meet the needs of the pupils. However classroom planning, lesson presentations and display areas clearly demonstrate the teachers’ commitment to adapting the strands to the visual needs of the pupils. Teachers have been careful to modify their methodologies to reflect the pupils’ visual, auditory and tactile abilities and pupils with varying degrees of functional vision are provided with a wide variety of tactile materials to ensure that each pupil can make his or her own artistic contribution to the chosen theme. Teachers are aware that pupils may not have had the same range of optical experiences as sighted children. In the lessons observed visual demonstration was supplemented at all times with spoken commentary and class discussions and, where appropriate, with models.

 

Classroom and corridor display areas were used to good effect to create interesting group exhibitions of work. Displays indicated work in construction, print, paint and colour, fibre and fabric, and elements of drawing. The majority of displays were of individual pieces of work collectively displayed rather than collaborative projects executed on a class or group basis. The increased use of collaborative projects would enhance pupils’ social skills. Resources are kept on an individual basis in the classrooms rather than in a central art room. The lack of a central base for visual arts restricts the range of activities that can be explored collaboratively as ongoing projects cannot be left out in the classrooms where they might pose a hindrance to mobility for some of the pupils with visual impairment.  

 

The pupils have opportunities across all class levels to gain expertise in the clay medium with weekly timetabled lessons with a pottery teacher. The tuition is provided in the classrooms for the younger and more disabled pupils while the older pupils leave the school for tuition in the pottery workshop on the campus. The pupils commence with basic techniques such as pinch pots, slab and coil construction up to quite sophisticated portrayals of fruit baskets, castles and animal models. During the observed session with clay the pupils displayed a clear understanding of the properties of the medium, how to work with it, how to care for it between sessions and how it changes during the drying and firing processes. The proficiency with the use of clay could be profitably extended into exploration of papier mache modelling and plaster and wire model construction.

 

The strand area of drawing provides particular challenges to pupils with visual impairment. Consideration needs to be given to how to make this strand area accessible to all with the use of materials to make tactile drawings including pipe cleaners and tubing. Use of tube gutta as in silk painting or Tacti Mark as a liquid plastic would provide a tactile representation that for use in drawing elements. Options such as these should be developed on a whole-school basis to ensure the pupils have the opportunity to creatively participate in all the visual arts strands. The whole-school policy in visual arts should include clear guidelines for new teachers with little experience in working with pupils with visual impairment.

 

Pupils’ understanding and appreciation of art could be enhanced with access to such initiatives such as the “artist in residence” scheme. Unusual work by contemporary artists who have an innovative perspective on artistic creations would entice the pupils to think about art in a wider visual context.

 

Music

Music receives considerable attention from the teaching staff in the school. Due attention is paid to the development of basic music literacy and song singing in the classrooms, and expanding to instrument instruction with the specialist music teachers under the VEC scheme. The class teachers use a commercial scheme to base class lessons on the musical elements. The pupils learn a suitable repertoire of songs across a range of genres. Lessons are planned to systematically build on pupils’ existing musical knowledge and to encourage them to compose basic rhythm patterns and produce percussion accompaniment. Use of tactile rhythm symbols or additional use of a system such as Kodaly would enhance the pupil’s haptic involvement in the music lessons. Provision of technology such as Soundbeam would be of particular relevance in this curricular area and in the provision of additional auditory elements in drama lessons.

 

The pupils have the opportunity to develop auditory discrimination skills and active listening from tapes of everyday sounds to selected pieces of music from a range of genres, from traditional to classical. Clear assignment of the selected pieces of music to appropriate class levels in the whole school planning documentation would ensure the spiral approach as the pupils progress through the school.

 

One of the specialist music teachers has worked on Braille music notation and has produced an impressive publication that is of support to teachers wishing to use this method. The traditionally-based method of learning pieces through the development of familiarity with a piece of music through listening to it and memorising the note sequence has particular relevance for these pupils. This method is used to very good effect by a specialist music teacher who is a proficient traditional musician and who works with class groups for general music education and with ability groups and individuals for tuition in instrument playing. The pupils benefit greatly from the individual tuition provided. They are encouraged to start instrumental lessons at a young age. The pupils’ achievements in music and enjoyment of it are notable features of the school. The standard of achievement is very good and the work in the performance strand has been recorded on CD-Rom. Pupils are given opportunities to use a wide variety of instruments including percussion, woodwind and string. Pupils have the opportunity to compose additional verses to favourite songs as well as engaging in group percussion accompaniment to selected pieces.

 

Whole school activities in Music are very well planned and they include good opportunities for all classes to listen to a wide range of music from different cultures, countries, and eras. The class teachers do not currently accompany their pupils to these classes even when the class group attends in unison. It would be beneficial for the class teachers to accompany their classes to specialist lessons. This would give them first-hand knowledge of what the pupils are learning in the specialist classes. The class teachers could then develop the class-based music activities in the most effective manner to reinforce and extend what is covered in the group sessions. It is further recommended that a collaboration and consultation process be embarked upon with the specialist teachers, to draw up a comprehensive music curriculum that should be documented in the school plan.

 

Drama

Drama is used to enhance the pupils’ self-esteem and enhance their oral competency and literacy levels. The teachers have integrated the work in this curricular area with work in English. Dramatic devices such as role play and mime are deployed in the exploration of various SPHE themes in a number of classes. From time to time, Irish is used in little dramas. This approach is praiseworthy and could be used more extensively throughout the school.

 

Creative imagination is used to good effect in the provision of a multi-sensory approach to drama with pupils who have significant additional needs as well as visual impairment. Activities are carefully constructed with the involvement of each pupil in the group in order to build up a dramatic atmosphere and a shared emotional experience. The themes of such dramas are based on either factual or fictional experiences. Auditory, olfactory, and tactile cues, and real objects relating to the story are used to assist the pupils to enter into the lessons. Theme music is used to signal the commencement and conclusion of the activity and assists the pupils in orientating themselves to participation in group experiences. 

 

The teachers make good use of a variety of small props, masks and costumes to assist the pupils assume particular roles in drama lessons. The pupils enthusiastically join in the team games and delight in participating on an emotional and collaborative level in small dramatic improvisations and in using individual scripts in set pieces. Good use is made of the classroom space to create imaginative sets for the particular lesson. Pupils with significant visual impairment are assisted in orienting themselves around the set in advance of the lesson to avoid any possible confusion that might arise with regard to the placement of particular furniture or props. The teachers are careful to provide scripts at the appropriate level of magnification for the pupils to facilitate their reading of the text for their particular character in the drama.

 

The pupils are assisted to participate in the progression of a plot, from the introduction to the climax, and through to a satisfactory conclusion. In the lessons observed the pupils produced a range of credible characterisations in their understanding of the various roles in the drama, and the teachers succeeded in raising their appreciation of the dramatic plot.  

 

4.6 Physical Education

 

In the lessons in the hall and in the playground, pupils listen to instructions carefully and make great efforts to take part in games. They respond positively to a broad range of opportunities to develop their body awareness, skills and co-ordination. The Physical Education activities observed were very enjoyable for the pupils. Activities included ball games, skills circuits, athletics and non-competitive work. Sufficient verbal instructions and auditory signals were provided. Manual guidance was used occasionally to supplement verbal instruction. Modified equipment such as brightly coloured balls, and auditory targets were used to good effect. The school shares a hall with other groups and in general the physical education equipment was poorly stored. Boundary markings on the floor could be made more clearly visible through the use of coloured strips or through textured contrast. Dance and simple gymnastics activities offer opportunities for pupils to experience the challenge of exercising control over their bodies whilst expressing creativity in a safe environment. The pupils also enjoy time spent in the soft play room where they experience climbing, crawling, balancing, swinging and jumping. Opportunities are provided in the newly resourced playground for pupils to explore and experiment in activities involving climbing, swinging, hanging and balancing.

 

In the swimming pool the pupils are taught by an external teacher. The pupils enjoy this experience; many are confident in water, and, over time, they learn to float and swim with minimal support. The teaching of swimming is well planned and activities are carefully chosen to meet the needs of individuals. The swimming teacher explains the targets to the support staff, so that their work is of benefit to the pupils.

 

There is specialist input from a trained mobility officer and training in mobility and orientation skills is regarded by the school as a crucial area of learning. The mobility teacher ensures that a developmentally based programme of independence training is followed and helps the pupils to move about safely.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

 

The SPHE curriculum assists the pupils to develop appropriate social skills and independent living skills in addition to relating appropriately to other people across a variety of social contexts. The SPHE programmes in evidence reflected the framework of the revised curriculum. Additional elements regarding self-care, mobility and orientation provide the pupils with the essential skills for living independently in the wider community. There is an emphasis on developing inter-personal skills and establishing good healthy living guidelines. 

 

In addition to the stated curriculum for primary schools, the school endeavours to explore both social and personal issues that impinge on individual pupils. Using circle time and, on occasions, the methodology of Social Stories, the pupils are supported in discussing topics that may have an impact on their lives and with which they might have difficulty coping. The teachers are committed to promoting a school environment that fosters respect for diversity. The pupils are aware that they are accepted as unique individuals within the school and their personal achievements are celebrated.

 

The school makes good use of functional behavioural analysis charts to identify the antecedents, behaviour and consequences of incidents of challenging behaviour. These records are used to identify patterns and triggers that can be built into a supportive behavioural management programme. The change from class groups to higher ratio pairs and groups has assisted in reducing problematic behaviour in a significant manner. The school IEP template frequently includes priority aims in the social skills areas that receive attention on both an individual and group basis in the classrooms.

 

4.8 Assessment

 

A whole-school policy has been developed on assessment and the document is tailored to the particular school context and to the needs of the pupils. The various purposes of assessment are outlined, and appropriate standardised, diagnostic and criterion referenced tests are identified. Teachers are now in the process of moving to the general use of a published assessment of functional vision. This is a very welcome development. A functional assessment kit has been purchased and a teacher has received training in its use. Such an assessment of how the child is able to use his sight in day-to-day situations of work and play is helpful in indicating the appropriate learning and play materials for each child. The assessment of functional vision skills will also yield supportive information that can be used to optimise the learning conditions. It would be beneficial if this resource could be applied across the school using the same personnel and assessment conditions to ensure consistency of outcomes across the pupil cohort.

 

A universal school template has been developed for the annual individualised education plans (IEP).  This planning template is very valuable and is in keeping with the Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE). Particular consideration is given to the educational impact of the visual impairment and to the specialist resources and adaptations that will be required in addressing the pupils’ needs. Detailed assessment information on the type and degree of visual impairment is included in the IEP with clear indications of issues such as contrast and light sensitivity as well as visual field, the optimum print and font size for use with the pupil.

 

Within the individual classrooms, the teachers use a variety of teacher devised tests and tasks, and they maintain photographic displays of recent achievements and checklists based on curricular areas. Teachers look for gains in learning, generalisation of concepts, gaps in skill acquisition and areas requiring consolidation. Monthly reports of curricular work are compiled by the teachers with regard to the topics covered. There could be further development of concurrent recording systems within the classrooms to detail the individual progress made by pupils on assigned tasks. This is particularly relevant for the classes for pupils with significant additional disabilities such as ASD. Concurrent recording systems could detail the method of presentation and language or signing system to be used with pupils for consistency across all classroom personnel. Sufficiently tight recording systems will clearly indicate progress and can be used to inform further assessments.

 

In some classes the pupils present with a complex range of disabilities. This poses an additional challenge for the identification of the pupils’ ability levels. Many assessment instruments have been developed for pupils without sensory impairment and their use and modification for pupils with visual impairment can result in questionable data. Consideration should be given to the use of instruments such as the Callier Azusa Scales which was developed for pupils with visual impairment and complex additional needs to identify appropriate starting points for educational tasks. The Affective Communication Assessment (ACA) can yield useful data to establish suitable opportunities for teaching and monitoring development. More proficient pupils who are communicating at an intentional level could be profitably assessed using the Early Communication Assessment (ECA) for the identification of accurate levels of communication functioning. Assessment reliability across the staff can be enhanced through training in the use of assessment. The resource teacher allocated by the VEC might be given overall responsibility for assessment. The resource teacher might also provide support for class teachers in relation to the choice, application and interpretation of tests with a view to enhancing the reliability and use of the data obtained.  

 

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

 

All the pupils attending this school have special needs relating to visual impairment. In addition to this main area of impairment there are two classes of pupils who have additional disabilities. Making suitable provision for pupils with additional special educational needs has been a priority. One class is assigned for pupil with significant additional impairments including physical and intellectual disabilities while the remaining teacher is assigned to pupils with additional behavioural needs including some pupils with a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder. Because of their special educational needs, which include physical and sensory impairments and emotional difficulties, a few pupils sometimes express their frustrations and anxieties through behaviour that could be harmful to themselves or others and that would, if unchecked, lead to learning being disturbed. Teachers have a very good understanding of these individual traits and are skilful at anticipating the possible onset of challenging behaviour. They work with distressed pupils to minimise the impact on others and to restore equilibrium. Their work is commended.

 

A significant number of the pupils have multiple learning difficulties and this group has been prioritised by the school. Staff members have been highly innovative in developing a range of specific responses and curricular adaptations in order to cater in the most appropriate ways for the pupils with multiple disabilities. As well as their visual impairments, their general learning difficulties are of particular concern and their physical disabilities are such that they are not ambulant. Despite the challenge posed by this array of difficulties, the teachers plan to ensure that such pupils participate as fully as possible in the various activities. Individual helpers are assigned in many cases and care is taken to see that as much sensory input as is practical and relevant to the lesson is given.

 

The advice and recommendations provided by various professionals are very important and much appreciated by the teachers, especially when provided following assessment or as part of the IEP planning process. However it is noted that in some instances there can be as many as three teachers as well as special needs assistants involved at one time with a class and this can affect the overall context of teaching and learning. Now that the classes have been established and well supported for months, the current intense level of support should be reviewed. Consideration might now to be given to providing individual tuition where appropriate and within the teaching hours that are allocated to the school. It is important that the staffing allocation for pupils with additional difficulties is reviewed regularly so that the teaching resources are directed at the area of highest priority for the school.

 

As observed during the evaluation the teachers and support staff know the pupils very well and understand their needs. Special Needs Assistants made a considerable contribution to the level of pupil involvement. They model appropriate behaviour and keep pupils working with timely interventions and prompts. They ensure that pupils in wheelchairs or specialised furniture are comfortable and fully included in activities. SNA support is used effectively to promote pupils’ independence and SNAs ensure that pupils are able to access the lessons. The support that is provided in lessons can be direct or indirect – such as producing materials for independent use by the pupils.

 

5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

 

A range of supports are in place to support necessitous pupils. Nursing care is available on campus and breakfast and a hot lunch are provided for pupils each day.  Some of the pupils come from disadvantaged backgrounds and the school has supported these children in a number of ways. The provision of free school books and materials is sensitively managed. In anticipation of the possible growth in admission to the school of children for whom English is a second language it is recommended that the school examines available resources for teaching English as a second language including materials prepared by Integrate Ireland Language and Training. Over the years that the school has been in operation there have also been a number of Travellers attending the school and regular contact is maintained with the visiting teacher for Travellers. In the spirit of inclusion, it is recommended also that the school now develops a particular module in Travellers’ culture.

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

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 staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

Published April 2009

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

The Board of Management of St Joseph’s Primary School for Children with Visual Impairment wishes to express its gratitude for the professional and sensitive way in which the whole school evaluation was undertaken. The Board welcomes the positive nature of the report and, in particular, the recognition it gives to the hard work and dedication of the whole school team in meeting the special educational needs of learners with a visual impairment. It also appreciates the constructive recommendations made which will shape the short to medium term development of the school. The Board wishes to reiterate that it believes that the significant number of teachers on temporary contracts may be unhelpful to this process and it hopes that the Department of Education and Science will act to rectify this where appropriate. The Board does accept that the fabric of the school’s accommodation is less than desirable and hopes that the Department of Education and Science will be supportive of the proposed redevelopment of St Joseph’s Centre for the Visually Impaired which will include new primary school facilities. In the meantime, the Board will actively engage with the Planning and Building Section with a view to improving existing facilities.

 

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection   

    

In response to the findings and recommendations of the inspection, the following actions have been initiated:

 

·         Development time has been set aside for teaching staff to discuss ways in which the shortfall in secular instruction time can be addressed.

·         The Board will continue in its efforts to establish an active Parents’ Association.

·         A review of the duties of the in-school management team will take place during the forthcoming school planning day. This will be facilitated by the Primary Professional Development Service and will respect the recommendations made by the Inspectorate as well as Circular 07/03 as to the nature of the duties of the posts of responsibility.  The process of appointment to posts, particularly the Deputy Principal, will then commence as soon as possible thereafter.

·         Additional resources along with in-school training in the teaching and learning of Braille have been put in place.  A whole school Braille policy document is under development.

·         The allocation and timetabling of teaching staff supporting pupils with multiple disabilities and a visual impairment has been amended, thereby facilitating increased support for other learners.

·         The necessary procedures for recording exemption from formal tuition in Irish have commenced.

The Board looks forward to working with and supporting the whole school staff in addressing other recommendations contained within the body of the evaluation report.