An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Scoil Bernadette Special School

Bonnington Montenotte, Cork

 

Uimhir rolla:18458A

 

Date of inspection:  12 October 2009

 

 

 

 

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 students

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 Scoil Bernadette. 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 representatives 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 students, examined students’ 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 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

 

Located in Cork City and operating under the patronage of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cork and Ross, Scoil Bernadette is designated by the Department of Education and Science as a special national school for children with mild general learning disability, aged twelve to eighteen years.  It is unique among schools for this category of disability in that it caters only for students of post-primary age. The school serves a wide catchment area in Cork, north of the river Lee.  Some of the students transfer from a special school located nearby, which caters for primary-aged students, while other students previously attended mainstream schools.  In 1985 the school changed from being a school for boys from four to eighteen years of age to a co-educational school for students from twelve to eighteen years of age.

 

Scoil Bernadette commits itself to the motto ‘Learning for Living’. The school’s aims for its students are described as not being ‘fundamentally different from those of any young person – namely the fullest development of their personalities and talents’. During the evaluation period the inspectors met students who presented with a considerably wide range of abilities and notwithstanding the school’s designation they found that, as with any cohort of students, many groups presented as mixed ability classes. 

 

The school management is mindful of the fact that the student cohort is exclusively of post-primary age and the staff sees its work as drawing on a post-primary model in terms of curriculum provision. Staff members are keen that Scoil Bernadette be recognised as a ‘second level’ school and that the school be able to avail of supports that are specific to post-primary schools.

 

The school is rightly proud of its endeavours to provide the most appropriate education for the students and the pursuit of post-primary accreditation for students is indeed a commendable feature of the practice. Having achieved notable success in developing age-appropriate courses with recognised accreditation in state examinations, the school could now begin to concentrate on developing further those aspects of the provision which relate to the general and specific learning needs of its students. Areas such as assessment and the development of whole school literacy and numeracy strategies could now be prioritised.

 

A number of structural changes have taken place in the school since the last school inspection report was provided. An extension has been built and several improvements have been made to the facilities. The school now has a staff of principal and fourteen full-time teachers, five part-time teachers and fourteen special needs assistants. The multi-disciplinary team from COPE Foundation provides additional supports. At the time of the whole school evaluation 105 students attended Scoil Bernadette. September enrolment figures over the past two years show little change – 104 students in September 2007, 106 students in 2008, although a slight upward movement is anticipated and the school is expected to grow to 112 in 2010. The average attendance for the term preceding the evaluation is a matter for concern. School records indicate that twenty students were absent for over thirty days in the past school year. A review of the rolls and registers in the school indicates a high level of absenteeism in the examination classes particularly in the months of May and June. Several of these students sit certificate examinations in both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied at that time of the year. Consequently some other students also cease attending after the June public holiday.  The staff members involved continue in attendance until the end of June, providing support for examination candidates and carrying out school-development work and classroom planning.  While this practice regarding student attendance in May and June may reflect the school’s strong emphasis on the provision of a post-primary school experience for these students, it is not a feature of practice in designated special national schools.

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

The board of management is properly constituted and is representative of patron, staff, parents and the wider community. It meets twice per term. The members of the board are allocated specific tasks and the board is provided with informative regular reports by the principal. There is close and successful collaboration with COPE Foundation to enhance the facilities in school. COPE Foundation provides generous and substantial financial support and assists in the management of school finances.

 

Board members have availed of training opportunities which were organised by the Catholic Primary School Managers Association (CPSMA) in areas such as child protection. The school reports to the Board of Directors of COPE Foundation any matters that need to be brought to their notice, through the two directors who are members of the school board. The secretary to the board of management compiles details on all new Department of Education and Science circulars on a spreadsheet that is updated for each board meeting. In line with statutory requirements, the board has agreed policies on admissions/enrolment.

 

Minutes of recent meetings indicate that the board is well informed about ongoing school matters and that it has considered and approved a range of policy documents.  While the board rightly avails of the expertise and commitment of the principal and staff in drafting organisational and curricular policies, it should ensure that the board’s overall role in relation to policy remains clear.  It is recommended that all school policies be dated and signed on ratification by the board. It is further advised that the board should consider establishing review dates for all existing curricular plans and school policies in order to contribute to the positive planning process of school self-review.

 

The school day, as it is currently configured, does not fully conform to Department of Education and Science regulations. Classes commence at 9:30 a.m. and students are dismissed at 3 p.m.  This gives a student day of 5 hours and 30 minutes, which is 10 minutes less than the required school day of 5 hours and 40 minutes. It was observed that school staff members devote commendable energy and resourcefulness to ensuring that students are gainfully occupied throughout the day, including recreation periods and that staff members remain in school after student dismissal. Nonetheless, it is recommended that the school day be reconfigured in line with the relevant regulation. In some classes the management of instructional time prior to the mid-morning break should also be reorganized to ensure that all students are engaged in profitable learning activities.

  

2.2 In-school management

A new principal was appointed in 2008. She displays a high degree of professionalism, enjoyment and passion in her work. As principal she engenders a strong sense of enthusiasm for teaching and learning across the school and she is familiar with all the programmes being delivered in the school. She is often on duty in the corridors, at assembly and during recreation periods. In her short time in charge she has achieved a strong presence in the life of the school. She has strong communication skills and she is keen to empower colleagues, to build a strong school team, and to include all stakeholders in developing a shared vision for the school.

 

The current middle-management team has been in operation since March 2009. In addition to fulfilling the role of supporting the principal in day-to-day administration, the deputy principal and the two special duties teachers take responsibility for other important aspects of in-school management The allocation of duties within the team is clearly documented and provides a balance between administrative, curricular and care aspects for each post. Responsibilities relate to coordination of curricular initiatives, health and safety, liaising with outside agencies and management of resources. The respective duties are carried out diligently and in a spirit of commitment and teamwork that is characteristic of the staff as a whole. General school administration matters are attended to in an efficient manner and roll books are marked on a daily basis in all classes. The routine activities of the school day and week are well managed by the relevant staff members.

 

A clear sense of shared educational values is evident across all aspects of the school’s work. The leadership, purposeful management and clear educational direction provided by the principal and senior teachers are reflected in the dedication, commitment and professionalism of the entire staff team. Other teachers also take on key leadership roles in developing curriculum and in organisation of activities and events.

 

While short whole-school staff meetings are held on a weekly basis, where policy, organisational and curricular matters are discussed, at present there are no formal meetings of the middle-management team. The principal meets frequently with the deputy principal and on occasions with the special duties post holders on an individual basis. The effectiveness of the team might be further enhanced in a number of ways. Convening of formal meetings of the middle management team is advisable. Annual plans for the delivery of each post holder’s tasks might be agreed along with arrangements to revise responsibilities that will reflect the evolving needs of the school.

  

2.3 Management of resources

The buildings and surrounding grounds are well maintained. The school’s accommodation has been upgraded in recent years with an extension to the school providing a new art room and a general classroom, the creation of a new library facility for students and the upgrading of the woodwork room to provide a quality educational environment with appropriate dust extraction facilities. The main building, while it provides many good-quality teaching spaces, has shortcomings in relation to communal space, and meeting rooms. The provision, by COPE Foundation, of a sports centre to the rear of school has considerably enhanced the provision for games and athletics, and, combined with the well-resourced fitness room, creates excellent Physical Education facilities. The visual impression of the school is enhanced by attractive and curriculum-relevant wall displays and examples of students’ art work in classrooms and corridors. The school has a well-resourced and comfortable library which is administered by a member of the teaching staff. A special fund-raising event is held in the school library each year. A resource library for the teachers is also available. A room has been designated as a self-care room where students can attend to issues of personal hygiene and self-care. A care assistant is provided by COPE Foundation and is assigned to support the students in these personal matters. The school allows its facilities to be used for after-school activities by past-students and by members of the staff of COPE Foundation.

 

The school atmosphere is very positive; morale is high among staff and relationships among the adults and between students and staff are warm and cordial. Staff and students share a sense of pride in the school’s achievements. A mentoring system has been put in place to support newly qualified teachers. Teachers have participated in a range of professional-development activities, including seminars and courses provided by support services related to the Primary School Curriculum, and curricular courses facilitated by the Second Level Support Service in relation to the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). Some members of staff have attended training courses provided by the Special Education Support Services and by the Brothers of Charity. On their own initiative, teachers have also pursued post-graduate qualifications on an individual basis. Individual staff members have also identified a number of highly relevant areas for future professional development and these include numeracy, literacy, assessment and child protection. It is recommended that the continuous professional development (CPD) accessed by staff be recorded in the School Plan and that priorities for future CPD be identified and agreed at whole-school level.

 

In addition to the teaching staff and special-needs assistants who are assigned to classes, the school benefits also from the presence of a number of full-time and part-time subject specialists. Woodwork is taught to all class groups by the school’s full-time Woodwork teacher. The Physical Education Department is run by a full-time teacher of PE. The school also has a full-time Home Economics teacher and shares a second teacher of Home Economics with a primary special school nearby. Guidance counselling is provided to the senior classes and Horticulture is also taught. Part-time teachers of Art and of Information Technology (ICT) are also employed. In the coming year an external music teacher provided by COPE Foundation will work with three classes.

 

The school’s special-needs assistants make a valuable contribution to the care of students in an educational context. They attend to the immediate physical care needs of individual students as required. They also assist with supervision of students during educational activities and at break times and they assist students in accessing particular activities and in completing tasks.  At a more general level, they contribute significantly to the maintenance of a positive social and educational environment throughout the school.

 

Material teaching resources in classrooms are good. Equipment in various curriculum areas is in adequate supply and has been replenished and updated on a continuous basis with the support of the board of management. The school is well resourced with ICT facilities that are used both in classrooms for subject teaching and for focussed teaching of computer skills. An inventory of available resources in each curricular area could now be compiled, the number of data projectors, interactive whiteboards might be extended and teachers could consider the further use of ICT as a means of sharing teaching resources with colleagues.

 

When groups of students are being taught by a number of teachers, in addition to a class teacher, ensuring good communication among teachers in order to maintain coherent approaches to student management and learning constitutes an on-going challenge for the school. On the other hand the availability of specialist teaching in several areas creates opportunities for the development of creative teaching arrangements. As was witnessed in some lessons, the presence of two teachers enhanced the quality of learning experienced by the students. In this context, teachers’ timetables should make clear who is delivering instruction in subjects to groups and what is the role of the class teacher while the class is attending specialist subjects.

  

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Discussion with staff indicates that communication with parents is seen as an ongoing, regular and important aspect of the role of classroom teachers. A range of strategies is in place to promote communication between home and school. The school’s web site assists the dissemination of information within the school community and beyond. A regular school newsletter keeps parents informed of school affairs and parents are invited to school celebrations. The students’ handbook and homework journal facilitate routine two-way contact. Scheduled parent-teacher meetings take place twice a year and additional meetings can be arranged on the initiative of school or parent at short notice. The web site provides a vehicle which might be used for further dissemination of key policies.

 

At the pre-evaluation meeting, the parents stated that they feel welcome in the school and they commented on the positive school atmosphere. Other positive features identified by the parents included the commitment of staff, their friendship with and care of the students, the home-school communication systems in place, the regular parent-teacher meetings, the availability of practical subjects for the students and the openness of the school in dealing with parents’ queries and concerns. The further involvement of parents in the development of individual education planning could build on existing good practice in the school and has the potential to provide an enhanced focus for home-school collaboration.

 

A formal parents’ association with affiliation to the National Parents’ Council is not currently in place. Such an association could add considerable value both for parents and the whole-school community. In particular it would have the potential to support the consultative process across a range of organisational and curricular areas. The board of management should therefore consider ways in which parents might be facilitated in forming an association, taking into account the wide catchment area of the school and the relatively small pool of parents available.  

 

With support from the Special Education Support Service of the Department of Education and Science, Scoil Bernadette has been involved in a project called The Special School as a Resource. The project aimed to develop a professional, collaborative relationship between mainstream and special schools, and to enhance teacher effectiveness in catering for students with special educational needs in all schools involved. In the second year of the school’s involvement in this project, a temporary teacher was appointed to facilitate teacher absences from the school and to initiate a Home/School Links connection in the school community. On cessation of the project, this post was terminated. Currently, the school utilizes a teacher from its current quota to act as Resource and Home/School Links teacher. The role description is very broad and multi-faceted but in general, in addition to some direct teaching duties, the post involves pastoral care and is used to facilitate partnership with parents, teachers, and members of the multi-disciplinary team. Some of the work with parents is described in school documentation as being ‘pre-emptive’, involving regular telephone contact, to identify areas of concern and to develop a supportive relationship with parents. This post also involves managing a number of initiatives across the school year, such as the production of the school newsletter, breakfast club, arranging coffee mornings and relevant talks or workshops for parents. Contacts are developed also with the broader community. Many siblings of the school’s students attend local mainstream schools and the Home-School Links teacher attends some of the local Home School Community Liaison teacher cluster meeting. Contacts are also maintained with a variety of youth services in the area. The school community has benefited from participation in a range of local and national initiatives, including Dissolving Boundaries which uses ICT to facilitate cross cultural educational linkages between schools north and south of the border, Cork City Council’s Green Schools Programme, and the Mayfield Neighbourhood Youth Project which links social workers, parents and schools.

  

2.5 Management of students

During the evaluation period the inspectors met a universally polite and courteous cohort of students who were keen to engage in conversation. There was ample evidence that very good relationships exist between staff and students. Students are praised frequently by teachers and special needs assistants and individual successes in examinations, projects, sport, art, and music are celebrated. The student voice is to the fore in areas such as the Student Council and the Green Schools Project. Management responds quickly to the Student Council’s suggestions with regard to issues that affect students, such as school uniform and wheel-chair access in the school. Students are listened to in class and they are seen as individuals in the school. Student questions are encouraged and answered clearly. These practices contribute significantly to the social and personal development of students. While teachers report that behaviour management occasionally presents a challenge, the success of the teachers and special-needs assistants in promoting positive behaviour was strongly evident during the evaluation period. Commendable features of practice include close supervision by staff at transitions to and from recreation areas and concentration of staff input for students with challenging behavioural issues.

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

The practice of school development planning is well established in Scoil Bernadette. A number of organisational and curricular aspects of the school plan have been reviewed as part of a three-year strategic planning initiative started in 2008. Policy documents are drafted by the staff and presented to the board for consideration. Whole-school plans are available in the areas of English, Mathematics, Science, Gaeilge and Visual Arts. The co-operation of staff is evident in the work undertaken in curricular areas with the introduction of new Junior Certificate subjects and FETAC Level 2 modules. The work on these areas could now be formally composed into curricular planning documentation on a whole-school level. In the past year, the staff has completed a review of the admissions policy and the code of behaviour. Some policies have originated from the general policies of COPE Foundation in areas such as health and safety, and data protection. The areas identified for development for the next two years include whole-school plans for Music and Drama as well as staff training and programme development in relation to Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE).

 

While the school staff has produced policy documentation of a high standard, there are some areas that need to be adjusted to fulfil the statutory obligations under legislation. In the school’s code of behaviour, the consequences of a breach of the rules are outlined but there is no indication as to what constitutes gross misconduct or ongoing misconduct on the part of the student. In order to comply fully with Section 23.2 of the Education Welfare Act 2000, the school should now develop clear outlines as to what constitutes minor or major breaches of the code of behaviour that will invoke the procedures outlined in the plan. In addition, the school should devise an attendance strategy in accordance with Section 22.2 of the same Act, stating the strategies that the school will use to promote positive attendance, and the steps that the board of management will take when a child’s attendance is unsatisfactory. Reference should also be made to the role of the Education Welfare Officer with regard to attendance and suspensions.

 

The school’s curriculum policy documents provide direction for teachers in relation to the drawing up of long-term curricular plans for their classes. They also contain useful guidance as to the teaching approaches to be used in the relevant subject areas. In recent years a major focus of the work has been on the adoption of post-primary programmes, leading to accreditation in state examinations. Class teachers and subject specialists have planned and delivered programmes that are based mainly, but not exclusively, on the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Junior Certificate, FETAC programmes and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). Notably, some staff members of Scoil Bernadette have been involved at national level (NCCA) in developing Curriculum Guidelines for students with Special Educational Needs. Those curriculum policy documents that are more fully developed are linked to the school’s aims. There is a need to state a review date in these policy documents. In the future, areas that should be addressed at whole-school level include assessment procedures, and the development of a whole-school literacy and numeracy strategy. The information folder that is maintained by the principal has the potential to be developed into a valuable staff handbook.

 

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

The quality of individual teacher planning is good. Some excellent samples were observed where individual teachers had combined the curricular targets from both primary and post-primary subject areas to meet the needs of the students and plan for the class work. Planning for the practical subjects showed a balance between skills development, health and safety rules, and the theoretical aspects of the subjects.

 

At classroom level, all teachers prepare detailed long-term and short-term curriculum plans and they keep a monthly record of programme implementation. The use of standard templates for these aspects of planning and recording, promotes consistency of practice. The practice of stating learning content in terms of objectives is more evident in some classes. This is facilitated by the use of JCSP targets as a planning framework. In general, written planning makes limited reference to teaching approaches and methodologies and to classroom organisation strategies.

 

Throughout the school, curriculum content and learning objectives are specified mainly on a whole-class basis rather than for smaller groups or individuals. For example, a whole class may be stated to be working on the same JCSP target at a given time. It is recommended that existing positive practice in relation to planning be further developed by  extending the practice of stating content in terms of learning objectives, by more extensive reference to approaches, methodologies and classroom organisation and by the recording of differentiation strategies.

 

The school has adopted a whole-school policy and a common format for developing and recording Individual Education Plans (IEP). The progress in implementing this policy provides further evidence of coherent linkage between classroom practice and the school-planning process. The school psychologist was a member of the committee that drew up the IEP template and this involvement assisted in its design. However, according to current practice, IEPs appear to be produced largely in isolation by the class teachers. It is unclear if the subject specialist teachers take part in the composition of the IEPs or are aware of their content. While parents are invited to provide an input at parent/teacher meetings, neither the students themselves nor the multi-disciplinary team members have yet been included in the process. In the IEP documents the evaluation criteria against which success is to be measured could be more clearly stated.

 

An emphasis on promoting student achievement through engagement with state examination programmes is a distinctive feature of Scoil Bernadette and staff members see this as a central aspect of the school’s educational approach. Members of staff assert that working towards mainstream certification provides a valuable focus for learning and teaching and strengthens student motivation. Observation during the evaluation provided much evidence to support this view. Students were highly engaged and appeared to enjoy working to explicit targets. It is possible, however, that this emphasis might distract from the commitment of the school to cater for the individual needs of students with mild general learning difficulties. Maintaining a balance between these two aspects of the school’s goal is a challenge which must be borne in mind when planning for curriculum content, teaching approaches, and assessment. It is recommended that the promotion of balance between the requirements of externally certified programmes and individual priority needs be highlighted as a focus for review of the school plan.

 

A further challenge arises from the need to develop a measure of collective planning when students have a number of teachers. As part of the school’s developmental planning process, the role of teachers of specialist subjects could be re-examined with a view to maximizing the potential contribution of these teachers to whole-school strategies for the promotion of literacy, numeracy and social skills. The specialist subject teachers already make some cross-curricular links with other subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science. Pertinent information should be shared between class teacher and subject teacher and collective planning should identify opportunities for reinforcement of key learning skills in areas such as language and mathematics across the curriculum.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

In general, the students in Scoil Bernadette have access to a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum that is differentiated to their particular levels of achievement and ability. Some areas of the curriculum, particularly Music, need to be developed further.

 

There is a positive learning atmosphere in the school. Classroom routines are well-organised and a consistent approach in relation to the management of behaviour is in place. All teachers provide clear information for the students in relation to the structure and order of activities for the day. Learning experiences are presented through a range of motivating materials and suitable strategies. Teachers create helpful learning environments by the use of concrete and everyday materials, and by displaying word lists and charts with pictures. Successful methodologies that are used in the classrooms to assist curricular delivery include circle time, one-to-one instruction, and guided discovery learning. Teachers ensure that learning objectives are realistic for the students. Learning tasks are organised into small stages and key questions are posed to guide students in their work. Students are allowed sufficient time to complete tasks and staff members provide sensitive support.

Co-operative teaching strategies might be developed further and the staff might consider how students who are following FETAC programmes and JCSP could sometimes be catered for within the same class. However, in some classes more emphasis should be placed on differentiating the tasks rather than the level of support, in order to encourage independent learning. The use of ‘buddy’ systems and peer-tutoring might also be explored in this context.

 

Overall, ICT is making a considerable contribution to the quality of learning in several curricular areas, while allowing students to develop considerable confidence and skill in computer use. Most rooms are relatively well-equipped with computers, printers and a wide range of software, including subject-specific material. Within the school’s acceptable use policy students have direct access to the internet. In junior classes there is a focus on the development of introductory computer and word-processing skills. The LCA students complete task assignments aimed at developing more advanced ICT skills. In the future, priority could be given to accessing more ICT software that is geared to promoting literacy and numeracy.

 

The examination of previous projects for some Junior Certificate Examinations demonstrated a high level of similarity between students’ work where all the students in the class used the same technique to produce the completed piece of work. The development of students’ confidence and creativity would be better served by a more differentiated approach. 

  

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Tá Scoil Bernadette le moladh as an dtacaíocht a thugtar don Ghaeilge agus tá an Ghaeilge mar chuid de churaclam teanga na scoile. Ní hé seo an gnáthchleachtas i scoileanna speisialta ina bhfuil daltaí le míchumais foghlama. Tá foireann na scoile an-dearfach i leith na teanga agus fonn orthu an clár a fhorbairt a thuilleadh fós. Creideann na hoidí go bhfuil fáil ar an nGaeilge ag teacht le fealsúnacht na scoile. Teastaíonn uathu curaclam an gnáthshrutha a chur ar fáil do no daltaí agus ullmhaíonn oidí na daltaí do scrúdaithe an Teastais Shóisearaigh agus na hArdteistiméireachta Fheidhmigh. Tá éirithe leis an bhfoireann dearcadh dearfach i dtreo na teanga a chothú i measc na ndaltaí agus déantar gach iarracht a chinntiú go mbaineann na daltaí taitneamh as na ceachtanna. Sa chlár Staidéir Chultúrtha Gaeilge déantar gnéithe de chultúr agus de stair na hÉireann a iniúchadh, ceol, rince agus ealaíon agus ceardaíocht Ghaelach san áireamh. Cuirtear ceachtanna foirmiúla agus mí-fhoirmiúla ar siúl i ngach rang ag úsáid raon d’ábhair spreagúla agus ag baint úsáide as teicnící rathúla idir ghrúptheagasc agus obair bheirte. Ag tógáil ar an mbonn dearfach seo, d’fhéadfaí machnamh a chaitheamh ar na moltaí seo a leanas. D’fhéadfadh na hoidí a bheith ar aon intinn faoin nGaeilge a úsaid go neamhfhoirmiúil i gcaint teagmhasach lasmuigh den cheacht Gaeilge. D’fhéadfadh na daltaí níos mó Gaeilge a chloisteáil i measc na ndaoine fásta i rith an lae. D’fhéadfaí breis deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí éisteacht le raon amhrán i nGaeilge agus le ceol traidisiúnta. Sna ceachtanna chomhrá, b’fhiú acmhainní teagaisc, idir phuipéid agus ábhar gléasta-suas, a úsáid níos leithne chun níos mó beochta agus feidhme a chruthú sna hidirghníomhaíochtaí. D’fhéadfaí obair na ndaltaí a thaifeadadh i bhfoirmeacha chlos-amharc agus na torthaí a úsáid chun an dul chun cinn a chlárú.

 

Irish

Scoil Bernadette is commended for the whole-school support it provides for Irish and the school includes Irish in the language curriculum of the school.  This is not general practice in special schools for students with general learning disabilities. The staff of the school are very positive towards the language and are keen to develop the programme further. The teachers believe that access to Irish is in keeping with the philosophy of providing access to mainstream curricula and teachers prepare students for the Junior Certificate and LCA examination in Irish. They have succeeded in creating a positive attitude towards the language among the students and there is a clear emphasis on enjoyment during the lessons. In Irish Cultural Studies students explore aspects of Irish culture and history including some music, dance and art and craft. Informal and formal conversation lessons are delivered in each class, using a variety of stimulating materials and employing successful techniques including group teaching and paired work.  Building on this positive base, the following suggestions might be considered. Teachers might agree a common approach to using Irish informally in incidental communication outside of the Irish lesson. Students might hear more Irish spoken among adults during the course of the day. Students could also be given further opportunities to listen to a range of songs in Irish and to traditional music. In conversation lessons, teaching resources such as puppets and dressing-up materials might be used more extensively to make interactions more vigorous and purposeful. Students’ work might be recorded in audio/visual forms and used to track progress.

 

English

Particular emphasis is given to the development of oral language and communication skills throughout the school. Oral skills are developed in a purposeful manner. Observed lessons are characterised by a strong emphasis on thematic discussion between teacher and students and among peers in group situations. Successful vocabulary extension techniques such as word banks, concept mapping and visual prompts are used. Although lively discussion was observed in several classes, in some cases it appeared that some students were more dominant while others were reticent about participating. Teachers should share successful strategies to encourage these students to participate in whole class, group or paired discussions.  

 

There is considerable variation in the reading attainments in some of the junior classes in the school. Some students are reading independently while others are at an emergent reader level. The development of reading skills for these emergent readers could be advanced by the development of word-recognition skills and the use of a language-experience approach. In the senior classes, most students demonstrated acceptable competency in reading simple texts with reasonable levels of accuracy and fluency. In dealing with more difficult texts the limited word attack skills of some students become apparent and significant prompting is given by the adults to assist the students in this process. Consideration should be given to the development of a supportive phonics and phonological awareness programme across the school.

 

There was consistent use of the class novel throughout the school with the choice of text being influenced by the ability and interest level of the particular class. Variable attention was given to poetry appreciation across the class levels and this could be beneficially extended throughout the school, using various forms and subjects that would be motivating for the students. The school has developed a central library incorporating a good range of age-appropriate and stimulating printed and aural materials to promote literacy and library skills for all the students.

 

Good practice was observed in the integration of English skills at Junior Certificate, FETAC and LCA levels. Class teachers made use of cross-curricular opportunities afforded by subjects such as Home Economics, Physical Education and Horticulture to consolidate students’ developing literacy skills. The potential of these specialist subjects to maximise the development of students’ skills in literacy could now be examined at whole-school level. A good variety of texts, media resources, commercial and teacher-made resources are used to support learning. Practical writing activities such as form-filling, following written directions and writing e-mail messages promote the development of social literacy skills. Some senior students use search engines on the internet to locate and transcribe information. Completed written assignments are filed and stored in the classroom. ICT is used to support editing and drafting of written contributions and word processing packages motivate the students to engage in routine punctuation exercises.

 

Assessment procedures and recording of progress in English vary across all class levels. In general, teachers maintain individual profiles on students, class test results, individual work samples and students’ folders. However there are no established school procedures with regard to the implementation of formative or diagnostic assessments. In the interests of consistency across all the class levels it is recommended that the school considers establishing a whole-school policy on the assessment of literacy.

 

Spanish:

In keeping with the objectives of school management and staff to provide age-appropriate post-primary programmes, a modern European language is provided. Individual staff members have considerable competence in languages. At present LCA students are introduced to Spanish. They develop basic communication skills in the language. They can engage in simple conversations about themselves and their families as well as developing an awareness of the culture and life-style of the Spanish people. They also gain insights into how languages differ from each other. Students demonstrate enthusiasm for the language and they engage willingly in role play activities.   

  

4.3 Mathematics

Mathematics is clearly identified throughout the school as a key curricular area and as a vital life skill. A detailed whole-school plan has been prepared. The plan is laid out according to the strands of the primary curriculum and linked to the relevant post-primary programmes. Students engage with JCSP, Junior Certificate and LCA programmes. At junior level the students are banded into groups according to ability. At senior level, there is an emphasis on reinforcing mathematical skills that are associated with business and leisure activities. 

 

Across the school, students are provided with opportunities to develop their understanding of the basic mathematical concepts and to acquire the skills necessary for computation and problem solving.  Appropriate concrete and visual materials are used.  Teaching is based on sequenced learning objectives which draw on the primary or post-primary curriculum and in some cases are linked to the recording of progress. There is a widespread emphasis on direct teaching of skills. Generally, new material is introduced on a whole-class basis, content is clearly delivered and differential assistance is provided to individual students. The language of Mathematics receives due attention. Terms and concepts are explored further in general classroom interactions, and in activities related to other areas of the curriculum. Concrete resources are used in the majority of classrooms to support and enrich learning. Good practice in the presentation of lessons using activity-based and hands-on activities was observed in base rooms. The occasional reinforcement of mathematical language, concepts and number work was a welcome feature in some specialist subjects. In some classes ICT software is used to support learning, while some teachers access valuable and stimulating resources from the internet.

  

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

A broad programme in SESE, incorporating History, Geography and Science, is provided.  Students sit for Junior Certificate examination at common level in Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Environmental and Social Studies (ESS). Very good use is made of the local environment as a basis for learning and a valuable programme in Horticulture is provided.

 

To coincide with the school’s fiftieth year in existence the school community took action to improve the school environment and a Green Schools Committee was established in 2006. The work was carried out by staff and students together and students benefited greatly from the cross-curricular experience. The whole-school community worked extensively on reducing litter and waste. As well as ongoing support from COPE Foundation, the school managed to harness significant support from local industries and businesses. The school community is proud of its success in achieving Green Flag status. The school is currently working on Phase 2 of the project, focusing on the theme of ‘Saving Energy’. In all classes, students made draught excluders from recycled goods.

 

History

The students show a keen interest in History and good examples of work are seen in many classes. Through exploring the lives of people of different places and times, students have developed their understanding of the passage of time. Teachers organise carefully planned visits to sites of historical interest. Within the classroom they use a range of appropriate resources, including text, audio-visual material and artefacts. Students undertake a range of project work, such as the ‘Cork Schools History Project’. Much of this work is of very good quality and is attractively presented. The work in History is imaginatively integrated with Visual Arts and information and communication technology is used well. In some classrooms the use of time-lines would assist students in developing a sense of chronology.

 

Geography

The teachers are aware of the potential for Geography to help students to make sense of the world around them, to learn about the interdependence of individuals and communities, and to develop a sense of responsibility for the environment. Activities in Geography are often integrated with learning in other aspects of the curriculum. Teachers challenge students with interesting content and activities and a range of resources, using a suitable variety of higher order and lower order questions in the course of lessons. They utilise their own classrooms, buildings, grounds and the local area to good effect and they have organised a structured programme of local and distant visits. Students demonstrate an interest in Geography and the teachers capitalise on the children’s natural curiosity, encouraging them to look closely at the world, to investigate and sometimes to record their findings. The school has made considerable investment in atlases, maps and reference books and teachers use them well. There is a highly commendable understanding of the importance of linking learning activities to features of the school environment and to practical activities such as horticulture. Students also engage in recycling projects as part of the Geography programme. Digital cameras are used to record trips out of school. The resulting images are sometimes transferred to computer and accompanied by text. Some teachers have begun to exploit the vast resource that is available on the internet and valuable and interesting teaching resources are accessed. Within the provisions of the school’s acceptable use policy, the potential use of e-mail correspondence with other schools could be examined, with a view to extending the students’ geographical knowledge.

  

Science

Teaching Science at post-primary level poses considerable challenges in a special school. Provision at this level is restricted by lack of resources such as a science laboratory. This school benefits from the services of a part-time I.T. teacher who teaches three classes of Science. Imagination and creativity are used to develop a valuable programme.

 

Students learn to understand the natural world through first-hand experience and through practical activity. ICT, including a digital camera, is used well to enrich the quality of Science lessons. While Science lessons are not timetabled for all classes, important elements of Science education are addressed in activities in other curriculum areas. The teachers organise a range of practical activities and investigations that help the students to explore and understand the world around them. Some interesting examples of hands-on practical work were observed during the evaluation. In one classroom the students worked on activities as part of the Empowering Minds Project which involved the integration of technology with the curriculum through LEGO construction in collaboration with St Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra and with Dublin City University. An aquarium was an attractive and interesting feature in another classroom and this provided students with opportunities to observe, learn about, and care for living things. Although plants are grown in a number of classrooms and the school grounds include a designated garden area, nature/investigation tables could be maintained more extensively across classes and discussions on items on display could be linked to literacy and numeracy development.

 

Horticulture

Junior students participate in Horticulture as part of the Junior Certificate Schools Programme.   Senior students study Horticulture as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied or a FETAC Level 2 course. The school resources for Horticulture include a garden and polythene tunnel. Lessons are well organised. The work fosters an understanding of plant growth and promotes an interest in gardening as a life hobby or career option. Students carry out interesting horticulture projects and gain valuable experience in cultivating and taking care of a variety of vegetables and other plants. Students have learned about germination and propagation of plants. The work is successfully linked to Science and Mathematics. As part of the school’s literacy strategy Horticulture could be used more to promote students reading and writing skills through the written recording of work done and through the maintenance of gardening diaries.

  

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The Visual Arts component of Arts Education is well established and well resourced within Scoil Bernadette. It contributes to the cultural life of the school and the personal development of the students. In addition to a well-executed fixed exhibition of artwork in the school corridors, the school holds an annual public art exhibition in a city centre location and students contribute art work to the annual COPE Foundation calendar. A specialist art teacher provides subject-specific instruction on three days per week. A purpose-built room has been provided in the new extension and good maintenance and management have created a bright, attractive learning environment. The wall spaces in the art room are utilised well for display purposes to enhance the learning potential of the subject. Other teachers supplement the subject tuition by providing class-based arts lessons. Optional lessons in fine arts are provided on two afternoons per week by a teacher who has a particular interest in the subject. Class outings during the year include visits to art galleries and exhibitions to enable students to expand their appreciation of art and refine their personal preferences. 

 

Art and Design lessons were observed across a range of class levels. Lessons were delivered in a very professional manner and the class groups showed interest, engagement and achievement in the assigned work. Classroom planning included strategies to differentiate the task and the level of support for particular students. The teacher provided a good range of visual imagery as a stimulus for the subsequent lesson and students were empowered to develop their own visual creativity, in line with their aptitude and motivation. There was close monitoring of students’ work and students were continually supported and affirmed by the teacher. The works of professional artists are used to good effect as exemplars and good examples of work by previous students might also be used in this way.

 

Woodwork

A specialist teacher provides instruction on a full-time basis. The current specialist woodwork room has been considerably upgraded and provided with a dust extraction system. The room is well equipped and maintained. Students take responsibility for cleaning up after their work.  All of the students in the school attend for woodwork instruction. The class groups are provided with two lesson periods per week. Half the class attends at a time. There is some flexibility in the timetable to allow the teacher to take Junior Certificate examination students for an additional class to work on their projects on an individual or paired basis.

 

Serious consideration has been given to health and safety issues, with tools being available from the teacher only following demonstration and clear instruction as to their correct use. Personal protection equipment is used at all times with machinery and there is constant vigilance and supervision on the part of the teacher. Support-staff members attend some of the practical sessions. The wall areas are used to display students’ drawings and designs for project work. These areas could be further utilised to show charts relating to the appropriate use of hand and portable power and machine tools and to link the oral work to literacy objectives.

 

The observed lessons in Woodwork were based on a variety of projects that were devised to develop incremental skills in the subject area. The teacher used clear demonstrations during all lessons to model appropriate procedures and skills. The quality of the students’ understanding was reflected in their ability to discuss their work. The students have completed an impressive range of projects and are justifiably proud of their completed works. Students in all the lessons were enthusiastic and highly motivated and had their contributions consistently affirmed by the teacher. For some students an album of photographs showing each stage of a process would facilitate understanding and might also serve to motivate those who might be reluctant to participate. Finished projects and examination pieces are appropriately valued and are displayed in the main school foyer. Liaison with the class teachers could enhance the reinforcement of mathematical objectives particularly in the area of measurement.

 

Consideration could be given to a risk assessment audit of the machinery available in the technology room, as outlined in the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools (2005), and the inclusion of this audit in the school safety statement.

 

Music

Music has been identified by staff members as an area for development. At the time of the whole-school evaluation a part-time teacher of music was due to commence working with three classes.  In some classes the students are provided with opportunities to listen and respond to a limited range of musical experiences involving classical and other genres of music. In some cases there is a strong emphasis on accessing music through the use of internet sources. Exciting in-school events such as discos and singing competitions are organised occasionally and students are afforded opportunities to perform before a live audience. In Physical Education the students are encouraged to respond to music through movement in dance lessons. Music could be integrated more widely into other aspects of learning, in areas such as History and Geography. In developing a whole-school plan for music, the teachers should address the three strands of Performing, Listening and Composing and refer to the Guidelines for Teachers of Students with Mild General Learning Disabilities which have been developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

 

Drama

Drama is frequently used in other areas of the curriculum to explore themes and concepts in a range of imaginatively constructed situations. Staff members with particular expertise in Drama enhance the provision both as an elective subject and task at LCA level and in whole-class tuition with the junior students. Warm-up activities in the junior classes include group social games. Topics are chosen with care to promote team spirit and reinforce the enjoyment aspect of the subject. Students’ skill in the use of drama conventions such as mime, role play, improvisation, and freeze-framing are expanded as students progress through the school. Imaginatively constructed scenarios increase the students’ ability to develop strategies for coping with potential life situations. The organisation of a talent competition based on a popular television programme allows the students to develop the confidence to perform in front of an audience.  

 

At LCA level students assume a collective responsibility for the creation and execution of a drama. The students use storyboards to devise script outlines. They discuss character development. They engage in role play and improvisation, and work together to create the necessary costumes, props and set designs. The completed production, which is filmed for archival purposes within the school, demonstrates competency in the development and execution of a plot. Good use is made of dramatic contexts to enable students to experience job interviews as part of preparation for work.

 

Building on the activities already in place in the school, the school might consider how FETAC Drama modules could be profitably used to expand the existing Drama provision. Some of the students attending the school have a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). As the concept of imagination and flexibility of thought is an area of particular difficulty for these students, additional strategies may need to be developed to enable them to engage in dramatic activities. The use of the methodology of Social Stories could enhance the ability of these students to participate in dramatic activities involving entering into character, constructing mimes or engaging in improvisation.

  

4.6 Physical Education

A specialist, full-time teacher delivers the Physical Education programmes. The school has access to impressive sports facilities in the COPE Foundation grounds. A wide range of high-quality activities is undertaken. During the inspection period, students were observed working enthusiastically in a range of movement activities and games. Lessons are well organised and structured. Much emphasis is placed on encouraging students to participate in structured physical activity in the school gymnasium. This extends the physical education curriculum and contributes significantly to the development of social skills and the management of student behaviour. Students enjoyed their work thoroughly and co-operated well with each other and with the teacher. All students have at least two lessons per week in PE. Junior students follow the Junior Certificate programme. Senior students follow the LCA Leisure and Recreation modules as well as an elective vocational specialism of Active Leisure Studies. Students in Sixth Year FETAC follow Level 2 FETAC Module in Health Related Fitness. Through basketball and football, the main team games that are encouraged among the students, teamwork, leadership, accountability and responsibility are promoted. A particularly positive feature of the work is the practice of assigning management or refereeing roles to students. Weekly swimming lessons are provided in the local municipal pool.

 

There is considerable linkage with other curricular areas such as English, ICT, Mathematics, Home Economics, Science, and Civic, Social, and Political Education. The school participates in several inter-school competitions for boys and girls, in athletics, swimming, and games, and these opportunities help to increase motivation and involvement. The school is centrally involved with the Irish Special Schools’ Sports Council, a group of thirty special schools involved in sporting and cultural activities that receives funding from the Irish Sports Council.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

Best practice for teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health education (SPHE) provides students with opportunities to acquire knowledge and understanding while balancing this with the need for reflection on behaviour, attitudes and values. SPHE is regarded by staff in Scoil Bernadette as a critical area of the curriculum. Some teachers have prepared commendable planning documentation linking the objectives in the JCSP statements to the strand areas of the primary curriculum. Good work was observed involving appropriate experiential learning using role-play, brain storming, discussion, drama and large group work. Other teaching methodologies that could be integrated into the lessons include visualisations, pair work, case studies, and debating. Lessons are well-structured, clearly focused and presented at a pace appropriate to the needs and abilities of the students.

 

A notable feature of the provision in SPHE is the social skills group which is facilitated by the speech and language therapist and psychologist. This group involves working on collaborative group projects and promoting independence and team work, peer interactions and problem solving.

 

While each student is encouraged to participate and contribute to the discussion, some students remain shy and reticent about contributing to a whole-class discussion. Provision of differentiated strategies, such as using visual cue cards by teachers to trigger a contribution to the class, or the teacher repeating to the whole class what a quiet student had volunteered, might assist in increasing their participation. Careful composition of pairs for group work could assist in creating a collective response to some topics and avoid the pressure of individual contributions.

 

Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) expands some of the themes delivered in the SPHE lessons with exploration of the relationship between the individual and society, understanding of political systems and knowledge of issues such as homelessness and deprivation. Teachers use local and student-relevant topics to stimulate some interaction early in the lessons before extending the discussion to more national and global issues. The provision for SPHE culminates in the subject area of Social Education at LCA level where the students actively participate in raising awareness of a global issue and raising funds for a worthy cause.

 

The Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme has not yet been fully developed. Bearing in mind that the students are of post-primary age, moving towards independence and towards a vulnerable stage of development, it is recommended that the school develops a comprehensive policy to support RSE.

 

As the students progress through the school, there is a growing emphasis on developing confidence and skills at an individual level leading on to Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied and FETAC certification. Similarly, the approach to project assignments and field-work, in various aspects of the Leaving Certificate Applied, is seen to have been positive in developing confidence in social and communication skills. The LCA programme also offers opportunities for students to develop workplace skills in planning, communication and teamwork, through work experience in local businesses and services.

  

Home Economics

The school has a full-time Home Economics teacher and a fully fitted Home Economics room. The school also benefits from the services of a second Home Economics teacher who is shared with the local primary special school. The Home Economics programme includes content from mainstream post-primary curricula, in food studies, social and health studies, consumer studies, resource management, home studies, and textile studies and the Hotel, Catering and Tourism specialism for Leaving Certificate Applied.. Learning activities in Home Economics are well organised and teaching objectives take account of students’ abilities, interests, and needs. In planning and teaching, cross-curricular links are made with other subjects. Basic literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge, as well as social interaction skills and elements of health education are reinforced. Active participation is emphasised and valuable opportunities are provided for the development of practical and social skills for life and work. The students learn to use equipment in the appropriate manner and are given opportunities to consolidate their skills in food preparation. During lessons observed, resources and materials were used to good effect. Instructions, explanations and questions were clear, and lessons were carefully structured and conducted at a good pace.

  

4.8 Assessment

Assessment in the school is both formal and informal. A range of assessment approaches is used at individual student and at class levels. These include teacher observation, monitoring of students’ activities, checklists, projects, teacher devised tests, work samples and photographs of students at work. Standardised tests such as the Marino Graded Word Reading Scale and the SIGMA-T Mathematics Attainment Tests are used. Students are described as being ‘banded’ for certain subjects and this practice is said to be based on results of initial assessments. Monthly records of students’ progress across the curriculum are provided by all teachers. Reviews are provided for parents by all teachers in regular school reports. In many instances the comments in these reports refer to the content covered during class sessions but not to the engagement and achievement of the students.

 

In 2009, students sat for Junior Certificate in Irish, English, Mathematics, Art, Materials Technology: Wood, Civic, Social, and Political Education, Home Economics and Environmental and Social Studies. Many students achieved impressive results. In Leaving Certificate Applied students achieved awards at Pass, Merit and Distinction levels. Having been awarded a Quality Assurance Certificate in May 2007 the school is now registered to offer programmes leading to FETAC awards.

 

Some of the post-primary programmes have inbuilt checking mechanisms such as the criterion-referenced targets which are part of the Junior Certificate Schools Programme assessment materials. These are used profitably in tracking students’ progress across a range of subjects. The principal explained that following completion of the Junior Certificate, the FETAC and LCA classes are formed ‘organically’ from the groupings in the Junior Cycle. This involves the use of interview, consultation with parents and some class assessments to establish achievement levels in numeracy, literacy and social skills.

 

The area of assessment could be now developed in a number of aspects. The school proposes to develop a policy on assessment for the junior cycle in the current school year and for the senior cycle the following year. The staff should firstly give consideration to how assessment is already being conducted by teachers across the school, with a view to sharing ideas and good practice. Staff could then consider how the concept of assessment for learning as outlined in Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum: Guidelines for Schools (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) might be integrated into routine practice in the school. In this regard the school should consider assessment of learning and assessment for learning, and the role of formative and summative assessments. Teachers could review the use of standardised, diagnostic and criterion-referenced tests in informing teaching. In particular, there is scope for further development in the use of diagnostic testing across the school, in areas such as literacy and mathematics, as a means of informing the IEP process and of identifying individual needs for additional in-class help and/or supplementary teaching. The identification of students with different needs, including students who are relatively advanced compared to their peers, requires attention. Teachers are encouraged to consider approaches for tracking and assessing student progress by means other than those linked to the formal programmes being pursued.

 

As well as the use of JCSP statements in Mathematics, other valuable and innovative work has been carried out by some teachers in regard to achievement in Mathematics. This work should be developed further as the school reviews its approach to assessment and as a whole-school strategy for numeracy is developed.

 

Functional assessments for the vision and hearing difficulties that are manifested by some students would provide the staff with the knowledge to create the optimum learning environment for those students. Where appropriate, and in a small number of cases functional assessments of behaviour could assist in identifying triggers for particular behaviours, and situations that may cause anxiety for students.

 

It is recommended that the school should now develop a written, whole-school policy in relation to assessment. The policy might make reference to the purposes of assessment and identify the various assessment tools that are to be used at different stages in the school. Test results could be analysed from a whole-school perspective in order to identify changes and trends. Relevant information gleaned from the analysis could be used to inform planning, the organisation of students and adjustments to be made to teaching arrangements.

 

 

5.     Quality of support for students

 

5.1 Students with special educational needs

In keeping with Scoil Bernadette designated status as a special school, the management and staff are committed to the provision of an age-appropriate education to students with identified special educational needs. In general, students present with needs related to mild general learning disabilities. Some students have additional needs, sometimes related to general ability or to diagnosed conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Scoil Bernadette benefits much from its close links with COPE Foundation and members of the multi-disciplinary team meet regularly with the principal and the home-school links teacher. Matters for discussion include referrals, issues concerning individual students, behavioural support plans and applications for admission. COPE Foundation also provides social worker support and this is concentrated on assisting students and their families at times of transition, such as admission to the school and when students leave.

 

Scoil Bernadette also has other well-developed structures in place to support students at the time of enrolment and when they are due to leave the school. The home-school links teacher has a designated role in assisting with the smooth transition of new students. Within Leaving Certificate Applied programmes a guidance module is mandatory and valuable support is provided by a qualified guidance counsellor in supporting students when making choices about their lives beyond school. The work involves interviews, counselling and the use of interest and ability assessments. The guidance counsellor has designed a specific and relevant programme entitled ‘Life After School’ to support students in the FETAC class. As part of both LCA and FETAC programmes in the school, work placements are arranged for students in the community. Visits are also arranged to local training centres and links are maintained with relevant agencies such as FÁS, and the National Learning Network.

 

The current provision of a speech and language therapist, through COPE Foundation, is a positive response to the needs of students for whom language development is an issue of particular importance. The school receives valuable support also from the Psychological Service of COPE Foundation. Psychological support is provided primarily for students with behavioural and emotional difficulties. The psychologist also works with groups of students and conducts assessments of students’ cognitive functioning. Following a review to identify priority needs, physiotherapy is provided to students. Occupational therapy, once a feature of provision, is not currently available. On completion of their schooling in Scoil Bernadette, students generally avail of vocational training in centres operated by COPE Foundation. Arrangements for smooth transition to further education and training are made in a timely manner.

 

A number of the students have a hearing impairment and wear hearing aids. Soundfield equipment has been installed in a number of classrooms and this improves listening conditions for all students. It is recommended that the school should now develop protocols to ensure that students’ hearing aids and other amplification equipment are working optimally and used appropriately. This could be done in consultation with a visiting teacher for the hearing impaired.

  

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

The way of life of the school is characterised by a supportive approach that benefits all students regardless of family background. The school authorities are commended for putting in place a number of practical arrangements to support students who come from less advantaged backgrounds. The school operates a book rental scheme. School funds and ongoing generous support from COPE Foundation are used to supplement parental contributions to the school’s running costs, photocopying and school outings. Students avail of the free school-transport scheme funded by the Department of Education and Science, through use of special transport or use of a travel pass for public transport.

 

Currently, some Traveller children, and a small number of children of other minority backgrounds are enrolled in the school. The drawing up of a formal school policy to promote the inclusion of such children should be considered. Documents published by the Department of Education and Science and relevant agencies in relation to the education of Travellers and students from minority and other groups can be examined in the formulation of this policy. The school could also develop a particular curriculum module in Traveller culture. In anticipation of the enrolment of students for whom English is an additional language, it is recommended that the school examines available resources for teaching English as a second language.    

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         The close connection with, and support provided by COPE Foundation during school years and beyond bring considerable benefits to the students and ensure that the school is well-maintained and comfortable. School secretarial support is highly efficient, providing a courteous service.

·         The school board of management is made up of knowledgeable, committed members who give generously and voluntarily of their time and expertise to provide helpful direction and good governance to the school.

·         The school is led by an enthusiastic, attentive and respected principal who is well supported by a dedicated, skilled and accomplished middle management team.

·         The school is staffed by competent, caring and reflective teachers who are flexible in responding to the learning needs of students, are open to new ideas and are engaging in continuous professional development.

·         Special needs assistants support the teachers in providing a safe, warm learning environment where relations between adults and students are very good, where behaviour of students is commendable and where there is a perceptible emphasis on promoting students’ self-esteem and confidence.

·         The school provides well-managed and valuable age-appropriate education programmes that boost students’ self-esteem and lead to national accreditation through state examinations and FETAC.    

·         Teachers plan lessons carefully, employ appropriate resources, engage the attention of students and make learning enjoyable.

 

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 June 2010   

 

 

 

 

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 Scoil Bernadette thanks the Inspectorate of the Department of Education & Skills for their professional, thorough and comprehensive evaluation of the school.

The Board of Management acknowledges and endorses the professionalism, dedication and commitment of the staff that provided ‘well-managed and valuable age appropriate education programmes that boosts student’s self esteem and confidence’ and is pleased that Scoil Bernadette is a palace where learning is ‘made enjoyable’

 

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

 

The findings and recommendations of the WSE map out a school development plan for the next five years.

The following recommendations have already been put in place

 

-          The staff has begun the process of reviewing its policy on Attendance in accordance with the Education Welfare Act 2000

-          The school’s timetable has already been adjusted in line with Circular 11/95 regarding time in school.

-          The staffs is currently developing its Policy on Assessment.