An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Francis School,
New Road, Portlaoise, Co. Laois
Roll No: 19337Q
Date of inspection: 28 November 2006
† Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007†
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Francis 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 supporting inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the schoolís board of management, and representatives of the parentsí 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, examined studentsí work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St. Francis School is a co-educational special school for students with mild and moderate general learning disabilities, aged four to eighteen years. The school is under the patronage of the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. Three school trustees have been nominated and have been allocated responsibilities in accordance with the duties of trusteeship. The school was established in 1971 and moved to its existing purpose-built structure in 1973. A commitment to promoting a secure and happy atmosphere that is conducive to learning and addresses the individual needs of each student is articulated in the schoolís mission statement and is evident in the school. The schoolís ethos and educational philosophy is directed towards nurturing a school community that supports, respects and empowers each individual.
The most recent school report issued in 1998 and affirmed the enthusiasm and responsiveness of school staff in effecting high quality teaching and learning in the school. Enrolment numbers have remained relatively stable in the past three years and at present there are eighty-three students enrolled in the school. The catchment area of the school extends to a radius of between twenty and thirty miles. Almost all students travel to school in transport provided through the Department of Education and Science.
Staffing at the school comprises an administrative principal, nine class teachers, one physical education teacher, one part-time woodwork teacher, nine special needs assistants, a caretaker and a cook/housekeeper. A number of selected students avail of speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy provided by the Health Service Executive.
The board of management is properly constituted.† The board is involved in the management of the school at both a functional and strategic level and demonstrates its commitment to promote the continuous development of the school. A high level of satisfaction was expressed by the board members in relation to the quality of education being provided in the school, studentsí curricular access and home-school relations. The provision of an additional classroom and accommodation for visiting professionals was identified by the board as an immediate priority.† The possibility of employing escorts on the school buses was discussed with the board during the school evaluation.† The board was advised to avail of the bus-escort scheme that is funded by the Department of Education and Science in order to support the enrolment of students and in the interest of their health and safety while travelling to and from the school. The board agreed to take immediate steps in this regard.
Board of management meetings are held approximately five times per year.† The matters that are typically discussed at these meetings are finances, staff appointments, the enrolment of individual students and resources.† The principal teacher and the teachersí representative make presentations on school events including outings, involvement of students in competitions with other schools and other notable events.† Parentsí representatives provide a report on the activities of the Parentsí Association.
The board has ratified some school policies including the enrolment policy, the code of behaviour and discipline and the Relationships and Sexuality Education policy. However, many other school policies relating to organisational matters and the curriculum have not been presented for approval. It is recommended that all existing school policies be presented to the board for approval and that a protocol be set out by the board for the future development and revision of school policies.† To date, only the chairperson has availed of formal training in the performance of the duties of a board member. The other board members expressed their willingness to avail of training opportunities as these arise in the future.
The board of management devolves in-school management duties and responsibilities to the principal and teachers with posts of responsibility. The principal has been on the staff since 1974 and was appointed to his present position in 2004. He steadfastly addresses the organisational, disciplinary, supervisory and management duties associated with his role as principal. A fair and equitable school environment is cultivated and a commitment to developing each studentís potential in a holistic manner is evident. Staff is encouraged to share relevant expertise and experience with each other and a spirit of collegiality is promoted. A range of relevant curricular, organisational and pastoral policies and procedures constructively informs studentsí curricular experiences. Attention is directed towards establishing and maintaining open communication between home and school and the central role of parents in their childrenís education is acknowledged in the school plan.
Additional posts in the school include a deputy-principal post and three special duties posts. The deputy principal assiduously and competently assists the principal in the daily organisation of the school. The curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities associated with additional posts are outlined in the school plan. Duties of post holders include pre-vocational training, counselling, assuming responsibility during the principalís absence, maintaining school attendance records, art and craft, preparation for sacraments, acquiring and storing materials, housecraft, substance-use and guidance, school planning, social, environmental and scientific education and monitoring studentsí kitchen and dining room duties. Post-holders adopt a professional and diligent approach to carrying out the duties assigned to their respective areas of responsibility. It is advised that the duties associated with individual posts are elaborated and a commitment to reviewing these posts in accordance with the terms of Circular 07/03 is included in the school plan.
Student: teacher ratios accord with those stipulated by the Department of Education and Science. Special needs assistants perform their role in a sensitive and efficient manner and adult to adult interactions are minimised. The contribution of the caretaker and cook/housekeeper impacts positively on the daily organisation of school activities.
Class timetables are prepared by individual teachers and constructively reflect studentsí access to the different subject areas of the curriculum. It is important to ensure that all class-timetables are structured in a manner that reflects the terms of Circular 11/95 and the Education Act, 1998 regarding studentsí access to the curriculum and the obligation on schools to adhere to the prescribed minimum of teaching hours per day. Responsibility for accessing professional development opportunities is allocated to each staff member and the board of management demonstrates a willingness to support teachersí relevant continuous professional development needs. The compilation of an audit of in-service courses attended by teachers would greatly assist in collating individual teachersí expertise and training and identify the schoolís priorities for continuous professional development for the future.
The Health Service Executive beneficially contributes to the studentsí programmes through the provision of speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. The school is provided with access to two psychological assessments through a scheme supported by the National Educational Psychological Service. This level of psychological support presents as a cause for concern and should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The school building is a single storey structure comprising eleven permanent classrooms, a general-purpose room, a dining and kitchen area, a principalís office and a secretaryís office, a staff room, a woodwork room, a home-economics area, toilet areas, outdoor play areas, two rooms for visiting therapists, an internal shared area and indoor and outdoor storage areas. A range of games and activities is available to students during recreation periods and includes table-tennis, table-football, rings, draughts and air hockey. Due attention is directed towards maintaining a safe, hygienic and tidy school environment. Consideration is given to facilitating safe access, exit and circulation throughout the building and close circuit television has been installed to alleviate concerns for studentsí safety. The school building and immediate environment are maintained in a praiseworthy manner. It is intended to add an additional room to provide accommodation for visiting specialists, parents and student-support personnel. In the interests of continuing to maintain the existing structure and improve insulation, it is recommended that priority is given to identifying the current needs of the school and accordingly initiating a building project.
Teachers are to be commended for creating an attractive and stimulating learning environment for students. Classroom and corridor areas provide a motivating learning environment and feature curricular displays that include commercially produced and teacher-made charts, photographic records of school activities, investigation tables, studentsí writing, project and art work. School displays indicate that individual studentsí efforts and particular talents are celebrated. Students demonstrate a commendable ability to engage with and relate to their school environment.
The school is conscious of the importance of developing studentsí appreciation and understanding of information and communication technology (ICT). Each class has access to a computer. The school has purchased a collection of relevant software that is used to extend and enrich studentsí learning experiences. Group computer lessons are conducted in one of the classrooms, which is also used to store the ten computers. Students are afforded opportunities to develop the skills, understanding and knowledge related to word processing. Access to the internet and electronic mail is at the discretion and under the supervision of the class teacher. Consideration is given to ensuring that students are comfortably positioned and seated during ICT activities.
The school is well-equipped with an extensive range of teaching and learning resources that includes televisions, DVD players, tape-recorders/radios, overhead projector, musical instruments, keyboards, a digital camera, physical education equipment, commercially produced and teacher-designed curricular materials. Teachers use resources effectively to support and expand the studentsí learning in all curricular areas.
The intention of management and staff to communicate and co-operate with parents in an open and inclusive manner is stated in the school plan. Good channels of communication are maintained between the school and parents and formal parent-teacher meetings take place on an annual basis. Additional meetings with parents are arranged as the need arises.† Home-school links are also fostered through open days, school reports, newsletters and daily journals for individual students.
A parentsí association that is affiliated to the National Parentsí Council is in place. The parentsí committee actively supports the work of the school through fundraising and by supporting the organisation of specific events and occasions during the course of the school year. The parentsí committee organises an annual summer camp for the students.† During the past year, the parentsí committee donated a digital camera and associated equipment to the school as well as a grant to each teacher for the purchase of resources for teaching and learning and to support the arrangement of activities for the students. During this time, the parentsí committee also organised a series of four lectures by outside speakers for parents on aspects of education for children with special educational needs. The parentsí representatives expressed their intention to avail of training opportunities that are being organised by the National Parentsí Council during the current school year.†
The parentsí committee members commended the staff of the school for their commitment to the children and stated that the school offers a happy and supportive environment for learning and for social skills development. They also praised the suitability of the subjects offered on the curriculum and the range of extra curricular activities available. The parentsí committee members identified the need for an escort service on the school buses, limitations in the accommodation available in the school, the need for multi-disciplinary support by psychologists, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists as well as management of the challenging behaviour of a small number of students as areas for school development and improvement.† The parentsí committee members indicated that while parents are made aware of school policies, parents would welcome greater involvement in the development and review of school policies in areas such as behaviour and discipline, and homework.†
The positive relationships between the staff and students were noted during the evaluation. A code of behaviour and discipline is in place and is conscientiously implemented. Good systems are in place in the school for promoting positive behaviour and for dealing with inappropriate behaviour. The teachers and special needs assistants display high-expectations in relation to studentsí behaviour and on-task engagement. The students demonstrate courtesy, respect and deference in their relationships with each other, staff members and visitors to the school. The teachers and special needs assistants treat the students with respect and kindness and encourage high-quality behaviour by means of positive disciplinary procedures and actions. School and classroom rules are displayed in an easily understood format that is in accordance with the needs and abilities of the students in individual classes. Token systems and rewards are used to encourage positive behaviour and engagement in learning activities. Transitions for different subjects within the classrooms and from classroom to classroom are well managed and the students change location within the school in an orderly manner. It is recommended that the procedures that are implemented throughout the school to promote the engagement of students in learning and positive behaviour are given greater expression in the schoolís code of behaviour and discipline.†
The Block Project to promote positive student behaviour is being implemented in the school with a number of students, in collaboration with junior liaison offers employed by the Department of Justice. Strategies such as time-out, discussion and self-regulation are utilised in the management of studentsí behaviour. The visual recording of behaviour enables students to engage in the programme at a level commensurate with their needs and abilities.† The impact of the programme is being closely monitored by school staff.
During the evaluation, staff members expressed concern in relation to the management of a small number of individual students with significantly challenging behaviour.† Within the past year, one student was suspended and is now receiving home tuition in consultation with the National Education Welfare Board. Efforts to advance the capacity of the school to cater for such children include the recent revision of the code of behaviour and discipline, the introduction of the Block Project and two days staff training from the Special Education Support Service. However, the management of students with very significant behavioural needs remains a concern for the staff.† It is recommended that further training be accessed by staff members in relation to the management of such students. Such training can enable the staff to develop expertise in identifying the communicative and functional nature of behaviour. Reference to procedures for meeting the needs of these students should be included in the schoolís code of behaviour and discipline.†
The school has compiled a school plan as required by S.21 of the Education Act, 1998. The schoolís mission statement aspires to promote an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, recognises parents as the primary educators of their children and provides for the individual needs of each student. A particular emphasis is placed on embedding the pastoral care of students in the planning and implementation of the curriculum. The positive educational philosophy articulated in the mission statement and ethos of the school is evident throughout all curricular activities. The school staff is to be commended for the significant progress it has made in developing a range of organisational, curricular and pastoral policies and for the considerable periods of time engaged in staff meetings outside of official school hours. A number of policies have been dated and ratified by the board of management. It is advised that all policies are ratified, dated and signed and a review date identified. Procedures for the dissemination of the school plan should also be documented. Detailing the proactive measures adopted by the school in promoting studentsí attendance could usefully be included in the schoolís policy on attendance.
Curricular policies have been devised for all areas of the primary curriculum and detail individual subject aims, content, methodology, resources and methods of evaluation. Curricular policies are constructively delineated with reference to junior, intermediate and senior classes and have been purposefully designed to effect appropriate mediation of curricular areas for the students in the school. In the interests of further developing curricular policies, it is recommended that content areas and assessment strategies are further elaborated to demonstrate the progression of skill development and knowledge that is evident in the implementation of the curriculum. It is also recommended that the modules accredited by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) that are being pursued by students are included in the school plan. More extensive reference to the Draft Curriculum Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities could usefully be included in the school plan. Including Gaeilge, Teanga agus Cultķr in the range of curricular areas available to all students and including Social, Political and Environmental Education in senior cycle curricula should be considered.
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. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
All teachers engage in long-term and short-term planning in accordance with the needs and abilities of the students in their classes. A monthly record of work completed is retained and the principal is proactive in monitoring classroom planning. There are praiseworthy links discernible between individual teachersí planning and the content of the school plan.
The development of guidelines on the organisation of individual teachersí planning and the format of the monthly report would further assist in clarifying teachersí responsibilities in relation to classroom planning. It is recommended that such guidelines refer to the importance of identifying the aims, content, teaching methods, assessment strategies and integration opportunities of the curriculum. It is important that all† planning is referenced to the strand and strand units of the curriculum, the Draft Curriculum Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities and the modules accredited by FETAC.
Teachers are confident and assured in their knowledge of the integrated nature of the curriculum and utilise all opportunities to reinforce and extend studentsí learning. A whole-school commitment to differentiating curricular content, process and outcomes to meet the different learning needs and abilities of students is evident. Teachers demonstrate an awareness of adopting a wide range of methods to support and extend studentsí learning. Class teaching, team-teaching, individual teaching, pair-work, circle-time, peer and teacher-modelling, activity, experiential and constructivist approaches, direct teaching and task analysis are used to good effect in all classes. Attention is also directed towards the development of the visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, tactile, olfactory and gustatory learning channels. In most classes, lessons are well-structured, paced and developed and include appropriate content and learning activities. Due attention is directed towards the creation of a positive learning environment and on the whole, students enthusiastically engage in their respective tasks. Studentsí learning outcomes indicate that students are generally achieving in accordance with their ability.
FETAC modules in Communications, Mathematics, Food and Cookery, Art, Computer Literacy, Career Information and Preparation for Work provide a suitable basis for programme planning for the more-able students in their final years in the school.† Individual portfolios are maintained for each student.† Very suitable learning activities are organised for the students.† As observed during the evaluation, the students engage enthusiastically in these activities and are deriving considerable benefit in learning as well as certification through their participation in the FETAC programme.††
The acquisition of oral language and literacy is a key aim for all students and teachers conscientiously attend to the promotion of studentsí receptive and expressive language development. Integrated teaching and learning programmes are provided that effectively nurture studentsí communicative competence throughout all curricular activities. Studentsí understanding of the value of communication in articulating thoughts, feelings and experiences is successfully developed. The LŃMH signing system is used to augment the development of studentsí receptive and expressive language as required. Adopting a whole-school approach to the use of the LŃMH signing system through creating a signing environment would further assist in developing studentsí communicative competencies. Students respond in an enthusiastic and meaningful manner to teachersí challenging and carefully structured questioning techniques.
A foundation and emergent reading programme is provided that includes the creation of a print-rich environment, the provision of individualised and age-appropriate reading material, the creation of personalised word banks, attention to the teaching of rhymes, poetry and phonological awareness, the teaching of phonics and the reading of a variety of fictional and non-fictional texts to students. Reading and writing are viewed as pleasurable experiences and students readily demonstrate their competencies in these areas when requested. The use of printed signs in the school environment consolidates studentsí acquisition of an appropriate social sight vocabulary. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on the teaching of poetry, and students demonstrate a commendable ability in discussing and reciting a diverse range of poems. Particular attention is directed towards cultivating studentsí aural and poetry experiences. A wide selection of motivating and attractive reading texts is available in the school and succeeds in engaging studentsí attention to, and interest in, the reading process. Due attention is given to the development of studentsí functional reading and writing skills. Consideration should be given to increasing the use of the language experience approach to reading and providing a range of audio, electronic and multi-sensory books to further enrich studentsí literacy experiences.
Students are sensitively supported in acquiring handwriting skills and are encouraged to develop appropriate pencil grip. Visual, aural, verbal, tactile and kinaesthetic prompts assist students in acquiring correct letter formation skills. Students are provided with opportunities to write for different audiences and purposes, utilising a variety of genres and present their work in a clear and legible manner. Information and communication technology is used effectively to support the writing process. The adoption of a whole-school approach to the teaching of handwriting that incorporates a structured and consistent use of visual and verbal cues and the development of cursive font would further assist in maintaining a continuity of experiences for all students. Studentsí progress in relation to spelling is regularly monitored and assessed. The adoption of an agreed whole-school, multi-sensory spelling policy would greatly assist the attainment of students in this area.
In Mathematics, the students are provided with a broad range of opportunities to develop an understanding of mathematical concepts and skills in accordance with their abilities. In general, the students display interest and confidence in working on mathematical processes. The programmes in Mathematics are differentiated in accordance with the abilities of the students. In the junior classes, the activities are aimed initially at the development of sensory awareness and discrimination and lead on to the recognition of colour, shape, size, the construction of basic number concepts and time. The students are encouraged to learn and use the language of Mathematics and to solve mathematical problems through activities related to number, spatial awareness, time, shopping and the home. In the senior classes, due emphasis in placed on the development of competency in using the basic number operations, the management of data, the use of the calculator and proficiency in using the standard measurement units for time, distance, capacity and weight.† Priority is also given to the development of functional skills and the use of mathematics as a life-skill.† Some students in the senior classes successfully complete a FETAC module in Mathematics.
In general, appropriate experiences are provided for the students to acquire mathematical concepts.† Suitable resources including concrete materials, charts and number lines are available in all of the classrooms. Many of the teachers devise materials for the teaching of Mathematics.† Opportunities are provided for whole-class, group and individual work and for the integration of concepts and skills learned in Mathematics with other aspects of the curriculum. In many classes, suitable emphasis is placed on oral work to extend mathematical thinking. It is recommended that the positive practice observed in this aspect of the curriculum is implemented in all classes. In addition, the delivery of the mathematics programme in some classes could be improved through closer matching of the activities to the abilities of the students and by providing them with greater opportunities to link the study of mathematics to the world around them.
The teaching of History is concerned with developing the studentsí knowledge and interpretation of the lives of people in the past and enabling students to experience elements of working as historians. Studentsí understanding of time and chronology, change and continuity and cause and effect is consistently addressed. Opportunities are provided for students to engage in a process of historical reflection that enables them to examine local, national and international contexts. Students demonstrate a praiseworthy interest in and understanding of the historical significance of past and present actions, events and materials. A high standard of project work is undertaken in some classes and students communicate their historical findings and interpretations in a coherent and meaningful manner. The use of story assists studentsí listening and recall skills, extends their vocabulary and knowledge, develops their sense of chronology through alerting them to the importance of sequencing and engages their emotions and imagination. The use of artefacts was observed to consolidate studentsí understanding of historical phenomena.
Studentsí understanding of the interrelatedness of human and natural environments is developed through exploring natural and human features in local, regional, natural and global settings. Students in the junior classes are provided with extensive opportunities to develop spatial, seriation, classification and representational skills through structured play activities. An emphasis is placed on nurturing studentsí sense of belonging to the school and local community, which effectively promotes studentsí social competence and self-esteem. Students initially investigate their personal and immediate environment and progress to wider environments. Geographical concepts that promote a sense of place and space and enable students to engage in questioning, observing, predicting, investigating, measuring and analysing are consistently developed. Maps, diagrams, photographs, models and plans are used to record, interpret and communicate spatial information. Students demonstrate a commendable understanding of issues related to environmental awareness and care. The school has been awarded a Green School Flag. Students diligently engage in daily activities related to reducing, reusing and recycling materials.
In most classes, students are encouraged to develop a scientific approach to problem solving and demonstrate a praiseworthy ability to explore, develop and apply scientific ideas and concepts. Careful structuring of activities increases studentsí awareness of the learning process and enables them to experience success in their learning. Seasonally appropriate thematic displays and investigation tables assist in stimulating studentsí interest in their immediate environment. The science curriculum is effectively used as a vehicle to develop oral communication and critical thinking skills. Teachers conscientiously engage in a process of differentiation that enables students to communicate their aptitudes and ideas through gesture, drawing, model-making and symbols. An emphasis is placed on developing skills related to investigation, recording data and arriving at conclusions through scientific processes. Activities that provide students with opportunities to examine shape, materials, aspects of measurement and efficiency create rich possibilities for the development of language, mathematical and scientific concepts.
The teaching of Home Economics provides opportunities for the students to prepare and serve food efficiently and safely, to learn the main principles of nutrition and to gain an understanding of everyday kitchen safety and hygiene practices. The programme includes knowledge of the food pyramid, the recognition and use of kitchen utensils and appliances, safe kitchen practices, food hygiene, the safe use of cleaning agents and making and presenting a range of recipes. As observed during the evaluation, Home Economics provides positive learning experiences for the students and the students, in turn, engaged enthusiastically in the activities. The teachers engage the students in discussion and this helps to reinforce their learning. Themes and activities in Home Economics are linked successfully to topics in other areas of the curriculum, particularly Language, Mathematics and Social, Personal and Health Education.†
Visual arts generates enjoyable and purposeful experiences that provide students with alternative means of communicating, understanding and interacting with their peers, their environment and the wider world. A commendable emphasis is placed by all teachers on affirming the individuality and creativity of each studentsí work. Students access activities that involve instruction, experimentation and application in the strands of drawing, paint, colour, print , clay, construction and fabric and fibre. The social importance of art is emphasised and studentsí art displays and friezes are of a high standard. Students readily discuss their work and are justifiably proud of their achievements. Students are adept at exploring the qualities and characteristics of materials, discovering solutions to design problems and communicating their experiences. A series of pictures on loan from the Artsí Council is displayed throughout the school and assists in communicating a school environment that signifies and confirms the value of visual arts.
An appropriately differentiated programme of Woodwork is provided for students. Students are encouraged and supported in acquiring a range of generic skills and are encouraged to explore the recreational aspects of Woodwork. Students are provided with opportunities to design and make functional items and are guided carefully through the different stages of planning, design, manufacturing and production. A strong emphasis is placed on promoting positive student interactions during woodwork activities. Attention is directed towards ensuring that students exercise care and vigilance in manipulating tools and equipment. Windows provide the means of ventilation in the woodwork room and while this is reasonably effective, it is recommended that appropriate equipment is provided to ensure that all excess dust is collected and removed.
In the current year, all students attended a special musical performance for schools by the RTE concert orchestra.† The students participated in related activities in the school in advance of and following the concert. A school choir is formed annually and a programme of songs is learned for an inter-schools choir competition. Despite these examples of good practice, it was noted during the evaluation that the teaching of Music is uneven throughout the school. In some classes, a wide variety of suitable activities including song-singing, percussion, movement to music and other creative activities are successfully provided. Music education is also integrated with other areas of the curriculum with beneficial learning outcomes for the students. However, in other classes, the range of opportunities for students in music education is restricted. The students in these classes should also be given the opportunity to participate in an appropriate programme of Music education. To this end, it is recommended that as an initial step, consideration be given to the implementation of team-planning and team-teaching approaches to the teaching of Music..
In a number of classes students are provided with activities in Drama that enable them to explore a variety of social situations and moral issues within a supported and carefully constructed framework. An emphasis is placed on the use of Drama as a learning and developmental tool. All studentsí contributions are acknowledged and valued. Students are encouraged to develop self-expression, self-confidence, assertiveness, empathy, decision-making and co-operation in enjoyable and creative learning contexts. The inservice education in Drama, provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Service, should assist in facilitating further opportunities for development of this curricular area in all classes. Incorporating social stories in the Drama curriculum for students with autistic spectrum disorders would further assist in the development of these studentsí social, communication and imaginative skills.
The activities in Physical Education are undertaken with the objective of promoting the physical, emotional and intellectual development of the students, to further the enjoyment of and positive attitudes towards physical activity and its contribution to lifelong health-related fitness, and to foster the purposeful use of leisure time. Physical Education activities are effectively integrated with learning in other aspects of the curriculum, particularly the area of Health Education
A specialist teacher of Physical Education provides a comprehensive programme for all classes in the school. A wide range of motor skills is fostered and the practical use of acquired skills is facilitated in group and individual activities. The broad range of suitable facilities and resources for Physical Education includes a hall, a playing field, a basketball court, beanbags, large and small balls, goals, benches, cones and hoops. The programme is presented outdoors and indoors, and includes athletics, ball skills and games, throwing activities, movement and balance activities, relaxation and the development of personal fitness. The lessons are well-paced and activities are sequenced and differentiated appropriately to cater for the age levels, and
individual needs and abilities of the students. The students learn to cooperate and to compete with each other, to take turns and to follow the rules of games. The development of these skills is also advanced through participation in indoor table and board games. Opportunities for students to take part in in-school and inter-schools competitions are organised periodically and this provides both motivation and an effective means of expression for the students.
Swimming lessons are organised in an off-site swimming pool. The lessons are well managed and are conducted by part-time teachers. The students participate willingly in the activities and are developing competent swimming skills.† As a matter of health and safety for students and staff and in keeping with the policy of the Department of Education and Science, the provision of seat belts on the buses transporting the students to and from the swimming pool is recommended.
The area of Social, Personal and Health Education is given appropriate high priority.† A broad and balanced programme is presented to the classes throughout the school.† The positive impact of the programmes is apparent in the studentsí engagement in learning and in their level of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Themes in SPHE are age-appropriate and are carefully planned to address the needs of the students and to enable them to grow up as active and responsible citizens. Learning is focussed on areas such as self-identity and self-awareness, independence, emotions, relationships, choices and decision-making, responsibility and self-management, safety, exercise and fitness, personal hygiene and care of body, nutrition, junk food and balanced diet. In the senior classes, the students learn about elementary physiology and biology, health insurance, the use of emergency services, caring for the environment and the use of public facilities and services. Formal programmes are used to support learning and teaching and these include Stay Safe, Walk Tall, BŪ FollŠin and Alive-O. The students are taught the value of adopting a healthy lifestyle and the topics are presented with the objective of inculcating positive habits that will remain with them into adulthood.† The development of recreational pursuits is given careful attention and students are provided with opportunities to acquire skills and to practise a variety of games and hobbies.† The objectives of SPHE are also addressed incidentally through the implementation of the code of behaviour and discipline and through learning in other aspects of the curriculum. The staff endeavours to model a caring presence in the lives of the students. The students are encouraged to behave respectfully towards the members of staff and each other. Values such as mutual respect and co-operation are actively encouraged and important civic and social attitudes are fostered carefully among them. Methodologies include circle time, talk and discussion, guided learning, co-operative games, visual prompts and cues, written activities and role-play.†
Assessment practices incorporate formative, diagnostic and summative dimensions. Teacher-observation, teacher-designed tasks, standardised norm-referenced tests, checklists, student profiles, photographic records, curriculum profiles and collections of studentsí work are variously used to monitor and record studentsí progress. Parents are provided with an annual summative report of studentsí progress in relation to general behaviour, language, number concept, other curricular areas and attendance. The schoolís assessment policy could be further developed through detailing a whole-school approach to the range of assessments used in individual classes and in curricular areas. Consideration could also be given to including students in the assessment process through the use of best-sample portfolios in all curricular areas.
All students have special educational needs and attention is directed towards engaging in differentiation of curricular experiences for individual students. A file for each student is retained by each class teacher and contains relevant professional and parental correspondence and assessment details. A number of teachers compile profiles on individual students that variously refer to studentsí most recent psychological reports, dates of birth, parent/guardian contact details, summative assessment statements and medical details. It is recommended that this practice is adopted on a whole-school basis and that the implications of relevant professional reports are detailed in individual studentsí profiles. Currently, there is no school policy on the development of individual education plans. As individual education plans will become a statutory requirement with the commencement of the relevant sections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004, the school should consider developing a school policy and clear practice guidelines in this regard.
The transition of students to further education and training, the exploration of career opportunities and preparation for the world of work are important elements of the programme as students enter their final years at school. Students are supported in making decisions in relation to their choices for further training and employment. FETAC modules offer opportunities for students to develop workplace skills such as planning, communication and teamwork. Students gain valuable work experience through short-term work-experience placements in local businesses and services.
Students with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) are included in classes with their peers who do not have ASDs. The social, communication, imaginative and sensory deficits associated with ASDs are accommodated during curricular activities. Students with ASDs engage in curricular activities in a meaningful and responsive manner. It is suggested that the board of management re-consider the provision in place for students with ASDs in order to optimise the studentsí educational placements with reference to the resources being allocated by the National Council for Special Education for students with ASDs.
An inclusive ethos permeates all school activities.† The policy of the school is to welcome and facilitate the access, admission and participation of students from disadvantaged, minority and other backgrounds. However, currently there are no Traveller children, children of ethnic minority groups or children for whom English is not the first language on the school roll.† A daily snack and hot lunch are provided for students who wish to avail of such. While students are asked to contribute to the daily cost of foodstuffs, no student is denied food due to an inability to pay the required cost. Opportunities are created for parents of students to participate in school activities. The school beneficially collaborates with other community providers in planning provision and delivering educational services as required. The Guidelines for Intercultural Education in the Primary School, the Guidelines for Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School, and the Guidelines on Asylum Seekers may be usefully considered in future planning for the creation of an intercultural school environment.
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. It was noted that the school had already adopted a proactive approach to the implementation of the recommendations articulated in the report.