An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
School of the Divine Child
Roll number: 18483W
Date of inspection: 24th April 2009
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of the School of the Divine Child. 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’ association. 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 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.
The School of the Divine Child is a co-educational special school that operates under the patronage of the Bishop of Cork and Ross. The school is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The School of the Divine Child provides an educational service for pupils with physical disabilities and associated learning difficulties who range in age from four to eighteen years. Most of the pupils have additional disabilities. The school’s catchment area encompasses Cork city and surrounding suburbs, with pupils travelling distances of up to thirty five kilometres to attend the school. The pupils are provided with escorted transport, which is managed by Enable Ireland and is funded by the Department of Education and Science. At the time of the evaluation, twenty three pupils were enrolled. Staffing consisted of an administrative principal, nine teaching posts and fifteen special needs assistants (SNAs). The staffing allocation reflects the complexity of the pupil’s needs, with a staff complement that is higher than the regular staffing ratio for physical disability. The last school report was provided in 2002.
The school has been located on the present site since late 1969 when it moved from a premises on Grattan Street which it had occupied for the previous ten years. The school shares the site with the Enable Ireland services which provide clinical support to the school including nursing, psychology, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and social work support.
According to the school’s mission statement, the school seeks to enable the pupils to achieve their maximum potentials and assist them to participate as fully as possible in their own communities and in society in general. Enrolment patterns have changed in the last few years with a substantial decline in primary-aged pupils and a small increase in pupils entering the school at post-primary age. Some years ago most of the pupils entered the school immediately following their attendance at an Enable Ireland early intervention service. However this is no longer the case. Many children with physical disability are now attending local schools and are availing of the additional supports that have been provided to support inclusion in mainstream settings. Currently, the youngest pupils enrolled in the School of the Divine Child are ten to eleven years of age. Most of the pupils who are now enrolled in the school present with unique and often complex combinations of physical and learning disabilities.
2.1 Board of management
The board of management is properly constituted and includes representatives of the patron, staff, parents and community. The current board has just completed the first year of a four year term. Members of the board have extensive experience in the areas of education and special needs and the board benefits considerably from their wide-ranging knowledge in discussions and collective decision making. Some board members have availed of training under the Catholic Primary Schools Managers’ Association. The board meets at least once per school term, and more often if the need arises. Minutes are kept of all meetings. The school accounts are carefully kept with routine updates on budget expenditure. Board members are very supportive of school initiatives and attend whole-school occasions such as exhibitions and 50th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of the school. Board members are to be commended for their ongoing commitment and dedication to supporting the work of the school.
Items discussed by the board at its meetings include the operational matters of the school, the progress of accommodation issues and enrolment concerns. The board is routinely informed of relevant circulars issued by the Department of Education and Science as part of board correspondence. The board provides a small budget for professional training and supports staff to develop their skills and talents.
The decline in enrolments to the school is a matter of grave concern for the board. If the current pattern of applications and referrals to the school continues, the number of pupils attending is likely to continue to fall. As the reduction in pupil numbers impacts on the staffing allocation, the capacity of the school to provide a range of curriculum options for pupils with physical disability will come under pressure. Given the complexity of pupils’ needs and the significant decline in enrolments, the board should seek clarification regarding the designation and mission of the school in consultation with the patron, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the Department of Education and Science with a view to the possible re-designation of the school as a school for multiple disabilities. Re-designation of the school as a school for multiple disabilities would reflect more accurately the current school population and would provide an additional special school placement option for pupils with complex educational needs.
Difficulties have arisen in recent years due to the lack of follow-on places for pupils who are due to leave the school at the end of their final year. The most suitable follow-on placement is sometimes in an educational or training facility provided by a service other than Enable Ireland. Parents reported a considerable delay in the formal notification of places for school leavers. This delay and the perceived lack of placements generally available are causes of considerable anxiety for parents. As a consequence, in 2009, seven applications were made by parents of school leavers to the Department of Education and Science to remain in the school for an additional year. The board is cognisant of parents’ concerns and is seeking the early identification of further educational and vocational provision for pupils which would facilitate the arrangement of transition programmes for the pupils to their new placements.
2.2 In-school management
The in-school management team consists of the principal, deputy principal, and three special duties teachers. The principal displays dedication and commitment in the performance of her role. She provides effective leadership within the school and encourages the in-school management team to consider new directions and challenges in the provision of a quality education service. To that end the principal has supported the provision of a range of post-primary certification options for pupils, including the recently accredited FETAC Levels 1 and 2, in addition to the existing FETAC Level 3 and Junior Certificate courses. She supports linkages with other educational facilities including primary and post-primary schools, College of Commerce, Cork Institute of Technology and Boston College, and she promotes inter-school projects such as Film in Schools (FÍS), whereby the pupils can participate in activities with same-age peers. In contrast to many special schools, she has succeeded in facilitating the development of an active Parents’ Association. During the evaluation, parents commented favourably on her level of availability to address their concerns regarding their children.
The in-school management team shares a deep commitment to the vision of the school as a centre of innovation and distinction for pupils with physical disability. The duties of the post-holders are reviewed an annual basis by the teaching staff to reflect the priorities of the school. The principal meets the individual post holders regularly for a formal scheduled meeting once per term and during the year on an informal basis. The post-holders provide feedback regarding their areas of responsibility to the other school staff at scheduled staff meetings as well as on an individual basis in response to specific queries.
The duties allocated to the various posts are identified in the planning documentation. In addition to deputising for and assisting the principal, the deputy principal takes curricular responsibility for the co-ordination of the Junior Certificate School Programme and administrative responsibility for tasks such as the management of examinations, the creation of supervision rosters and the management of school monies for daily expenses. The three special duties post holders take responsibility for the curricular areas of Music and Visual Arts, the coordination of both information technology and assistive technology and the development of behavioural support strategies.
In school management could be enhanced through the setting of annual objectives for each of the in-school management posts. Recurring administrative elements such as the management of the Junior Certificate examinations and FETAC certification and award ceremonies could form core objectives for particular school terms. Other termly objectives might focus on the provision and management of resources for particular areas of the curriculum, researching particular assessment strategies and evaluating curriculum software and other resources for teaching and learning.
2.3 Management of resources
Currently the school enjoys very favourable staffing with an administrative principal, nine class teachers and fifteen SNAs. The enrolment in the school at the time of the evaluation was twenty three pupils. Daily attendance figures are often lower than this due to the complex nature of some pupils’ physical and health needs. Staffing at the time of the evaluation was nine classroom teachers, three part-time teachers, and fifteen SNAs. This is considerably in excess of the recommended staffing ratio and is in need of review. Four of the teachers teach in the middle part of the school, where the pupils’ ages range from ten to fourteen years. Three teachers teach senior classes which includes FETAC Level 3 and JCSP, while two teachers teach the school leaver classes. In general, the teachers work with their assigned pupils in the morning time. The pupils engage in a high degree of individual work during this time. In the afternoons, larger groups are formed from a number of classes and are taught co-operatively. Optimum use is made of each teacher’s aptitudes and skills through the promotion of team-teaching and the assignment of teachers to classes in particular subject areas in accordance with their preferred interests. The three part-time teachers provide tuition for Home Economics (eleven hours), Swimming (two hours) and Music (five hours). Clerical and secretarial support to the school is provided by two part-time positions, one that provides book-keeping support while the second gives general secretarial and reception support. The caretaking grant is devolved to Enable Ireland, which provides the caretaking and maintenance support to the school.
The school shares the accommodation on the site with the local Enable Ireland services. Clear signage should be erected on the adjacent roads in order to inform visitors of the location of the school. The school accommodation comprises some office accommodation, a staffroom and canteen area, a home economics room and nine classrooms, two of which are located in temporary accommodation. The hall is used for PE, school assembly and music as well as for dining at lunchtime. The nursing station is in a central position and is accessible to all the classrooms. It is staffed by the nursing personnel supplied by Enable Ireland. In general, the quality of accommodation, material resources and standards of maintenance in the school are at an acceptable standard. Space is limited on the current site. Enable Ireland and the school management have pursued the possibility of transferring to a new site in recent years. This may have reduced the level of investment and attention given to improving the existing accommodation. Each of the nine classrooms is of a reasonable size but some at the rear of the building are quite dark and require artificial lighting even on bright days. There are difficulties with the heating system in some areas of the school. Some exit doors have small ledges that are an impediment to the pupils in wheelchairs using them independently. The corridors are of sufficient width to allow for the passage of wheelchairs. Care is taken to avoid items being placed in the corridors that might be an obstacle to the pupils. The limitations in space have affected the school’s capacity to provide sensory gardens, horticulture or much outdoor recreational space. The school has considered the diversification of its accommodation and has completely renovated one of the classrooms recently to create a science room for subject specific instruction. The school has raised some funds for the provision of a multi-sensory room and is in the process of evaluating the most appropriate and cost effective materials prior to establishing it. The swimming pool is a significant resource on site and is used on a weekly basis by the pupils.
A range of appropriate commercial resources is available in all the classes and these are used effectively to support the implementation of the curriculum. Low-tech teacher designed aids are used imaginatively and effectively by staff throughout the school. Teachers endeavour to utilise any resources that can potentially promote learning. Unusual areas such as robotics within Science have been explored in a co-operative manner with a mainstream primary school.
Particular attention has been paid to the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Staff members are aware of the benefits computers can bring to physically disabled pupils both to enable communication and to enrich curriculum access. An audit has been conducted of ICT resources including hardware and software. There are at least two computers in each classroom. These computers are used to motivate pupils, to enrich their access to the curriculum, for word processing, and for accessing the internet. The teachers use computers extensively when preparing lessons and schemes of work. The electronic whiteboard is used effectively and the benefits of ‘Soundbeam’, ‘Midi-creator’ and web cameras enhance the provision in subject areas. Assistive technology such as ‘Dynavox’ and ‘Eagle Eye’ are also used. Not all the pupils have access to assistive and augmentative communication systems and this is a cause of frustration to some pupils and of concern to the adults. A useful assessment checklist in regard to emerging computer skills has been developed and its use should be extended across the school. Within the school’s acceptable use policy, the school could consider establishing e-mail links with other similar schools. This would allow for the sharing of information in regard to learning across the curriculum, improve communication using personal and creative writing and promote discussion about project work as well as extending the social contacts available to the pupils.
Therapeutic supports are provided by the Enable Ireland clinical services on site. These supports include physiotherapy, psychology, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and nursing support. Access to these supports is provided in varying amounts to the pupils during the school day. The process by which decisions are made regarding access by individual pupils to therapeutic supports is not clearly evident. Documentation available indicated that, in the current school year, some of the pupils received no timetabled support from the clinical team during the school day outside of access to nursing support on request. It would be beneficial if the school documentation contained clear guidelines as to how pupils are prioritised for clinical support. In addition, closer collaboration between school and services would assist in ensuring the pupils have rapid access to professional advice and appropriate technology.
The team of fifteen special needs assistants (SNAs) provide valuable support in the areas of care, mobility, supervision, communication support and behavioural management. The SNAs displayed considerable dedication and skill in supporting the needs of the pupils and were particularly adept at interpreting pupils’ attempts at communication. A meeting with representatives of the SNA team provided the inspectors with information on a range of training opportunities that they had been able to participate in on a whole-school and individual basis. Essential training courses such as manual handling and First Aid are updated on a rotational basis to ensure skill levels among the SNAs are maintained.
2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community
The management of relationships and communication with the wider school community are particularly good within this school. Despite the small number of pupils attending the school, and the wide catchment area, an active Parents’ Association has been successfully established. The involvement of parents in the Parents’ Association is facilitated through the scheduling of meetings to coincide with whole-school events such as exhibitions, school mass or sports days. The meetings are held at least once per term and more frequently if necessary or when an opportunity presents. The parents formally met in advance of the school evaluation to discuss issues that might be raised with the evaluation team. The parents expressed satisfaction with the school and the educational service their children are receiving. Parents have the opportunity to meet formally with the teachers for the individual education plan formulation and review processes and on request, if necessary. The parents participate in home-school correspondence on a routine basis and were particularly complimentary regarding the accessibility of staff in the event of a difficulty or query regarding their child. Parents were aware of the policies in place within the school and had been circulated with copies of pertinent school policies. The parents expressed a concern regarding the current method of timetabling clinical support during school time. They indicated their preference for the allocation of specific days on which particular members of the multi-disciplinary team would be available in the school rather than the individual appointment arrangements that are currently in place.
The school benefits from the contribution of a volunteer musician who gives generously of her time one morning per week and this collective session has become a feature that the pupils anticipate eagerly. School links programmes have been established for primary and post/primary pupils. These linkages include the use of facilities on another school campus, collaboration with other schools for particular subject areas, cross-curricular initiatives to support transition year, and placement within the school of students who are taking third-level courses. The school makes good use of the surrounding area and local community facilities, and has benefited from sponsorship of local businesses and organisations.
As reported at meetings held with the principal, in-school management team and special needs assistants, the working relationships among the school staff are very good. The teamwork and sharing of information among school personnel were cited as particular strengths of the school.
2.5 Management of pupils
Due to the small numbers attending the school, the pupils benefit from a high degree of individual tuition from all the staff. The staff takes account of the particular challenges that the pupils face in accessing certain aspects of the curriculum. They anticipate areas that may cause stress, discomfort or anxiety for the pupils and in doing so reduce the likelihood of disruptive or non-compliant behaviour. By use of appropriate planning, teamwork and a suitable combination of challenge and encouragement, pupils are supported to remain engaged and on task.
However, occasionally a pupil can present with behaviour that requires very substantial individual support. The high level of support provided by staff helps in the management of difficult behaviour. A revision of the code of behaviour is currently under discussion by the board of management following work completed at staff level. The staff should set out in a school policy how behaviour management approaches will be implemented and adjusted in order to facilitate the pupils’ access to learning. Pedagogic principles such as those in the TEACCH approach to structured teaching and record keeping might prove beneficial in this regard. Functional behaviour assessments would help the staff make sense of sometimes seemingly meaningless behaviour. The information derived from functional assessments would provide valuable data for IEP development. Attention should be directed to accessing a range of functional behavioural assessment tools to accurate assess for possible triggers, construct behavioural support plans and evaluate progress towards the successful management of challenging behaviour on a school-wide basis.
In order that pupils can raise their concerns directly and engage in discussions with the school management and staff, consideration might be given to the formation of a students’ council. The selection of candidates, creation of manifestos and holding of an election could enhance the pupils’ understating of their civic duties.
3.1 School planning process and implementation
The principal and school staff have engaged actively in the process of school planning. The school action plan to 2010 identifies areas for school development that include inter alia teaching and learning, reviewing the format for IEPs, parental involvement, school links and elements of organisation and resources. A school plan has been developed as required under Section 21 of the Education Act 1998. A wide range of whole-school policies addressing various organisational, curricular and pastoral areas are in place. As both the school and the clinic services share the same building, many of the school policies refer to general policies formulated by Enable Ireland. These include areas such as health and safety statements, personal care, child protection and equality policies. The school has independently formulated specific policies relating to special needs assistants, the in-school management team, enrolment and the code of behaviour. Additional whole-school plans are provided for all the curricular areas. The introduction of the Junior Certificate Schools Programme and FETAC modules provides age-appropriate learning and certification opportunities. The diversification of the post-primary programme has contributed to the creation of a considerable amount of the school’s planning documentation. Care is taken in the curricular planning to take pupils’ interests into account and particular initiatives such as FÍS and the production of a CD have cross-curricular benefits including Drama, SPHE, Language and Music.
Whole-school plans and policies have been brought to the board for approval and have been formally ratified, although the date of ratification is not consistently identified on the policies and plans. It is recommended that all school policies are dated and signed on ratification by the board. It is further advised that the board should consider establishing a review date for all existing curricular plans and school policies in order to further the process of school self-review.
The evaluation team found that the current enrolment policy of the school includes additional requirements that could be interpreted as barriers to enrolment. The school states that a place will be offered when there is a “sufficiently good match” between the needs of the child and the skills on offer in the school. In addition, it maintains that a place will be offered when the essential support services needed to meet a child’s holistic needs can be provided. The board of management is advised to carry out a review of the enrolment policy to ensure that the policy complies with existing equality legislation, and to ensure that no element in the policy can be construed as an inequitable barrier to enrolment.
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
Conscientious planning and preparation were evident in the work of individual teachers throughout the school. Commendable work has also been undertaken in relation to the planning and preparation of pupils for the Junior Certificate Examination, for JCSP and for FETAC programmes. The school endeavours to facilitate all the pupils to gain accreditation suitable for their abilities and skills by the provision of additional FETAC certification at levels 1 and 2. The staff members hope that this diversification will greatly enhance the pupils’ self-esteem and their sense of achievement.
There is a strong focus on individualised planning for each pupil. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are in place for all pupils but with some variation in their content and composition throughout the school and the manner in which they are delivered. In order that a clear spiral approach to curriculum is maintained throughout the school, agreement should be reached on the strand units to be covered at the various class levels. A cumulative log of programmes and pupil achievements could assist a spiral approach as it would track previous educational experiences. Notwithstanding the detailed individualised planning and instruction observed during the evaluation, there is a lack of observable concurrent recording mechanisms to assist the reviews of the learning objectives. A school wide policy on the interim tracking of IEPs could be profitably implemented to ensure the delivery of annual aims.
In organising curricular activities, the teachers seek to establish a pupil’s baseline functioning level in some curricular areas prior to devising suitable educational programmes. Throughout the school day staff members strive to ensure that the pupils are sitting comfortably and have easy access to toilets and to other areas of the school. However, in order to provide a range of physical positions for each pupil, written protocols should be drawn up regarding the rotation of movement and optimum length of time a pupil should spend in particular positions or at physical activities within the classroom during the school day. Physical education activities are adapted so that pupils can participate in lessons. Bearing in mind the pupils’ physical conditions, sufficient time is allowed to complete tasks and rest periods are provided to prevent fatigue. Teachers are careful not to lower expectations because of the pupils’ disabilities and the teachers endeavour to develop and improve the various programmes of study at junior, middle and senior levels. A particular feature of the tuition in the school is the exploitation of all sensory modalities to deliver a comprehensive learning experience for the pupils in light of their physical limitations to access some of these experiences independently. There has been commendable exploitation of the haptic sense in the creation of resources particularly in the SESE areas.
Tá cead ag formhór na ndaltaí a fhreastalaíonn ar an scoil seo, gan Gaeilge a dhéanamh, de bharr raon mhíchumais foghlama. Mar sin féin tá seans ann go mbeadh roinnt daltaí ag iarraidh an teanga a fhoghlaim sa todhcaí agus ba chóir freastal orthu siúd ag an leibhéal cuí. Tá cumas maith Gaeilge i measc na foirne múinteoireachta agus ba cheart go mbeadh sé indéanta, de réir mar is gá, clár níos leithne sa Ghaeilge a chur ar fáil.
Glacann daltaí áirithe páirt i scrúdaithe an Teastais Sóisearaigh, sa chúrsa Staidéir Chultúrtha Gaeilge. Mar chuid den chlár seo foghlaimíonn daltaí mar gheall ar raon traidisiún a bhaineann le cúrsaí stairiúla, sóisialta agus ealaíne. Soláthraítear gníomhaíochtaí fiúntacha idir phictiúir nó shuaitheantas clainne a líonadh agus a dhearadh, léirscáileanna na hÉireann agus chontaethe a líonadh, agus staidéar a dhéanamh ar logainmneacha. Chomh maith le sin foghlaimíonn na daltaí mar gheall ar shéadchomhtharaí seandálaíochta cáiliúla agus iarsmaí eile. Bíonn daltaí gafa le tionscnaimh tras-churaclam creidiúnacha ar an stair áitiúil. Foghlaimíonn siad mar gheall ar fhinscéalta agus éisteann siad le scéalta i dtaobh naoimh Éireannacha agus daoine cáiliúla eile. Éisteann siad le ceol agus amhráin traidisiúnta. Déanann siad samplaí d‘ealaín na gCeilteach a chóipeáil freisin. Ullmhaíonn siad béilí traidisiúnta. Ó am go chéile foghlaimíonn daltaí focail agus leaganacha cainte i nGaeilge.
The majority of pupils in this school present with a range of learning disabilities and are entitled to an exemption from studying Irish. However, some pupils may wish to study the language in the future and this should be provided for at the appropriate levels. There is considerable competence in the Irish language among the teaching staff and it should be possible to provide a broader programme in Irish, where it is required.
Some pupils present for the Junior Certificate examination in Irish Cultural Studies. As part of this programme, classes discuss and learn about a range of cultural traditions of historical, social and artistic interest. Worthwhile activities include copying or designing family crests, drawing maps of Ireland and counties, and studying place-names. The pupils also learn about famous ancient monuments and artefacts. Following an integrated cross-curricular approach pupils engage in impressive projects on local history. In their course work they learn about Irish legends, and listen to stories about Irish saints and famous people. They listen to traditional Irish music and songs. They also copy examples of traditional Celtic patterns. They prepare traditional foods. Occasionally the pupils learn some words and phrases of the Irish language.
The English curriculum begins at a basic developmental level alerting the pupils to the oral communicative experience and aims to develop their individual abilities to communicate using the most appropriate means. The physical disabilities experienced by the pupils vary considerably and result in variations in speech production, auditory processing and motor control. Some pupils also have learning disabilities. As a consequence, the language programmes are tailored to each pupil’s particular combination of abilities with a view to maximising their opportunities to communicate. Communication would be enhanced if communication passports were developed to enable unfamiliar adults to interact using appropriate modes with individual pupils.
The rate of progress in the acquisition of language competency varies considerably from individual to individual, and some pupils require considerable consolidation and practice in using ICT devices and switch systems. There is a strong emphasis on choosing highly motivating topics to encourage the pupils to communicate at all levels. A high degree of personalisation is evident in oral language and literacy elements. In the lessons observed during the evaluation, frequent use was made of daily news sessions that varied from contact with another class by webcam to ask them for items of news, to the reading of headlines and newspaper articles from a range of broadsheets and tabloids. Some of the strategies used to communicate with non-verbal pupils with significant physical disability, such as choice boards, were time consuming and laborious and a source of some frustration for the pupils involved. There is a need for staff to ensure that the optimum technical supports have been accessed to ensure the most appropriate communication aid has been made available to each pupil.
Pupils’ skills in reading and writing are promoted conscientiously throughout the school, according to their abilities and learning needs. Good use is made of a variety of strategies including language experience, whole-word and phonological awareness activities to support individual pupils. Clicker programmes are used to create audio-books that entice the pupils to compose highly motivating personalised texts. The pupils were justifiably proud of their creative writing and are commended for their work in this regard. While the pupils are facilitated to progress towards independent reading in accordance with their abilities, emphasis is also placed on the development of functional reading skills. A particular feature of this school is the frequency with which poetry is used to extend pupils’ receptive language levels and as a springboard for creative writing. Some of the pupils have loss of vision that challenges their acquisition of literacy. The school should decide on the introduction of an appropriate methodology such as Moon or Braille as a means for pupils with significant visual impairment to access and achieve reading skills. Good use has been made of thermoform books provided on rotational loan by the Living Paintings charitable trust to provide pupils with a tactile representation of pictures on the story text.
Writing activities are carefully prepared to enable the pupils to write in a variety of forms and contexts using assistive technology or with the assistance of a scribe. The upper end of the language curriculum includes English certification options at Junior Certificate level. FETAC Communications module Levels 1 and 2 have been integrated more recently into the programme.
A suitable whole-school plan for Mathematics has been developed by the teachers. The plan successfully links the strands and stand units of the curriculum with certification processes appropriate to older pupils. Overall, resources for teaching Mathematics are good. An inventory of available resources has been compiled. This inventory includes teacher-made and commercial materials as well as suitable software and a list of useful internet sources. In each classroom a mathematics friendly environment has been created and mathematics corners, posters, and charts are provided. Effective whole-class teaching and individual tuition were observed during the school evaluation. Lessons were well structured with good pace. Differentiation is a strong feature of the approach across the school and mental mathematics involving estimation and computation features regularly in lessons. Concrete materials are widely used, and calculators and information technology including interactive white-boards are put to very effective use in preparing pupils for state examinations. In planning at whole-school level, staff members are aware of the importance of maintaining consistency in the use of mathematical language throughout the school. This has been discussed at staff meetings and a register has been compiled of mathematical language that is agreed for each class level. The teachers ensure that mathematics is often linked to the pupils’ environment and to their experiences in daily living. Some teachers have made extensive use of web sites to access resources and for planning interesting and valuable activities in mathematics. The teachers have recently identified mathematics as a curricular area to be reviewed. This review should pay particular attention to the area of assessment. Consideration should be given to developing assessment mechanisms by which progress in attaining the learning objectives across the various strands of the curriculum can be measured. In this way criterion-referenced assessments can be built up and used to monitor the pupils’ progress from junior through to the senior classes.
4.3 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education
The teaching of History is effective throughout the school and teachers share their interest in the subject with their pupils. Good quality examples of work in History were observed in several classes. The pupils are helped to develop a sense of chronology and they use dates and terms relating to the passing of time. They have acquired knowledge and understanding of people, periods, episodes and events in History. Commendable work has been done in the area of local and family history. The younger pupils have experience of using personal time lines. They have learned about life in ancient Ireland and about ancient civilizations. Interesting stories about famous people in the past are used to captivate the pupils’ imaginations. Older pupils have also learned to compare life in Ireland today with life in Ireland in past decades and centuries. They have experience in using sources of evidence to find out about the recent and distant past. The pupils organise and communicate their work in different ways including through activities in Visual Arts and through the use of computer technology.
In Geography pupils learn about patterns and processes in physical and human geography. Through a variety of multi-sensory experiences younger pupils engage in planting seeds and monitoring growth. They are helped to develop an appreciation of weather patterns and of the changing seasons. They are interested in environmental issues and are curious about places, patterns and processes. Much of the work is successfully linked to Science, History and to the Visual Arts. Through cross-curricular experiences the pupils learn about physical and human features of the local area, in Ireland and in the wider world. Pupils have carried out geographical enquiry in the locality and they gain experience in using maps, photographs, plans, atlases and diagrams. They take part in fieldwork in places of geographical interest and information and communication technology is used very effectively to record and to demonstrate their findings. The pupils have recently made a film on environmental awareness as part of a FÍS project. Through their engagement with relevant FETAC programmes, the pupils have examined video programme formats. They have learned about aspects of video production and the use of various pieces of film-making equipment. In this work the school has benefited from the support of the Cork Film Association. The school was successful in the regional heat and was a participant in the national finals of FÍS in the Helix. The work is very impressive and pupil learning in many curricular areas including SPHE, drama and music benefited from this enterprise.
The pupils are very interested in this aspect of the curriculum and well-maintained nature tables are features of many classrooms. Science lessons are well planned with clear learning objectives, and teachers provide a range of relevant, motivating tasks for the pupils. Practical work follows the strands of the curriculum and often draws on pupils’ own experiences. The pupils are involved in an active way in discovery learning and the skills of scientific investigation are promoted. A notable record of scientific skills encountered by pupils is maintained in one class. In junior classes a good base of knowledge and understanding of the basic skills of scientific enquiry are laid. This is built on in the senior section of the school where an ambitious programme has been developed.
Up to recently the pupils made use of the science facilities in a local post-primary school but now the school has been equipped with its own laboratory. Much of the work has been completed by fund raising and the support of local businesses. Teacher subject knowledge is impressive and expectations for pupils are high. Basic scientific vocabulary is developed and the pupils learn how to formulate questions for investigation. In one lesson that was observed during the evaluation, the pupils used a variety of science equipment and demonstrated secure knowledge of separation techniques, such as evaporation, filtration and distillation. The pupils demonstrated an ability to work together on practical tasks with curiosity and interest. They were well motivated and participated with eagerness in a range of appropriate activities including discussion, practical work and recording of findings. Through out these activities, due attention was paid to pupil safety.
4.4 Arts Education
The teachers use the visual arts activities as a means of cross-curricular integration particularly with social, environmental and language activities. The pupils participated with enthusiasm in all the observed lessons of Visual Arts and some displayed considerable personal direction in their use of the chosen media. The display areas around the school are used to good effect to exhibit collective and individual artwork. The creation of large-scale constructed models demonstrated the pupils’ facility with three dimensional works. The teachers ensure the pupils have ample opportunities to explore the full range of media but with less emphasis on the fibre and fabric strand than on other strand areas. Pupils are encouraged to reflect on the artistic contribution of their peers in a positive manner and the work of famous artists is occasionally used as a stimulus for personal creations. There was a focus on direct instruction in the initial stages of each lesson and the staff provided sensitive assistance to support each pupil’s creative endeavours.
Arising from their physical disabilities, some pupils experience considerable difficulty in manipulating the media that is usually available in schools. The teachers are conscious of this and use ICT programmes occasionally for the pupils to create their own art work. Current use of ICT could be further extended through the use of digital imagery and photography as creative media. For example, the pupils could make informed choices as to composition, colour, juxtaposition of elements or balance of light and shade.
Music education is accorded particular emphasis and the subject has been assigned to a member of the middle management team. Much innovative and exciting work is undertaken in this area. A very ambitious programme has been agreed by staff. In developing the music programme beneficial links have been established with external groups and individuals. FETAC accreditation is pursued as appropriate with certain pupils. Among the staff are several talented and skilful musicians who share their knowledge and enthusiasm for Music with the pupils. Across the school, pupils take part in a range of whole-school and class based music-making activities. A long-established favourite activity is the music session which is held each Friday when an accomplished musician gives generously of her personal time and enhances the musical experience of the pupils. The pupils sing a variety of carefully selected songs in English and Irish and they are given opportunities to listen to and respond to an array of musical styles. Music is also used to enrich liturgical events and whole-school celebrations when the older pupils perform as a choir. In a number of classes classical and traditional music are used to enhance learning in other curricular areas such as social and environmental education. Using the latest computer technology some pupils have been engaged in exciting experimental musical activities. With the assistance of school staff and an external music specialist, these senior pupils have embarked on an exciting project which involved composing original pieces of music including song lyrics. In this they have developed their knowledge of rhythm, percussion and melody. Recording the pieces involved technical aspects such as providing accompaniment and multi-tracking. The pupils have derived important benefits from this work and they thoroughly enjoyed performing the finished pieces. Careful attention is paid to the management of existing resources for music. Building on the works already available in the school, a library of suitable music could be developed. This library could enable all pupils to experience music in a broad range of genres and styles. Priority could be given to selecting pieces which can also enrich learning in other area of the curriculum.
Many of the stages of play including relational play, functional play, symbolic play, socio-dramatic and themed fantasy play lead into formal dramatic activity. However, due to restricted physical abilities, some pupils find it difficult to engage in self-motivated or directed play. Drama is used in some classes as a method of cross-curricular integration and active learning to enhance other areas of the curriculum. Role-play is used to explore feelings and ideas in various social situations. Staff members assist pupils to participate in dramatic activities such as the dramatisation of poems or songs using appropriate costumes and props. Midi-creator and Soundbeam are used to provide atmospheric effects to drama lessons.
Drama as a subject area provides the pupils with opportunities to explore and express a range of feelings and find out in an unthreatening manner how they might react in a variety of situations. In order to enter into such imaginative areas, pupils need to develop prerequisite skills. These skill areas include memory skills, the ability to make choices, to consider moral dilemmas, to interact appropriately with others and to view situations from various perspectives. Many of these areas receive particular consideration in the circle time activities that are conducted in various classes and in dramatic group games.
The culmination of the drama curriculum is the provision of FETAC Level 3 awards in the senior classes. Among the course objectives are the development and structuring of a plot, the presentation of a production and the self-evaluation and reflection on the performance. Evidence demonstrating the specific learning objectives is carefully retained in a portfolio for submission later for certification. Opportunities for FETAC certification in Drama have been expanded this year through the introduction of a new course on Video Expression. The pupils expand their knowledge by engaging in critical viewing of various cinematic formats with explanations of the techniques used in their development. The pupils maintain a project journal of their preparation and research in developing a production from inception to conclusion. They work collaboratively in various roles to create the final production through all stages and they display considerable enjoyment of the processes.
4.5 Physical Education
All the pupils in the school experience some restriction in their physical abilities and cognisance is given to this in school planning for Physical Education. Guidance from the physiotherapy and occupational therapy support teams is taken into account in drawing up learning objectives for PE. A wide ranging programme of activities is available including indoor games, aquatics, boccia, orienteering, and dance. Four pupils avail of equestrian facilities under Horse-riding for the Disabled on Thursdays during school time. The pupils are collected and supervised during these sessions by their parents rather than by the school staff.
The school has created a co-operative teaching model where groups of classes combine to provide a larger class group for physical education sessions. This facilitates the formation of mixed-ability teams across the class groups and enables the teachers to direct their teaching to a wider group than would be available in their base classes. The teachers combine to take responsibility for various elements of the lessons or to supervise different locations or in sub-groups for learning. This mechanism serves to maintain the momentum of the lessons and uses the diverse talents of the teachers to particular effect.
There was clear evidence of differentiation in the completion of curricular objectives in the lessons observed during the evaluation. Some pupils have the capability to complete their tasks independently while others require physical assistance to participate in the assigned tasks. Staff members are careful to offer a range of options, such as equipment of different sizes, to allow pupils to choose the particular resource most suitable for their ability levels without loss of self-esteem. The element of team membership and encouragement of peers is fostered at all levels and is a pivotal element in the organisation of instruction. The pupils clearly demonstrated an understanding of the skills under instruction and were eager to share tips on aspects of their sport with less-skilful classmates.
The senior pupils have the opportunity to use the hall belonging to a mainstream community school once per week. The school staff members bring their own resources with them for the lessons to ensure all the resources for teaching and learning are immediately available and there is no loss of time in locating equipment in the host school. The opportunity to use the larger physical facility provides an extension to skills already taught in the small school multi-purpose room. The larger space allows further possibilities to develop orientation and directional skills. Currently there is no integration with the class groups in the community school for these PE. sessions: an initiative that is likely to have benefit for pupils in both schools.
The school is particularly fortunate in having a hydro-therapy pool on site and all the pupils have the opportunity to participate in hydro-therapy or swimming lessons. As the pool is located within the same building as the school, there is little loss of tuition time for pupils attending the sessions. Certain pupils are identified for hydro-therapy input by the physiotherapy staff and these sessions are held outside of the school swimming instruction rotas. A small hoist facility located on the side of the pool assists pupils to enter the water and a portion of the pool is designed as a paddling area. A swimming instructor is funded for two hours per week but in addition gives generously of her own time to support pupils’ aquatic instruction. She provides annual learning objectives for each pupil under instruction. These cover areas as diverse as development of confidence in the water, enjoyment of the sessions, participation in aquatic activities and developing specific aquatic skills. The SNAs provide valuable assistance in enabling the pupils to participate in these lessons.
4.6 Social, Personal and Health Education
The school staff has given considerable thought to the development of the whole-school plan in SPHE and this reflects the importance that they give to this curricular area. As the current age profile of the pupils is from ten to eighteen years, much of the focus is on the preparation for adolescence and the development of functional life skills. The teachers use checklists developed since November 2008 on six identified areas to assess the pupils’ competences and to identify learning needs to be addressed in instruction. The identified areas include communication skills, independence, personal safety, self-care, sexuality, shopping and social competence. The school has devised a two-year plan for planning of strand delivery to ensure a spiral approach to curricular provision. Some of the classes engage in basic self-care and differentiated work on healthy eating, personal, familial and community relationships.
The programme for the senior pupils includes a range of JCSP statements as part of the SPHE programme. These include Positive Communication, Health and Nutrition and Consumer Studies. In order to facilitate interactive discussions between the pupils, the senior class groups are combined for subject instruction. Two of the teachers combine to operate a co-operative teaching model for these sessions that releases other teachers to work on individualised instruction with specific pupils during this time. The teachers engage in a partnership model that shares both the resource preparation and the tuition element of each lesson. This model of delivery is particularly successful. The pupils demonstrate high degrees of interest in the subject matter under discussion and readily offer their opinions and suggestions when requested.
Tuition is provided in home economics to all the pupils attending the school by a part-time teacher. The programme is delivered in a kitchen area that contains a range of appropriate facilities. Equipment specifically adapted for poor motor function is available to support pupils in developing their culinary skills. This includes facilities to tip hot liquids, chopping boards with clamps and adjustable grips for opening containers. There is a strong emphasis on empowering the pupils to complete the work as independently as possible. The culmination of the tuition is the completion of portfolios for Food and Cookery FETAC modules and the completion of Junior Certificate Foundation Level for the senior pupils. Other aspects within the programme include projects where pupils combine elements to develop their personal choices of interior design, knowledge of service providers and energy options for greener homes. Some of the pupils enter for the ‘Gaisce’ awards scheme where suitable challenges in community involvement are identified and pursued.
4.7 Assessment and achievement
The teachers have developed a whole-school policy on assessment and this draws on guidelines which are provided by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the FETAC guidelines. The rationale explaining the importance of assessment is clearly laid out. In the assessment policy guidance is offered on developing Individual Education Plans. Teachers state that, where available, professional reports inform assessment. Teachers monitor the progress of pupils in relation to their work and record this information on a regular basis. Work samples are maintained, as well as photographs of pupils engaged in various learning activities. End-of-year reports as well as monthly progress reports and checklists are in evidence. These materials allow for the sharing of information with parents and serve to inform teachers’ planning. At senior level JCSP and FETAC materials are used to track progress and these provide a useful framework for monitoring achievement and progress. Awards are presented which recognise pupils’ knowledge, skills and competences in a range of learning areas. A collection of norm-referenced and diagnostic assessment tools as well as a checklist of social development have been assembled over the years and are also available. However, some of these materials are no longer considered suitable by staff and are rarely used.
Progress across some areas of the curriculum should be monitored more systematically. Teachers should examine curriculum and other materials with a view to developing more useful criterion-referenced tests. Priority could be given to communication, mathematics, and social development. A summary of information and recommendations provided by external professionals in relation to the pupils’ physical disabilities could be prepared, which along with parental input and information provided by previous teachers, would form the base line information for developing IEPs. This is already a feature of the work of some teachers. Bearing in mind the incidence of visual and hearing difficulties among pupils, assessments of functional hearing and vision of certain pupils would be informative and beneficial. In a small number of cases, functional assessments of behaviour would also prove useful in understanding troubling behaviours and point to ways in which difficulties could be addressed.
5.1 Pupils with special educational needs
The school is designated for pupils with physical disability. The pupils present with a range of conditions including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, muscular dystrophy or other conditions which limits loco-motor or motor function and which require special interventions. Pupils may have difficulties with attention and concentration or with processing language. They may also have difficulties associated with epilepsy or with medication. Staff members are aware that the implications for learning include a curtailment of sensory motor experience and opportunity for exploration, lower levels of stamina and, at times, pain and discomfort. Teachers are also aware that while the pupils may have problems with movement and posture, many do not have general learning disabilities. Therefore staff members do not lower expectations but seek to work on a pupil’s strengths in order to maximise the learning outcomes for each pupil. A number of professionals may be involved with individual pupils and care is taken to adjusting the school timetable to facilitate movement between class and therapies. Nursing support is available in the school when medication needs to be administered.
SNAs provide essential support in relation to the pupils’ care needs such as personal hygiene and cleansing routines. In assisting pupils to access the curriculum, sometimes the SNA acts as a scribe, while at other times SNAs assist them on tasks devised by the class teacher especially where a pupil’s physical disability does not allow him/her to carry out a task independently.
A small number of pupils with additional sensory disabilities have been enrolled in the school. These pupils require a detailed assessment over a number of domains with various personnel to gauge accurately the functional level of sensory ability that they possess and the optimum teaching and learning conditions to be provided for them. Materials have been purchased from the Royal National Institute for the Blind and further advice could be sought from the visiting teacher service and the mobility officer in the Irish Guide Dogs centre to enhance the provision.
5.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups
The school has not had much experience of either minority or disadvantaged groups enrolling. Following a recent enrolment of a newcomer pupil, staff members endeavoured to meet his needs by learning key phrases in his native language to assist his comprehension of the requests being made of him.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· The teachers are competent and are willingness to embrace diversification.
· The school is well led and well managed by a knowledgeable and committed board of management.
· The individualisation of education programmes within the school is a particular strength.
· The school is driven by a strong, positive and inclusive ethos.
· Commendable initiatives and curricular programmes are provided in the areas of Music, SESE, Drama and PE.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The board should consult with the patron and relevant partners in order to identify priorities for school development, to engage in strategic planning and to consider the
future direction of the school.
· The board is advised to make a formal application to the Department of Education and Science, through consultation with the National Council for Special Education,
to seek reclassification of the school as a school for multiple disabilities.
· The board of management should carry out a review of the enrolment policy to ensure that none of the procedures set out in the policy can be interpreted as an
inequitable barrier to enrolment.
The board should endeavour to consolidate links with the clinical team in Enable Ireland and address areas such as prioritising students for support, accessing optimum technology
` and developing working protocols to facilitate cooperative and effective working relationships between clinical and school staff.
· The staff should consider reviewing the school’s approach to assessment in the areas of communication, mathematics, sensory assessment and the functional assessment of
behaviour with a view to the identification of individual needs and planning for teaching and learning.
· The school management and staff should consider the creation of an annual plan with defined objectives for the various elements of each of the in-school management posts.
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 December 2009
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The inspection report has been reviewed in detail by the board of management. The board regards the report as fair and balanced and has carefully noted the general advice and specific recommendations contained therein.
The board welcomes inspectors’ observations on the professionalism and competence of the teaching staff, on the particular strengths of the school and on its positive and inclusive ethos.
The board is very concerned about the future of the school, in the context of declining enrolment and the changing profile of pupils.
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 board is actively addressing the future of the school and is currently engaged in discussions with the patron, the DES, the NCSE and Enable Ireland with regard to the redesignation of the school as a school for children with multiple disabilities. The school’s enrolment policy is under review.
Representatives of the board and Enable Ireland Children’s Services are discussing and amending working protocols for collaboration and co-operation. Changes in reporting procedures will reflect existing good practice and will demonstrate to all parties how decisions are made.
The teaching staff will review its approach to assessment, as advised.
School management and staff will develop and implement an annual plan for the various elements of the in-school management team.
The school staff is currently researching the development of a school website, with links to the Enable Ireland website.