An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Brigid’s Special School
Dundalk, County Louth
Uimhir rolla: 18772G
Date of inspection: 2 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St Brigid’s Special School, Dundalk. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Brigid’s School, Dundalk originated as a day-centre established in 1955 by local parents. In 1961 it was recognised as a special national school. The school has occupied its present site since 1969. The site is well located, near to local educational, community and business facilities. The original building has been extended twice, in 1979 and in 2006.
The school caters for children with mild general learning disabilities aged from four to eighteen, within a mixed urban and rural catchment area in north Co. Louth and south Co. Monaghan.
One hundred and sixteen pupils were on roll at the time of the evaluation. Enrolment is now stable following a significant increase over the past five years. Average attendance rates are high. In addition to the principal, the school’s staff allocation includes eleven full-time teacher posts, part-time teacher posts for Art, Home Economics and Woodwork and nine full-time special needs assistants. A school secretary, cook, caretaker and eight bus escorts are also employed. A speech and language therapy assistant, paid by the Health Services Executive, works in the school for twenty hours per week. The school operates under the patronage of the Archdiocese of Armagh. It espouses a Roman Catholic ethos while remaining open to enrolment of children from other traditions.
The board of management discharges its policy-making and management functions effectively. The board is properly constituted. It meets at least once per school term. The roles of chairperson, treasurer and secretary are allocated. Financial matters are carefully attended to. Records indicate that the board is kept well informed on the work of the school. The principal’s report to the board forms the basis of a school newsletter that is circulated to all parents and staff. The chairperson, who also acts as the school chaplain, visits the school at least weekly. The parent representatives on the board are members of the committee of the parents’ association. The school is operated in compliance with relevant Department of Education and Science regulations. Well-constructed policy documents are adopted and signed. Copies of the school plan are circulated to school staff and to the members of the parents’ association. The board affirms the commitment and dedication of school staff. It has expressed concern in relation to two resource issues – access to speech and language therapy services and access to part-time allocation of hours for practical subjects.
It is clear that the members of the board bring a considerable range of expertise to their work and are well equipped for their roles. In the context of the formation of a new board of management, which is due to take place during the coming school year, consideration should be given to availing of formal training inputs provided through school management bodies.
The principal provides committed and effective leadership in relation to all aspects of the school’s work. He remains actively involved with staff and pupils in daily activities. He interacts with pupils at all age-levels and promotes positive pupil behaviour. He encourages and models positive, supportive staff interaction with pupils. He ensures that the day-to-day running of the school proceeds in accordance with clear procedures and protocols. He collaborates effectively with the in-school management team. He uses information and communication technology (ICT) to good effect as a communication tool. He provides active support to the work of the parents’ association and maintains an active network of links throughout the communities which the school serves.
The in-school management team, which includes a deputy principal and four special-duties posts, one of which is shared, provides effective support to the principal in relation to school organisation, curriculum and pupil support. The team meets formally with the principal once a month, outside of teaching hours. The wider staff group is kept informed of ongoing issues at formal staff meetings and through ongoing interaction. Linkage to the board of management is maintained through the principal’s report. It has been decided that, with effect from the current school year, individual post-holders will provide an annual report to the board. Substantial duties have been assigned to the members of the team, reflecting the organisational, curricular and pupil-support needs of the school. While these duties have been revised from time to time, it is recommended that provision for regular review be incorporated in the relevant policy documents.
The school has ten classes that are organised within three sections - referred to as primary, secondary and pre-vocational. The primary section has five classes catering for pupils of primary-school age. The secondary section has three classes catering for pupils of approximately junior post-primary age. Two pre-vocational classes cater for pupils aged from sixteen to eighteen. This three-tier structure allows for age-appropriate progression in curriculum and in social interaction. Class size ranges from ten to fourteen pupils, with an average of 11.6 pupils. For specialist, practical subjects, class size is halved and a special-needs assistant provides additional support. One full-time teacher acts in a resource role, supporting teachers and pupils in relation to social and personal skills and communication skills.
The teaching staff, including full-time and part-time teachers, brings to the school a wide range of experience. The teachers have a range of primary and post-primary teaching qualifications. Most have additional postgraduate qualifications in special education. Continuing professional development is encouraged and supported by school management. There is a high rate of up-take of short in-service courses relevant to general and special education. Appropriate policies on leave of absence, career breaks and allocation of teachers to classes are in place. Two senior teachers act as mentors to newly appointed teachers. Whole-school teacher meetings, held once per term, facilitate structured discussion of substantial issues relevant to the work of the school.
The school’s nine special needs assistants are assigned mainly to the primary section of the school. This arrangement reflects the greater maturity and independence of older pupils. The school plan contains a policy document on the role of the special needs assistants within the school. The principal meets the special needs assistants as a group each term Classroom observation indicates that special needs assistants are knowledgeable about the work of the classroom. They collaborate efficiently with teachers and interact in a caring, supportive and enabling manner with pupils.
School accommodation includes ten general classrooms, two general-purpose circulation areas for communal activities, a physical education hall, art room, home economics room, and woodwork room. Smaller rooms are provided for resource teaching, speech and language therapy and meetings. Ancillary accommodation includes staff room, principal’s office and secretary’s office. Separate external play areas are provided for pupils of primary and post-primary age. Grassed areas include a medium-sized football area. The allocation of space facilitates the age-related, three-tier structure of school organisation. General-purpose areas support both curriculum delivery and social interaction. All areas are well maintained. Some improvements required in the woodwork room and in the hard-surfaced external areas have been identified and are being planned.
A wide range of appropriate resources and materials is made available to support teaching and learning across all areas of the curriculum. Classrooms throughout the school are well-stocked with textbooks, reading materials, work books and other teaching aids. Pupils in all classrooms have ready access to computer hardware and software.
Home school links are well developed. Useful information on the operation of the school is provided in a parents’ information booklet. Home-work journals are used to facilitate two-way communication between home and school. Teachers may send short messages to parents using a “text a parent” procedure operated through the school office. Formal parent-teacher meetings are held twice a year, in October and May, with additional meetings by request. A written report on each pupil’s progress is sent to parents in June. Clear procedures are in place for dealing with parental queries and concerns.
An active parents association provides valuable support to the school. Twenty-two parents are actively involved on the committee of the association. The association has been involved in fundraising, in establishing and supporting after-school clubs, in consultation regarding school policies and in the organisation of school celebrations and events.
The school maintains an extensive network of contacts and supports within its catchment area. These contacts include local schools, voluntary and charitable groups, statutory agencies, businesses and local press and radio. At a wider level, the school participates in a range of competitions, celebrations and exchanges involving mainstream and special schools, north and south of the border.
The approach to the management of pupil behaviour, throughout the school, is positive, consistent and effective. Routine daily activities are the subject of documented procedures and are carefully supervised. Behaviour policy is positively stated. It recognises that fully appropriate behaviour is a goal towards which pupils must be helped, through incidental and formal learning and acknowledges the role of staff in this regard. Positive behaviour and work commitment are rewarded. Clearly-graded procedures are provided for responding to serious misbehaviour. A five-year development plan for the use of the Quality Circle Time approach throughout the school has been initiated. It is anticipated that this will have positive benefits in relation to self-esteem and personal responsibility among the pupils.
The practice of whole-school planning is well developed. An extensive school plan has been developed through the collaborative efforts of the staff, board of management, and parents’ association. The plan includes a wide-range of organisational policies on matters such as enrolment and admission, attendance, health and safety, child protection, critical incidents, data protection, behaviour, the administration of medication, substance abuse, the role of the special needs assistants, parental involvement and healthy eating. The school plan also contains detailed curriculum policies for the areas of English, Mathematics, Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE), Visual Arts, Music, Physical Education, and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). Each curricular policy outlines the rationale, aims and objectives of the curricular area, noting appropriate methodologies and available resources. All of this has been done with reference to the school’s targeted population and their specific learning needs.
The development section of the school plan includes a planning diary that sets out agreed areas for future development, along with procedures, responsibilities and timelines. The outstanding areas of Drama and assessment are scheduled for policy development over the next academic year. A review of the Mathematics policy is also scheduled, together with a redrafting of the health and safety statement and a review of the SESE policy.
The curricular section of the school plan provides useful guidance to teachers in adapting the curricular areas of the Primary School Curriculum to meet the needs of pupils of primary age and in extending those areas in an age-appropriate manner to meet the needs of older pupils. The plan, in its current version, does not, however, adequately reflect the specific post-primary elements that the school provides through the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). These elements include Civic, Social and Political Education, Art, Craft and Design, Materials Technology: Wood and Home Economics, all of which are studied to examination level. It is therefore recommended that on-going review and development of the school plan should focus particularly on aims, objectives, content and teaching approaches related to programmes for pupils in the secondary and pre-vocational sections of the school.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Commendable practice in relation to planning at classroom level was observed across all levels of the school. All teachers, including specialist teachers, carry out long-term and short-term planning. In this, they are guided by the Professional Practice Policy document in the school plan. Copies of plans for each class are retained centrally. Using agreed classroom planning templates, plans are outlined in terms of learning objectives, resources and methodologies. In most cases, objectives are appropriate and well thought-out and a wide-range of methodologies is employed to pursue them. A column in the template allows for the recording of progress made in implementing the planned activities. A range of practice was noted in relation to this recording strategy. Its potential value in guiding ongoing planning can be enhanced through increased consistency and reflectiveness in its use
The school’s positive practice and commitment, in relation to planning at classroom level, could be further developed by the provision of a brief, yearly overview of curriculum content, teaching approaches and classroom management strategies for each class, in order to provide a context for the termly plans, and by developing closer links between class teachers’ planning and specialist teachers’ planning.
Evidence of planning to meet the needs of individual pupils is seen in the preparation of pupil profiles, the carrying out of baseline assessments as pupils move to new classes, in differentiation within classroom planning, in the development of individual educational plans (IEPs) and, at post-primary level, in the use of individualised learning targets based on the JCSP and on FETAC modules.
Pupil profiles, prepared in the autumn term, record personal data, and indicate the pupils’ current level of functioning and their strengths and needs. These profiles are informed by relevant professional reports, the results of a baseline educational assessment, teacher observations and consultation with parents.
Having drafted targets for each pupil’s IEP, using an agreed school template, teachers meet with parents to agree priorities and finalise the plan. The targets included in these plans focus primarily on the areas of literacy and numeracy. While a focus on literacy and numeracy is likely to be appropriate for most, if not all, pupils it is also likely that priority learning needs for many pupils will relate to wider communication and language skills and to areas such as social and personal development. This consideration indicates the importance of involving teachers other than the class teacher, for example the resource teacher or specialist teachers, in the IEP development process.
It is recommended that the school’s practice in relation to individual educational plans be further developed by extending the range of learning areas from which priority needs are selected, beyond those related to literacy and numeracy and, where relevant, by increasing the involvement of teachers other than class teachers in the process.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The school delivers a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum that shows continuity and progression as pupils move through the school. The Primary School Curriculum provides a framework that is developed and expanded through access to Junior Certificate programmes and FETAC modules. A wide range of teaching methodologies is used, with an emphasis on activity-based learning and, where necessary, on direct, one-to-one instruction. There is a commendable emphasis on communication and social development, which is strengthened by the input of the resource teacher in this aspect of the curriculum. All classrooms feature appropriate displays of pupils’ work and other curriculum-related materials.
Pupils are actively engaged in learning activities and a positive working atmosphere pervades all levels of the school. The strengths and needs of individual pupils are recognised in the planning, adaptation and delivery of the curriculum. Learning is differentiated in a range of ways, including the level of individual assistance provided and the use of alternative and adapted learning materials.
The three classes in the secondary section of the school correspond to the three years of the junior cycle in mainstream post-primary schools. The school participates in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Pupils at this level continue to experience areas of the Primary School Curriculum. They also study the following six areas within the JCSP framework, to examination level: English, Mathematics, Civic, Social and Political Education, Art, Craft and Design, Home Economics, and Materials Technology: Wood. Eight pupils sat the Junior Certificate examinations in 2006 and twelve are entered for 2007. The school also participates in a number of JCSP cross-curricular initiatives, including the Make a Book project, the Christmas Celebration and the Samba Music project. Recently the school has applied to take part in the Reading Corner Initiative, the Physical Education Initiative and the Drama Initiative.
Over two years, the pupils in the pre-vocational classes can pursue a number of FETAC Level 3 modules. The modules that are currently available correlate to the general curriculum areas of Language and Communication, Home Economics, ICT, SPHE, Art and Woodwork. Pupils follow a selection of modules matched to individual skills and interests. Cross-curricular linkage is a feature at this level, as it is in primary and secondary classes. Pupils leaving the school receive a Record of Achievement and can continue accumulating credits towards FETAC certification at a variety of adult training services. Many pre-vocational pupils also work towards the bronze-level, President’s Gaisce award.
Throughout the school, information and communication technology (ICT) is used to enhance teaching and learning, in a variety of ways, including the use of the internet as a reference source and the use of word-processing and desk-top publishing software to develop pupils’ writing and presentation skills. Teachers also use digital and video cameras to support teaching and to record pupil achievement. A wide range of suitable, educational software is provided.
The development of the pupils’ oral and written language skills is given appropriate emphasis throughout the school. This is evident in school and classroom planning documents, in the prominence given to aspects of language in individual education plans and in the linkage of language skills to activities across the curriculum.
The strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum provide the basis for planning at primary level. In the three secondary classes, the teachers plan programmes based on upper primary content combined with selected JCSP English statements and learning targets. In the pre-vocational classes the emphasis is on the functional use of language and the skills required for the ‘real life’ use of newspapers, advertisements and forms. Much of this work is based on FETAC modules such as Reading and Writing Project and Written Business Communication Skills. This emphasis is appropriate and necessary in the context of the overall curricular approach at this level, while bearing in mind that pupils’ experiences of literature can continue to be enriched by access to age-appropriate and stimulating material in printed, electronic and aural form in class libraries and elsewhere.
Teachers confidently employ a range of teaching approaches, including guided discussion, task-based learning, drama, and use of ICT. Whole-class teaching is combined with group and individual work. The work of the class teachers in developing confidence and competence in the use of oral language is significantly enhanced by the work of the resource teacher, with classes, groups and individuals. Teaching of literacy is embedded in a broad language-experience approach combined with direct teaching and graded practice of phonic and other word-recognition skills. Pupils are encouraged to draw on their own experiences and interests in the process of personal writing.
At primary level, pupils engage with the full range of strands in Primary School Curriculum Mathematics. Classrooms are well supplied with a range of concrete and visual materials to support the development of basic mathematical concepts and number skills. With the youngest pupils, there is a strong emphasis on guided multi-sensory exploration and repeated practice in early mathematical activities. The development and reinforcement of pupils’ computational skills continues throughout the primary level and beyond, supported by well-graded assignments.
In secondary classes, teachers revisit work done at primary level and develop class and individual programmes based on the Junior Certificate School Programme. Teachers begin lessons with revision of previous learning, clearly explain the objectives of the new lesson and employ a variety of direct teaching and guided-discovery learning methodologies. Concepts and relevant vocabulary are introduced effectively. Differentiated support is provided through the pacing of lessons, modification of tasks and individualised assistance. Pupils are attentive and active in their learning. Examination of pupils’ work and JCSP profiles and questioning of pupils attests to their achievements.
At pre-vocational level, there is an appropriate emphasis on the practical applications of Mathematics, covering essential topics such as time and money. Numeracy-related learning targets, derived from baseline assessments, are pursued through individualised, direct teaching and also in the context of tasks related to various FETAC modules. In their planning and practice, teachers avail of cross-curricular learning opportunities within the FETAC modules in order to develop mathematical skills. Pupils at this level also practice a range of mathematical skills while operating the school shop and engaging in community-based activities.
The teaching of Mathematics shows appropriate progression through the three levels of the school. The Mathematics statement in the school plan reflects the basis of the school’s approach in the strands of the Primary School Curriculum. It does not, as yet, reflect the way in which the school’s practice has developed to incorporate Junior Certificate content and FETAC modules. The whole-school plan for Mathematics is scheduled for review this year. This will provide an opportunity to outline the rationale, aims and objectives and planning procedures for the teaching of Mathematics in the secondary and pre-vocational classes.
The eight classes in the primary and secondary sections of the school study Geography, History and Science. Appropriate time allocations have been made for the teaching of these subjects. The five primary classes follow selected strands and strand units from the Primary School Curriculum. The three secondary classes pursue learning targets from selected Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) statements. In the pre-vocational classes, the development of skills and concepts related to Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) is integrated within FETAC projects and tasks.
Key methodologies used in SESE lessons throughout the school include active learning, field trips, drama, direct instruction and guided discovery. There is evidence of positive practice in relation to linking SESE topics with other curricular areas such as English, SPHE and the Visual Arts. There is some scope for further development of this cross-curricular approach, particularly in the post-primary classes.
Pupils show a genuine interest and a degree of knowledge and understanding of many aspects of the History curriculum. Timelines, family trees, personal histories and images of historical figures, artefacts and events are on display in many classrooms. A wide range of resources, including age and ability-appropriate texts and web sites are available for use. At pre-vocational level there is strong emphasis on developing pupils’ knowledge of local history, building on work done at an earlier stage.
Geography lessons are well structured and suitably paced. There is a wide range of resources available to support teaching in this subject area.. Field trips are used to explore and study the local environment, from visits to the local supermarket to discover where the great variety of fruits come from to a visit to a local wind turbine to discover the benefits of wind energy.
Observation of Science lessons and an examination of pupils’ copies and workbooks provide good evidence of pupil engagement and learning. Scientific skills such as observing, investigating, experimenting, predicting and recording are being developed in the pupils through activity-based learning. Each classroom contains Science-related resources that are utilised effectively to facilitate active participation. Pupil-made wall displays and relevant commercial posters are seen in most classrooms. Samples and exhibits are displayed on nature tables and interest tables.
The environmental awareness and care strand, common to the Geography and Science curricula, is exemplified in active involvement of all classes in the Green Schools Initiative. A committee of elected class representatives, led by a teacher, holds weekly business meetings, producing minutes and progress reports. Under the leadership of this committee, the school has made significant efforts in fostering the pupils’ appreciation of the environment and understanding of the importance of conservation. Recycling, waste-disposal and energy conservation are now an integral part of school life.
Arts Education, encompassing Visual Arts, Music and Drama, is a prominent and enriching feature of the school’s curriculum. The potential opportunities within the arts subjects for active pupil engagement and the contexts which these subjects can provide for supporting learning across all other curricular areas are appreciated and explored by the teachers. Well-developed whole-school plans are in place for Visual Arts and Music. It is intended that a similar plan be developed for Drama following upcoming, in-service training in this area.
Visual Arts, Music and Drama are discussed in successive paragraphs below. For the purposes of this report Woodwork is also discussed under this area of the curriculum.
Pupils engage in suitable activities involving, drawing, paint and colour, print, clay, construction and the use of fabric and fibre. At primary level, class teachers put particular emphasis on the integration of Visual Arts activities with other areas, using cross-curricular themes. As pupils progress through the school, there is evidence of progression in their ability to produce independent work using more advanced techniques, materials and tools. The school’s allocation of part-time hours for art teaching is shared between two specialist teachers. The input of these specialist teachers enables pupils to achieve Junior Certificate and FETAC certification. The inclusion of a dedicated art-room in the recently completed building extension has provided additional motivation to staff and pupils. Lessons at this level maintain the active engagement, enjoyment and participation that are obvious at primary level. In post-primary classes, the class teachers continue to use Visual Arts activity as a teaching tool. Specialist teachers and class teachers collaborate on specific themes and projects. Samples of pupils’ work are attractively displayed in classrooms and communal areas throughout the school. Digital camera and video are used resourcefully to record pupils’ work and to facilitate assessment and certification.
At primary level, Music activities are regularly timetabled and are also integrated with lessons in Language, Mathematics, SESE, SPHE and PE. The school plan gives helpful guidance in relation to the selection of content from the listening and responding, performing and composing strands of the curriculum. This could be developed further by including a recommended school repertoire of songs suitable for broad age-groups. Classrooms are supplied with an adequate stock of good quality percussion instruments. A specific series of resource books is used appropriately as a basis for much of the work. At secondary and pre-vocational level, Music is not among the subjects for external certification. There is correspondingly less emphasis on the subject at this level. The school choir enjoys a high profile within the school, regularly winning inter-school competitions and participating in community events. High musical standards are achieved by the choir and participation is highly valued by pupils of all ages. The school’s participation in the Drake Music Project has enabled pupils to create music with the aid of digital technology. Personnel employed by the project have visited the school, worked with groups of pupils and introduced school staff to new music-technology.
In developing its proposed plan for Drama the school can build upon the considerable use of Drama activities already evident at classroom and whole-school level. Christmas and end-of-year concerts allow for group performances that combine music and drama activities. The development work currently in progress in relation to the Quality Circle Time approach incorporates significant aspects of Drama, aimed at developing social and communication skills. Similar strategies are already in place, to good effect, in classrooms throughout the school. Promising work with puppets was noted in several classes.
Pupils in the secondary classes follow a Junior Certificate course in Materials Technology: Wood and pursue selected statements and learning targets from the Junior Certificate School Programme. The pre-vocational pupils spend one year on each of two FETAC modules - Woodwork: Using the Fret Saw and Woodwork: Using Power Tools. Class groups are divided for Woodwork activities, so that no more than seven pupils are in the workshop in any one teaching session. All pupils complete a variety of projects using a range of hand and power tools. The pupils’ project work is of a commendable standard.
The teaching strategies employed in the workshop take account of the varying skill levels of the pupils. The teacher moves easily around the workshop engaging with individual pupils, assessing their progress in the completion of set tasks and offering advice and support as needed. The work being undertaken provides an appropriate level of challenge for the pupils. They display an understanding of the activities in which they are involved that is consistent with their age and ability and they communicate this understanding effectively.
4.6 Physical Education
Physical Education is timetabled at all age-levels. At primary level, the activities are related to the athletics, dance, gymnastics, games and outdoor strands of the Primary School Curriculum. At secondary level, the corresponding JCSP statements are followed. A suitable range of activities is included under each strand. Lessons are well-planned and well-managed. The PE hall is well maintained and is suitably equipped for the range of activities provided. The outdoor grassed areas are suitable for field games. At pre-vocational level, the emphasis is placed on sampling and developing confidence in using leisure and fitness facilities in the community. This approach is in keeping with the general curriculum emphasis at this level. The school plan acknowledges that the aquatics strand is not currently included in the Physical Education programme due to constraints related to access to suitable swimming facilities and instructors. It is proposed that this situation be reviewed during the current school year.
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is a prominent feature of the school’s curriculum at all age-levels. The school plan outlines a coherent whole-school approach to SPHE, based on the strands for this area within the Primary School Curriculum and incorporating Relationships and Sexuality Education and the Stay Safe Programme. At post-primary level, the themes are revised and extended. The structure of the programme, at this level, incorporates themes of belonging and integrating, self-management, communication skills, friendships, relationships and sexuality, emotional health, influences and decisions, substance use and personal safety.
The structure of the curriculum and the teaching approaches used in the pre-vocational classes are geared to consolidating and extending the social and personal competencies which are the focus of the SPHE curriculum. Home Economics lessons provide valuable and highly motivating opportunities to develop practical skills, knowledge and attitudes related to social and personal competence and to health and hygiene.
Classroom planning is consistent with the content and methodologies outlined in the school plan. While much of the teaching and learning in this area is embedded in activities and lessons across the curriculum, specific topics are dealt with in discrete SPHE lessons. Key messages are underpinned by the supportive climate of social interaction that is a feature of the school.Outside instructors are used to deliver specific aspects of the programme. The collaboration between the school’s resource teacher and class teachers in developing and refining teaching approaches that emphasise experiential learning, group discussion and role-play, is commendable.
Civic, Social and Political Education
All of the pupils in the three secondary classes are timetabled to study Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE). The course is structured around the seven core CSPE concepts of democracy, rights and responsibilities, human dignity, interdependence, development, law and stewardship. Teachers prepare termly and weekly plans based on statements and learning targets selected from the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), in accordance with the pupils’ abilities and needs. Pupils engage with the curriculum content through a range of methodologies, including field trips, role play, brainstorming and guided discussion. Through active learning they are assisted in developing a variety of skills. The required CSPE action project is usually begun in second year and completed in third year. CSPE-related classroom displays include commercial and pupil-made posters featuring the UN Declaration of Human Rights, information on voting and children’s rights and photographs of political leaders.
Pupils in the secondary classes complete a Junior Certificate programme in Home Economics. The curriculum is mediated through selected statements and learning targets from the Junior Certificate School Programme. Pre-vocational pupils work on two FETAC modules: Food and Cookery and Food and Nutrition. Class groups are split for Home Economics classes, giving a maximum class size of seven. The teacher, therefore, can provide substantial individualised support, ensuring the active engagement of all pupils. The Home Economics room is modern and well-equipped, with seven work-stations for pupils. The work areas are clean and safe. Health and safety rules and key vocabulary are clearly posted. Curriculum-related information and pupils’ project work are displayed on classroom and corridor walls. Pupils are asked to make a small, weekly contribution towards the running of cookery activities and the school funds all remaining costs.
Parents receive information on pupils’ progress and achievement orally, at annual parent-teacher meetings, and in writing through formal school reports. Feedback to pupils on their progress is provided through consistent marking, praise, recognition of work and achievement and class displays.
The school has a positive, well-balanced homework policy. Homework is assigned, collected and corrected on a daily basis. Homework assignments are intended to reinforce class teaching rather than demand independent learning. Parents are encouraged to become active participants in monitoring their children’s homework efforts and in providing support when appropriate.
The standardised tests currently in use in the school are somewhat dated and are limited in the information they can contribute to planning for teaching and learning. It is recommended that, as part of the development of an assessment policy, the school investigate the use of other tests that might yield more diagnostic information to guide teaching and learning.
The commitment of management and staff to the provision of appropriate education to pupils with identified special educational needs is demonstrated in all areas of policy and practice. Recent school-development work indicates ongoing commitment to further improvement in this regard. While all of the pupils present with needs associated with mild general learning disabilities, some pupils have additional needs or different learning styles, sometimes related to diagnosed conditions such as autistic spectrum disorder or Down’s syndrome. The inclusive approach of the school is evident in the fact that staff members have accessed specific in-service training relevant to such pupils and have incorporated suitable methodologies into their teaching. It is recommended that the school’s commitment to meeting the particular needs of such groups be outlined in a school policy document.
The importance, for all pupils, of ongoing development of communication and language skills, is reflected in the school’s curriculum. The work of class teachers in this area is enhanced by the contribution of the resource teacher. The service provided by the speech and language assistant is a significant support to those pupils who have additional difficulties with communication. While this work is overseen by a Health Services Executive (HSE) speech and language therapist, parent representatives and the board of management are concerned that a speech and language therapist should be assigned to work directly within the school, as was the practice previously.
The school’s inclusive approach supports all pupils. Several positive features of provision that are available to all, regardless of family background, are of particular benefit to pupils from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds and pupils with additional specific needs. All children are offered a light breakfast on arrival at school and a nutritious, cooked lunch at midday. After-school clubs, funded by the HSE and by the parents’ association operate with the assistance of school management and staff. Mid-term and summer camps are organised and funded in conjunction with the HSE. The school provides the base and the organisational support for a July programme for pupils with autism spectrum disorders, some of whom are from St Brigid’s and some from other schools in Co Louth.
Children for whom English is a second language or who have recently arrived in Ireland are not a feature of current enrolment. The inclusive policies and practices of the school will enable it to respond flexibly to the needs of such pupils in the future. In anticipation of the enrolment of such pupils, it is now appropriate that a policy statement in relation to intercultural education be developed for inclusion in the school plan.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· An inclusive, caring and supportive learning environment is evident throughout the school.
· The board of management is committed, efficient and effective and is well informed in relation to the work of the school.
· The principal provides effective leadership in relation to all aspects of the school’s work.
· Teachers involved in in-school management have been delegated substantial duties and provide valuable support to the principal and the board in the organisation and development of the school.
· The internal organisation of the school, in primary, secondary and pre-vocational sections, supports staff collaboration and provides age-related progression for pupils.
· The teaching staff is highly committed, well qualified and open to further professional development.
· Special needs assistants interact in a caring, supportive and enabling manner with pupils and work productively in support of teachers.
· School accommodation is well maintained and has been adapted and expanded to meet developing needs.
· Classrooms are well equipped with a wide range of resources for teaching and learning.
· Information and communication technology is used widely and well in school administration and in teaching and learning.
· The school successfully promotes positive home-school links and facilitates an active parents’ association.
· The school maintains an extensive network of contacts with educational, community and business organisations within the local community and beyond.
· The approach to the management of pupil behaviour, throughout the school, is positive, consistent and effective.
· There is a systematic approach to planning at whole-school, classroom and pupil level.
· Teachers plan and deliver a broad, balanced curriculum using a range of appropriate methodologies.
· As pupils move beyond the primary years they are provided with a curriculum that preserves continuity with their earlier experience, allows for age-appropriate progression and access to external certification.
· The school adopts an inclusive approach to pupils with a diversity of needs and backgrounds.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that on-going review and development of the school plan should focus, particularly, on aims, objectives, content and teaching approaches related to programmes for pupils in the secondary and pre-vocational sections of the school.
· It is recommended that the school’s positive practice in relation to planning at classroom level be further developed by the provision of a brief, yearly overview of curriculum content, teaching approaches and classroom management strategies for each class, in order to provide a context for the termly plans, and by developing closer links between class teachers’ planning and specialist teachers’ planning.
· It is recommended that the school’s practice in relation to individual educational plans (IEPs) be further developed by extending the range of learning areas from which priority needs are selected, beyond those related to literacy and numeracy and, where relevant, by increasing the involvement of teachers other than the class teachers in the IEP process.
· It is recommended that, as part of the development of an assessment policy, the school investigate the use of tests, other than those currently in use, that might yield more diagnostic information to guide teaching and learning.
· It is recommended that the school’s commitment to meeting the particular needs of pupils who may have additional needs or different learning styles related to such conditions as autism or Down’s syndrome, be outlined in a school policy document.
· It is recommended that a policy statement in relation to intercultural education be developed for inclusion in the school plan.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of management and staff are very pleased with the report and would like to thank the inspectors for their courtesy throughout the WSE
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Since the WSE the Assessment Policy has been completed and ratified by the board. Other recommendations will be acted upon in the coming academic year.