An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Joseph’s Special School
Parnell Street, Waterford
Roll number: 19244J
Date of inspection: 7 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
THIS WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Joseph’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 representatives of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St. Joseph’s school was established in the early 1960s as a co-educational special school for students with mild and moderate general learning disabilities. In 1965, the present school was established for pupils with mild GLD aged 4-18 years. The school is located in the centre of Waterford city but the pupils attend the school from a diverse range of urban and rural backgrounds. Many travel considerable distances to school, not only from county Waterford but also from the surrounding counties of Kilkenny, Wexford and south Tipperary. The distances travelled result in a considerable portion of the day being spent on school transport by some students. The school is under the patronage of the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore and the trustees are the Sisters of Charity.
The Department of Education and Science provided sanction for one class for pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in 2001, and in September 2005 an additional pre-school class for ASD pupils was sanctioned. The most recent school report issued in 1999. At present there are 103 students attending the school, with nine of these pupils attending the ASD classes. There has been a fall in the number of students enrolling in the school in the last few years with many of the new pupils presenting with more complex special educational needs, including physical disabilities. The continuing inclusion of pupils with Mild GLD in mainstream schools should mean that the continuing enrolment of pupils with complex needs in the junior section of the school is likely to be a trend for the future. Both the management and the staff are aware of the changing nature of the student population and the implications for future provision within the school. Staffing at the school includes an administrative principal, 13 class teachers and 17 special needs assistants (SNAs). The principal was appointed to the post in September 2005. The students access a wide range of programmes throughout the school, including the revised primary school curriculum, Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP), Junior Certificate (JC), and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The school is hoping to extend the post-primary certification programmes in the coming school year with the introduction of course modules accredited by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC).
In April 2006, a whole school evaluation (WSE) based on a model of team inspection was conducted in St. Joseph’s school. The board of management, parents, staff and students readily participated in a spirit of partnership and collaboration and positively assisted the process.
The board of management is properly constituted in accordance with the requirements of the Education Act 1998 and takes an active role in the management of the school. The board meets on a monthly basis and the chairperson is in regular contact with the principal. Financial statements of accounts are maintained and minutes are kept of all meetings. The board is concerned with promoting positive staff relations, securing the well being of all the students attending St Joseph’s and creating a safe and happy environment within the school. Matters of ongoing concern to the board include the management of seriously challenging behaviour, the cost of updating and replenishing school resources, the reduction in recreation spaces around the school and the lack of games facilities on the current site. The board expressed concern that, with the increase in pupils with physical disability enrolling, the current school building presented significant access difficulties and lack of specific provision for visually and physically impaired pupils. Health and safety concerns were raised regarding the difficulties in ensuring the safety of these pupils in the event of fire and evacuation procedures needing to be activated. The school is in the process of updating their code of discipline and this is yet to be ratified at board level.
Concern was expressed by members of the board in relation to the level of multi-disciplinary support available to meet the complex needs of the student population, including those with ASD. The school is in compliance with Departmental regulations on time in school and maximum class size. All attendance books, rolls and registers are kept up to date.
The board devolves the in-school management to the principal and to teachers with posts of responsibility. The principal and senior staff members are responsible for the organisation of the work of the school and they provide a dedicated service to the students. The newly appointed principal displays a very high degree of dedication and commitment in the performance of her role. She has established a range of procedures for the effective day-to-day running of the school. In consultation with the staff, she has established time bound targets for the review of particular curricular and policy areas within the school. She has endeavoured to create a positive school climate with open communication systems fostered through regular meetings with senior staff and representatives of the students.
The in-school management team consists of a principal, deputy principal, assistant principal and four special duties posts. The in-school management team has clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The principal, deputy principal and assistant principal meet every Tuesday morning while a general meeting of post-holders is convened once per month. The duties attached to each post are stated in the school planning documents and the senior posts are clearly structured in terms of curricular, organisational and pastoral elements. The elements attached to the various posts include PE, Religion, IT, Music, Literacy, LCA co-ordination, JCSP co-ordination, researching FETAC awards, health and safety elements, pastoral care, mentoring new teachers and support for SNAs. The teachers give due attention to the responsibilities attached to their posts and their commitment is also evident in their involvement in a wide variety of projects and initiatives undertaken in their work with students across the school. There is a staff liaison committee that meets once a term and includes teachers and special needs assistants. A different person from each corridor, either a teacher or special needs assistant, is nominated on to this committee and the representation changes regularly. This liaison committee serves an important communicative function within the school. In addition, a students’ council has been formed with elected representatives of the senior classes. These representatives meet with the principal once every six weeks to discuss issues and this is a valuable and exciting development for the school.
As the duties allocated to the posts have been in existence for some time, the school might consider including a policy on reviewing the duties attached to the posts in line with the changing needs of the school. Consideration might now be given to utilising the in-school management structure to contribute to a range of activities such as devising common organisational planning structures for the school. The compilation of common documentation and methods of recording progress would ensure continuity and cohesion in curriculum implementation and planning strategies across the class ranges in the school.
The majority of the 13 class teachers has been established in the school for a number of years and has been provided with opportunities to teach at different class levels. Practical considerations are taken into account in the deployment of staff. The expansion into the provision of certification programmes has become an additional consideration in the allocation of teachers to classes. Shared teaching and subject swapping is in evidence, particularly at senior level where teachers specialise in certain subject areas. A policy of staff rotation might be developed to ensure that all teachers have the opportunity to rotate among class levels and to avail of in-service opportunities.
In most cases, classrooms are well organised and support staff is deployed in such a way so that all the pupils are purposefully occupied for as much of the time as possible. In addition to the teaching and support staff, the Department of Education and Science provides funding for a part-time caretaker, a full-time school secretary, transport escorts and a part-time teacher of Physical Education for 2 hours weekly. The Health Service Executive provides funding for part-time support services that include clinical psychological support, speech and language therapy support, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, social work and nursing support. The recommendations of these professionals are generally taken into consideration by the class teachers in the development of class work and individual tuition. The Waterford city VEC provides additional hours in the subject specialist areas of Art and Design, Home Economics and Materials Technology (Wood). The contribution of the part-time specialist teachers funded by the VEC has enhanced and enriched the curricular provision at post-primary level with the opportunity to develop skills in practical subject areas to certification level. Teaching resources and equipment are adequate and the school has acquired an extensive range of resources in recent years. Teachers have assembled a commendable variety of illustrative materials, some commercial and others supplied by teachers themselves. The work of a committed and conscientious staff is in evidence throughout the school and the contribution made by committed and skilled special needs assistants is particularly praiseworthy.
The main school building is situated in the centre of Waterford city on a limited site beside a busy road. There are restrictions on parking for both staff and visitors and there is little available space for the transport contractors to pull off the road to allow the students to either board or disembark from the buses. The central location of the school allows for easy access to a wide range of local services, amenities and adjacent areas of historical interest. The school occupies a two storey building and a separate single storey extension to the rear of the main building. The original school building is in good physical condition and contains 11 classrooms of varying sizes, 3 junior classes on the ground floor and 8 senior classes on the first floor level, accessed by two staircases and a small lift for physically disabled pupils. Additional accommodation includes a hall/general purposes room with a fixed stage, a Home-Economics room, a computer room, several small ancillary rooms, kitchen area, staff room, a secretary’s office and a principal’s office. Care is taken to maintain the school and its environs in good condition. The newly constructed extension for the ASD classes to the rear of the building includes two large classroom bases each with integral toilets, stores and quiet room facilities. There is a hard surface area to the rear of the school, for use during recreation times and for some games instruction. This area is surrounded with a large fence to prevent damage from balls to surrounding properties and is located adjacent to a poly-tunnel used for basic horticultural instruction. The lack of open spaces around the school for outdoor games facilities has necessitated the school in renting time in a local sports facility.
Classroom furniture and equipment are generally of a good standard, however, some of the classrooms are limited in size especially for older pupils. However, commendable efforts have been made by staff to provide a bright and attractive learning environment for the students. Grant funding and school investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has had an impact on the work across several curricular areas and ICT is used to record experiences such as educational visits. Some of the equipment in classrooms is now dated and not always reliable. Pupils gain experience in a wide range of ICT applications. These include word processing, e-mail and accessing data from CD-Rom. As a means of expanding the uses of ICT, further emphasis could be placed on using it to process images and texts used in personal and imaginative writing in English or to access autism specific software such as that developed for the recognition of emotions.
The school recognises the central role of the family as the primary educator of the pupil and the board of management is committed to ensuring that a positive partnership model is fostered between the home and the school. Good channels of communication are maintained between the school and parents and parent-teacher meetings take place on a regular basis. Additional meetings with parents are arranged as the need arises. The school issues a regular newsletter to parents and this is an effective vehicle for keeping parents informed regarding school affairs. The school actively seeks to draw on parents and encourages them to support their child’s learning. The parents support the work of the school through the Parents’ Support Group and through the parental nominees on the board of management, and their active involvement in supporting the work of the school and providing additional resources through fund-raising is to be commended. In the future, as the process of individual planning develops within the school, parents should be invited to attend and participate in IEP planning and review meetings.
The school is organised in five main sections. Classes are generally organised on the basis of chronological age, while taking ability and individual needs into account. The junior section comprises mainly pupils of primary school age between five and twelve years old. An additional junior section is contained in the two classes for pupils with an ASD diagnosis. Pupils in these two sections of the school pursue a programme aimed to meet their individual needs and based on the Primary School Curriculum.
Students of post-primary age, from thirteen to eighteen years, are provided for in the senior section of the school. The various senior groups are assigned as 3 home-room classes, 3 post-primary classes and 2 LCA classes. Students pursue a range of subjects in the post-primary curriculum. The provision of the two-year cycle of LCA is dependent on sufficient numbers of pupils being capable of pursuing such certification programmes. As a result, it may not be possible to provide both class levels every year but rather on a three-year cycle rotation. The addition of awards from the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) would provide both a transitional programme for students prior to starting the LCA and another method of achieving post-primary certification to those who might not wish to pursue LCA. School rules have been established and are being implemented throughout the school. The school is in the process of revising their code of behaviour in the light of recent legislation.
A school plan as required by S.21 of the Education Act, 1998 is available within the school. A range of school policies has been developed in both organisational and curricular areas and the school is actively engaged in a process of reviewing and updating existing policies. Among the range of planning documents, there are policies and key statements on enrolment, anti-bullying, health and safety, sexual harassment, homework, code of dress, absconding and substance abuse, among others. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented these policies. However, no evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Pupils First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Pupils (Department of Health and Pupils, 2004) and Pupil Protection: Guidelines and Procedures (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). A designated liaison person has not been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. It is recommended that priority consideration should be given to devising a policy on pupil protection and reviewing other policy requirements as obligated under recent legislation.
The content of the school plan indicates the involvement of the in-school management team, staff and the board of management members in the evolution and development of school policies. Action plans that take into account a review of existing practice and resources and incorporate targets for development within specified time frames are included in the school plan. Current topics identified as priority areas for development include the areas of data protection, parental involvement, attendance and development of curricular areas of P.E. and SESE. Some senior teachers with posts of responsibility have taken on leadership roles with regard to researching areas of curricular provision, with particular reference to the post-primary provision. The school has diversified the curriculum provision considerably at post-primary level to meet the changing needs of the students. These post-primary level programmes could profitably be integrated into the existing junior school programme to demonstrate the consolidation of work already completed and achieved by the students.
The curricular section of the school planning documents is currently arranged in three different categories for the junior, post-primary and senior school sections. Each discrete section states in an outline manner the curricular subject areas taught. This manner of arrangement does not readily display the linkages between subjects at junior and senior level and how the work at senior level complements and consolidates that done in the junior classes. Adjustment of the planning documentation into clear subject areas, indicating the entirety of the curriculum available throughout the school, would more clearly indicate the educational experiences in the subject area that the pupils have already experienced during their school career. In this manner, a spiral approach to the incremental development of skills can be incorporated into their educational provision. Future curriculum planning at whole school level should ensure that the programme for each curriculum area includes the overall objectives for that area as well as appropriate content of the programme of each curricular area. A description of methodologies such as TEACCh, PECS, Numicon and others evidenced during the evaluation process could profitably be included in the school plan. Procedures for assessment and evaluation of pupil progress in each curricular area should be included in the school plan. Conscientious planning and preparation were evident in the work of individual teachers throughout the school. Continued development of a collaborative approach in the preparation of educational plans for individual students at the primary and post-primary stages is now desirable in the context of the recently enacted Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (2004).
Individual teachers plan for students’ curricular activities in a variety of ways and in accordance with the individual learning and teaching needs of the students in their respective classes. Most teachers use a monthly planning template that has been developed by the school, which details the content of the lesson, the learning and the teaching objectives. During the evaluation period, many teaching and learning activities were presented in a competent and professional manner and, across the school, students were provided with an interesting and relevant learning programme. Particular ASD methodologies such as TEACCh are used to good effect with students with an additional ASD diagnosis. Teachers use a wide variety of methodologies including whole class teaching, circle time, role-play, teacher demonstration and 1:1 instruction amongst others to implement the curriculum. It would be beneficial to detail the teaching strategies used in the common monthly planning template. Generally, the pupils experience whole-class teaching that may involve listening to explanations, answering questions or participating in discussions. Teachers recognise that their students learn best through practical and first-hand experiences and they give pupils time to explore and apply their learning. They use equipment and other resources to interest and challenge the pupils.
The teachers strive to provide a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated programme taking into account the broad range of abilities and interests of the pupils. The promotion of communication skills is regarded as being crucial to learning, and across the curriculum there is a strong emphasis on the development of language. A range of commercial and teacher-made resources was used effectively to support students in the learning process.
Currently senior students participate successfully in the Junior Certificate Examinations, Junior Certificate Schools Programme and Leaving Certificate Applied Programme. The expansion of the certification programmes to include FETAC awards would increase the range of educational opportunities available to the pupils. These developments are important in providing an appropriate variety of educational opportunities and programmes to cater for the wide range of individual learning needs of the students attending the school.
Attention should now be paid to the development of Individual Education Plans (IEP) within the whole school. The IEP details inter alia learning and teaching aims, timeframe, certification and programme of study, key strategies, and the social, behavioural and academic goals for each student. It is recommended that an educational profile that demonstrates a link between the available professionals’ reports and students’ learning and teaching programmes should be included in the IEP. The inclusion of a strengths and needs analysis, and stating aims in terms of objectives, would further enhance the IEP process. Consideration has been given to including the individual students in setting their own IEP goals in the senior classes. These students have a role in evaluating and assessing their own progress in the senior section of the school where, as part of their individual education plan, they are asked to identify areas that they might like to improve during the course of the year. This practice might be profitably extended to other areas of the school.
The development of oral language skills is actively promoted throughout the school and a relevant and interesting curriculum is provided for the students. Listening and speaking skills are encouraged and a wide range of activities is employed across all classrooms to promote the students’ development in this essential area. The active participation of students and their involvement in discussion is given particular attention across all curriculum areas. Scope for oral language opportunities is further promoted through the use of story and poetry and through the discussion of current topical and local issues. Extension of the oral language element to class debates, interview skills and oral presentations might be considered in the senior classes. Pupils attending the two ASD classes have particular difficulty with the area of language as an area within the Triad of Impairment. The consistent application of additional augmentative strategies such as Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) could assist the pupils attending the ASD classes by conceptualising language and encouraging the communicative process.
The promotion of literacy skills is a key element of the work of the school. Systematic approaches are employed which enable students to progress at their individual pace. A print- rich environment is a feature of classrooms throughout the school. A range of strategies is employed in the teaching of reading and a balance of phonics and whole-word methodologies is employed. Both commercial and teacher-made resources are widely used, including reading charts, labels and word walls. Phonological awareness activities and word-attack skills are also supported through the effective use of commercial programmes. The individualisation of the reading material to the student’s level of ability and particular interest areas serves to promote engagement in the reading process. Senior students have achieved significant goals in the use of literacy skills through their work in relation to the various national certificate examinations. An increased emphasis is placed on the functional use of reading with older students as an essential skill for independent living. Effective use is made of reading materials with a practical and motivating dimension, such as biographies, newspapers and magazines, with the appropriate age groups.
Pre-writing and writing skills are carefully fostered in the junior classes while the systematic development of writing skills is undertaken in other classes. A wide range of opportunities is provided for students to develop the mechanics of writing and to apply these skills in a variety of functional and creative forms. A practical approach to the development of writing is also in evidence in the senior classes. The progress of students in the area of literacy is carefully monitored and their programme of activities is adapted accordingly. Students receive conscientious support in their written work and in their preparation for the State examinations. The school’s participation in the ‘Create a book’ project provided students with an insight into the creative writing process and a sense of achievement in the production and exhibition of the finished article. Further use might be made of IT throughout the school to encourage the students to draft, edit and use the computer as a tool to correct grammar and spelling difficulties.
The language provision within the school has expanded to include French at LCA level. The students have to undertake oral and aural modules, in addition to completing a written exercise and reading comprehension paper. The students respond well to basic questioning in the target language and demonstrate a competence in routine social conversation. The use of games to develop recognition of French vocabulary encouraged student engagement and participation in the subject.
Mathematics is viewed not just as a subject in its own right but as an essential skill for adult life and a means of accessing other areas of the curriculum such as Home Economics and Woodwork. Teachers are aware that mathematics involves practical, oral and written work. Across the school the students are provided with opportunities to develop an understanding of the basic concepts and to acquire the skills necessary for computation and problem solving. The teachers are aware of the difficulties experienced by some students in mathematics and adapt their teaching accordingly. Differentiation is achieved by teachers setting varied tasks for individuals or by working towards a range of outcomes in a group or class activity. At the junior level, considerable emphasis is placed on the teaching of number concepts and number operations. A variety of equipment is used effectively in this work including concrete and visual materials. In addition, teachers place important emphasis on the development of the language of mathematics. Written work is recorded on worksheets and copybooks and these are carefully monitored. Across the JCSP and LCA programmes, appropriate consideration is given in the senior classes to the social importance of mathematics in daily living and independence activities. Pupils are encouraged to develop good work habits and to develop basic strategies for problem solving including estimation and trial and error. Consolidation of measurement abilities within the areas of capacity, volume and length occur naturally in the senior subject areas of Woodwork and Home Economics. At senior level, emphasis is placed in reinforcing mathematical skills associated with business enterprise and leisure activities.
Commendable work is undertaken in this curricular area and it is evident that much care and attention have been taken to instil in the students of the school attitudes of care and respect for their local community and environment. A wide and interesting variety of learning experiences and projects are organised at all class levels and students engage purposefully in the activities exploring aspects of history, geography and basic science. In many instances, themes and topics from the SESE programme are effectively integrated across other areas of the curriculum, such as the Visual Arts. The further use of ICT is recommended as a tool to aid students in the learning process in SESE in the classroom. Teaching resources include local areas of historical interest, a horticulture poly-tunnel, nature tables, pictorial displays and books to support students’ engagement in the subject areas.
The teachers demonstrate a very positive attitude to the benefits of the study of History and they plan interesting and imaginative work in the subject. Pupils are developing their knowledge and understanding of people, periods, episodes and events. The teachers have organised a structured programme of local and distant visits to places of historical interest. The work is purposefully linked with other areas of the curriculum, notably in English. The consistent use of visual timetables, either pictorial or verbal, in the ASD classes could provide a means of assisting the students in understanding the transient concept of the passage of time at a level appropriate to their age and ability.
Good use is made of real places in the area of Geography, whether through fieldwork or by using pictures, maps and data in the classroom. The teaching activities are well chosen, and some use is made of ICT in the study of geography. The teaching of the subject area focuses on expanding from the intimate local area of the school and Waterford city to the more general geographical surroundings, often using the pupils’ transport routes to show surrounding counties and distances. Pupils are able to identify features in the local environment and they are aware of seasonal changes of weather and of the effects which weather conditions have on growth of plants. Well-maintained and stimulating nature tables are a commendable feature of classrooms at all levels.
The Science programme enriches the curriculum and offers particular opportunities for the pupils in St. Joseph’s. Science lessons are well planned with clear objectives and the various activities are based on practical manipulation of materials. Skills, knowledge and understanding are developed in small steps through practical activity, so helping concentration skills. Working in small groups encourages pupil participation and fosters interpersonal communication. In junior classes, a good foundation of knowledge and understanding of the basic skills of scientific enquiry are being laid. This is built on in the senior section of the school. Pupils show the ability to work together on practical tasks with curiosity and interest. Generally, they are well motivated and participate with enthusiasm in a range of appropriate activities including discussion, practical work and recording of findings. Basic scientific vocabulary is being developed and pupils are beginning to learn how to formulate questions for investigation.
The students are encouraged and supported in their engagement in the area of the Visual Arts and the work of the students is attractively displayed and celebrated throughout the school. The students are provided with opportunities to explore a range of media including painting and colour, collage, fibre and fabric exploration, clay, printing, and construction. The work is wide-ranging, expressive and imaginative and shows experimentation with a variety of topics and styles. Students enjoy participating in the activities and are enthusiastic in discussing their work. There is a strong use of seasonal themes and festivals as the basis for Visual Arts’ work and, in many classes, lessons are successfully integrated with other areas of the curriculum, particularly with social and environmental studies and areas of language. There is more refinement in the senior school with students demonstrating a broader appreciation of Visual Arts, and some talk about their work using a developing specialist vocabulary. They are more aware of their own tastes, and of their strengths and weaknesses, and this helps them to critically evaluate their own work. Many of these students have begun to develop some elements of a personal style of expression. They know about the works of various artists reflecting different periods, trends, cultures and traditions. The culmination of their exploration and experimentation with various media included the craft project in Home Economics and the development of both group and individual design briefs in the Craft and Design at Junior Certificate level. Research and exploration of design options for the Materials Technology (Wood) practical project incorporate many of the skills learnt in drafting, refining and executing their chosen designs in Visual Arts.
In the area of Music, students are encouraged to participate in a range of activities across the school. In some of the classes, students are taught a wide range of songs and rhymes and Music is integrated across the curriculum, although this aspect of the curriculum could be further extended in some areas. As pupils progress through the school, the emphasis is placed on listening, performing and composing activities. The pupils are taught a variety of lively, tuneful songs from different styles and cultures. Music for listening has been carefully chosen for appeal to pupils and to evoke an active response and some pupils can talk lucidly about their likes and dislikes. The students enjoy the creative opportunities being offered and gain particular benefit from their participation in school concerts and liturgical celebrations. The pupils practice voice sounds and apply them as percussion to songs they have learned. They compose and perform simple pieces using both tuned and percussion instruments. The work is interesting, challenging and inspiring, which points to good teaching, learning and achievement. In some classes, pupils’ responses to music are displayed in different formats including paintings and drawings. Those involved in the development of music across the school are to be commended for the important work undertaken in this area.
Drama is used occasionally across the curriculum to enhance learning, especially in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). Drama provides active learning situations in which pupils explore human relationships, behaviour and events. Students’ experience in drama helps them to see the world from another person’s perspective and this is crucial to their successful integration into social life. Dramatic activities included use of mime, improvisation and character development. School plays are staged annually and are a commendable feature of provision. Building on activities currently undertaken in the school, the in-service training in Drama, to be provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Service in the coming year, should facilitate further opportunities for development of this area which plays an important role in the personal and social development of the students. The concept of imagination and flexibility of thought is an area of particular difficulty for pupils with ASD, so additional structures need to be developed to enable them to engage in dramatic activities. The use of the methodology of Social Stories could enhance these students’ abilities to enter into certain dramatic activities requiring them to enter into character or engage in improvisation.
A wide range of activities and games are undertaken in the area of Physical Education across all age groups and the enthusiasm of the students was evident in the lessons and games observed. The school has a number of facilities at its disposal, including a school hall and a basketball court. In order to provide additional pitch facilities or team games, the school rents time at a local sports club. During the inspection period, pupils were observed working enthusiastically in movement activities and games. They thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the curriculum and co-operated well with each other and with the teachers. Basketball, football, snooker and table-tennis are among the activities that are encouraged among the older pupils. Use is made of games activities with clearly defined rules to integrate some of the pupils with ASD into the mainstream class groups of comparable age level. The school participates in several inter-school competitions and this increases motivation and involvement. The board of management funds the services of a football coach for soccer training for all pupils who elect to participate in the training throughout the class levels. The two hour allocation of P.E instruction funded by the Department of Education and Science has been prioritised at present for the junior classes of the school to allow them to experience a subject specialist teacher in a similar manner to the VEC teachers in the senior school. Particular credit is due to individual staff members who provide support for a number of extra-curricular activities and give substantial amounts of free time after school to support school teams. Swimming is generally regarded as very beneficial and lessons are arranged for the pupils in a local pool although the costs involved have been prohibitive. Some pupils are taken to the local snooker hall in the city and the target here is the development of independence and social skills.
The school is working to provide a broad and balanced curriculum for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and citizenship. Individual teachers have engaged in extensive planning for the delivery of SPHE. Formal programmes, including Stay Safe and Walk Tall are used to support teaching and learning, and methodologies associated with SPHE are used successfully in other curriculum areas. Teachers use a variety of methodologies such as discussion, circle time, co-operative games and role-play to engage the pupils in this subject area of the curriculum. The positive impact of these programmes is apparent in students’ engagement in learning and in their level of self-confidence and esteem.
The creation of a caring environment is another dimension of effective SPHE practice in the school. Students are encouraged to be respectful towards each other and to be responsible in their behaviour. Values such as mutual respect and co-operation are actively encouraged and important civic and social attitudes are carefully fostered among the students. The level of voluntary inclusion engaged in by the students with their less physically able peers was particularly commendable during the evaluation. Generally, the teachers are successful in minimising disruption and poor behaviour through their skilful handling of pupils in lessons and pupils know what behaviour is expected of them. Teachers use short occasional visits to the local shops as a motivational strategy with older students, where behaviour and work contracts are agreed in return for such rewards.
Teachers are aware of the importance of Relationships and Sexuality Education and aspects of this programme are already being implemented with students in a number of classes, with the assistance of a health professional. Preparation for the world of work and the exploration of career opportunities are an important element of the programme as students enter their final years at school. The LCA programme offers opportunities for students to develop workplace skills such as planning, communication and teamwork. The school has secured the services of a guidance counsellor on a voluntary basis for the school leavers, to assist in work placement and career identification. Work experience placements are arranged and the students are supported in making decisions in relation to their choices for further training and employment. The area of Home Economics also provides students with important opportunities to practise and acquire a range of life and independence skills. Pupils are supported to complete the practical and written elements of the programme to Leaving Certificate Applied level.
The school has some effective arrangements for assessing pupils’ attainments and progress. The school plans to develop Individual Education Plans and some teachers have taken important steps in this regard. The daily written work of the students is carefully corrected and constructive feedback is provided. Some teachers in the junior section of the school keep routine checklists of pupil attainments in core subject areas. In the senior school, the structure of the JCSP, JC and LCA programmes, with clear learning targets for short term objectives and a system for recording the progress of the work, assist in the accurate recording of pupil achievement. Teachers use assessment information to guide planning, and assessment is seen as an ongoing process. Annual reports on all subject areas are retained in the main files in the principal’s office and are sent home to parents.
By way of further improvement, it is recommended that the school develop further systems for monitoring and reviewing progress across the primary and post-primary curriculum. The presence of additional adults in the school allows for the development and refinement of concurrent recording systems such as carrying out systematic observations of pupils during the school day, using checklists to record work completion and monitoring behaviour at timed intervals. It is recommended therefore that a school assessment policy that reflects a whole-school commitment to employing a continuum of diagnostic, formative and summative assessment strategies be developed.
All the students attending the school have a diagnosis of Mild GLD. Some of the students have an additional physical disability including visual impairment, or an additional diagnosis such as ASD. Teachers take cognisance of the co-morbidity of conditions and the implications of both conditions for the student’s individual learning programme. This individualisation of the student’s programme will be further extended and supported by the development of IEPs within the school. As part of the IEP process, priority should be given to selecting key targets in communication skills, personal, social skills and life-skills and identifying a number of priority goals for the student based on a needs analysis. The IEP goals should endeavour to be cross-curricular in nature and identified following a consensus decision in which the parents have an active role.
A number of pupils come from areas of designated rural or urban disadvantage and some pupils are in the care of the local Health Service Executive. The school has endeavoured to assist these pupils, not only with necessary materials such as schoolbooks and other resources, but also with practical support and advice on accessing necessary services from local health clinics, relevant therapists and social services. Occasionally school funds are used also to supplement parental contributions to the cost of school outings.
Over the years that the school has been in operation, there have been a number of traveller pupils enrolled in the school. In the spirit of inclusion, it is recommended that the school might develop a particular module in Travellers’ culture to celebrate their cultural identity. The school has only had a small number of pupils enrolling from the foreign national community to date. In anticipation of the possible admission to the school of further pupils for whom English will be a second language, it is recommended that the school examine available resources for teaching English as a second language. Such materials include those prepared by Integrate Ireland Language and Training which is a campus company of Trinity College Dublin and is funded by the Department of Education and Science. The school should also examine how the parents of such pupils will be assisted to be fully involved in their pupil’s education within the school.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
The enthusiasm, dedication and work of the board of management and staff in providing an appropriate education for all the students in the school is an area of particular strength.
The manner in which the students have access to a broad and relevant range of curricular experiences that successfully maintains a balance between both the skills and knowledge areas of the curriculum.
The individualisation of the educational provision in St. Joseph’s in order to meet the particular needs of each student while maximising their learning style and strengths.
The proactive manner in which the pupils with additional physical disabilities or ASD are fully included, using subject differentiation, structured integration strategies and diversification of teaching methodologies, is a very positive aspect of the educational provision in this school.
Teachers’ willingness to share their subject-knowledge and expertise in meeting the needs of all of the students in the school, while giving due care, attention and support to the students’ personal and social development is to be commended.
The work of a committed and conscientious staff is in evidence throughout the school and the manner in which they have worked to diversify both the junior and post-primary provision in recent years to meet the changing needs of the student cohort is of particular merit.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that priority consideration should be given to devising a policy on pupil protection and reviewing other policy requirements including the code of behaviour as obligated under recent legislation.
Continued development of a collaborative approach in the preparation of educational plans for individual students at the primary and post-primary stages is now desirable in the context of the recently enacted Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (2004).
It is recommended that a school assessment policy that reflects a whole-school commitment to employing a continuum of diagnostic, formative and summative assessment strategies be developed.
In future school planning, consideration should be given to devising common organisational planning structures and common methods of progress recording to ensure continuity and cohesion in curriculum implementation and planning strategies across the whole school.
Adjustment of the school planning documentation into clear subject areas indicating the entirety of the curriculum available throughout the school from junior classes to LCA would indicate the spiral approach to the incremental development of skills and knowledge areas in the school.
Developing the aspects of provision identified in the report in relation to expansion of the use of Information and Communication Technology within the school.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management and the full staff group of St. Joseph’s School accept the overall conclusions of the WSE Report. The process of WSE was found by staff to be fair and positive. The Board of Management would like the following points noted –
Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection & Welfare of Children (Department of Health & Children 1999) and Child Protection: Guidelines and Procedures (DES 2001) are followed rigorously in the school. The Principal is the Designated Liaison person or the Deputy should circumstances warrant it. All staff are aware of this. Whilst the WSE was in process, a Child Protection issue was successfully worked through by the involvement of the Principal with the HSE Social Worker. All procedures were fully followed. We wish to emphasise again that policy is being adhered to and followed and this was evidenced during the Inspection.
Individual Education Plans: The school development plan outlines the introduction of IEP’s during the school year 2006 – 2007. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has drawn up guidelines on the preparation of IEP’s. The INTO has recommended that these guidelines are issued to schools in September 2006. NCSE can confirm that it is not yet statutory requirement to provide IEP’s in schools. The guidelines will seek to establish good practice. The school will use these guidelines to structure and aid the development of IEP’s in the school when they are received. Throughout the WSE Report the individualisation of the learning process in practice in the school at present is highlighted e.g. – Pages 6, 7 & 8. In addition IEPs have been developed in the pre-school this year. There is individualisation of delivery in the school and this is stated as one of the findings in the Summary of Findings – P. 19. In the academic year 2006-2007 the school plans to build on the individualisation already in place.
Both the Parents Support Group and the Board of Management raised the lack of Speech Therapy for pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders and the lack of sufficient psychological support as being of grave concern. The Board of Management want this issue highlighted. The Board of Management also asked that the building be upgraded.
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 has brought a Child Protection Policy to the Staff meeting and the Board of Management on 19th June 2006. This has been ratified and is now in place in the school.
The school will implement IEPs during the school year 2006-2007.