An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. John’s Special School
Dungarvan, Co. Waterford
Uimhir rolla: 19282R
Date of inspection: 27th April 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. John’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 reporting 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 pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St. John’s is a co-educational special school for pupils aged 4-18 years with mild general learning disability in the town of Dungarvan. The school’s catchment covers both rural and urban areas and pupils are drawn from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. The catchment includes the county areas of east Cork as far as Youghal, and west Waterford, with a significant number of the present cohort coming from the town of Dungarvan. The last school report was written in 2000 and, at that time, the majority of applications for enrolments were for the senior section of the school. But more recently applications have been received for the junior classes. Most of the pupils are transported to the school on transport funded by the Department of Education and Science.
The school was established in temporary premises in 1969 and moved to the present building in April 1976 on a site adjacent to the Presentation Convent and donated to the trustees by that order. Many of the original trustees were prominent local businessmen and clergymen and are now deceased. The school does not operate under a charitable organisation or religious order, so the sole source of funding for services rests with the Department of Education and Science, the Health Service Executive and the other relevant government departments.
There has been a change in leadership in the current year as the principal of the school has been absent on leave since January 2007, and the deputy principal has been acting up in a temporary capacity. Recently, a senior pupil of the school died in tragic circumstances and this sad loss had an enduring effect on both the staff and pupils in the school, particularly her classmates. The current enrolment is 44 pupils, with three senior post-primary classes and two primary classes. The enrolment has been steadily increasing since 2002. A number of pupils have frequent absences from the school and this appears to be particularly prevalent in the senior school.
Currently, there is no parents’ association in operation in the school. This is partially due to the wide catchment area and the presence of St. John’s Association in Dungarvan which is a voluntary organisation that fund-raises for disability groups in the area. All the parents of pupils attending the school are members of this association automatically and this involvement might be attributable as a causal factor to the difficulty in establishing a separate parents’ association group. St. John’s Association has been very supportive of the work of the school, and often generously allocates funds for particular school initiatives. The board facilitates open and valuable communication with the parental body through the parents’ representatives on the board.
A matter that currently concerns the board is the perceived level of increasingly challenging behaviour in some pupils. The lack of a full multi-disciplinary support service is a matter of some concern to the board of management, particularly the lack of both educational and clinical psychological support from either the HSE or NEPS. A counsellor was allocated on an emergency basis to the school to provide advice and input to some senior staff members as a result of the unexpected death of a pupil. The school management felt that, occasionally, pupils attended the school after tragic events in their personal lives and such a service would be valuable on a continuous basis. The members of the current and previous boards have given generously of their personal time to manage the school and are to be commended for their continuing efforts in this regard. A priority for the board is the acquisition of quality premises, to provide the optimum learning environment for the pupils. It has been proactive in seeking grants for minor works to the premises and recent refurbishment on the building has resulted in replacement windows, removal of asbestos from the roof, and fencing in the oil tank area and the perimeter of the school grounds. An application has been made for an extension to the existing building to provide rooms for multi-disciplinary use, and additional office and classroom accommodation. The board expressed the opinion that a home/school liaison teacher would be invaluable for the school to assist pupils to remain engaged in the education process and assist parental links with the school. Following recent adjustments by the board, the school is in compliance with departmental regulations regarding time in school and maximum class size.
The acting principal is well respected by the staff and good working relationships were evident in the school with the development of clear policies and operating procedures to provide a safe and secure working environment for staff and pupils. Although the principal has only been on leave since January 2007, the acting principal was already in an acting capacity for two years previously, as the principal was on secondment. She displays considerable background knowledge of the pupils, their families and interests. She is aware of the difficulties or distractions that might impinge on their attendance in the school and tries to mitigate these difficulties with the families or relevant agencies as necessary. She discharges the duties of the role in a caring and professional manner, and the daily administration and organisational elements are capably completed and official records are well maintained. The acting principal is aware of her obligations in leading teaching and learning and has evolved structures in the school plan to support newly qualified teachers or those teachers who are new to special education. She has attended in-service provision to assist her in the execution of her duties in the role of principal and to create links with other principals of similar schools. The principal delegates responsibility for the development and review of school policies to particular members of staff, where appropriate. The instructional leadership role of the principal will be pivotal in the implementation of whole school structures for planning and recording in the future.
The in-school management structure provides for one post at deputy principal level and one special duties post-holder. Due attention is given to the carrying out of the various responsibilities attached to each post. Assigned areas of responsibility are relevant to the needs of the school and cover curricular, organisational and pastoral aspects. The commitment and teamwork of the staff are also evident in their involvement in a wide variety of projects and initiatives undertaken with pupils both inside and outside school time. The management team is made up of able, committed and enthusiastic teachers who demonstrate a willingness to develop the various middle management roles. There are no formal scheduled meetings at present for post-holders to meet with the principal and discuss the priorities of the school, or areas of concern. This happens on a regular basis, but informally rather than in a structured manner. The principal should consider holding formal in-school management team meetings on a structured basis. The school should consider adjusting the policy for the allocation of duties with a reference to the timeframe for the revision of the duties attached to the post, and outline how suggestions for revision will be discussed and evaluated.
The material resources and personnel available to the school are effectively deployed. The teaching staff consists of five full-time class teachers, four with primary qualifications and one with post-primary specialist qualifications. Many of the teachers have received opportunities to rotate between classes and experience a variety of class levels, with the post-primary teacher solely deployed to the three age-appropriate classes in the senior section of the school. The board of management supports the professional development of the staff, and staff members have attended courses related to their professional roles. The school might consider compiling an audit of pertinent courses attended by the teachers and including this list in the school plan with a policy on how decisions will be prioritised for funding and sanctioning of attendance at in-service courses.
The school has the services of two part-time teachers, one for home economics, funded through the VEC “co-operation hours” scheme and one for woodwork, funded by the Department of Education and Science. Each of these teachers attends the school for 8 hours per week. They teach small groups from the three senior classes on a rotational basis, so all the senior pupils have access to these subjects each week. Both subjects are delivered in specialist tuition rooms. The woodwork room has a small store area attached to it and is equipped with a range of tools and equipment. However, this classroom area is quite small and contains no extraction facilities to improve the air quality. Much of the material for construction is provided ready for use to the pupils as the machining facilities at the school are limited. The home economics programme uses the structures from the Junior Certificate schools programme and the National Council for Vocational Awards (NCVA) foundation level module of Food and Cookery.
The school has a complement of ten full-time special needs assistants (SNAs) who are deployed to provide support and supervision for pupils, both on a class and on an individual basis. The SNA staff members have a wide range of interests and relevant experience. They display considerable skill and sensitivity in managing the pupils and maintaining them on programmes assigned by the teachers. A part-time school secretary provides invaluable administrative support to the principal and staff while a part-time chef provides a full dinner service to the pupil cohort on a daily basis. The school is cleaned daily and commendable emphasis is placed on the maintenance of high standards of hygiene throughout the school, particularly in the school kitchen area.
As the school has no links with a voluntary organisation, multi-disciplinary support is provided through the H.S.E. The speech and language therapist (SLT) attends the school for one full day each week to provide a service for 15 pupils. The board of management recognises the need to provide a more continuous service in this regard and funds the services of an assistant to the SLT for five mornings per week. This role was established as a supporting role, to provide continuity of therapy goals as determined by the SLT, and to provide feedback on the progress on set objectives to her.
The school does not currently receive a psychological service from the National Educational Psychological Service. There has been a limited assessment service available from the HSE for pupils, but the HSE has indicated that such a service will not be available into the future. There is a half post in psychology in the HSE services for behavioural support and the school may apply for such support for individual pupils. Difficulties have been experienced with pupils referred to this clinical service as in certain circumstances, for example, if they forget to keep an appointment, they are removed from the list and fail to receive any service. The school considers that this failure to attend would be lessened if the service was provided in a location that parents and pupils were accustomed to attending, for example, a location such as the school. The physiotherapy service to the school is assigned to particular pupils who require such support and the nurse who attends the school for 4 mornings per week assists in maintaining these physiotherapy programmes for the identified pupils. At present, there is no current social work support assigned to the school and while the occupational therapy support commenced during the evaluation, there was no quantifiable information regarding the level of this therapeutic allocation.
At present, the teaching accommodation comprises five classrooms, a home economics room, a woodwork room and a P.E. hall that is also used as a dining room for two rotating groups of pupils. The building originally contained a shared art and craft room but as the size of the school increased, this room became a classroom. Ancillary accommodation includes a staffroom, two small offices, two staff toilets, pupils’ toilets and a bathroom area. The school kitchen used for preparing and providing the school lunch is located next to the P.E. hall. The principal and the school secretary share a small office, and the speech and language assistant employed by the board uses the other office space. The nurse assigned to the school uses a locked press in the staffroom for medicine storage, but there is no additional space within the school to use as a medical room or for use by multi-disciplinary team members for assessment or delivery of therapies. When pupils exhibit challenging behaviour, there is no available space to remove them from the classroom to discuss issues with them or to allow them to calm down. This is a matter of particular concern for the staff as they feel that occasionally they are trying to deal with escalating behavioural issues in corridor areas.
The interior of the school is bright and pleasant, with the main foyer and corridors used for displays of seasonal montages, pictures and displays of achievement. All the teachers have decorated their classrooms with commercially produced and teacher-made charts, pupils’ writing, artwork and various projects in curricular areas. Some of the displays indicate work completed by previous cohorts particularly in the area of aesthetic and creative activities. While finished samples of previous pupils’ work may provide a stimulus for creation, in order to foster individuality and personal creative vision, consideration should be given to only using current pupils’ work in wall displays to commend them and reward their efforts.
The school has a wide variety of material resources and these resources are used effectively to augment the teaching and learning activities. The teachers make their own materials, work cards and charts to support various areas of the curriculum while making astute use of published schemes and resources. In one classroom, there is a soundfield system installed to enhance the acoustic conditions for the benefit of the pupils. The provision of a carpeted floor in this room would further enhance the environment. Grant funding and school investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has impacted on teaching and learning across several curricular areas in some classes. Pupils gain experience in a range of ICT applications that include word processing and sourcing data from C.D. Rom and Internet websites. Teaching staff have accessed an extensive amount of teaching resources from the internet, including lists of internet websites that are devoted to special educational needs. Good use is made of photographic records of the pupils’ achievements to display the process as well as the product of teaching and learning. Teaching staff expressed their concern at not being able to attend post-primary in-service for changes in syllabi, despite a majority of the school cohort being of post-primary age and such changes directly impacting on them if they pursue certification options.
There are clear and transparent communication systems between the school, the parents and the wider community. The parents receive communications about their children in a variety of formats. The junior classes of the school operate a home /school notebook system where parents can write a comment on a regular basis to the school staff. In the senior classes, a school diary is used for the same purpose and to record the homework assignments to be completed by the pupils. The school publishes a newsletter about the school activities a few times per term, providing opportunities for affirmation of pupils who have received monthly certificates of achievement, achievements in sports or dramatic events and participation in competitions or community initiatives.
Parents are provided with a welcome pack on applying for enrolment within the school, stating the pertinent school details. The school operates an ‘open door’ policy with regard to parental access. Parents are welcome to discuss their child’s education with the staff or to approach the school over any issues concerning them. However, due to timetabling and supervision constraints, it may be necessary to schedule a meeting for a mutually acceptable time. Parent/teacher meetings are held on an annual basis for the formation and review of each pupil’s individual education programme. Parents are invited to attend specific school functions such as concerts, sports fixtures or celebrations but due to the wide catchment area of the school some parents find it difficult to travel to the school. Parents’representatives expressed general satisfaction with the school and with the range of curricular and extra-curricular activities provided to the pupils. Parents have not been formally requested to share their skills with the school but the voluntary assistance of one parent who owns a driving instruction school that enables senior pupils to prepare for their driving test is to be commended. The expansion of such a programme could be of significant benefit to the school.
The school is also to be commended for the manner in which it disseminates information about its activities to the local community through the use of a small section in the local papers on a monthly basis where positive achievements by the school are shared with the wider public. This initiative has positively raised the profile of the school in the local community.
During the period of the evaluation, pupils were observed to be courteous and well behaved. There were high expectations that the pupils would remain on task and maintain courteous and respectful in interactions with their peers and school personnel. They displayed pride and interest in their work and were eager both to discuss it with the evaluation team and to participate in class discussions. Classroom interactions were universally very positive and it was evident that a spirit of mutual respect exists among pupils, and between pupils and teachers. Pupils’ questions were welcomed, encouraged and answered clearly, which contributed significantly to the learning environment and the social and personal development of pupils. In some classes, the pupils had devised their own class rules and these were on display on the classroom walls. Some of the pupils have exhibited non-compliant and challenging behaviour over a number of years. The school staff has received whole school training in dealing with incidents of challenging behaviour and it is due to the experience and skilful handling by all staff members that many potentially difficult situations are averted.
The board of management and the staff have devised a code of discipline and a policy on challenging behaviour. It requires some adjustment to fulfil the obligations of a code of behaviour under Section 23.2 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. The code will need to state what constitutes a minor or a major infringement of the code and the exact procedures that will be invoked as a result. In the event of an expulsion taking place, there are clear procedures involved and implications regarding the identification of alternative educational provision for the expelled pupil. There is an issue regarding some pupils having poor attendance records in the school. The school experiences particular difficulty in retaining some senior pupils after they have passed the age for compulsory schooling at 16, but the provision of certification options to NCVA level may assist this in the future.
The school has devised a mission statement that enshrines the underpinning philosophy and ethos of the school. All the teachers are cognizant of their responsibility to the ongoing development of school policies, both organisational and curricular. The organisational section of the school plan contains relevant policies such as enrolment, equality, health and safety, homework, substance use and ICT policies among others. Policies are devised on a collaborative model with draft policies circulated to parents for comment, and discussed at staff level prior to being brought to board level. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management has ratified some policies but not all the policies are dated. It is recommended that built-in review dates should be specified on the actual documents and these should be signed by the board of management. The method for devising curricular policies has not been as closely defined as the organisational areas and these are generally devised by the teaching staff.
There is no policy in evidence regarding the development of individual education plans (IEP), although these were in evidence during the evaluation. The school should consider the development of such a policy, stating the way in which they will be constructed, the personnel involved, the contribution of the parents to the process and the review period. As these individual plans will be a legal requirement with the full commencement of the E.P.S.E.N. Act (2004), the school should prioritise developing a policy and clear practice guidelines in this regard.
Following the provision of recent curricular in-service, the planning at whole school level for the various curricular areas is at an advanced stage of development for the primary classes. There is a need now to focus more on the post-primary stage and merge the two sections to provide encompassing plans for the curricular areas for the entire school. Consideration might be given as to how the S.P.H.E. curriculum, the Stay Safe programme, the R.S.E. programme and the C.S.P.E. post-primary programme can be merged into a comprehensive curriculum delivered across the class levels in the school. In a similar manner, the English curriculum should be merged with modules at the senior end and should include clear incremental indications as to how the work in the junior section will lead into the senior cycle programmes at NCVA levels. School development planning (SDP) materials provide a useful mechanism for phased curriculum development and can assist the school in devising whole school policies at post-primary level in each of the curricular areas.
As there are only 5 classes in the school, pupils are likely to remain at the same class level for a number of years, particularly in the junior section where a pupil may be in the same class for up to 4 years. The work in the core subject areas of English and Mathematics will be individualised to the level of ability of each pupil, but there are implications for curricular planning for subject tuition on a whole class basis. The school does rotate work in the SESE curricula on a two year cycle but this may require further adjustment for a longer cycle. The school will have to consider the implications of co-ordinating the curricular planning in this manner and endeavour to provide a roll-out of curricular experiences that enshrine the spiral approach to planning and delivery to prevent the pupils revisiting the same lesson elements over a number of years.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. The principal teacher has been appointed as a designated liaison person in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
All the teachers’ timetables are developed to facilitate their particular method of delivery, and demonstrate the pupils’ access to a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated education at all class levels. The classroom teachers received details of the curriculum delivery by the specialist teachers and these details were retained on file. The specialist subject teachers try to maximise their time with the students by providing practical work in the subject area. An increased sharing of schemes of work might assist the class teachers to reinforce the basic skills in money, time and measurement areas of Mathematics, or the subject specific vocabulary in English to maximise the pupils’ experience in the practical subjects.
Conscientious planning and preparation were evident in the work of individual teachers and schemes of work are developed for each area of the curriculum. Pupils pursue the primary curriculum, Junior Certificate, and modules provided by the NCVA. Although all teachers were providing long-term and short-term planning and a review of progress, there was no universal template used throughout the school. Teachers’ planning documentation indicates an awareness of the provisions of EPSEN Act and the need to differentiate the work in order to deliver IEPs. Many of the teachers had evolved carefully constructed spreadsheets that allowed ease of access to review the portion of the curriculum taught in assigned timeframes. Some of the practice of planning and reviewing progress was of particular merit and it is recommended that the teachers should consider sharing this expertise with their colleagues and devising whole school templates for planning and review purposes on both an individual and class group level.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Learning and teaching were evaluated on the basis of classroom observation, interaction with the pupils and teachers, a review of work samples, and an appraisal of progress records. A varied repertoire of teaching methodologies was deployed in many of the classrooms so that the pupils were active in their own learning. The teaching and learning activities evidenced during the evaluation were interesting and engaging for the participants. The holistic and harmonious development of each pupil was evident as a key principle in the classrooms, with all members of the classroom teams striving for the optimum level of accomplishment by the pupils. The teachers provided frequent opportunities for practical and first-hand experiences to allow the pupils to participate in experiential learning. Pupils are consistently encouraged by all staff, and individual successes are celebrated. The breadth of curriculum provides a framework for literacy and numeracy skills to be practised and reinforced across the subject areas. Teachers were seen to capitalise on opportunities to link practical mathematics with science and home economics and this is to be commended. The further sharing of good practice in the use of Information and Communication Technology in the classroom is recommended.
Tá cead ag na daltaí a fhreastalaíonn ar an scoil seo, gan Gaeilge a dhéanamh, de bharr míchumais ghinearálta éadroma foghlama. Mar sin féin, tuigeann na múinteoirí go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go mbeadh deis ag na daltaí, feasacht éigin teanga (idir labhairt agus éisteacht) agus cultúr na Gaeilge a bhreith leo. Tuigeann siad chomh maith go gcuireann foghlaim teangacha go ginearálta le féinmhuinín agus le forbairt intleachtúil, sóisialta agus phearsanta an dalta. Ó am go chéile, cinntíonn oidí áirithe sa scoil seo, sna ranganna sóisearacha ach go háirithe, go gcothaítear dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge sna daltaí. Ó am go chéile, úsáidtear an Ghaeilge go neamhfhoirmiúil, teagmhasach. Tá an cur chuige le moladh agus d’fhéadfaí an dea-chleachtas seo a fhorbairt a thuilleadh fós, trasna na scoile.
The pupils present with mild general learning disabilities and are entitled to an exemption from studying Irish. At the same time, the teachers are aware of the importance of providing pupils with opportunities to develop awareness of the language, (including spoken and listening forms), and of Irish culture. Teachers are also conscious that the learning of languages generally promotes the pupils’ intellectual, social and personal development. Occasionally, teachers, especially at the junior classes, ensure that a positive attitude is instilled in the pupils towards Irish. From time to time, Irish is used in an informal and incidental way. The approach is praiseworthy and could now be further extended across the school.
The English plan in the school is informed by the revised curriculum, the draft guidelines for pupils with mild general learning disabilities and the NCVA communications module at foundation level. The school plan has benefited from the provision of focused in-service to allow teachers to delineate the content to be covered in the junior, middle and senior sections of the school. Individual teachers use the strands and strand units in their classroom planning and, in general, demonstrate considerable familiarity with a good range of methodologies to support the acquisition of basic literacy skills. The content in English is differentiated to the ability level of each pupil, so while a class programme is provided, it is individualised by means of task, support, outcomes, pace, questioning and responses.
All the pupils are provided with frequent opportunities to use communication in a variety of supportive contexts. The majority of pupils demonstrated good listening and attending skills, but a number of pupils experience oral language deficits in both receptive and expressive areas. The work of the speech and language therapist and the speech therapy assistant are invaluable in identifying the core areas for discrete language programmes, including the use of sign and delivering these to identified pupils on a daily basis. In addition, the teachers provide a structured oral language programme as a priority to support the language and literacy development of the pupils. Most of the teachers integrate the discursive method across other areas of the curriculum to elicit responses, to express opinions, to speculate on outcomes of investigations and to entice the pupils to draw conclusions. Junior classes use integrated themes across curricular areas to expand pupils’ exposure to, and acquisition of, new vocabulary. The language programme in the post-primary classes enhances oral language to more challenging vocabulary and sentence structure while in the school leavers’ class, the students are encouraged to expand, debate and defend their points of view to peers in various areas of the curriculum.
Teachers use the outcomes of assessments and classroom observation to identify the appropriate level of reading programme, with the use of a variety of commercial reading schemes such as Magic Emerald, Wellington Square, Oxford Reading Tree and Ginn 360 as well as NALA reading materials at the level commensurate with the pupil’s literacy ability. As pupils get older, there is particular emphasis placed on the development of functional literacy skills that they will use after they leave school. Good use is made of application forms, newspapers, e-mail, recipes and other written genres to assist the pupils to become familiar with the variations in presentation of content. Many of the teachers photocopy extracts of reading material for assigned tasks due to the difficulty in accessing age appropriate, yet developmentally suitable, texts for the middle and senior classes. The school’s structured approach to experiencing novels is particularly praiseworthy. The teachers’ careful choice of a suitably engaging book ensures the pupils will respond to the characters, story settings and details. Pupils are supported to articulate a personal response to the fictional text. The pupils engage in a good variety of writing skills, both functional and creative. Personal and creative writing begins in the junior classes with the writing of personal news items and book reports on the class novel. Writing skills are suitably developed and emphasised in the post-primary classes, where a range of writing for different audiences and genres is expanded. Good use is made of ICT to consolidate the pupils’ reading ability and to draft and edit personal writing initiatives.
All the teachers use a range of assessment strategies including teacher observation, teacher designed checklists, differentiated tasks, monitoring of written work and standardised assessments of reading ability. The repertoire of poetry explored within the school could benefit from review and expansion to encourage the pupils to respond through dramatising, miming, writing and comparing poems.
There is a good range of mathematical equipment available to enhance the teaching and learning. Mathematics lessons that were observed involved practical, oral and written work. Across the school, pupils are provided with opportunities to develop an understanding of the basic concepts and to acquire the skills necessary for computation and problem solving. In the primary classes, considerable emphasis is placed on the teaching of number and number operations and an impressive range of equipment is used effectively in this work, including concrete and visual materials. Important emphasis is placed on achieving consistency in the development of the language of mathematics. Differentiation was achieved by setting different tasks for individual pupils or by working towards a range of outcomes in a group or class activity. Written work is recorded on worksheets and copybooks and these are carefully monitored.
Junior lessons were well resourced and activities were carefully differentiated. Practical areas such as money had well planned activities that were then applied to more generalised situations such as shopping. Text books were used judiciously, as well as an extensive amount of carefully selected, bought and teacher made resources. Written work is carefully monitored. In the senior classes, the work is firmly grounded in functional mathematics Appropriate emphasis is also given to the use of mathematics in daily living and independence activities. Lessons relating to shopping activities and budgeting allowed the pupils to work actively using tables, charts, calculators, calendars and maps. Teachers are also mindful of the benefits of integrating mathematical concepts and skills with other areas of the curriculum and this is a praiseworthy feature of the approach. Pupils are encouraged to develop good work habits and to develop basic strategies for problem solving, including estimation and trial and error. The programme in mathematics includes primary curriculum, junior certificate, and the school plan is guided by the NCCA guidelines. It is recommended that the teachers now build up an assessment instrument to measure progress across the objectives in the various strands of mathematics. In addition to using standardised assessments and the Junior Cert examinations, the approach to assessment could be adapted to develop criterion referenced assessments to thus track pupils’ progress through the sub-steps in mathematical calculations.
In the lessons that were observed, the teachers ensured that the material was linked in some way to the pupils’ own experience. In junior classes, the pupils learned about every-day life, and progress to changes in their own lives and in the lives of those around them. They have heard stories about Cuchulainn and Oisin in Tir na nOg. Older pupils demonstrated knowledge of a number of famous people and about past events. The teachers are very much aware of the wealth of historical resources that are available in Dungarvan and they exploit the opportunities presented through visits to old buildings, and to places of historical interest. Excellent use is also made of maps, photographs, and stories about local history. In the post-primary section, pupils’ sense of place and belonging was emphasised in all classes visited, with good links made between local and global issues. The imagery engaged and maintained pupil interest in topics such as comparing schools today with schools long ago. Discussion and debate were encouraged at all times. A variety of maps and charts, as well as timelines in some classes, assisted the learning, as did the use of prepared handouts and exploration of websites about ancient civilisations. There has been creditable use of the project method for exploration of different historical periods and and an impressive project of Vikings had been completed. Pupils have been taken to visit a museum and have carried out some historical research in the library.
Younger children are helped to develop an awareness of seasonal change of weather, and of the effects which weather conditions have on the growth of plants and on the lives of animals and of people. Photographs and discussions were used effectively to explore features of the local environment. Attractive and carefully maintained nature tables were a welcome feature of some classrooms. Digital cameras are also used to record trips out of school. Some teachers have begun to exploit the geographical resource that is available on the internet, and teaching resources are accessed. Within the provisions of the school’s acceptable use policy, the potential use of e-mail correspondence with other schools could be examined, with a view to extend the pupils’ geographical knowledge.
In one junior class geography lesson that was particularly well conducted, the pupils learned about Ireland and England. The pupils were invited to pack suitcases of items associated with each country. In another lesson, a study of bridges allowed for integration across history, geography and science. IT was effectively used to source useful materials and resources.
In a senior class, another worthwhile discussion was conducted, this time related to weather conditions. Pupils were engaged in checking temperature, measuring rainfall and recording wind direction. Pupils record their findings and the work is linked to mathematics and literacy. Innovative use is made of the school grounds to carry out geographical experiments. Pupils have experience of using compasses, wind catchers and the correct geographical terminology is taught specifically. The pupils also use atlases. Pupils have gone on walks and bus trips to places of geographical interest. In another class a well resourced project on Wales has been conducted.
Science lessons in the primary classes are well planned, with clear objectives. Skills, knowledge and understanding are developed in small steps through practical activity. A science lesson in a junior class about looking after pets was well taught. Teaching at post-primary level, however, poses considerable challenges in a special school. Provision at this level is restricted by lack of resources and specialist teachers of science. In spite of this, valuable work is undertaken and pupils learn to understand the natural world through first hand experience and through practical activity. Interesting and worthwhile experiments are conducted in the school grounds and consideration could now be given to the further development of the school garden. Important steps have already been taken in this regard. Sunflowers are grown in pots in the classroom. Work is successfully linked to mathematics. Activities are dated, and measurements of growth over time are taken. In another lesson observed, senior pupils carried out experiments that explored the properties of air. Parachutes were designed, followed by a discussion of variables in order to design a fair test. Some of the lessons could have involved more literacy. Occasionally, work sheets could add to the lesson and pupils could be asked to maintain a suitable science copy. The school plan is based on the primary curriculum and the post primary section could now be further developed to include priorities, resources and modes of assessment
Woodcraft is an integral element in the practical subjects provided within the school and is taught to students from the post-primary class levels. The part-time woodwork teacher has been working in this area for a number of years. The woodcraft programme reinforces the class work of functional numeracy and literacy by providing opportunities for the students to use measurement and literacy skills in completing practical tasks. Pupils are facilitated to complete small items of furniture and learn the appropriate use of a range of tools. In the event that this area of the curriculum is extended to Junior Certificate or NCVA certification level in the future, the element of research into an appropriate design for a specified project will form part of the programme. If pupils are accustomed to doing this in the area of visual arts, the skill might be usefully transferred to enable then to create designs for the woodwork area.
In the area of music, pupils are encouraged to participate in a range of activities across the school. In the junior classes, pupils are taught a range of lively tuneful songs and music is integrated across the curriculum. Pupils participate willingly in singing and music making activities using percussion instruments. As pupils progress through the school the emphasis is placed on listening and performing activities. Pupils are supported to explore sounds and to tell a story through the medium of sound. Observed music lessons were well conducted and innovatively linked to drama, where pupils used costume elements to enter their roles.
Good use was made of video recording to develop self-esteem and reward pupils’ efforts. Pupils’ knowledge of music literacy was combined with their ability to play well-known songs on tuned bells. In music literacy, crotchets and minims were introduced. Pupils participated willingly in playing segments of music incorporating crotchets and minims, they concentrated intently and took turns in making music. The school has benefited hugely from the contribution made by the principal teacher (who was on leave at the time of the inspection). The school could now consider at whole school level, and particularly at senior level, how to develop the music programme. A library of selected pieces could now be assembled, including classical, traditional, folk, jazz and popular music. Music from different cultures and eras could be examined with a view to enriching the SESE programme, Art, Drama and SPHE.
Drama is frequently used in the school to enhance the pupils’ self-esteem and enhance oracy and literacy levels. Many of the teachers integrate the work in this curricular area with English, and the use of role-play and mime were frequently observed in the exploration of SPHE themes. When the teachers teach the area as a discrete subject, they succeed in generating a sense of team spirit and fun. The teachers make good use of props and some costume elements to support pupils to enter into roles. Pupils in the junior classes demonstrate good ability to enter physically, emotionally and intellectually into the dramatic world, and teachers succeed in raising their level of understanding and appreciation of a plot or theme.
A wide range of activities and games is undertaken in the area of physical education across all age groups and the enthusiasm of the pupils was evident in the lessons and games observed. The school has a number of facilities at its disposal, including the school hall, a playing field, playground space, and access to a community sports hall. During the inspection period, pupils were observed working enthusiastically in movement activities and games. They thoroughly enjoyed their work and co-operated well with each other and with the teachers. The school participates in several inter-school competitions and this increases motivation and involvement. 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 lessons are arranged for the pupils in the local hotel pool and this is very beneficial to the pupils. Swimming activities are well supervised. Some staff members have relevant water safety qualifications. Depending on pupils’ confidence in the water, various levels of challenge are set. Special arrangements are made for pupils with physical disabilities to ensure that all have an opportunity to participate.
Teachers make considerable efforts to design interesting lessons in this area as they view it as particularly relevant for the pupil cohort. They have gathered a good range of resources in this area including a range of instructive videos. Self-help and social interaction skills are constructively reinforced during the supervised meal-times, swimming and sports activities, and daily routines in the school. The positive interaction among pupils and between staff members and pupils contributes to the beneficial expansion of pupils’ skills in this area.
The SPHE curriculum assists the pupils not only to develop appropriate social skills and independent living skills but also to relate appropriately to other people across a variety of social contexts. The SPHE programmes observed during the evaluation supported the personal development of the student and provide him/her with essential skills for independent living in the wider community. There is an emphasis on developing inter-personal skills and establishing good healthy living guidelines.
In addition to the stated curriculum for primary schools, the school endeavours to explore both social and personal issues that impinge on individual pupils. Using methodologies such as circle time, the pupils are supported to discuss topics that have an impact on their lives and with which they might be having difficulty in dealing. The teachers are committed to promoting a school environment that fosters respect for diversity. All the pupils are aware of their acceptance as unique individuals within the school and they feel supported enough to discuss any difficulties they might be experiencing with the members of staff. Aspects from both the Relationship and Sexuality Education programme and the Stay Safe programme are implemented in the school. The school staff has expanded this area of the curriculum to provide the pupils with integrated learning experiences that address areas in which they might be particularly vulnerable including substance abuse.
A part-time teacher provides the home economics instruction for the post-primary pupils in the school. Tuition is provided in a kitchen that contains a range of appropriate facilities and equipment. Currently, the pupils do not have the opportunity to achieve certification in this area of the curriculum, either through the Junior Certificate programme or the NCVA certification programme for Food and Cookery. This might be considered in the future if a particular student or students proves capable of pursuing such a programme. The pupils are given the opportunity to learn the appropriate use of kitchen equipment and basic safety procedures, in addition to developing skills and competencies in basic cookery techniques.
Preparation for the world of work is included in the senior classes with the NCVA certification module. This module assists in transitioning the pupils from the school situation into the vocational training sector or supported employment by preparation for job applications, interviews and skills required by the students on the job. Pupils are assisted to participate in work placements on a rotational basis to assist in identifying future job options
The school has many effective arrangements for establishing baseline assessments, monitoring progress and recording achievement. The school has established IEPs for every pupil with clear parental involvement and these are evident in all classes. The daily written work of the pupils is continuously monitored and constructive feedback is given to the pupils. The junior school teachers maintain checklists of pupils’ achievements in literacy and numeracy objectives, while using standardised tests of attainment to judge the performance of the pupil against an established norm. In the post-primary school, the teachers use the structure of the Junior Certificate and NCVA subject modules for pertinent subject areas as the basis for assessing progress by the pupils. Teachers use the outcomes of assessments, both standardised and non-standardised, to revise their teaching goals and strategies. Some teachers keep folders of pupils’ work and this is good practice. The range of standardised testing instruments used in the school includes the following: Sigma T; Micra T; Boehm Test of basic concepts; Sandwell phonics; and Daniels and Diack diagnostic instruments. Expansion of the diagnostic instruments used in the school to include tests such as Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) and the Middle Infant screening Test (MIST) would enhance the assessment material for the younger age group in the school who would be unable to achieve profiles within the existing instruments.
All the pupils attending this school have special educational needs in respect of their level of mild intellectual disability. All pupils have an individualised education plan, in addition to the schemes of work in all areas of the curriculum. Within the current IEP structure, a summary of the psychologist’s recommendations are included, goals are set and strategies are identified. Progress is checked and parents are given opportunities to be consulted.
As stated, the board of management has recruited the SLT assistant to provide additional input in the goals identified by the Speech and Language Therapist from the HSE. The identification of pupils with additional speech and language impairments and this course of action to remediate their difficulties by the provision of additional services are creditable.
The school has no ethnic minority or multi-cultural pupils attending at present. Many of the pupils attend the school from disadvantaged homes and are provided with meals by the school, free transport and support for their parents to attend school functions, if it is required.
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.