An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Anthony’s Special School
Humbert Way, Castlebar, County Mayo
Uimhir rolla: 19248R
Date of inspection: 30 January 2009
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of St Anthony’s Special School, Castlebar. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days, during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers and examined students’ work. In order to gain a full understanding of the school context, the inspectors also had discussions with members of the multi-disciplinary team involved with the school. 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. Anthony’s Special School is a seven-teacher co-educational special school under the patronage of Western Care. This national school provides education for students with mild general learning disability in the catchment area of south Mayo. The building is situated on a large site in Humbert Way adjacent to the Health Service Executive (HSE) adult services. The school, originally established in 1967, has a current enrolment of 41 students, including 17 girls and 24 boys, ranging in age from five to 18 years. Approximately two thirds of the students are of post-primary age. A considerable number of students have additional needs related to physical or sensory impairments, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis and a range of medical conditions. Students are assigned among six classes, one of which is designated as a class for the Deaf/hearing impaired.
At the time of the last inspection in 2001, 52 students were enrolled with six teachers and nine special needs assistants. In the intervening eight years, the school has experienced considerable change and development including the appointment of a new principal in 2003, the relocation of the school to a new purpose-built building in January 2004 and the establishment of a special class for the deaf in September 2004. Despite the fall in enrolment to 41 students, the school benefits from the appointment of an additional teacher, four part-time teaching staff and 13 special needs assistants.
Although average attendance patterns are good for most students, a number of students have been absent from school for more than 21 days during the previous school year, due to their high medical needs. The school’s attendance policy makes appropriate reference to the promotion of good attendance and regular reminders are issued to parents. Staff is conscious of the need to monitor student attendance closely, in accordance with Section 21(9) and Section 22 of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000.
The school benefits from a very strong community spirit. Parents and the local community regularly support school-related activities and events. The ethos of the school is reflected in the warm, welcoming and respectful atmosphere of the school, the inclusive weekly assemblies and celebrations, the caring and positive interactions between staff and students and the holistic learning environments created. The pastoral care statement, vision and mission statements expound the school’s inclusive ethos, promote the principles of equality and fairness and are clearly manifest in the well-ordered, happy and secure atmosphere provided for all students.
The board of management is properly constituted and is actively committed to the work of the school. Board members bring a considerable range of skills and expertise to their various roles on the board. The chairperson is a regular visitor to the school and gives very generously of his time. Many board members have given several years of service to the school in varying capacities and possess a clear and shared understanding of the needs of the students and of the school’s organisational structure. Meetings are convened on a monthly basis, agenda and draft policies are circulated in advance of meetings, accounts of expenditure are maintained and clear, succinct minutes are recorded. The principal’s report to the board forms the basis of news items disseminated to the school community through school newsletters. It is recommended, in line with best practice and Section 18 of the Education Act (1998), that annual accounts of income and expenditure should be audited externally.
The board of management discharges its management and school development planning functions effectively. The board regards its main role as that of supporting the principal and staff in ensuring that high standards of accommodation, and teaching and learning are maintained and sustained. Board members are congratulated on the significant development work that has been undertaken since the last school inspection in the erection of a new purpose-built school building. The board has plans in place for the development of an inner playground and sensory room. The board reported that the school has recently received a substantial grant from a local charity to support this development. Board members are due to have access to training provided by the Catholic Primary School Managers’ Association (CPSMA) in the near term. The board is cognisant of its statutory obligations and of the requirement to comply with Departmental regulations.
A review of the minutes of meetings confirms that the board makes a positive contribution to the successful operation of the school. Recent issues raised at board meetings include discussions on health and safety, school library, gender equity, intercultural education, the whole-school evaluation process, data protection, medication, intimate care procedures and a review of the draft strategic plan for 2008-2012. The board plays an active role in the whole-school planning and development process and in the consideration and ratification of organisational policies. Consideration should now be afforded to extending this practice to review the range of curriculum plans that have been drafted by the principal and teaching staff.
The board affirms the dedication, commitment and approachability of the principal and staff. The board supports the continuing professional development needs of staff. The strong commitment to staff development that is a feature of the school should now be reflected in a written school policy on professional development. This policy should incorporate details of training received by individual staff members and identify future emerging training needs.
The main concerns identified by the board relate to the appointment and recognition of EU trained teachers, the increasing number of post-primary students enrolled and the school’s inability to access the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). The option of becoming formally involved in this modified approach to certification at Junior Certificate level is not currently open to the school, as access is presently restricted to a limited number of mainstream post-primary schools designated officially with disadvantaged status. Clarification was provided for the board at the pre-evaluation meeting regarding roles and responsibilities in relation to the appointment and recognition of teachers employed in national schools. The board has expressed particular concern in relation to the limited range of post-school services and placements currently available locally in ensuring a continuing service for school leavers.
The board is commended for its efforts in supporting and encouraging the work of the parents’ association and in its role in involving parents in the whole-school planning and development process. In setting targets for the future, it is recommended that the board issues an annual report to parents on the operation of the school, in line with section 20 of the Education Act, 1998.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, deputy principal and two special duties teachers. The principal adopts a calm, dedicated and informed approach to the management of the school. She exhibits a broad vision, commitment and ability to foster positive working relationships and builds on the work of previous principals. She has won the confidence and support of staff, parents and the multidisciplinary team, and values and acknowledges their contribution to the work of the school. The principal engages openly and capably with the board, staff, parents and students. She encourages professional reflection and facilitates a high level of collaboration among staff in promoting the aims of the school and in progressing the school development planning and decision-making processes. School activities are well organised and a palpable sense of routine, order and structure is apparent. Staff members are encouraged to actively share knowledge, skills and experience gained from attendance at courses. There is a shared sense of pride fostered in the work of the school.
The principal is ably assisted by the other members of the in-school management team, namely the deputy principal and two special duties teachers. The deputy principal brings a breadth of experience and provides effective support to the principal in the day-to-day administration of the school. The in-school management team makes a significant contribution to the smooth and effective operation of the school and to the development of a team spirit in implementing organisational and curricular change for the benefit of all. The wide range of responsibilities attached to each post is agreed, clearly defined and reviewed on an annual basis in the context of the changing needs of the school. Duties assigned include a balance of curricular, organisational and pastoral care responsibilities in keeping with the provisions of Circular 07/03. Regular team and individual meetings are held with the principal and annual reports on the wide-ranging work completed are submitted to the board. Post-holders carry out their duties in a most competent manner. The voluntary contribution of other members of the staff to the school development planning process is praiseworthy and greatly valued.
Agenda and minutes are circulated in advance of the termly staff meetings scheduled. Decisions taken are appropriately recorded and disseminated. This collaborative approach to decision-making contributes well to the smooth running of the school.
The school benefits from a high level of staffing. Staff members include the principal, six class teachers, including a teacher allocated to a designated class for deaf/hearing impaired students and 13 special needs assistants. One of these posts, which dates from the 1990s, is deployed mainly to administrative duties. Part-time teachers are employed in the areas of Home Economics (two days per week), Music (three hours per week), Woodwork (eight hours per week) and Physical Education (two hours per week). Other posts include fifteen bus escorts, some of whom are also special needs assistants, a school chef, kitchen assistant and caretaker. In addition, the school has access to a school nurse, which is funded by the HSE for ten months of the year. Staff is well managed and strongly supported in its work.
The school building provides a very high standard of accommodation and facilitates the delivery of appropriate education and care to students with special educational needs. Classrooms and ancillary rooms are purpose-built, visually attractive and very well maintained. The school has engaged proactively with the Department to find a solution to a problem with the efficiency of the heating system. In addition to the standard classrooms, there is a woodwork room, home economics room, kitchen/dining area, parents’ room, paramedical room, and a general-purposes room/assembly hall that opens out into the dining area for special events. The accommodation design around an enclosed courtyard allows easy internal circulation. The school grounds include grassed and hard play areas with suitable fixed play equipment. A planting programme has been undertaken to provide an extra shelter and visual amenity.
All general classrooms and specialist rooms are provided with a suitable range of resources appropriate to the needs and abilities of the students and relevant to the delivery of a broad curriculum. Commercially-produced materials are combined with teacher-designed materials. The woodwork room, home economics room and general-purposes hall are well equipped. An ancillary room has been developed as a school library cum music room and is well stocked with reading material and music resources. Each classroom has a minimum of two computers with internet access and a range of software programmes. One classroom is piloting the use of an interactive white board as a teaching tool. The school also has access to its own private school bus, which was purchased as a result of fund-raising initiatives.
Class libraries are well stocked and contain a wide range of suitable age-appropriate texts including fact and fiction. Books are efficiently organised according to level of difficulty and category of interest. In addition, the wide range of literacy-based ICT resources and teacher-designed resources supports the implementation of the curriculum. These resources are audited annually and accountability measures are is place through the sign-in, sign-out ICT operated library system. It is clear that Department and locally sourced funding has been used wisely to build up the school’s stock of resources.
The school has an active and very supportive parents’ association, which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. The main aim of the parents’ association is to provide a vehicle and support structure for parents to be more involved in the work of the school. Well-structured communication systems have been developed, which support the efficient running of the school and foster positive relationships between parents and home. There is regular and ongoing formal and informal two-way communication between the parents’ association, the principal and board of management. Issues concerning the parent body are brought to the attention of the principal, as appropriate. Relevant circulars are sent to the parents’ association and all correspondence from the parents’ association is issued centrally through the school.
The association’s officers reported that meetings with the greater parent body are held regularly. Improving the attendance of a greater number of parents at these meetings continues to be a key challenge, due to the wide catchment area of the school. Feedback from the officers of the parents’ association confirmed that issues of concern are dealt with promptly and efficiently by school management. Reference was also made to the approachability of staff in discussing students’ progress and needs. Parents expressed their satisfaction that the views of parents are taken on board in the development and review of school policies. Parents interviewed made particular reference to their recent involvement in the review of the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) policy.
The parents’ association is to be commended for its commitment in organising information nights on issues of interest to parents pertaining to special education. The association supports school functions and celebrations and also organises fund-raising activities in collaboration with the school’s fund-raising committee, for example the annual cycling initiative. Parents’ representatives commented favourably on the commitment and dedication of staff, the safe, happy and friendly school environments fostered, the additional out-of-school activities organised, the open lines of communication between school and home, and the sense of community spirit nurtured with the wider school environment. Parents report particular satisfaction with staff’s commitment in promoting Irish Sign Language to enhance the language and communication skills and social development of students. Parents interviewed would welcome the involvement of special needs assistants at parent-teacher meetings in order to further support the effective transition of students from one classroom to another as they progress through the school.
Very strong home-school links are nurtured at whole-school level as reflected in the school’s communication policy. Since 2006, the school uses ‘text a parent’ to keep parents informed of important school events or notices. General information on upcoming school events and achievements is also communicated through a series of termly newsletters and by regular correspondence. Parents of new students receive a school brochure and admissions pack containing a copy of pertinent organisational policies to support students’ transition to school. A user-friendly information booklet has recently been developed for new staff and work placement students. Positive links are fostered with the local community through the school’s involvement in various art competitions and attendance at a range of cultural and educational events. It is recommended that reference be made in the home-school communication policy to the approaches and strategies currently being used to facilitate the meaningful engagement of parents in the school development planning and review process.
Very good efforts are made to inform parents of students’ progress. Formal parent-teacher meetings to discuss students’ progress are held annually with additional informal meetings arranged as necessitated. Individual written progress reports are issued to all parents at the end of each school year. A suitable school-based template has been developed and agreed to facilitate the communication of relevant information. Parents are also encouraged to communicate with teachers through the use of homework journals.
Appropriate social behaviour and application to work among students is maintained by good classroom organisation, good lesson planning and positive staff-student relationships. There are currently three students in the designated class for deaf /hearing impairment, while the number of students in other classes ranges from five to eleven. A calm, supportive and purposeful atmosphere is created and maintained in all classrooms. Teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) interact respectfully with the students, and students in turn respond warmly to staff and peers and participate actively in the learning activities organised. The care, supervision and safety of students are greatly enhanced by the structured supervision rota systems, the organised playground activities and the conscientious work of the SNAs in support of the teachers. The weekly assembly fosters a community spirit, allows for the celebration of achievements, and facilitates an opportunity to reinforce school codes of behaviour and issue reminders to staff and students.
Positive behaviour is rewarded, students are consistently encouraged and minor disruptive behaviour is dealt with unobtrusively. Staff is aware of the importance of looking at the context and possible causes of more challenging behaviour and are to be commended in having accessed whole-staff training in non-confrontational intervention approaches, such as the Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) funded by the Special Education Support Service (SESS).
The school plan is presented in an accessible format and is available for viewing. A flash drive memory stick containing relevant plans and policies has been supplied to each class teacher to further support teacher planning and preparation. The school has availed of external personnel from the various national support services on an ongoing basis to progress the whole-school planning and review process. Staff meetings and school-based planning days have been effectively used to advance whole-school planning.
A wide range of organisational policies has been put in place and reviewed through the joint activity of the principal, curriculum coordinators and the teaching staff. Policies are very clearly documented using a structured framework and are appropriately customised to the evolving needs of the school. Parental involvement in the planning process is progressing well. Parents are invited through written communication to comment and respond to each policy drafted. All draft organisational policies are debated, carefully considered and finally agreed and ratified at board level. The coherent code of behaviour and discipline and anti-bullying policies are very comprehensive and include very useful guidelines and strategies to promote positive behaviour. The existing school’s health and safety statement is currently in the process of being updated. It is recommended that the enrolment policy be reviewed to include the eligibility of students for enrolment from four to 18 years to reflect the requirements of Rules for National Schools.
Comprehensive curricular plans with review dates have been formulated to guide whole-school practice in all curricular areas with the exception of Drama, which is currently under review. Policies developed reflect the principles of the curriculum, provide guidance in relation to strategies, approaches and methodologies, make specific reference to assessment and how information and communication technology (ICT) can be used to support teaching and learning. Curriculum planning priorities for further development are agreed and identified formally in a three-year action plan to guide the cyclical review of plans and their impact on teaching and learning outcomes in classrooms. It is planned that a policy will be developed during the current school year to guide the school in the implementation of Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) certification programmes to further support curricular provision at post-primary level. It is recommended that each curricular policy should be extended to include details as to how parents could support students’ learning.
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 ongoing conscientious efforts made by teachers in seeking to improve, develop and enhance existing individual planning practices are acknowledged. An impressive range of teacher-designed visual aids, differentiated tasks, charts, posters, visual schedules, colour-coded labels, objects of reference from the environment, educational software, interesting reading material and concrete manipulatives is used to support teaching and learning.
All teachers provide regular long-term and short-term planning notes together with monthly records of work, which are centrally stored. Suitable commonly agreed planning templates have been developed to support consistency of practice. There is a direct link between teachers’ planning, the whole-school plan and the principles of the curriculum. Comprehensive and meaningful long-term planning is provided in all classes. In general, the quality of classroom short-term planning ranges from good to very good. Very good practice exists when there is evidence to show that learning outcomes are clear, specific, developmental and differentiated to accommodate differing ability levels. The short-term planning and monthly records in some curricular areas are general in nature and would benefit from a greater emphasis on the recording of specific learning outcomes. This would facilitate the tracking and evaluation of content covered and would guide the assessment for learning process. The section on the template for reflective analysis could be beneficially utilised to self-evaluate the effectiveness of lessons presented and the learning achieved.
Individual education plans (IEPs) have been devised for all students in consultation with parents and other relevant multi-disciplinary personnel, as a means to monitor progress in relation to priority learning goals. The school has adopted a suitable format for recording IEPs and is well advanced in the use of the IEP process. Parents’ views are taken into account in the setting of key learning targets. All parents are issued with a questionnaire to gather their contributions and concerns prior to formal parent-teacher meetings. The IEPs clearly identify students’ strengths and priority learning needs. There is some variation among classes in relation to the clarity, specificity and frequency of review of learning targets set. As students approach school leaving age, a well-structured process of collaborative planning involving teacher, parents, student, vocational guidance officer, other HSE personnel, and relevant adult service providers is put in place. It is planned that the IEP process and the setting of clear, measurable, specific learning targets will continue to be refined and delineated in line with best practice, and as advocated in the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process (2006).
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Students have access to a broad, balanced, relevant and developmental range of curricular experiences in each dimension of learning. Very good attention is given to the differentiation of teaching and learning activities taking into account the diverse range of needs, strengths, abilities and interests of students. The Primary School Curriculum (1999) and Guidelines for Teachers of Students with Mild General learning Disabilities (2007) provide the framework for the whole-school curriculum programmes implemented. Plans are currently being explored in relation to the possibility of pursuing various FETAC modules in tandem with the Primary School Curriculum (1999) to facilitate external certification opportunities for students of post-primary age. Teachers are currently using Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) and the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) assessment sheets on a pilot basis in classrooms in order to guide teachers’ observations of students’ progress.
Teachers employ a wide range of teaching approaches, strategies and methodologies to mediate the curriculum at each class level. The plentiful supply of interactive and teacher-designed concrete and visual aids is effectively used in all classrooms to interest and challenge the students. Positive, stimulating and well-organised learning environments are presented, lessons are well paced and there is an effective balance between explicit skill-based class teaching, group work and individual work. The emphasis placed on the development of students’ communication and social skills across all curricular areas is laudable. The whole-school use of Irish Sign Language (ISL) is given special consideration as a communication tool in mediating the delivery of the overall curriculum. The commitment and dedication displayed by staff in receiving additional training and certification in ISL are commended. Braille has also been introduced to support the communication skills of a student with visual impairment. Linkage and integration are used very effectively to scaffold and consolidate students’ learning. There is a strong emphasis on using the local environment. Other effective active learning strategies used include literal and inferential questioning, teacher modelling and demonstration, discussion, prompting, role-play, mime and drama. Opportunities are provided for school leavers to choose and participate in suitable activity-based workshops and work placements. Cross-curricular displays in classrooms and in school public areas are very attractively presented and clearly labelled.
ICT is used effectively to enhance students’ teaching and learning experiences throughout the school. Access to the internet via broadband portals is provided in each classroom and an acceptable use policy has been developed and approval sought from parents/guardians. At the time of the evaluation, the school was in the process of finalising its own school website. Digital cameras and video camcorders are used extensively to record students’ achievements, historical occasions and important celebrations. Regular and effective use is made of the interactive white board installed. Overall, there is strong collective commitment to achieving quality in classroom teaching and learning.
The development of functional reading and writing skills is interrelated appropriately and takes account of students’ developmental ages and individual strengths. Students’ reading and writing skills are well supported through the provision of clearly designated literacy-rich environments. Staff has succeeded in motivating students to have a strong interest in books and reading. Visits to the local library are a regular feature in order to encourage a reading culture among students. Local storytellers, authors, poets and members of the local community are also invited to the school to read and share their work. Parallel reading schemes chosen are age-appropriate and have comprehension levels commensurate with the students’ language skills. Visual materials used are attractive and interesting and students engage well with the literacy activities presented. Very good use is made of ICT, assistive technology and suitable computer software in supporting students’ reading experiences and literacy skills. Flashcards are used effectively in some classes to consolidate students’ early reading of high frequency words. Many students can describe the print conventions used in books and have attained good to very good levels of reading attainment and word attack skills, in accordance with their potential, age and stage of development. Students make very good efforts in retelling familiar stories. Reading records are maintained throughout the school.
The teaching of functional and free writing is embedded in a language-experience approach to literacy development. Very good attention is given to pre-writing and early writing activities. As students progress through the school, writing frames are used to enable students draw from their own experiences and interests. Students are encouraged to write clearly and legibly for real audiences using diverse registers of language. Students are given the opportunity to create their own poems, to compose sentences, to complete comprehension activities and to respond to story and to the work of artists. Students’ written work is read aloud, celebrated and attractively displayed. A multi-dimensional approach is adopted for the teaching of spelling. Copies are regularly monitored and neatness is promoted. Consideration should be given by the school to reintroduce the practice of compiling a range of class and/or school booklets with students’ writing samples incorporating various writing genres.
Tá tús déanta ag an bhfoireann le déanaí gnéithe den churaclam Gaeilge a chur in oiriúint do riachtanais dhaltaí le mion-mhíchumais ghinearálta foghlama. Cruthaítear deiseanna éagsúla i ranganna ar leith chun feasacht éigin teanga, idir labhairt agus éisteacht, agus cultúr na Gaeilge a thabhairt do na daltaí. Bhí ábhair chlóbhuailte i nGaeilge le feiceáil i bhformhór na seomraí ranga. Cothaítear dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge, ach go háirithe i gceann amháin de na seomraí ranga, agus is féidir leis na daltaí beannachtaí, paidreacha, agus gníomhrainn shimplí a aithris sa rang seo. Déantar iarracht mhaith i ranganna eile freisin foclóir Ghaeilge a mhúineadh do dhaltaí áirithe trí úsáid a bhaint as tascanna simplí agus bogearraí teicneolaíochta cúnta.
Déantar dea-chúram d’fheasacht cultúir tríd na deiseanna a chuirtear ar fáil do na daltaí éisteacht le ceol Gaelach, amhráin Ghaelacha a sheinm ar fheadóga agus damhsaí Gaelacha a fhoghlaim. B’fhiú anois aird ar leith a dhíriú ar fhoilsiúchán na Comhairle Náisiúnta Curaclaim agus Measúnachta (CNCM), Treoirlínte do Mhúinteoirí Daltaí le Mion-Mhíchumais Ghinearálta Foghlama: Gaeilge: Teanga agus Cultúr (2007). Ba thairbheach an plean Gaeilge a aontú ar bhonn uile-scoile do na daltaí le mion-mhíchumais nach bhfuil díolúine ón nGaeilge faighte go hoifigiúil acu, de réir Ciorclán 12/96.
The staff has recently embarked on adapting aspects of the Irish curriculum to suit the needs of students with mild general learning disability. Various opportunities are provided in individual classes to promote the listening and speaking of Irish and to foster students’ awareness of Irish culture. Printed material in Irish was on display in most classrooms. A positive attitude towards Irish is promoted in the school, particularly in one case, where students are able to use greetings, say prayers and recite simple action rhymes through the medium of Irish. A good effort is also made in other classes to teach specific students Irish vocabulary using simple tasks and assistive technology software.
Cultural appreciation is well catered for through the opportunities provided for students to listen to traditional Irish music, play Irish songs on the tin whistle and learn Irish dance. Attention is drawn to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) publication: Guidelines for Teachers of Students with Mild General Learning Disabilities: Gaeilge: Teanga agus Cultúr (2007). Staff should agree a whole-school approach to the implementation of Irish for those students with mild general learning disability who are not officially exempt from the learning of Irish, in accordance with Circular 12/96.
The whole-school plan for Mathematics is in the process of being reviewed during the current school year. All strands of the mathematics curriculum receive due attention and every effort is made to ensure that students experience success. An integrated and structured approach to the teaching of Mathematics is adopted effectively throughout the school. Materials are clearly labelled and easily accessible for lessons. A wide range of concrete manipulatives and equipment is used. Realistic learning targets are set and the work given to students is carefully matched with their individual ability levels. Teachers place a very good emphasis on developing social, practical and real-life Mathematics. There is an appropriate balance between direct skill-based teacher input, oral work in group contexts, and differentiated individual work. Incorporation of mathematical tasks into cross-curricular themes provides meaningful contexts for consolidating mathematical skills. Staff is commended on the purposeful reinforcement of the language of Mathematics using ISL signs, objects of reference, puppets, pictures, rhyme, story, song, questioning, discussion, experimentation, simulation and ICT. Charts with mathematical symbols and word equivalents as well as clearly labelled mathematical tables are provided in classrooms.
The overall quality of attainment and understanding of mathematical concepts covered is very good relative to students’ abilities and stages of development. Students showed very good progress in the development of early mathematical activities and many students responded well to questioning on shape and space, measures and number. Careful attention is paid to the neat presentation and ongoing monitoring of students’ written work.
Teachers show a well-developed awareness of the ways in which the history curriculum can be made interesting and relevant to the students. Lessons are well planned. Student participation is promoted by a range of appropriate methodologies. There is an emphasis on content and activities that are linked directly to students’ own experiences and to the local environment. The students’ own lives are used as a starting point from which links are made to the lives of people in other times. Artefacts, photographs, selected materials from textbooks, and material sourced from the internet are among the most commonly used resources. Students are enabled to engage with the subject through assignments and activities involving discussion, question and answer, drama/ role play, art work, photography and conventional pen and paper work. The Story strand of the history curriculum is utilised skilfully by teachers. Stories from local, national and international sources, in some cases linked to seasonal events, are developed to good effect. Field trips to places of interest within the school’s catchment area are a valuable feature of all classes. The use of integrated theme-based and story-based approaches and linkages to the local environment contribute well to the quality of teaching. The quality of history-related displays and the eagerness of students to show and talk about their work point to the very good quality of learning in this subject area.
The three strands of the geography curriculum are addressed in a balanced way in all classes. Work related to the human environment and to the natural environment is linked thematically with History and Science. Student participation is enhanced through the integration of visual arts and music activities. Students’ awareness of the environment is enlivened by the whole-school involvement in the Green Schools initiative, which gives a practical, hands-on focus to the work. A spiral approach is used for topics such as My Town and People who work in my Community and, as students progress through the school, these topics are appropriately revisited in more depth. At school-leaver level, for example, the local environment is used successfully to develop independent community skills. A number of field trips to locations in Mayo allow students at different class levels to explore various themes at an age appropriate level. In all classes there is a focus on helping the students to understand and use geographical vocabulary. Students are given good opportunities to develop a general knowledge about places and people in other parts of the world and to acquire geographical skills, including an ability to use maps and globes.
The science component of Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) is a well established part of the curriculum throughout the school. There is an appropriate emphasis on the direct exploration of materials and on observation and recording of simple classroom-based experiments. The strand Environmental Awareness and Care, which is common to Science and Geography, is well represented through ongoing activities linked to recycling. A whole-school energy survey has encouraged commendable work in the Energy and Forces strand of Science. The practice of having the whole-school focus on a broad theme from time to time generates additional motivation for students and teachers alike. The Living Things strand is supported by nature table displays and by recording the growth of classroom plants. The development of a school garden plot is currently under consideration by the school. This would provide a valuable additional outlet for practical work relevant to gardening and other curricular areas. In this, as in other aspects of SESE, teachers promote the development of oral language and literacy skills and use many visual arts activities to engage the imaginations of students.
All students of post-primary age have access to home economics classes provided by a part-time teacher with a recognised qualification in the subject. Home economics is taught in a well-equipped home economics room. Students are organised in small groups of four to six. Lesson periods range from 90 minutes to two-hour classes, so that students have adequate opportunity to explore the practical elements of the programme and to benefit from observing the completion of various dishes.
A strong emphasis is placed on using an active and experiential approach to learning. Lessons are conducted with careful regard for health and safety, proper hygiene and full student participation. The positive atmosphere created and the emphasis given to cross-curricular links facilitate students’ enjoyment of Home Economics. Students use correct terminology and display a good knowledge and understanding of the concepts and practical processes being taught. Relevant theoretical knowledge is integrated with the practical discovery learning process. The whiteboard is used to enable students follow recipes, which are carefully chosen to complement the school’s healthy eating policy. Students’ individual school folders include a record of the menus used throughout the year and a general assessment of their progress. Conscientious efforts were made to implement the recommendation given during the course of the whole-school evaluation to develop a print-rich learning environment in the cookery room incorporating the key vocabulary of the week, relevant posters and charts and the labelling of kitchen utensils and appliances. It is suggested that students be more involved in the tracking of their own progress over a given time using individual record sheets. Each student should be encouraged to build up a dictionary of home economics terms and to maintain a diary of work undertaken incorporating diagrams, sketches and colour pictures. Attention is drawn to the Guidelines for Teachers of Students with Mild General Learning Disabilities: Home Economics (2007) to guide the development of a whole-school policy for Home Economics.
Visual Arts is taught very effectively and skilfully as a core curricular area in all classes and is extensively used to integrate the work in other curricular areas. There are engaging displays of the students’ work in classrooms, corridors and reception areas. The high standard of presentation and creativity of these displays, which represent all classes, is laudable. Students experience a wide range of techniques using a broad variety of media from drawing, print, pattern work, paint, fabrics and fibre to construction, experimentation with clay, tie dye and weaving. There is a weighted emphasis between making art and responding to art and a good balance between two- and three-dimensional forms. Lessons throughout the school are very well planned, effective stimuli are provided, various techniques are appropriately modelled, multi-sensory approaches are adopted and students are encouraged to discuss and give expression to their experiences. Students are confident and enthusiastic in approaching tasks set and are proud of their completed works.
Students have developed a good awareness of the elements of art and of visual art vocabulary, in accordance with their ability levels. The students’ written responses to the work and various styles of a range of famous artists are creative, spontaneous, interesting and humorous. Teachers are mindful of the importance of assessing students’ work in visual arts on the basis of perceptual awareness, expressive abilities and skills, critical and aesthetic awareness and their disposition towards art activities. The interactive whiteboard is very skilfully used to mediate students’ learning in Visual Arts. Assembly time is used in a meaningful way to give students an opportunity to show and display their art work to an adult and child audience. Visits to local art exhibitions and galleries are an important feature of the students’ art programme.
The whole-school plan for Visual Arts is in the process of review during the current school year with the support of an advisor from the Primary Professional Development Service (PPDS). Recent efforts by staff to develop portfolios comprising representative samples of the students’ work will greatly assist teachers in establishing each students’current stage of art development. It is recommended that the whole-school policy should include a guideline in relation to the stages of art development in students to further guide the teaching and learning process.
A whole-school plan for Music has been developed, which addresses the listening, composing and performing strands of the curriculum. The school employs an external music teacher, an ex-member of staff, for three hours per week. Additional support is provided for students on a voluntary basis by the teacher. Each student derives great pleasure and enjoyment from the music curriculum delivered, and has gained a good appreciation of music. Lessons are presented in an enthusiastic, structured and multi-dimensional manner and the three strands are appropriately interrelated. Regular attention is given to the teaching of singing and students sing with enthusiasm. Very good work is undertaken on listening and responding activities and on developing students’ understanding of the elements of music. A suitable range of percussion instruments with varying sounds and pitches is used. Many students can recognise and name the instruments and parts of the orchestra. A considerable number of students are making steady progress in playing a number of Irish airs on the tin whistle. These efforts are praiseworthy. Students are given regular opportunities to attend local and national musical performances and to perform at school assemblies and school concerts.
It is recommended that the whole-school plan for Music should incorporate guidelines for staff on the teaching of the elements of music, music terminology and early musical literacy activities. It would be beneficial to include a reference to graphic notation, rhythmic chants, percussion work, note names and time values to ensure continuity and steady progression in the acquisition of skills throughout the school. An agreed repertoire of songs, games, listening excerpts and music literacy features would further augment the existing music programme. There is a need to ensure that suitable and sufficient time slots are allocated to the teaching of Music in individual classrooms over the school year to further enhance the implementation of a broad and balanced music programme for all students.
While the whole-school plan for Drama has yet to be developed, aspects of the concepts and methodologies of the drama curriculum are being implemented during the current school year. Drama is also employed regularly by many teachers as a cross-curricular active learning methodology, particularly in English, SESE and SPHE. A good variety of drama strategies was used during the course of the whole-school evaluation to enable students to engage in make-believe, mime and frieze-frames and to support their ability to move in and out of role and to create Drama. Drama contracts are used and safe environments are fostered. Story is used effectively as a stimulus in a number of classrooms to explore aspects of process drama and expand students’ understanding of the main characters in re-enacting a story. A wide range of drama games, suitable props, glance cards and visual prompts are used imaginatively to facilitate dramatic action, and explore feelings and different scenarios. Students are given the opportunity to perform for their families at Christmas, and for the school community at the regular whole-school assemblies organised. These performances incorporate poetry, drama, music and song.
Although Drama is included in all class timetables, the time allocation given to this subject varies between classes. Attention is drawn to the Drama action plan for 2008-2009, which appropriately makes reference to the recommended minimum weekly time framework of one hour per week for Drama (Primary School Curriculum: An Introduction, p70) Consideration should be given to dividing the hour allocation into two single class periods on different days in all classes in the interests of continuity, progression and reinforcement of learning. It is suggested that a thematic framework incorporating real life issues, events, story and activities be adopted in the whole-school plan to augment the successful implementation of the drama curriculum.
Students are provided with a broad and varied physical education programme that covers the strands of athletics, dance, gymnastics, games, aquatics and outdoor adventure activities. Elements of the programme are delivered in the classroom, general-purposes hall, school playground, and in local leisure facilities including the swimming pool and bowling alley. Lessons observed were well structured and well paced. Students participated enthusiastically and were given appropriate support by staff.
A comprehensive range of large and small equipment is provided in the PE hall to support games and floor activities. In junior classes, the PE programme is delivered by the class teachers with practical assistance from SNAs. Teachers work together to share expertise and to facilitate cross-class groupings for some activities. In the classes for students over 12 years of age, aspects of the programme are delivered by a specialist PE instructor. This enables older students to engage in more advanced activities appropriate to their ages. All elements of the programme are planned and recorded in accordance with school policies and procedures.
Swimming is timetabled in blocks throughout the year so that each class participates for a total of approximately three months. This arrangement is repeated in successive years and allows students to progress from initial water play to mastery of swimming skills, while ensuring that sufficient time is allocated to other aspects of the curriculum. Games skills are a significant part of the programme. Basic ball skills are introduced from an early stage. As students move to more senior classes, they participate in team games to include badminton, basketball and football. Bowling and golf provide experience of individual sports. The dance strand is well represented and class records indicate that promising work is undertaken in this area.
The school’s approach to Social, Personal and Health Education is comprehensive and thorough. The three strands – Myself, Myself and Others and Myself and the Wider World are introduced in junior classes and revisited as the students progress through the school. Planning documents, records of work, samples of students’ work and activities observed indicate age-related progression in terms of content, language and methodologies. At all levels there is a three-pronged approach involving discrete lessons, the use of opportunities across the curriculum to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes related to SPHE, and the use of school routines and activities to develop social and personal skills. Special events, celebrations and outings during the school year provide additional opportunities to reinforce skills in varying contexts. There is good integration with the SESE, art, drama and music curricula to stimulate active learning. Most importantly, staff model and reinforce appropriate social behaviours and create a school climate conducive to the promotion of this curricular area.
Whole-school policy development has ensured that the SPHE curriculum incorporates related programmes, including Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), Stay Safe and Walk Tall. The school has adopted a policy of delivering RSE, as a module within SPHE, at an agreed time within every second school year. This practice is praiseworthy.
Much of the SPHE curriculum for the most senior students is embedded in a range of lessons and activities aimed at preparation for the transition to adult life at work and in the community. The school leavers’ programme includes practical tasks within the school, work sampling and the use of community and leisure facilities. It also includes a four-week placement for each student in the local post-school training and education centres. Depending on the needs of a particular class group, it is suggested, when feasible, that consideration be given to introducing some elements of this programme at an earlier stage, as a means of building on the existing social and personal skills work already being done with younger students.
Practice in the school with regard to assessment of student learning outcomes and the monitoring of learning to inform ongoing programme planning is good and in some instances very good. Teachers are aware of the potential for further development in this area in terms of identifying various forms of assessment for different students. Staff is enthusiastic about the recent invitation received from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) for the school to participate in a two-year national pilot Assessment Network Project. Two teachers will represent special schools in this initiative and will receive specific training based on Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum: Guidelines for Schools (2007).
A number of assessment strategies are well established at classroom level as part of the teaching and learning process. Teachers compile folders containing samples of students’ work related to English, Mathematics, Visual Arts and other areas. These provide a good basis for assessment of students’ progress. Teachers’ observation notes in some cases clarify the nature of the task, the degree of assistance given or progress made, thus adding greatly to the value of these samples as a basis for assessment. In such cases the work samples are arranged in alignment with the strands of the curriculum and, therefore, constitute a record of the school curriculum as experienced by the individual student. Other common assessment strategies, such as teacher observation and teacher-designed tasks and tests, are used routinely in all classes. Standardised and diagnostic tests are used to assess progress in language, literacy and numeracy and to inform future planning.
The school is to be commended for its efforts in using some of the learning assessment formats that have been developed by JCSP as a means of recording students’ progress in aspects of the curriculum at the senior end of the school. Similarly, the school has identified potential in the FETAC approach to certification of learning. The school’s quality assurance submission has been accepted by FETAC and proposals have been submitted which would allow the students to work towards FETAC awards, initially at levels one and two of the National Qualifications Framework.
The school’s commitment to and competence in the provision of appropriate education to students with identified special educational needs is demonstrated in all areas of policy and practice. The supportive atmosphere of the school, the emphasis on active learning methodologies and the level of support provided by teachers and SNAs contribute to positive outcomes for the students.
The school has adopted an inclusive approach to the diversity of needs. This is seen in the commitment of staff to continuing professional development in areas such as sign language, challenging behaviour and autism. Evidence of additional adaptation to autism-related needs is seen in the use of visual timetables, schedules and prompts and in the adjustment of classroom layout. Much good practice has been developed in the designated class for the deaf/hearing impaired and shared with other areas of the school. The stimulating learning context for the students in this class is enriched by the sharing of activities with other classes and the team/teaching practices with other teacher colleagues.
Multi-disciplinary support is provided on a visiting basis in the school by therapists from the HSE. The school aims to ensure that students’ psychological assessments are updated every three years and all school leavers receive a final assessment in preparation for their transition to after school placements. A speech and language therapy service is currently provided two days a week. A physiotherapist attends on one morning a week and an occupational therapist supports the school on request. While the services of these therapists is directed at specific students on an individual basis outside of the classroom, on occasion there is an element of in-class consultation, linked for example to the introduction of a special communication aid for a student or to the shared needs of a group of students. This model of work facilitates the sharing of knowledge, expertise and skills between therapist and teacher. The recent ISL school-based training provided for a cohort of parents in junior classes is a further example of very good collaborative practice.
It is recommended that policy documents on the education of students with particular special needs related to sensory impairments, autism and other conditions be inserted in the school plan. Such policies would highlight the school’s enrolment procedures, educational approaches/interventions, staff development priorities and written protocols around the management of specialist equipment, such as hearing aids and other audiological equipment in conjunction with visiting support services.
The quality of support for all students is enhanced by the services provided by the school nurse. The nurse’s base room provides high quality facilities for meeting the intimate care needs of students, for whom classroom-based facilities are not appropriate. The nurse works in collaboration with SNAs, provides advice and support to the school in relation to health-related needs and has contributed to relevant aspects of staff training.
The mid-day cooked meal provided for all students is jointly funded by the Department of Social, Family and Community Affairs and the HSE. This service adds to the quality of provision for all students as well as providing a context for developing skills related to SPHE and other areas of the curriculum. This facility is of particular benefit to students who travel longer distances to and from school. Escorts, funded by the Department and recruited and managed by the school, accompany the students on all school transport.
The school’s inclusive, caring and respectful approach to all students ensures that it is well placed to respond to the particular needs of students from disadvantaged, minority or other backgrounds. The school’s commitment in this regard is outlined in its intercultural and equality policy.
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 June 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management would like to thank the Inspectors for the respectful, constructive and professional manner in which the WSE was undertaken. The Board are very pleased that the report acknowledges the laudable and exemplary work being carried out in the school, the dedication, commitment and professionalism of the Principal and staff, and the high standards that are being achieved by students.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board appreciates the constructive recommendations made which will guide the shape of the medium to long term development of the school.