An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Raphael’s Special National School
Cellbridge, County Kildare
Uimhir rolla: 18988G
Date of inspection: 6 December 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Raphael’s Special National School. 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 learning and teaching. 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 the chairperson of the board of management and 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. Raphael’s School was recognised by the Department of Education and Science in 1963 as a co-educational school for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities and is located in its present building from 1972. Additional classes for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities were established in the year 1999 and for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) in 2004. The school functions as an integral component of the St. John of God, Kildare Services, which provide a wide range of supports for children and adults with special educational needs. It is evident that the management and staff work assiduously to implement the school’s mission statement, which is to provide an environment that enables each child to live, learn and grow to his or her utmost potential. The continued support of the St. John of God, Kildare Services to the school contributes in a positive and constructive manner to the quality of educational provision for pupils in the school. Currently there are two classes for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities, four classes for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities and three classes for pupils with ASDs in the school. At the time of the evaluation there were forty-six pupils enrolled in the school with enrolment increasing steadily over the past number of years. The school has a catchment area of approximately fifteen miles, mainly in North Kildare. School management willingly considers enrolment applications from outside this area on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the local special education needs organisers. Most of the pupils travel to school by bus and some travel in taxis. The staff includes an administrative principal, nine class teachers, a Home-Economics teacher, a school secretary, a permanent nurse and an agency nurse. There are twenty-two special needs assistants (SNAs) employed in the school with two SNAs currently sharing one position. Two additional full-time SNA posts and one part-time post have recently been sanctioned for the school. Multi-disciplinary support is provided by the Health Service Executive through the Order of St. John of God. Pupils have access to multi-disciplinary support that includes a full-time psychologist, a half-post each for speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and a full-time social worker. The benefits that accrue from the support of multi-disciplinary personnel is particularly evident in the implementation and success of pupils’ learning programmes. The attendance of pupils is closely monitored by the staff. Support for attendance, as required, is provided by a social worker. During the 2006-07 school year the level of absence for some pupils was high with nine pupils absent for more than 20 days. School management explained that the high number of absences for these pupils resulted mainly from medical complications and conditions.
In-school management duties and responsibilities are devolved to the principal and teachers with posts of responsibility. An open and collegiate school environment is cultivated and the work of the teaching and care staff is acknowledged and affirmed. Staff meetings are generally convened on a termly basis and more often if required. Shorter meetings are convened in the morning before class-time or after school when necessary. The principal was appointed to the position in September 2003. She adopts a proactive and positive approach to the management of the school. She demonstrates a commendable receptiveness to advice in relation to developing and improving the work of the school in order to optimise the learning and teaching opportunities available to all pupils. The principal displays high expectations in relation to pupils’ behaviour and readily provides additional support for staff in maintaining pupils’ appropriate behaviour. The principal works closely with the staff, involves them in school development activities, and is proactive in the arrangement of in-career development opportunities for staff members in areas that are relevant to the school and its pupils.
The teachers who have been appointed to posts of responsibility have responsibility for specific aspects of curriculum, organisation of resources for learning and teaching, school planning, the management of pupils, and whole-activities and events. All post-holders take their responsibilities seriously and contribute positively to the organisation of the school. In order to strengthen the role and effectiveness of the middle management team, it is recommended that these teachers should work collaboratively as a middle management team and engage more closely with other members of staff in the drafting of school policies and procedures. A regular review of the duties assigned to posts, with reference to Circular 17/00 and in line with current priorities would ensure greater staff cohesion and a capacity to respond more effectively to the needs of the school.
Teachers’ experience, strengths, expertise and preferences are considered in the allocation of classes. An induction and orientation programme is provided for staff to familiarise new staff with a range of areas that includes the history, philosophy and values of the Order of St. John of God, manual handling and patient lifting, challenging behaviour, relationships and sexuality, child protection and values to practice. School management facilitates access for staff to opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) to assist them in meeting the diverse needs of the pupils. Staff members have also availed of the support provided by the Special Education Support Service. It is advised that the inventory of CPD compiled by the principal is included in the school plan and that priorities for future CPD are identified in collaboration with staff members.
Special needs assistants (SNAs) provide in a sensitive and helpful manner for the care needs of pupils and assist with clothing, feeding, toileting and general hygiene as required. Valuable assistance is provided by SNAs during out-of-school visits, walks, assembly, recreational and dispersal periods. The SNAs are familiar with class teachers’ timetables and are fully involved in classroom activities.
The present school building dates from 1972 and is in need of considerable structural repair. The board of management and school staff are commended for the resourceful manner in which pupils’ curricular access is optimised within the constraints of the existing structure. There are ten classrooms with washing and toilet areas, one housecraft room, a dining/general purpose area, a principal’s office, a secretary’s office, an art and craft room, a multi-sensory room, storeroom, staffroom, staff toilets, a school nurse’s room/storage area, a pupil toileting and showering area, one prefabricated classroom ,and a multi-purpose prefabricated building that is used for meetings, therapy and soft play and limited indoor and outdoor storage areas. Access to an adjacent large hall, a fitness room and to outdoor areas of the campus is facilitated by the Order of St. John of God and beneficially allows for the implementation of aspects of the physical and social education programmes. Space within the school building space is restricted and is no longer adequate to meet the complex needs of the pupils in the school. Classroom areas, storage space, facilities to deliver therapeutic and medical support and areas to assist in the management of challenging behaviour are deficient. A sub-committee comprising parents, teachers, SNAs and other professionals in the service, was established in 2005 to co-ordinate the building of a new school. A site has been provisionally secured. Discussions in relation to the provision of a new school building are on-going with the Department of Education and Science. It is advised that the momentum for this project is maintained and that the school management continues to liaise with the buildings section of the Department with a view to bringing the project to a successful conclusion.
A maintenance team employed by St. John of God Kildare Service carries out general maintenance under the supervision of the Technical Services Officer. Outside contractors are employed to carry out the day-to-day cleaning of the school building. Maintenance and cleaning personnel are to be commended for the attention directed towards maintaining a safe, clean and attractive school building and environs. A particularly praiseworthy approach has been adopted by school management and staff in creating a hygienic environment and adopting systematic procedures that mitigate the risks associated with pupils being identified as carriers of MRSA. The advice of the Health Service Executive has been elicited and the relevant recommendations meticulously followed. It is advised that the positive and proactive steps taken by the school in addressing this issue are methodically documented and that the school’s policy in relation to this issue is constantly reviewed to reflect changing circumstances as they arise.
Attention is directed towards providing a wide range of motivating and accessible learning and teaching resources to support pupils’ curricular access. Concrete materials, objects of reference, visual cues, work schedules and class timetables optimise pupils’ on-task engagement. Attractive curricular-related displays assist in creating an appealing and pleasant learning and teaching environment. A successful balance is maintained between providing for curricular displays and reducing environmental stimuli. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is used to augment pupils’ curricular access. Computers and a range of appropriate software are available in all classrooms and are in reasonable working order. New computers for each classroom are being purchased with the assistance of the Parents’ Association and the Parents and Friends’ Association of St John of God Services. A digital camera is available in the school and is used in a number of classes to record the pupils’ activities and achievements. Extending the use of the digital camera to all classes would greatly assist in the consolidation and assessment of pupils’ learning. Compiling a list of software with reference to curricular areas would further enhance the benefits of ICT for all pupils. Internet access to appropriate sites for pupils could also be explored further. The school has access to the fleet of minibuses provided by St. John of God Services, which it generously makes available to the school as required for small group outings.
Parents contribute in a number of ways to the school and are involved a range of school activities and events. Parents also attend school events such as school concerts and sports days. Parents readily volunteer to assist pupils in activities such as swimming, pony-riding and school outings. Parents attend meetings in relation to the development and review of their children’s Individual Education Plans (IEPs) at the beginning and end of the school year. At the pre-evaluation meeting with parent representatives, satisfaction was expressed in relation to the opportunities afforded to parents to contribute to their children’s IEPs. However the parent representatives expressed disappointment at the infrequency or absence of multi-disciplinary support for pupils. They also expressed a view that more time in school be spent on academic areas such as reading and Mathematics. Discussion took place with regard to the challenges for the school in managing the complex needs of some pupils. A positive relationship is evident between the parents’ association and the school. The parents’ association has contributed substantial funds to the school in recent years through the organisation of successful fund-raising events and contributions by individual donors.
A fast-friends programme is in place that links pupils in St. Raphael’s School with transition pupils in a nearby post-primary school. Pupils from both schools visit each other’s schools on alternate weeks and engage in joint learning activities through games, sport, arts education and ICT. Links have also been established with a local primary school through joint participation in visual arts projects and exhibitions.
Teachers and SNAs demonstrate high expectations in respect of pupils’ behaviour and are vigilant in implementing systematic behaviour management strategies. Visual schedules, work systems, token economies, environmental manipulation, reinforcement of positive behaviour, choice of activities, and meaningful curricular activities succeed in creating a secure and affirmative learning and teaching environment. Pupils are encouraged to interact appropriately with each other, members of staff and visitors to the school. Group-activities are well managed and effectively develop turn-taking skills while promoting pupils’ awareness and appreciation of each other. Transitions are clearly signalled and augmented by visual cues, prompting systems and songs of reference. Attention is successfully directed towards promoting pupils’ self-esteem and cultivating pupils’ pride in their achievements. A weekly whole-school assembly period is used to positively reinforce pupils’ curricular and behavioural accomplishments. Pupils’ self-confidence and willingness to interact with the inspectors during the evaluation is particularly noteworthy.
School rules are displayed in the assembly area and in some classrooms. Staff members are commended for the manner in which they consistently direct pupils’ attention to the school rules through verbal and gestural prompting that uses the LÁMH manual signing system. The code of behaviour has been compiled with reference to the Education Act, 1998 and Circular 20/90. Reference should also be made to the Education Welfare Act, 2000 in the code of behaviour. It is further recommended that a whole-school approach is adopted to recording the antecedent, behaviour and consequences of behaviour in order to assist in the analysis of the communicative nature of behaviour. The manner in which the school positively accommodates the behaviour of pupils stemming from a special educational needs as observed during the evaluation should be included in the school plan.
The school plan articulates a laudable concern to create a learning and teaching environment that enables each pupil to live, learn and grow to his or her utmost potential. Particular emphasis is placed on preparing pupils to participate as fully as possible within their local communities and society in general. The school’s ethos is informed by the qualities of care, compassion and cherishing the dignity of each individual associated with the Order of St. John of God.
A range of relevant organisational and curricular school policies has been beneficially formulated. Organisational school policies variously refer to admissions/enrolment, assessment, code of behaviour, adult bullying/harassment, challenging behaviour, intimate and personal care, substance use, waste management, infection control, clinical waste, manual handling and internet use. Specific procedures for the resolution of complaints require elucidation and the admissions/enrolment should refer to Circular 22/02. Attention is constructively directed to Health and Safety issues. Staff safety representatives are appointed from among the members of the school staff and the safety policy is particularly comprehensive.
Curricular plans reflect a developmental, spiral and thematic approach to learning and teaching. Reference is constructively made to the Primary School Curriculum and the NCCA Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities. Aims, objectives and a brief summary of content are outlined for each curriculum area. The identification of teaching methods and approaches and further delineation of the curriculum for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities and pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities would assist in providing guidance for staff on the implementation of the content and principles of the curriculum. The school plan refers to the school as catering for pupils aged five to eighteen years. It is recommended that this is adjusted to four to eighteen years to reflect the requirements of the Rules for National Schools. It is further recommended that arrangements for the dissemination of the school plan to parents are articulated in the school plan. Reference should also be made to the ratification of all existing policies by the board of management and provisional dates for policy review should be specified.
A child protection policy has been developed and is available in the school plan. Attention should be directed towards clarifying the appropriate steps taken by the board of management and staff in the development of 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). It is recommended that explicit evidence is provided confirming that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. Details of the designated liaison person and deputy designated liaison person should also be provided.
All teachers plan for their work on a long-term and short-term basis with reference to the strand and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum and the Draft Curriculum Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities. Long-term planning includes reference to aims, content, teaching methodologies, resources, integration and linkage, differentiation and assessment approaches. Short-term monthly planning refers to the strand and strand units of the curriculum, objectives, activities, outcomes and differentiation. A whole-school approach to curriculum planning is evident and links are evident between the content of the school plan and individual teachers’ planning. It is recommended that short-term planning is delineated in fortnightly terms and that monthly records of work, reflecting curricular areas, are compiled and retained by the principal. It is further recommended that classroom planning is adjusted following the identification of teaching methods and approaches and delineation of the curriculum for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities and pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities. Adopting a whole-school approach that considers differentiation in terms of content, process and outcome is also suggested.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
In general, the pupils have a positive attitude to learning and engage readily in their assigned tasks. The concern for staff to provide the pupils with challenging and stimulating learning experiences is evident, and the pupils appear to enjoy most of their learning experiences. Directing further attention to curricular differentiation would significantly enhance all learning experiences for pupils. The pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills are consolidated and reinforced during focused learning and teaching sessions and incidentally throughout the school day. A commendable emphasis is successfully placed on the development of pupils’ functional, social and adaptive skills. The pupils are encouraged to take an active role in their own learning and are provided with immediate and relevant feedback by staff following task completion. The time allocated to the different curricular areas requires significant adjustment in order to ensure that all pupils have access to and benefit from a broad, balanced and relevant range of curricular experiences. It is advised that when drawing up their time tables, teachers’ should refer explicitly to the subject areas of the Primary School Curriculum. Where post-primary programmes are provided, the relevant post-primary subject titles should be used.
It is stated in the school policy that the overall aim of the language and communication curriculum is that the pupils should be able to understand and to be understood. The teachers and SNAs endeavour to create a communication-friendly environment in the school, where the pupils are respected as communicators with a purpose. Visual schedules are used effectively in some classes to signal and guide the pupils through the daily programme of activities. Pictures, posters and charts in the classrooms and general areas of the school help to create a print-rich environment. The teachers endeavour to stimulate pupils’ desire to communicate, to indicate their needs and to make choices. A range of communication devices is available to augment verbal and signed communication approaches.
The acquisition of oral language is a key aim for all pupils and the teachers conscientiously attend to the promotion of pupils’ receptive and expressive language skills. Augmentative communication approaches such as the LÁMH signing system and PECS are used in some classes to enhance communication, particularly between staff and pupils. The adoption of a whole-school approach to the use of augmentative communication systems would further assist in developing pupils’ communicative competencies. Formal training for staff members who have not completed training in these augmentative communication approaches would be very beneficial for learning and teaching. Staff members frequently work individually with pupils to advance their vocabularies and communication skills. Group activities at circle time provide pupils with opportunities to develop self awareness and awareness of their classmates. Pupils also engage in activities related to the time of day, the day of the week, the season and the weather. Circle time provides a suitable forum for the reading and dramatisation of stories. Staff should ensure that the activities presented at circle time are age-appropriate and that there is continuity and progression for the pupils as they progress through the school. A range of foundation and emergent reading activities that is usually appropriate for the abilities and needs of the pupils is implemented in all classes. These activities include labelling objects, completing jigsaws and form-boards, and vocabulary work using pictures and photographs. In some classes, usually involving the more able pupils, certain pupils use individual readers that they take home for reading each evening. In writing, activities are provided for pupils to develop fine motor control and to use an appropriate pencil grip. Suitable early writing activities such as tracing, colouring, and training in letter formation are implemented. Opportunities are provided for the more able pupils to write their news and stories. Good practice in relation to telling and extending pupils’ news was observed in some classes. There is scope for development in the teaching of reading and writing, particularly to the more able pupils. It is recommended that, in general, these pupils should be provided with more formal, regular teaching of reading and writing. This would involve, for example more opportunities to engage in developmental programmes of reading and writing, the learning of social sight vocabulary, the use of language experience approaches, more systematic daily support for and monitoring of pupils’ individualised reading, and involvement in a wider and richer range of experiences in writing.
Learning activities are carefully structured and beneficially employ concrete and age-appropriate materials, which succeed in maintaining pupils’ attention to mathematical processes. Suitable focus is placed on the development of early mathematical activities and provides pupils with opportunities to engage in classifying, matching, comparing and ordering activities. Attention is directed to the development of the pupils’ understanding of spatial awareness and the shape and positioning of their body and body parts. The concepts of object permanence and cause and effect are creatively addressed, and pupils are alerted to visual, aural and tactile patterns in their immediate environment. The pupils display a good knowledge and understanding of mathematical concepts and skills commensurate with their needs, abilities and developmental levels. Curricular integration and linkage is widely used to reinforce concepts and skill development. Pupils’ appreciation and awareness of the functional uses of mathematics within the natural environment is particularly noteworthy. Number rhymes are constructively used in some classes to reinforce pupils’ awareness of numerals, number sequence and recognition. Compiling a resource bank of number rhymes with multi-sensory objects of reference would assist in adopting a whole-school approach to the teaching of number rhymes. The use of visual time-tables and individual schedules increases pupils’ familiarity with the concept of time and sequencing. Providing pupils with access to a purposefully created tuckshop effectively links mathematics to experiential learning contexts. It is advised that a whole-school approach to the acquisition of mathematical language is developed, and that board games based on the strands and strand units of the curriculum are introduced to further consolidate concepts.
Pupils’ sense of identity within the family, school and community is consistently fostered and developed during the teaching of History. Seasonal events, special dates and events of local, national and international significance are acknowledged and celebrated. Pupils’ understanding of time and chronology is commendable and appropriately augmented by the use of visual timetables and schedules, photographs and classroom routines. The creation of personal photographic histories for some pupils is effective in linking continuity and change to pupils’ experiences. It is recommended that consideration is given to exposing pupils to a selection of myths and legends and using a range of historical artefacts in the teaching of history.
Pupils demonstrate a praiseworthy knowledge and awareness of the classroom environment, school building and campus. Attention is directed towards developing pupils’ perception of the position and interconnectedness of objects in space. Particular attention is directed towards providing pupils with opportunities to become familiar with their local environment and curricular-linked school outings effectively promote and encourage the social inclusion of pupils. Pupils’ sense of belonging is effectively cultivated, which impacts positively on the development of their social competence and self-esteem. Mapping and graphicacy skills are developed through the use of bricks, three-dimensional play materials, play-mats, simulated imaginative journeys, and photographs.
Seasonal displays, friezes, and daily language lessons are effective in alerting pupils to changes in their natural environment. The pupils are encouraged to notice environmental colours, shapes and textures. A designated adapted outdoor area has been created to enable pupils to engage in gardening activities. Practical investigation is effectively used to develop pupils’ observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation and analysis skills. Mirrors are used to good effect to encourage pupils to attend to and identify their own unique physical characteristics. A wide variety of playground equipment is available and enables pupils to experience a diversity of movement and position sensations.
Pupils in a number of classes access a home-economics programme, which includes cookery, housecraft and needlecraft on a weekly basis. Appropriate equipment is available and space is optimised to ensure suitable implementation of the programme. The programme is planned in consultation with the relevant class teachers. Pupils’ attention is directed to routines designed to develop safe and hygienic practices. Interactive discussion is used effectively to check understanding and reinforce pupils’ learning. Modules from the FETAC programme are currently being modified with a view to being used to plan, monitor and assess pupils’ progress in this area. The home-economics programme could be further extended for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities through providing a focus on awakening and stimulating pupils’ sense of smell, taste, sight and touch.
The aim of the programme in Visual Arts is to help the pupils to make connections between the imaginative and real worlds and to organise and express ideas, feelings and experiences in visual form. A broad range of activities, consistent with the strands of the Primary School Curriculum is offered to the pupils. Attractive examples of the pupils’ artwork are displayed in the classrooms and in general areas of the school. A commendable emphasis is placed by all teachers on affirming the individuality and creativity of each pupil’s work. Work in Visual Arts frequently arises from school, national and religious seasons and celebrations. The pupils’ activities in Visual Arts are often linked thematically with other aspects of the curriculum. The lessons in Visual Arts that were observed during the evaluation were well organised. Appropriate assistance was offered to individual pupils to support their participation in activities and to enable them to complete their compositions. Individualised and group activities were organised appropriately.
Music is effectively used to stimulate communication by exposing pupils to a variety of musical genres. Pupils are provided with opportunities to respond to a range of sounds in their immediate environment and respond positively to a selection of familiar songs and rhymes. Due attention is directed to integrating music across the curriculum, which was observed to enhance pupils’ listening skills, increase their attention span, develop receptive and expressive language and contribute to the development of understanding. Songs and music of reference are constructively employed and pupils were observed to derive particular benefit from the use of this technique. The Soundbeam programme is used effectively to enable pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities to exercise control over their environment and use the movement of their body parts to create music. Pupils were observed to derive exceptional benefit and enjoyment from engaging in this programme. Weekly group music sessions promote pupils’ awareness of each other and encourage communication and social interaction. A number of class teachers are to be commended for the manner in which they have identified pupils’ particular musical preferences and have incorporated them in their daily schedules. A wide selection of percussion instruments is available and used innovatively in the implementation of the music curriculum. Introducing the work of renowned composers and a selection of age-appropriate songs for older pupils would greatly enrich the music curriculum.
Drama lessons provide opportunities for pupils to respond to sensory stimuli, to develop a sense of make-believe, and to experience and play in role in a drama. Staff members make positive use of audio and visual stimuli, and sensory stories and presentations to take pupils on “trips” to imaginary places. The pupils also participate in an annual Christmas concert that is attended by parents. Commendable efforts are made by school staff to involve all pupils in some aspect of musical or dramatic performance in accordance with their abilities. The activities in Drama are linked frequently to the programmes in Music, Language and Communication and Social Personal Health Education.
Commendable emphasis is placed on the participation of all pupils in a wide-ranging Physical Education (PE) programme. Attractive and adapted resources are used to stimulate pupils’ interest in physical activity and to maximise all pupils’ participation. The lessons that were observed included appropriate warm up and cool down routines. Safety and hygiene issues were well managed. It is clear from observation that the pupils derive suitable relaxation and considerable enjoyment from the activities provided. The school has access to a number of facilities on site, including a playground area, a large games hall, a fitness suite and a swimming pool. Instructors in the fitness suite and swimming pool support the delivery of the PE programme and collaborate effectively with the teachers and SNAs. The hall and fitness room are used constructively to facilitate the pupils’ access to physical education activities. The teachers and SNAs are commended for the attention directed to the organisation of swimming lessons and for the manner in which the pupils’ participation and safety is prioritised. One-to-one support is provided for individual pupils as required. Staff members carefully monitor the pupils’ progress and achievement. Further individualisation of the swimming programme for pupils with physical disabilities, including the setting of individualised targets in conjunction with a physiotherapist would maximise the benefits of the swimming experience for these pupils. Pupils also attend horse-riding lessons in local equestrian centres. Staff members indicate that the pupils enjoy and benefit from these lessons. Sound beam technology is used innovatively to enable pupils with limited mobility to experience dance movements and to promote their interaction with features of their immediate environment. Elements of the PE programme reinforce and develop learning in other curricular areas such as Social, Personal and Health Education, Language and Communication, and Mathematics. The pupils are provided with ample opportunities to develop positive attitudes and habits conducive to active and healthy living. It is evident from the lessons observed that all teaching staff, SNAs and instructors are strongly committed to the development of pupils’ self esteem, independence and social skills through an active and varied PE programme.
The programme in Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) aims to help the pupils to develop independence to a degree that they can manage their own lives to the greatest extent possible and interact with others in the immediate and wider community. Suitable themes under the strands myself, myself and others and myself and the wider world are presented. A whole-school theme linked to SPHE is adopted by all classes and is consistently reinforced on a termly basis. The pupils engage in programmes related to self-care, grooming, self awareness, safety, making choices and decision-making. Specific activities are provided to help pupils relate to others and to gain an understanding of the roles that people perform in the wider community. Circle-time provides possibilities for sharing, listening and turn-taking. The school tuckshop is used effectively on one day per week to promote the pupils’ independence, social skills and healthy eating. The pupils are taken on social outings to places of interest outside the school and this provides a means for integrating the school with the wider community. The social outings offer opportunities to extend the pupils’ competencies in relation to living in the wider world, behaving appropriately in public places, shopping, and using facilities such as the post office and restaurants. For most classes, teaching and learning in SPHE is linked thematically with other aspects of the curriculum. For example, staff members make effective use of feeding programmes, and programmes related to personal hygiene and self-awareness to create opportunities to learn about body parts, to bring pupils to a deeper understanding of their feelings, to indicate choices and preferences, and to interact and communicate with others.
Through the housecraft programme, the pupils learn the basic skills of food preparation and produce simple dishes and meals. Elementary kitchen and food preparation skills are effectively developed and the pupils learn to use kitchen utensils appropriately. The programme also aims to teach pupils how to behave in a socially acceptable manner at mealtimes. The pupils gain greater awareness of the surroundings in which they live, work and play. They develop an understanding of the importance of taking care of their immediate environment, including cleaning and tidying rooms in the house and the storage of clothes and personal belongings.
An assessment policy has been developed and is available in the school plan. Annual reports in respect of each pupil are compiled by individual teachers and detail a summary of formal and informal information gathered, while also allowing for other additional information and comments to be included. It would be beneficial to include details of pupils’ progress in relation to individual curricular areas in this report. Pupils’ progress is variously recorded through summative and formative statements based on teacher-observation, photographs, retention of samples of pupils’ work and behaviour checklists. A particularly positive practice was observed in one class of compiling individual pupil histories using photographs and summative statements. Developing a whole-school approach to recording pupils’ progress requires consideration. It is also recommended that the school’s assessment policy is further developed to include curricular-related checklists, the extension of pupil histories to all classes, common summative and formative procedures and coding of pupils’ work samples.
Psychological assessment is provided for all pupils approximately one year before they are due to leave St Raphael’s School and constitutes a constructive source of information to guide pupils’ transfer to adult services.
The individual planning process has been advanced throughout the school in recent years. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is now developed for each pupil in conjunction with their parents. Mid-year and end-of-year IEP reviews are carried out. Each IEP includes relevant details, strengths and needs, targets, possible resources/techniques, teaching strategies and contributions from other professionals. In order to enhance the IEP process further, it is recommended that an educational profile is compiled in respect of each pupil, targets are stated with greater specificity and a review date is clearly identified. Due attention is directed to the need for clear and structured transition to post-school placements and learning and teaching programmes specifically address this area. At the beginning of pupils’ final year, the pupils’ transition is discussed with parents at the IEP planning meeting. In the final term of the school year, a full psychological assessment is undertaken and the class teacher prepares a comprehensive educational report. Both the pupil and family are informed of the options available in appropriate services.
Multi-sensory approaches to learning and teaching that utilise pupils’ visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile learning modalities are constructively adopted. Hierarchical prompting mechanisms that include physical, verbal, and gestural strategies are used successfully in scaffolding pupils’ learning. Elements of the TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and relatedCommunication-handicapped Children) programme, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), direct teaching, task analysis, activity learning, constructivist learning, individual, group and class teaching, circle-time, the LÁMH manual signing system, electronic communication devices and strategies of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) are constructively used in the implementation of the curriculum. Particular emphasis is placed on the use of a clear and unambiguous language of instruction and pupils’ response time is carefully considered. Social and communication deficits and rigidity of thought and behaviours associated with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) are consistently addressed during curricular activities. The inclusion of pupils with ASDs with their non-ASD peers is promoted and encouraged. It is recommended that the positive and proactive manner in which the school accommodates the learning and teaching needs of pupils with ASDs is documented in the school plan.
The school’s mission statement, ethos, practice and procedures encourage, facilitate and support the meaningful participation of all pupils in all aspects of the school. Diversity and individual difference are celebrated and the principles of equality permeate all of the work of the school. The needs of pupils’ are sensitively addressed and a concern to collaborate and co-ordinate with relevant community services and professionals is evident. The school links with the catering department of St. John of God to provide pupils with a hot dinner on a daily basis. In order to further contribute to the existing intercultural school environment, it is suggested that the Guidelines on Intercultural Education in the Primary and Post-Primary Schools are consulted and that materials developed by Integrate Ireland Language and Training are considered.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Whole School Evaluation was a very positive experience for our school, staff and 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 School Day has been re-organised according to the terms of Circular 11/95. The starting date is the 31 March 2008.
· An action plan has been drawn up in order to implement and develop the findings and
recommendations of the inspection.