An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Naomh Pól Special School
Beech Hill, Montenotte, Cork
Uimhir rolla: 19203S
Date of inspection: 09 March 2009
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of St. Paul’s Special 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 parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St. Paul’s is a co-educational special school that is designated for pupils with moderate, severe or profound general learning disability (GLD). There have been a number of changes in the educational provision since the last tuairisc scoile was written in 2002. At that time a number of classes were located on different sites on the campus which led to challenges for access to shared resources, staff cohesion and routine communication. The provision of a single storey building, ‘Hillcrest’, to the rear of the main school has meant that all the classes are now in close proximity. This development has enhanced the availability of upgraded facilities to the pupil cohort and improved the access to collegiate support for staff members.
The school is under the shared patronage of COPE Foundation and the Bishop of Cork and Ross. The management and staff of the school work diligently to implement the stated mission statement which is to value each individual and strive to improve their quality of life by developing their confidence and skills to lead as independent a life as possible. The daily life of the school is characterised by a shared vision that is committed to maximising each pupil’s potential while recognising their individual preferences, personality and personal choices. The school provides a broad, balanced and enriching curriculum that is differentiated to the appropriate level for each pupil’s interest and abilities.
There was a slight decline in the enrolment of pupils with moderate GLD in recent years and an increase in the enrolment of pupils with severe to profound GLD. There are currently nine classes for pupils with severe to profound GLD and seven classes for pupils with moderate GLD. The school recognises that a range of abilities presents in a number of classes and a differentiated curriculum is developed accordingly. There has been an increase in applications to the school for all categories of pupils but the lack of available classroom accommodation restricts the further expansion of classes. Currently there are ninety-five pupils on roll who attend the school from a wide catchment area that stretches up to fifty kilometres in some directions. Eight pupils attending the school live in residential accommodation supported by COPE while the majority of pupils come to the school on a daily basis on transport funded by the Department of Education and Science. Attendance at school is a difficulty for some pupils. Nineteen pupils were absent for more than thirty days during the school year 2007-2008. As many of the pupils attending the classes with severe to profound GLD have health problems or serious additional conditions, it is to be expected that some pupils are unable to attend school every day. Regrettably, a number of pupils have passed away in recent times. This is a source of great sorrow to the school community whenever it occurs.
St. Paul’s is well staffed by an administrative principal, sixteen teachers who are assigned to class groups and a full time ex-quota teaching post currently used as a resource teacher. In addition, the deputy principal post has been sanctioned on an administrative level for the current school year. There are thirty nine Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) assigned throughout the school and a school secretary provides valuable administrative support. The school and grounds are well maintained by a caretaker with the assistance of maintenance staff from COPE Foundation. The school has the additional teaching expertise of a P.E. teacher for two days per week and an art teacher for one day per week. The major funding for these specialist teachers comes from COPE Foundation and supplements the available grant for PE tuition. Music therapy input is available to the school for three days per week funded through school funds.
The multi-disciplinary team support for psychology, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social work and nursing care are generously provided through COPE Foundation. Strong collaboration is in evidence between the school staff and all members of the multi-disciplinary team.
In March 2009, a whole-school evaluation (WSE) based on a model of team inspection was conducted in St Paul’s School. The board of management, parents, staff and pupils willingly participated in the WSE and contributed in a positive manner to the process.
The board of management adopts a proactive role in the management of the school and is highly effective. The board meets once per school term and more frequently when the need arises. The members of the board are allocated specific tasks and the board is provided with informative regular reports by the principal. There is close and successful collaboration with COPE Foundation and COPE provides generous and substantial financial support to the school. During the inspection period it was evident that the local arrangements regarding the management of school finances are beneficial to the school.
An excellent working relationship has been developed by the principal with the chairperson and with members of the board of management. The principal delivers a routine report to the board on the work of the school that includes administrative and care aspects as well as elements relating to the curriculum.
In recent times the board has been involved in the refurbishment of the existing school buildings and the procurement of additional accommodation and the results of their efforts in creating a bright, attractive, comfortable and well resourced learning environment are highly impressive. More recently the business of the board has been concerned with the ratification of various whole-school plans and policies. The board has been appropriately involved in the development of the school plan and a number of important policies have been devised including a policy on partnership with parents/guardians, a policy for Special Needs Assistants and a policy on the transition of pupils to adult services. A range of procedures for the effective management of the school on a day-to day basis has been put in place and the school plan is available for viewing in the principal’s office, the staffroom and in each classroom. In line with the impressive work that has been carried out in the development and implementation of the school plan, review dates should now be agreed for a periodic review of the various policies, strategies and procedures that are set out in the school plan.
An admissions and enrolment policy is in place although the reference that refers to the possible deferral of enrolment of pupils with special educational needs should now be reviewed to ensure that the policy is in keeping with equality legislation and with the spirit of the Education Act.
According to the school’s Code of Behaviour, the school undertakes to act in accordance with guidelines issued by the National Educational Welfare Board. According to the legislation the school now needs to consider further what is regarded as acceptable standards of pupil behaviour, and ought to look at the balanced procedures that may be followed when pupil behaviour becomes a matter of concern. In addressing this issue the school will bear in mind the level of pupils’ disabilities, his/her level of intellectual functioning and contextual factors including intentionality on the part of the pupil.
In meetings with the inspection team the board expressed a high level of satisfaction in the way the curriculum is delivered by an able and committed staff, the achievement of the pupils, the high regard in which the school is held in the community and the close positive links that exist between the school and COPE Foundation. Concern was expressed by the members of the board in relation to a variety of issues. These include the growing administrative workload for the principal of the school to manage a large staff cohort that includes teachers and special needs assistants. The appointment of an administrative deputy principal post to the end of the current school year was seen by the board as a considerable assistance to meeting the needs of the school. It was the expressed opinion of the board that such a post would be required on a more permanent footing, given the size of the school and the complexity of the educational provision. The board was engaged on an annual basis in providing an extension of education for the month of July for the classes for severe to profound GLD. This extension of schooling was perceived as a highly complex operation involving approximately thirty-five different staff and an additional responsibility for the school. There were eight classes in total operating last year. The board considered that the organisation of maintenance work is difficult as the school building is in operation for much of the summer. Among the ongoing concerns of the board are securing and maintaining adequate resources for the school in the future. A particular concern of the board of management centres on making appropriate arrangements for the transition of pupils to the next stage beyond school.
The appointment of a new principal teacher since the last inspection has given new impetus to the school whilst preserving and developing its existing strengths. The principal displays a very high degree of dedication, commitment and professionalism in the performance of her role. Her extensive experience in curricular development for pupils with complex needs have been of considerable benefit to the school. She has developed a very positive working relationship with the chairperson and members of the Board of Management. The principal is conscious of the valuable contribution made by the multi-disciplinary team to the educational provision within the school and liaises constructively with all the supportive disciplines. She is very appreciative of the professionalism displayed by the school staff and she has succeeded in promoting a shared vision for the school that emphasises learning and teaching as its key focus. The principal is conscious of the need for the school to self-review and to evaluate its own practices on a regular basis. To that end, on a recent school planning day, the staff developed an action plan for identified targets with realistic timeframes.
The principal is ably supported by a dedicated and committed deputy principal and together they provide a very clear educational direction for the school. They provide strong leadership and maintain a clear oversight of the work of the school. They share management responsibilities with the other members of the in-school management team and they co-operate closely in the organisation of the work of the school and provide a dedicated service to the pupils.
The in-school management team comprises a principal, deputy principal, assistant principal and six special duties posts. The deputy principal post has been sanctioned on an administrative level to the end of the current school year. The in-school management team meet termly, or more often if the need arises. These meetings are used to plan curricular strategies for the school, to review existing policies and to coordinate various activities. They provide feedback to the rest of the staff as to the business of these meetings. Responsibilities are reviewed annually in accordance with Circular 07/03. The school engages in collaborative procedures to identify the priority areas when reviewing the responsibilities.
The in-school management team are enthusiastic regarding their responsibilities and there was clear evidence during the evaluation of the benefits accrued to the school staff and pupils from the execution of the duties. Outline duties regarding the posts are included in the policy section of the school plan. In general, the administrative duties have been clearly identified in detail and include such areas as co-ordination of religion, assessment, resources, ICT and Visual Arts. A minimum of one curricular area has been allocated to each post holder.
The pastoral duties are universally referred to for all the posts as ‘encouraging and supporting teachers’ in the areas of responsibility. There are also many areas in which several members of staff contribute with pastoral work and this provides experience in leadership amongst staff members. These initiatives include the production of newsletters, participation in Special Olympics events outside of school time, linkages with transition year and third level students among others. Other pastoral elements include the organisation of social events such as graduations, parent/school relationships and debriefing after critical incidents.
The teaching staff is deployed in accordance with the current pupil-teacher ratios for the particular categories of intellectual disability in the school. There are currently seven classes assigned for pupils with moderate GLD and nine classes for pupils with severe to profound GLD. A full time ex-quota teacher is currently deployed to resource duties with various groups and individuals in relation to literacy, numeracy, social skills, behavioural support and SPHE. All the teachers provide timetables for their class group. There is some variation in the level of detail in these timetables where some teachers indicate additional organisational elements including pupil groups or staff support. There is some variation in the terms used to refer to curricular areas. The school might consider directly linking the subject areas of the curriculum to the timetables to ensure the appropriate balance across the subject areas of the curriculum.
The school staff has the opportunity to avail of a range of in-service courses supported by the Special Education Support Service (SESS) and Cope Foundation. Some of the recently completed courses include manual handling, Lámh sign language, CPR and courses on understanding and responding to challenging behaviour. A record is maintained of the staff who have availed of these courses to ensure that places that arise are offered to new staff or to those staff who may need to refresh their techniques.
The school is allocated multi-disciplinary support by COPE Foundation. The multi-disciplinary team includes nursing, speech and language therapy, psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and social work. Input from the behavioural support team is available if requested. One nurse is assigned to support the pupils with severe to profound disability, while another nurse supports the other pupils and provides additional support to two other special schools in the vicinity.
Thirty-nine special needs assistants (SNAs) are deployed throughout the school with seventeen of these posts assigned to individual pupils. There is a high level of care needs in most of the classes in the school with particularly complex needs among pupils in the classes for severe to profound GLD. The SNAs provide discreet support to pupils who require additional supervision or assistance. The quality of the support provided by the SNAs is admirable. Many of the SNAs display talents in a wide range of areas and the sharing of these skills constantly enhance the classroom experiences. Many of the SNAs are involved in generously supporting after-school activities and frequently volunteer for weekend events that enrich the pupils’ lives.
The quality of accommodation within the school has considerably improved since the last report. All the classes are now contained within the main school building and ‘Hillcrest’ to the rear. Eight of the classes have small base classrooms with a shared area between each set of two. The other classrooms are a uniform size and the new classrooms in Hillcrest are of a generous size. There have been modifications in the school accommodation in recent years. These include the provision of a new foyer and lift; the moving of the staffroom; the creation of a small music therapy room; the creation of a resource room; the provision of a small kiln; the creation of a school library and the provision of accommodation for multi-disciplinary team members.
The classrooms are adequately furnished with well-maintained school furniture. The range of specialist furniture is particularly evident in the classes for pupils with severe to profound GLD. The provision of specialist furniture for pupils with physical disabilities has received considerable attention from the occupational therapists, often in liaison with the physiotherapists. Specialist furniture ranges from specialist wheelchairs to supported seating systems, rise and fall tables, standing frames, walking systems and mobile hoists.
The staff strives to provide a visually attractive and stimulating educational environment. The communal areas in the foyers and corridors are used to display collective art work on a thematic basis. The classroom and office doors clearly display photographs of the staff and pupils in their assigned areas. There is a variety of large and small educational equipment available for use throughout the school. Considerable investment has been made in resources which are maintained in the shared communal teaching areas. These include P.E. equipment, craft room materials, home economics room, music therapy resources, resource room, literacy materials, the school library and Snoezelen environments. The teachers and special needs assistants have assembled an extensive array of useful and relevant materials for use in the classrooms.
A valuable resource library of materials and literature of professional interest to educators has been assembled. The resources are categorised by subject area and are available on loan to any class. The managing of this lending facility and the maintenance of the catalogue are part of the responsibilities attached to a special duties post. Areas for additional resource provision are identified and funding is sought from the board to support the acquisition of resources.
The school has actively pursued a number of linkage projects with local schools. Selected schools were approached regarding the establishment of a linkage either due to their proximity or for other positive reasons. The most successful and enduring links are with two post-primary schools and three primary schools. The success of these links is due in part to the participant teachers in the mainstream schools becoming involved in the projects through their personal interest or family experiences. The pupils derive considerable educational and social benefits from working together on art and cookery activities, participating in social skills groups and games. Each year, pupils in St Paul’s make items for a Craft Fair that is held in one of the linked post-primary schools and they have the opportunity to enjoy the same mini-enterprise experience as their age peers.
At Christmas time 2008, the whole-school integrated their art work to illustrate the story of Christmas. A cross curricular trail was established through the school with various multi-media art displays. The trail was open to other schools on the campus as well as families and friends and it proved a very popular initiative for encouraging people to visit the school.
St. Paul’s School pays an annual subvention to Special Olympics in order for their pupils to participate in the annual programme of events. The staff of the school fundraises privately to support this link as they value the benefits that participation in the games can bring to their pupils. Over seventy pupils of St Paul’s participated in a wide range of Special Olympics events. Nine athletes were selected to represent Munster in the All Ireland Games and athletes were selected previously for the World Games in Dublin in 2003. Staff members are commended for their generosity and enthusiasm in supporting these activities. The staff members are universally supportive of initiatives that will benefit the lives of the pupils.
The school regards pupils’ families as pivotal partners in the education process and endeavours to involve them in an active manner throughout the school year. A beautiful perpetual trophy donated by one family is presented to the pupil who makes the greatest personal strides during the year. Regular communication is maintained between teachers and parents through the use of school newsletters and home-school diaries. Two parent-teacher meetings are held annually to establish Individual Education Plans and to form a consensus approach to priority aims between home and school. The school has provided a range of options to encourage parents to become involved in the school such as class coffee mornings, art trails, talks by multi-disciplinary team members and meetings to elect Board representatives. As the school has a wide catchment area, some parents find it difficult to travel to scheduled meetings due to work and family commitments. Despite repeated efforts by the school, a Parents’ Association with formal links to the National Parents’ Council has not been established.
The mission statement for the school expresses the aspiration to value each individual and strive to improve the quality of each person’s life and to enable each pupil to acquire appropriate skills and knowledge. The teachers and SNAs demonstrate high expectations in regard to pupils’ behaviour. Some of the class teachers have developed class rules that are appropriate to the pupils in their care. Compliant on-task behaviour is positively reinforced and meaningful curricular activities succeed in creating an affirmative learning and teaching environment. Each pupil in the school is encouraged to take an active part in lessons. Praise is used effectively and classroom interaction is generally of a high quality. Group activities are well managed and effectively develop turn-taking skills while promoting pupils’ awareness and appreciation of their classmates. Pupils respond willingly and with enthusiasm. The rare difficulties which arise in regard to pupil behaviour are managed very effectively by experienced, capable and sympathetic staff. A range of strategies are used throughout the school including distraction and redirection techniques, star charts, choice of favourite activity and tangible rewards.
A wide range of carefully considered organisational policies and procedures has been developed and ratified by the board of management. The school plan includes policies on admissions and enrolment, behaviour, safety, anti-bullying, sexual harassment and adult bullying, assessment and recording, gender equality, in-school management, intimate care, special needs assistants, school links and staff internet acceptable use policy. There are also policy statements on areas such as confidentiality, partnership with parents, parental complaints, transition to adult services and procedures on accidents and incidents during break / lunch times. It is noted that the policy of intimate care of pupils is linked to the child protection guidelines and that the more sensitive areas of the relationships and sexuality policy remain to be addressed.
In March 2008, the school used its planning day to examine the strengths and needs of the school. An action plan for 08-09 was developed based on the identified needs. Practical difficulties being encountered and areas for development were identified with targets and time-frames. In future self evaluation exercises, the school might refer to the DES document, ‘Looking at Our School’ as a framework document to evaluate practice. The curricular sections of the school plan contain references to the spiral approach to the curriculum in the various strands. The curricular plan for SPHE was praiseworthy in respect of the particular attention given to the spiral approach. The inclusion in the plan of an outline of the teaching strategies and methodologies to be used for the various subjects, particularly in the area of language and mathematics should be considered. This could include guidelines for staff on the consistent use throughout the school of methodologies related to objects of reference, Lámh sign language and the Picture Exchange Communication System. An outline of suitable formative, summative and diagnostic assessment strategies, could be beneficially included in each of the curricular sections of the school plan.
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.
The commitment and teamwork of the staff are evident in their involvement in school planning and decision-making. A climate of mutual support and a spirit of collegiality are also noticeable features of the culture of the school. Depending on each pupil’s ability the teachers follow the curriculum guidelines from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment for pupils with moderate or severe/profound general learning disabilities. Teachers’ plans variously indicate a developmental, spiral and thematic approach to learning and teaching. Teachers’ plans include provision for individual needs and differentiation. A number of common planning templates have been devised. Pupils follow a combination of programmes, some that are common to the group and others that are individualised. Time allocation to subject areas is appropriate and classroom planning reflects the breadth and balance between the strands of the curriculum. All class teachers provide planning on a monthly basis for all subject areas of the curriculum. It is recommended that short term planning is delineated in fortnightly schemes in order to comply with regulations of the Department of Education and Science.
Information and Communication Technology including computers, digital cameras and electronic switches and communication devices are used very effectively by some teachers to motivate pupils, to reinforce learning and as a device for providing written planning. The feature of concurrent recording was observed in most classes regarding pupils’ progress on individual objectives. Some teachers constructively include the next incremental step that will be the consequence of such progress.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Teachers are clear about the learning objectives and they organise interesting learning activities. Teachers prepare well: lessons are well resourced with clear explanations and effective presentation. Lessons are well structured, well paced and include opportunities for whole-class and individual work. The work is differentiated according to pupils’ abilities and the work in core subjects is often assessed on a concurrent basis. Transitions between subjects are well managed and song-singing is often used to signal changes in the school day.
Tá cead ag na daltaí a fhreastalaíonn ar an scoil seo, gan Gaeilge a dhéanamh, de bharr míchumais ghinearálta foghlama.
(The pupils in this school present with general learning disabilities and are entitled to an exemption from studying Irish).
The school plan clearly establishes the main aim as improving each pupil’s receptive and expressive communication and language skills. The school staff creates a variety of structured opportunities to promote a communication-friendly environment in the school. Opportunities for language development and communication are exploited through the use of news sessions, circle time, language games, sensory stories, large books, book bags, drama and song. Opportunities are created to stimulate the pupils’ desire to communicate in order for them to make choices and indicate their preferences and needs.
In classes for pupils with complex needs, the staff uses a range of approaches to enhance the pupils’ comprehension and participation in language lessons. Objects of reference are combined with language activities to illustrate the themes, text or content. Pupils are supported to smell, touch and manipulate materials that are connected to the story or language experience. Pupils who have no oral ability are assisted to make their contributions using short recorded messages on Big Mac switch devices or communicators that have been prepared in advance. Occasionally the pupils’ physical conditions work against their use of these communication devices as they may not be able to control their hands to correctly use the machines. The school is advised to examine the recent work with Eagle Eyes project supported by the SESS to determine if such an intervention using the pupils’ eyes to access a computer switch system might provide an alternative system for some pupils. Teachers are aware that pupils must have a reason, a means and an opportunity to communicate. All staff are conscious that some communications may be based more on emotional bonding than communicative intent. Vocalisations by pupils are encouraged even if the pupil does not produce recognisable words and efforts at vocalisations are reinforced by the staff present.
Objects of reference are used throughout the school but particularly in the classes for pupils with severe to profound disability. Where possible, the creation of universal objects of reference, across the school would assist in maximizing all opportunities for communication. It will not be possible to create universal objects of reference for all actions, places or things however, common areas in the school such as ball pool, swings, swimming pool, snoezelen or home economics room could have uniform objects attributed to them as a referent to aid comprehension by all pupils.
The acquisition of structured communication skills is supported using augmentative communication approaches in the form of Picture Exchange Communication System and the Lámh system of signing as communication alternatives for some pupils and as an aid to speech-based communication with others. A school wide policy that the adults will sign when in ‘eyeshot’ of any pupil who communicates using ‘Lámh’ could be a very effective way of reassuring pupils and for supporting incidental learning.
A number of pupils with visual impairment and complex needs who are unable to perceive sign language or symbol based systems are enrolled in the school The school might now consider expanding the methodologies to include the use of the Canaan Barrie on-body signs for these pupils. Consideration might be given to providing formal training in augmentative communication approaches for all staff members who have not received training already. The school might consider using a formal assessment such as the Callier-Azusa Scales (H) for the assessment of communicative abilities.
A range of foundation and emergent reading activities is implemented in all the classes. The teachers utilize suitable activities to develop the pupils’ basic sight vocabularies. The use of the language experience approach for the creation of individual reading texts was observed in some classes. This could be extended by means of Powerpoint to create individualized books to reinforce core reading objectives. The school has invested considerably in a new library and in a special reading scheme which has factually-based books of high interest with a reduced word count. The library facilities reinforce the pleasurable aspect of reading for all the pupils and are an exciting addition to the shared facilities of the school. Specialist books such as thermoform books for pupils with visual impairment could be included in the library. The inclusion of Moon as a symbolic representation of letters and a methodology for accessing literacy for pupils with visual impairment might also be considered.
In writing activities, pupils develop their fine motor control in activities such as tracing, colouring, drawing and letter formation exercises. The more-able pupils have the opportunity to write their news. Some pupils achieve good levels of literacy and receive individualised and paired instruction in literacy objectives. These pupils have the scope to develop through more formal and regular teaching of reading and writing with systematic support and monitoring of their reading and writing objectives. Literacy and numeracy objectives could be reinforced through routine daily activities such as the reading of instructions for practical housekeeping tasks in home economics and the creation of a school news sheet using words that the pupils have been learning to supplement their home/school diaries. This news sheet would provide a visual reference for the pupils to read their news to their parents and which parents could use to help their children recall the events of the day.
The role that mathematics plays in the education of the pupils is clarified in the school’s mathematics plan. In the classes for pupils with severe to profound GLD, the pupils are presented with opportunities to build an understanding of essential concepts. The pupils are encouraged to show preferences and make choices, and to extend their receptive and expressive vocabularies. They learn to match, sort and classify objects and they learn to become aware of daily and weekly routines. Activities in mathematics are based on the pupils’ own everyday experiences. Exploration and development of the senses is made in a multi-sensory way through the use of a wide range of three-dimensional materials. Play enables the pupils to explore the properties of objects in an enjoyable way and facilitates awareness of concepts such as cause and effect and object permanence. In early mathematical activities, the teachers concentrate on alerting the pupils to the similarities and differences between objects. Basic number work enables the pupils to develop an appreciation of quantity. A mathematics-friendly environment is in evidence in many classrooms and includes the use of large, bright, textured or three dimensional numerals.
Pupils with moderate GLD are encouraged to develop their ability to work with number, to understand concepts such as time and money and to solve problems. In the lessons that were observed during the evaluation, mathematical concepts were represented visually as much as possible. In early mathematical activities pupils learn about similarities and differences between objects. For older pupils measurement was used for real purposes such as cookery and this approach has proved very valuable. For these pupils particular consideration is given to the social importance of mathematics and pupils engage in practical manipulation of numbers and materials. The “measures” strand is used successfully to introduce pupils to concepts of length, weight, capacity, and money in ways that are meaningful to the learners. Number work is based on everyday experiences, counting and manipulating numbers in concrete situations, both mentally and symbolically. Number games are played in functional situations and are enjoyed by the pupils. The work is often reinforced through activities in the Visual Arts.
The teachers plan to review the mathematics curriculum shortly. A useful starting point may be a discussion at whole-school level to clarify how best to use the available materials and equipment, and to identify the new resources that may be beneficial. Staff members are aware that concrete examples in real-life settings work best, and that incidental learning should be used to reinforce priority aspects of the mathematics curriculum. Teachers already make profitable use of time-tables and television programme guides. At whole-school level the teachers could seek agreement about what aspects of mathematics can be reinforced through work in other curriculum areas. For example, stories with a strong mathematical component could be dramatised. Egg-timers could also be used more to explore the passage of time and to reinforce vocabulary such as start, half-way there, nearly finished, and finished. The use of a big plain clock in each room along with a visual schedule of learning activities would help to highlight starting and finishing times for the various activities.
In classes for pupils with severe and profound GLD, the teachers seek to help the pupils to understand and relate to the environment in ways that are real and meaningful for each pupil. Staff members ensure that learning takes place through active participation and exploration. Pattern and routine are built into the school day and week and pupils engage in a range of activities to help them understand the passage of time throughout the day/week/year. Personal experiences and elements of family history are to the forefront and pupils work on projects to help them develop a sense of their own personal histories. They listen to some well-known stories about the past involving themselves. Historical events of national importance are acknowledged and celebrated. The teachers arrange opportunities for learning about the past through the investigation of local history. Class tours are carefully prepared. Teachers explain the planned tour using objects of reference, photographs, and pictures, to raise pupils’ awareness of where they are going.
In classes for pupils with moderate GLD, the pupils are encouraged to communicate about events and stories from the past and to describe what they see in objects and photographs. They discuss the sequence of events in simple stories. Visits to old buildings and museums are organised. The pupils are enabled to recall events using prompts or pictures to identify sequences of events within the school day. In planning documentation, the staff has identified ways in which history can be integrated with other areas of the curriculum. Pupils participated in the Cork Heritage History Project and their cross-curricular work is very impressive. Work in History could be linked more to the vocabulary of Mathematics and particular emphasis could be placed on developing an understanding of words and phrases associated with time, such as soon, in a moment, today, tomorrow, yesterday, next, before, after this, morning, afternoon, week, old, new year, hour, a long time ago. In exploring change and continuity in pupils’ personal histories, changes in the pupils’ heights, and foot sizes could be recorded.
Exploration of Geography concentrates on assisting pupils gain an awareness of their own place and the place of familiar people in their school and home environments. The location of the school offers wonderful views of the city and harbour area and there is a strong emphasis on observing and exploring the immediate environment. In the lessons observed during the evaluation the pupils were learning to develop their awareness of transport and of the variety of homes in which people live. Wheelchair access is extremely important and ease of mobility around the school has been facilitated by the installation of the lift. Clear signs and photographs have been placed around the school and pupils can learn to interpret and use these. Staff names are accompanied by a photograph. The more-able pupils participate in activities to help them find their way around the familiar environment. They work on projects and daily routines to help them become aware of weather and seasonal changes. Learning about the environment takes place through active participation and exploration. The school facilities and grounds provide an extensive range of possibilities for assisting in the teaching of geography. Enthusiastic staff members ensure that pupils access facilities, amenities and other resources in the locality and enable pupils to make the best possible use of them. Much of the work is linked successfully to oral language and to the science curriculum and many structured activities are arranged to help the pupils appreciate natural materials, flora and fauna. Work done out-of-doors is reinforced in Visual Art work and through discussions about photographic records of activities and events. Pupils learn through treasure trails within the school grounds and trips outside the school environment are organised regularly to places of interest such as the Garda Station. These worthwhile activities serve to stimulate the pupils’ interest in the wider world. Through fundraising efforts the school has its own bus.
At the level of whole-school planning, staff members have discussed the purpose and nature of science, the individual pupil’s needs, resources, and teaching approaches. A broad and balanced curriculum has been developed and the four strands, Living Things, Energy and Forces, Materials and Environmental Awareness all receive due attention. The science programme that has been devised enables pupils to gain knowledge and understanding of the physical and biological aspects of their environment. Staff members are aware that science should provide a variety of experiences for all pupils to enable them to investigate the world through the senses. Every pupil, however complex his/her disability, benefits from the many practical activities that are organised. The school’s multi-sensory room is used extensively where pupils can explore the properties of light and dark as well as to provide experiences where the pupils learn through touch, smell and listening.
Pupils explore the school environment which is particularly rich in flora and fauna and they experiment with a wide range of materials. Trips to places outside the school such as Fota Wildlife Park and to the pet shop have been arranged. Outdoor play areas with a range of suitable equipment provide a wealth of opportunities for making things move and for experiencing forces. The stimulating activities increase pupils’ awareness and understanding of plants such as vegetables, trees and flowers. The impressive work done by teachers in providing multi-sensory work in science is supported with the provision of a sensory garden area where plants are grown that have maximum sensory impact in colour, taste and smell. Such an area could also incorporate interesting stones, pieces of driftwood, wind chimes or simple water features. The school environment could also be made more scientifically interesting by the addition of more bird tables outside classroom windows.
In addition, the pupils engage in activities to help them make sense of sources of energy around them. Interesting science activities are carefully selected by teachers to develop awareness in pupils of cause and effect and which enable the pupils to anticipate and predict events. These exciting and motivating activities capture the attention of pupils and their curiosity is stimulated and encouraged through playful and structured opportunities for exploration. During the whole school evaluation, the teachers exploited the learning opportunities provided by sudden heavy snowfalls. The pupils investigate and experience different forms of energy such as heat, light, sound and heat. They are enabled also to attend to sensory experiences provided by a variety of electrical and battery-operated equipment and they use magnets to explore their effects. They participate in exploring the effects of water on materials and observe and experience the effects of heating and cooling on familiar objects. They actively and safely assist in cooking and baking food. The staff members are mindful of the importance of fostering pupils’ personal independence and responsibility.
In the classes for pupils with moderate GLD, the emphasis is on developing the pupils’ skills of observation and investigation. Attention is drawn to the varying characteristics of the pupils themselves while personal and social skills are promoted through working on group projects. Working on group projects as part of Discovery Primary Science Scheme has enabled pupils to share strengths and to learn from each other. Activities include Make a Lighthouse, Design a Bridge, and Make a Water Fountain. On a number of occasions the school has received ‘Awards of Science Excellence’ as well the ‘Our World Global Schools Award’. By way of development of the science programme, further themes and activities for integration with other curriculum areas especially in mathematics and literacy could be identified. It was noted that cross-curricular integration is already a strong feature in some classes particularly in relation to music, communication and the visual arts.
The teachers ensure the pupils are provided with a wide variety of artistic and creative experiences. These experiences are appropriately referenced to the paint and colour, clay, construction, drawing, print, and fibre and fabric strands of the curriculum. The art lessons observed during the evaluation were well organised and provided opportunities for self expression and creativity. In the classes where pupils have reduced physical ability, there is a high degree of guided discovery in the exploration, experimentation and manipulation of the media. The pupils’ contribution was clearly of paramount significance and care was taken to withdraw the adult’s assistance immediately the pupil indicated a wish to discontinue the activity.
A monthly thematic approach is taken to the formation of collective visual arts displays throughout the school. The pupils’ art work demonstrates a commendable variety of media and a high standard of presentation. The use of monthly themes supports regular changes in these displays and facilitates pupils in responding to other pupils’ art work on the same theme that they have recently explored themselves. A comprehensive range of ideas for thematic work has been collected by the special duties teacher with responsibility for visual arts. These portfolios of ideas are held in the resource library and are available on a loan basis to provide teachers with a range of options within the capabilities of the pupils.
Care is taken to balance pupils’ access to both two and three-dimensional art. All the pupils have the opportunity to work extensively in clay with a specialist teacher who attends the school for one day per week. The school has a small kiln which is used to fire the clay work that the pupils produce. A boundary wall adjacent to the main door is embellished with tile samples made by the pupils and samples of their pottery animals and fungi proudly adorn the flower beds and corridor areas. The work in this area could be extended to provide practical resources that could be used for curricular delivery such as tactile models of geographical landforms.
Consideration could now be given to expanding the range of opportunities for the pupils to respond also to the work of renowned artists. Consideration might also be given to the use of ICT in the creation of art particularly for pupils with restricted fine motor skills or reduced vision.
The pupils derive both enjoyment and benefit from the music programmes that are provided. The pupils are provided with opportunities to listen to and respond to a range of musical experiences, in addition to song-singing and percussion activities. Background music creates a relaxed and soothing atmosphere in some classrooms. In many classes, Music is integrated into other aspects of learning throughout the school day. The school has a stock of percussion instruments and keyboards. The presence of a number of specialist musicians on the staff is an undoubted advantage in helping to ensure that music is well taught. In the lessons that were observed during the evaluation, the teachers made good use of objects and instruments in order to assist the pupils to actively participate in and enjoy the activities. Pupils enjoyed and benefited from their participation in experimenting with different instruments and sounds. The work contributed to the development of the pupils’ vocabularies and their thinking skills.
The teachers plan the work to ensure that the various strands of the curriculum receive regular attention. Electronic or battery-operated instruments are used to enable pupils to experiment with sounds. The pupils are encouraged to keep the beat of familiar melodies. The pupils also have opportunities to listen to, and to perform a suitable range of songs. Group awareness songs are used very effectively. The teachers are aware of the importance of considering the use of all the senses when planning music activities and musical activities are enhanced by adding tactile experiences. Movement and dance are used to enhance the programme through body percussion. When drawing up a list of songs and excerpts for each class the teachers could include suggestions for sensory approaches. In the area of music literacy, some interesting work was observed in which pupils well required to match selected songs and sounds with their matching picture. In developing this aspect of the programme graphic notation with attractive symbols could now be used to record creative ideas. Performances should be recorded where possible.
Information and Communication Technology can play a big part in maximising participation for pupils and the ‘Soundbeam’ technology is used to very good effect. Music has been used to develop social skills by promoting interaction between the teachers and pupils and by offering opportunities for pupils to participate in musical activities as part of a group where a number of classes come together for a session. Participation in these group activities has proved to be a motivating and pleasurable way of improving self-discipline and learning to wait one’s turn. The pupils’ achievements are monitored informally through teacher observation of their participation in the various tasks. Irish music and music from other countries are used to help foster an appreciation the pupils’ own culture and those of the wider world. This aspect of the programme could be extended.
Some pupils have the opportunity to participate in music therapy on an individual basis and to experience collective lessons conducted by the music therapist on a class basis. There is close observation of what stimulates and maintains a pupil’s interest and all interactive overtures are strongly reinforced using music. Care is taken to construct the group lessons so each pupil can participate at the appropriate level given their physical, sensory and intellectual capacities. Excellent use is made of the Soundbeam system, combined with auditory and visual reinforcers, to maintain the pupils’ concentration during the experience. Concurrent recording profiles are used as an evaluative tool to construct further lessons and reinforce learning.
The teachers take care to develop the elements of drama including the concept of a role, character, action, theme and conclusion in a manner that their pupils can empathise with and understand. The classes for pupils with severe to profound GLD frequently use dramatisation of sensory stories using props to relate the drama to real experiences in the pupils’ personal lives. The variety of sensory stimuli is chosen to alert the pupils, spark their attention and maintain their interests during the drama lessons. Care is taken to identify different locations in the room for the sequence of events in the story to give the pupils a physical sensation of progressing through events to the conclusion.
Some of the classes for severe to profound GLD integrate with other classes using a co-operative teaching model with the teachers sharing the planning and instruction on a rotational basis. The classes include items such as the dramatisation of songs using visual props with active participation by the pupils as warm-up activities. Good use is made of bag books for dramatic purposes with the story props kept concealed in the bag. The special needs assistants take an active role in the drama lessons assisting the pupils to engage in the dramatic process and ensuring everyone gets a turn to participate. Pupils are supported to enter into role play, mime and improvisation using costume elements to encourage them to imaginatively develop their roles.
Drama is used to integrate and consolidate learning from other subject areas of the curriculum with particular linkages to Language, SPHE and SESE. Much of the energy in lessons that were observed during the evaluation was spent on engaging the pupils and facilitating them to take part actively in the lessons. Use of carefully adapted scripts and the integration of musical cues or sound effects using the Soundbeam system into the drama lessons could have merit in extending the pupil’s enjoyment of the drama lessons. This might extend to the use of audio or visual stimuli to set the scene for the lessons.
The school is well supplied with P.E. equipment, a large hall and robust playground facilities that assist in the delivery of the physical education curriculum. The expert instruction available from a P.E. specialist on a weekly basis has assisted the class teachers in the delivery of this component of the curriculum. The classes are well paced and structured and take care to develop the pupils’ concentration skills, turn-taking, spatial awareness, auditory sequencing, hand-eye co-ordination and gross and fine motor skills. There was a good use of experiential learning in the exploration and engagement in some of the physical activities. The lessons that were observed during the evaluation promoted keen observation of their peers by the pupils to assist in the promotion of a co-operative and supportive team spirit. There was a high expectation that pupils would comply with the rules and interact appropriately at all times with the equipment. Pupils displayed an understanding of the skill under instruction and there was provision for individual levels of competence with clear differentiation in activities.
The school has weekly access to a swimming pool that is located on the campus. The pool and changing area are well serviced with hoisting and changing facilities making it particularly suitable for the pupils. All the pupils in the school are allowed the opportunity to participate in these aquatic sessions and pupils are grouped variously according to their ages and ability levels. Parents have the opportunity to accompany their children to these sessions as the pupils in the junior classes and in some classes for severe to profound GLD require 1:1 supervision. The involvement of retired school staff members that attend these sessions and volunteer as helpers is particularly laudable. Their contribution of time means additional pupils are able to avail of the allocated sessions. The sessions devoted to hydrotherapy input are conducted by the physiotherapy department and provide valuable education opportunities for the more physically challenged pupils who may not have the same degree of movement outside of the pool. The sessions in the pool that were observed during the evaluation were well structured with group work promoting confidence in the water while skill areas were taught on an individual basis.
The school participates in a co-operative programme with an adjacent special school once a week when three pupils from each school visit an equestrian centre. There is a six lesson rotation for each group funded through Riding for the Disabled. Some pupils may be chosen for the programme to ride the horses while others may be participating at an observation level and involved in approaching and interacting with the animals.
The school has access to a shared games facility on the campus called the Spraoi Centre. This all weather facility includes pitches for team games such as soccer, hockey, basketball and outdoor games such as tennis and pitch and putt. The pitches have small spectator stands to allow audience participation or team meetings. The teachers taking classes on these facilities ensure there is a good balance between the development of skill areas and the integration of these skills into subsequent game that will maximise the use of the facility. The senior pupils display great delight in the quality of these facilities and are very eager to participate in team games with their peers. The school takes care to ensure that P.E. skills that pupils have developed through their participation in school activities are transferred to other forums such as participation in Special Olympics events.
The Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme forms a core element in the pupils’ education. The whole-school planning is particularly well developed for SPHE and includes clear indications of the spiral approach to the curriculum with delineation of the areas to be covered in the junior, middle and senior sections of the school. In addition to discrete lessons on strand areas of the subject, much of the instruction is delivered in a pervasive, cross-curricular manner. The staff establishes clear rules in the classrooms. Target behaviour is universally recognised and reinforced. The teachers use a variety of methodologies to deliver the programme placing the emphasis on discussion and circle time. Some formal lessons are taught to instruct the pupils in nutrition and diet, fire safety, housecraft, hygiene, personal grooming and health matters.
Circle time activities tend to focus on the more discursive elements of the programme including self-esteem, self-identity, personal goals, feelings, safety and protection issues. Pupils from some of the senior classes attend mixed groups for social skills development with the resource teacher. Mainstream pupils from the post-primary links programme participate in these social skills circle time groups during their placements in the school. The courtesy and consideration to their age peers with special needs that they displayed during the evaluation was admirable. The participant schools are commended for the quality of their involvement.
Particular attention is paid to the development of pupils’ appropriate social skills during the lunch period when a full lunch is provided for all pupils. The senior pupils participate in a supervised lunch period in the staff canteen adjacent to the school. Pupils are provided with hot meals and the teachers use this opportunity to develop turn-taking skills, choice making, appropriate restaurant usage, good table manners and social skills. Lunch is provided in the school for the pupils who are too young or unable to use the canteen. The learning objectives can range from the development of independent eating skills to the fostering of appropriate table manners and use of utensils. Dietary considerations are taken into consideration in the creation of the meals and the staff frequently try to expand the pupils’ food preferences by extending their knowledge of healthy options using the food pyramid or expanding their tasting of new flavours.
The cookery element forms a major portion of the school’s overall programme for the senior pupils and could be referenced more explicitly in the school plan. Tuition is delivered in a designated home economics room in the main school building and in the kitchenette attached to the dining room in ‘Hillcrest’. The learning objectives in this area are realistic and differentiated for the participant pupil groups. Senior pupils receive instruction in housecraft tasks from the resource teacher and display competency in laundry and routine household tasks. Some senior pupils with moderate GLD are given house-keeping responsibilities in the school. This approach is praiseworthy and pupils develop appropriate independence and social skills. Opportunities to link some of the tasks to literacy and numeracy learning could now be examined.
Cumulative master files are maintained on each pupil. These files are kept in a secure location in the school. The master files contain copies of pertinent clinical and medical reports, enrolment information, copies of school reports and IEP information. In addition, the teachers maintain files of assessment information in the classrooms indicating performance on teacher-devised tasks, acquisition of sight vocabulary and attainments in literacy and numeracy.
The school uses a universal template for the annual individual education plans (IEP). Across the school, IEP aims are laid out with specific objectives in academic, functional, and personal areas. A narrative is written up on each pupil’s progress in addressing IEP targets. Progress is recorded of pupils’ progress towards the achievement of objectives A record of the level and type of prompt necessary to assist the pupil is maintained. IEP targets are displayed clearly on the walls or in workstations in some classrooms. The IEP template has a section for the summary of assessment information available on the pupil. In general, teachers only use this section to list the reports available on the pupil rather then summarising the pertinent detail in the recommendations. The IEPs would benefit from the inclusion of key recommendations from the relevant clinician in regard to the particular nature of the pupils’ special educational needs and their expected impact on learning. A summary of information and recommendations provided by external professionals in relation to the pupils should be prepared. This information along with parental input and information provided by previous teachers, around a pupil’s particular educational needs, communication and learning styles and preferences should form the key base-line information for developing IEPs.
The school has developed a range of assessment instruments including concurrent recording templates. Checklists of pupils’ personal development and functional skills are used by some teachers. The areas tracked include behaviour, participation and level of involvement. A range of functional assessments is available in areas such as dressing, and personal hygiene. The teacher decides which checklists are most suitable for her/his class. School reports are prepared at the end of each school year and the school has adopted the NCCA templates for this purpose.
As was recommended in the previous school report, the school has devised a format for the monthly progress records. Individual pupil progress is recorded in all classes and this allows for easy retrieval of information that is required on specific pupils. However, a variety of approaches is taken across the school in regard to completing the monthly progress record. In some cases the progress is closely linked to the learning objectives in the curriculum. In others, there is an unnecessary amount of duplication of written narrative on progress. Attention might be given at whole- school level to agreeing on a common approach to this aspect of teacher planning and record keeping. Information and Communication Technology is used very effectively by most teachers as a device for providing written planning and record keeping. A school policy might be adopted where all schemes of work and progress records are prepared in electronic form. This would allow for ease of access and reduce the amount of time taken in preparing schemes of work and reports.
When reporting on pupil progress, various meetings are held where information is shared and progress discussed. These meetings include class-team meetings, meetings with the principal and hand-over meetings at the end of the year. The multi-disciplinary team are available on an arranged date once per annum for formal half-hourly meetings with each teacher. In addition during the school year the multi-disciplinary team holds monthly meetings after school at which teachers can request advice regarding particular pupils without a formal appointment.
The school is a welcoming place for pupils and their families. The pupils are well cared for and this enables them to thrive in a safe environment. The school's excellent links with outside agencies and some mainstream schools ensure high quality co-operation around the needs of pupils. St Paul’s has an extensive and distinguished involvement in providing education for pupils with special needs in Cork. In keeping with a strong school ethos and as a result of laudable collaboration with the specialized teams in COPE foundation, the school management and staff have responded in a professional and caring and reflective manner to the various challenges encountered over recent years and the school continues to provide a dedicated service to all its pupils. Staff members regard the pupil profile as having changed over the years with many children presenting with more complex needs.
The expansion in enrolment of pupils with significant visual impairment poses additional challenges for the identification of pupils’ ability levels. Most of these pupils are enrolled in classes for severe to profound GLD and the children may be unable to indicate their level of visual acuity. The acquisition of everyday concepts can be very challenging in that the pupils with visual impairment may require multiple examples of everyday objects to form mental concepts of nouns or adjectives. Teachers were careful to include the haptic sense in provision of resources for lessons so those pupils with loss of vision could participate and remain fully included in oral discussions.
A range of baseline assessments for visual, tactile, and sound investigation has been assembled as part of the brief of the teacher with a special duties post for assessment. Longitudinal observational assessment strategies are more likely to give reliable evidence of how children apply their residual hearing and vision in functional situations. Therefore, it would be profitable if assessment models in use in the school could be expanded to include a range of functional assessments of vision and hearing to record accurately any variation in a pupil’s demeanour or concentration levels when presented with particular auditory or visual stimuli. Assessments of functional vision would provide clear indications of issues such as contrast and light sensitivity, extent of visual field and optimum size of resources for use with these pupils. The information gained from such functional assessment could also serve to inform and assist future clinical measurement of the pupil’s ability levels. It is with the combination of clinical assessment information and personalized functional assessment of ability that the optimum teaching and learning conditions can be identified for each pupil.
A sound level meter to assess accurately the listening conditions in the classroom and an audit of the acoustic conditions could be conducted with the assistance of the visiting teacher service. Protocols could be adopted to monitor the functioning of the audiological equipment including hearing aids and the Soundfield system installed in one classroom.
The board of management and staff are very appreciative of the contribution made by the multi-disciplinary team to the education service provided in the school. There is successful collaboration evident between school staff and members of the multi-disciplinary team with some references made to the recommendations of the team in planning for subject delivery. Multi-disciplinary team meetings are scheduled once a month after school and teachers can attend if they need particular advice on pupils. The members of the team are reported to be easily accessible to staff and teachers feel referrals or queries are dealt with in a timely manner.
A group of pupils has been identified who have particular communication difficulties and these pupils participate in a specifically developed music programme. Music for listening and carefully selected songs are used to create a calm atmosphere and to promote relaxation. It also aims to develop functional communication skills.
All parents of pupils are supported and invited to participate in the operation of the school. Translation services have been accessed for foreign reports to facilitate the enrolment of newcomer pupils. A hot meal is provided for all pupils attending the school and this is particularly welcome for pupils who travel considerable distances each day. The school demonstrates a willingness to collaborate with other community providers in planning provision and delivering educational services as required. The Guidelines on Intercultural Education in the Primary School as well as elements on traveller education might be considered to augment pupils’ curriculum experiences and assist in planning for an intercultural school environment for the future.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2009