An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

St Laurenceís Special School

Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre

Kildonan Road, Finglas, Dublin 11

 

Roll No: 19385E

Date of inspection: 15 October 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction Ė school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for Students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Laurenceís Special School.† †It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the Chief Executive Officer of City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee, the VEC subcommittee for the school, and the teachers. 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.† They also met with the chairperson, director, deputy director and a number of care managers in Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre, the Children Detention School within which the school is located. †Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the VEC sub-committee.† 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.

 

 

1.†††† Introduction Ė school context and background

 

Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre (FCAC) functions as a children detention school under the Children Act 2001.† In March 2007, administrative and legal responsibility for children detention schools was transferred from the Department of Education and Science (DES) to the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform (DJELR) and within that department to the newly established Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS).† The DES retained responsibility for the provision of educational services in the children detention schools and assigned responsibility for delivery of education services to Vocational Education Committees within whose geographical area the respective schools were located - in this case the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC) - under section 159A of The Children Act 2001 as inserted by the Criminal Justice Act 2006, Section 147.

 

This report, and the evaluation on which it is based, are concerned with the education provision under the CDVEC, in the physical location of and within the wider context represented by the FCAC.† For the purposes of this report the term school will generally be used to refer to the education provision made by the CDVEC and the term centre will generally refer to the Children Detention School or FCAC as a whole.

 

Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre operates under a board of management appointed by the IYJS and a †director who reports to the board The City of Dublin Vocational Educational Committee has appointed a subcommittee to manage the delivery of the educational provision.

 

Boys, normally from age eleven to sixteen, are referred by the courts to FCAC for an assessment period of 28 days, or on remand pending placement, or on committal for up to two years. Boys in all of these placement categories attend the school for educational purposes.† At the time of the evaluation the current maximum available capacity within the centre was sixteen places.† During the evaluation period nine students attended classes. Separate classes are provided for remand/assessment students and for students on committal. ††The school staff consists of a principal and seven teachers.

 

 

2. ††††Quality of school management

 

2.1 City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee sub-committee

 

In line with standard practice in VEC schools, CDVEC has established a management sub-committee for the school. This subcommittee has nine members, including two teacher representatives, the director of FCAC, and the deputy director and one other FCAC staff member in loco parentis.† The principal acts as secretary to the sub-committee. In addition to those who work on site, the subcommittee contains a number of other members who have significant experience in education or related fields and whose presence can facilitate linkages to other services and programmes.† Overlap between the membership of the sub-committee and the membership of the centreís board of management provides potential to assist in the management of the overlapping responsibilities of each and to promote productive collaboration between the respective staff teams. The chairperson of the VEC sub-committee is a committee member of CDVEC and is also a member of the board of management of the centre. ††

 

The sub-committee was constituted in September 2007 and had its first meeting in October 2007. It has met four times in all and plans to meet five times per school year and a minimum of once a term.† The agenda for meetings allows for a report by the principal on the work of the school.† The sub-committee has set itself a significant programme of work.† It has recommended policy documents in a number of areas.

 

It is clear that there is, among the members of the subcommittee, a strong awareness of the importance of a productive relationship between the subcommittee and the board of management of FCAC and the importance of good management of the various layers of interaction between the school and the centre.† It is also clear that this is an area that requires ongoing attention.

 

Since assuming responsibility for the delivery of education provision, CDVEC has been actively engaged in management, planning and support activities.† Through its education officer it has facilitated a review of school policies and curricular provision. It has also facilitated the schoolís links to and interaction with a range of VEC services and national programme supports.

 

2.2 In-school management

 

The school principal is energetic, diligent and committed.† He displays a positive rapport with the students. He is efficient in organising and managing daily operational matters.† He provides leadership and support to the teaching staff. He has been active in facilitating the recent focus on the review of curricular and organisational policies. He has responded positively to the transfer of educational responsibility to the VEC and has worked productively with the VEC through the education officer.† He is committed to the development and maintenance of positive professional relationships across the school community.

 

In addition to the principal, the in-school management team includes an assistant principal and three special duties posts. This team provides support to the principal in relation to day-to-day organisation and school planning and has engaged positively in the recent initiatives in relation to policy review and development.† The duties currently assigned to the team are broad-ranging and relevant. However, they have been, to some extent, overtaken by the process of review and change in which the school is currently engaged.† It is acknowledged within the school that these duties now need to be reviewed and aligned with the schoolís emerging developmental needs.

 

 

2.3 Management of resources

 

The teaching staff consists of a principal and seven teachers. All teachers are qualified post-primary teachers, three in general subjects and four in practical subjects. Three teachers have acquired additional postgraduate qualifications in special needs education or learning support teaching - two within the past two years.† In addition, teachers have attended a range of short courses relevant to the work of the school and have engaged with relevant curriculum support services. Teachers have welcomed the recent organisational changes and have become actively involved in the school planning process.

Structures are in place for communication and sharing of information within the staff, in relation to the needs of students and to school organisational matters. Teachers work together on the management and support of students.† †

 

There is evidence of receptiveness among the teachers to continuing professional development.† The schools position within the CDVEC structure provides the potential for enhancing staff development through linkages to various initiatives. †It also has the potential to increase capacity by providing access for specific purposes to professionals with additional expertise in areas such as career guidance and educational assessment. †In order to build on the commitment of staff and to make best use of the enhanced opportunities for professional development, it is recommended that priorities based on the current and emerging needs of the school be identified in a staff professional development policy.† †

 

Teaching resources available in classrooms are generally good and in some cases very good.† There is scope for development in relation to the provision of curriculum-related computer software.†† While there are some limitations of space, available space is well used.† Classrooms are generally suitable for purpose and have been enhanced by teachers through the use of curriculum-related visual supports and samples of studentsí work.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

Within the organisational framework of a children detention school, productive, mutually supportive relationships among the professional partners and among the statutory stakeholders are a critical factor in the successful delivery of education and care.† While the core relationship is †that between the teacher and the care worker, that relationship must be supported by the network of relationships involving principal, in-school management, other teachers, VEC subcommittee, CDVEC, and DES, on the one hand and care managers, director, board of management, IYJS and DJELR, on the other.†

 

There is widespread awareness in the school and centre of the importance of good communication, collaboration and professional relationships. It is acknowledged that the school and the centre are interdependent.† Teachers acknowledge and appreciate the support of the care staff. †A range of structures and procedures is in place to support communication and collaboration. These include overlapping membership between the VEC subcommittee and the centreís board of management, regular strategy and co-ordination meetings and meetings between principal and deputy director, and principal and duty managers. In addition, there is a range of student-related meetings including pre-case conference meetings, case conferences and reviews. †

 

The structures noted above are effective in facilitating daily routines and procedures, practical information sharing and behaviour management.† They thus contribute significantly to the maintenance of a stable and secure environment across the campus.† Beyond this operational level it is necessary to further develop the quality of communication and collaboration, with a focus on clarification of respective roles and responsibilities, sharing of information and perspectives about curriculum, programmes and organisational policies, and where appropriate, joint planning of student programmes that span education and care. †

 

In the process of developing the interface between education and care it will be necessary to have regard to competing demands on staff time, while seeking to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between the links at principal to care manager level and those at teacher to key worker level. ††It was known at the time of the evaluation that that an interdepartmental protocol document aimed at providing a framework for working relationships within children detention schools was at an advanced stage of development.† It is likely that this document will assist individual centres in reviewing and developing their own procedures.

 

2.5 Management of students

 

Teachers interact in a positive, supportive and confident manner with the students.†† The attendance rate of the students reflects well on the commitment to education across the centre.† Students are assigned among six classes, two for students in the assessment phase, one for students on remand and three for students on committal.† Class size is small - in practice up to three students.†† There are six class periods in the day. One teacher remains unassigned for each class period. This role is rotated among the teaching staff throughout the day. The unassigned teacher, when available provides assistance in class changeovers, and assists class teachers, principal and care staff in relation to behaviour management issues.

 

There are well established communication structures in place to facilitate communication within the teaching staff and between teaching staff and care staff, with regard to day-to-day student management issues. The principal meets the duty manager prior to start-of-school each morning and notes relevant information regarding individual students. This information is shared by the principal with the teaching staff at a short start-of-day meeting.† A similar process occurs in reverse at the end of each school day when teachersí comments regarding each studentís classroom engagement and general behaviour are summarised by the principal and communicated to the duty manager.† The fact that teaching staff have been provided with training in the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) approach, the approach that has been adopted by the centre, promotes consistency and facilitates communication in relation to behaviour management and support across the centre as whole.††

 

The schoolís code of discipline takes account of the relevant policies and procedures for the centre. It notes the importance of developing personal responsibility and cognitive and interpersonal skills, and achieving educational goals. It outlines rewards and sanctions.† Persistent or seriously disruptive behaviour may result in temporary removal from class and/or return to the residence.† Teaching staff acknowledge the importance of the support provided by the care staff in this regard and also acknowledge the importance of resolving difficulties speedily, if possible, within the classroom and the school.

 

Positive behaviour is rewarded through a well-established points system. Students earn points for effort in relation to classroom behaviour and application to work throughout the school day.† The system is well understood and accepted by the students, appears to provide a strong source of motivation to them and is consistent with the behaviour management strategy in the centre.† This system represents a valuable form of extrinsic reinforcement for positive behaviour.† It is commendable that the school also has in place, or is developing, a number of strategies that provide the potential for supporting the students in a more intrinsic manner aimed at promoting self awareness, reflection and responsibility in the longer term.† A† record-of-achievement folder containing samples of each studentís work, along with in-house and external certificates/awards and progress records, is used as an ongoing focus of attention during a† weekly individual support session, in which a teacher acts in a mentoring role† with the student, prompting reflection and discussion on the studentís learning and behaviour. ††This relatively new development has a number of potential benefits, including the formalising of a whole-child as distinct from subject-related role for the respective teachers and the opportunity to promote self-monitoring among the students. It also has the potential to contribute to a wider and deeper interaction between teacher and care worker in relation to student needs that bridge education and care.† †

 

 

3.†††† Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

 

The School Plan is an extensive document. It has capacity to guide the work of the school and to set the context for planning at classroom and individual student level. It contains a range of policy statements, procedural documents, and curriculum statements.† While some policies are long established much attention has been given to policy review and development over the past year, with guidance from a review group consisting of the principal, assistant principal, VEC education officer and a former VEC school principal, and with the involvement of the teaching staff. The VEC subcommittee has considered and recommended policies on cross-curricular literacy, cross-curricular numeracy, homework, religion and guidance.

 

Work has also been done on practical elements of assessment, with advice from the CDVEC psychology dept, on the development of a student information booklet and an information pack for substitute or visiting teachers, on the student induction process, on behaviour management and on a life-skills policy.† The process of review of curricular areas is ongoing.† The school has availed of the assistance of national support services including the Junior Certificate School Programme support service and the School Development Planning service.

 

It is acknowledged by the school that there is need for consistency between school policies and related FCAC policies and that in some cases a single or common policy is appropriate.† An early subcommittee meeting outlined a process for policy development, which would involve initial drafting, circulation to relevant stakeholders and redrafting, followed by presentation to the subcommittee for recommendation before forwarding to the VEC for ratification and for presentation to the FCAC board of management.† Such a process is necessary and appropriate in the circumstances of a children detention school.

 

The commitment, noted above, to identifying and taking account of the views of the school community and to sourcing help from relevant services and agencies is commendable. Work remains to be done, however, in relation to the consultative process and to the dissemination of the school plan, while having regard to the complex organisational environment in which the school operates and the competing demands on time and resources. In this context, a differentiated approach along the following lines is recommended.† Collaborative efforts would be concentrated on identified key areas where collaboration and joint planning are thought to be most critical; in other areas planning might be more ďwithin-houseĒ, while keeping relevant groups informed. Areas would be listed for attention in the short, medium or long term. Differentiated dissemination options could also be considered, whereby relevant information would be communicated in different forms for different groups, for example, in student booklets, substitute teacher packs and staff manuals. ††It will also be helpful to differentiate between core policies and principles that would not be changed without extensive consultation, on the one hand, and others aspects of a more procedural nature that require a more flexible approach. †

 

Evidence was provided to confirm that 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 school management has adopted and implemented the policies. The director of FCAC acts as the child protection officer and designated liaison person across the centre, including the school.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

 

Although practice varied in some respects, overall practice with regard to planning at classroom level was good.† Monthly and weekly planning notes list aims and objectives, learning content, teaching approaches and materials, and requirements for individual needs. ††An education plan, compiled in respect of each student, contains a summary student profile, lists targets and provides a basis for tracking progress. A copy of each studentís education plan is available in each classroom and is referred to by teachers in creating classroom-level plans.† †In order to further develop practice in relation to planning at the level of the classroom and the individual student the development of an agreed school-wide planning template should be considered and training in the development of student profiles and individualised learning programmes should be included in planning for staff development. ††

 

 

4.†††† Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1               Overview of learning and teaching

 

Teaching and learning that was good and in some cases very good was observed during classroom visits.† Teachers use a range of methodologies including direct instruction, teacher-led discussion, brain storming, questioning, practical demonstration, and active learning.† Among the range of resources used to support learning are workbooks and worksheets, subject texts, reference books, handouts, newspaper and magazines articles, photographs, pictures and games. ††There is potential for further development in the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and computer-assisted learning in general. †

 

Students were motivated to learn and consistently received positive reinforcement for their efforts.† The low number of students in each class, typically two or three, allows for individualised attention. However, very small class size, approaching individual tuition, can† restrict the nature of the classroom interaction and hence the types of learning experience to which students are exposed, particularly where group discussion is considered to be an important part of the learning. In order to compensate for this limitation it is recommended that the potential for the use of co-operative teaching models, involving more than one teacher working with a larger group, be explored.

 

The following subjects are currently provided: English, Mathematics, Geography, Materials Technology - Wood, Technical Graphics, Art, Home Economics, Social, Personal and Health Education, and Information and Communication Technology. ††All students attend classes in these subjects.† Viewed in the context of the areas of the Primary School Curriculum and the areas of experience associated with Junior Cycle post-primary schools, this range of subjects can be regarded as reasonably broad, covering as it does aspects of language, mathematics, environment, science, technology, arts, and social skills. Physical Education is not currently catered for, although the students have access to a range of opportunities for physical activity as part of the overall programme within the centre.† Access to a physical education teacher would provide the potential to complement these physical activities within a curricular context.† †

 

The breadth and relevance of the curriculum offered by a school must be viewed not only in terms of the discrete subjects offered but also in terms of the linkages between subjects and, in particular, the creation and utilisation of opportunities across the curriculum to develop and reinforce key skills and attitudes. In this context, literacy skills, numeracy skills and social and personal skills are central. Examples of this cross-curricular approach were seen in a number of subject areas. The school has recently developed policy statements on cross-curricular literacy and cross-curricular numeracy. Ongoing implementation and review of these policies will enable this aspect of teaching and learning to be fully embedded in practice.

 

In the past two years the participation of students in Junior Certificate examinations has increased. †In 2008, six students took the Junior Certificate examination in one or more subjects, including English, Mathematics, Geography, CSPE, Art, Materials Technology - Wood, Technical Graphics and Home Economics. In almost all cases subjects are taken at foundation or ordinary level. In determining the level at which a student will take a subject, a number of factors must be considered, including the studentís general ability, motivation, confidence, previous involvement with the subject and the length of time available to cover a course.† A balance must be struck between ensuring success and encouraging high aspirations. The school should outline the considerations and processes involved in the selection of subjects and subject levels in order to facilitate discussion across the teaching staff, and with students and other stakeholders, on this matter.

 

The curricular framework provided by the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) is employed successfully in the school to increase student access to the Junior Certificate curriculum. Teachers use an agreed selection of one or two JCSP statements in each subject area for students to target when they first enter the school. In time, additional statements are selected for each student, on an individual basis. †One of the teachers has been assigned the role of JCSP coordinator. †The school, as part of the CDVEC, is registered as a FETAC provider. It is envisaged that FETAC awards will be an expanding aspect of provision in response to emerging student needs and changing patterns of enrolment. One of the teachers has been assigned the role of FETAC coordinator.

The Draft Curriculum Framework and Guidelines for Children in Detention and Care, now available from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), will be of assistance to the school in reviewing its curriculum provision (www.action.ncca.ie).

 

 

4.2 Language

 

English (Literacy)

The development of literacy is acknowledged as central to the work of the school and the responsibility of all teachers. The aims and objectives for the English curriculum are noted in the Literacy Programme document which draws on primary and junior cycle curricula and on FETAC material. Four categories of ability Ė pre-readers, early readers, middle readers and independent readers are listed, and for each category the key areas to be addressed in instruction are noted.† A cross-curricular literacy policy outlines the aims and objectives for developing literacy-related skills across subjects. The school might now consider assigning a role of literacy co-ordinator to drive this cross-curricular approach, to facilitate staff training and to ensure consistency of approach.

 

The quality of teaching and learning observed in the English/literacy classes was very good.† A range of appropriate methodologies is employed to provide instruction in literacy skills and to target the specified objectives and desired outcomes of the Junior Certificate English curriculum. A diverse range of language development resources is available, including teacher-collated and teacher-created materials. Reading materials, kept mainly in a school library located in one of the classrooms, range from structured low-readability / high-interest texts to works of fact and fiction suitable for independent, teenage readers, together with a number of reference books, videos and CDs.† The school plan identifies library facilities as an area for development.† The school has applied for funding through the JCSP to purchase additional library books.

 

A number of students display significant difficulties in basic reading skills. Successful remediation for these students depends critically on direct, explicit instruction of decoding skills for word attack and word identification, and the development of the continuous prose reading skills of fluency and comprehension. In order to better focus the intervention and to ensure the best use of the limited amount of time available, it is suggested that the school consider using a commercially-produced, wide-ranging literacy intervention scheme suitable for use with adolescents. The skilful use of a quality systematic and cumulative intervention scheme may help to improve the rate of achievement.

 

The school plan lists Ďpromotion of reading time and categorizing reading material suitable for specific reading agesí as an area for development. Plans are in train, through a link with a VEC school to access an online facility for the matching of student characteristics, such as age and interests, to appropriate reading material.† Reading for Pleasure, a variation on the JCSP-promoted ĎDrop Everything and Readí strategy, is a positive daily intervention which successfully promotes independent reading as a pleasurable activity.

 

In the future review of the school plan, it is recommended that in addition to the literacy policies and plans mentioned above a subject plan for English be created, with reference to the aims and objectives of the Junior Certificate English curriculum. †

4.3 Mathematics

 

A detailed and well organised plan sets out a broad range of aims, objectives and areas of content in Mathematics. The plan draws on a number of sources including material from the Primary School Curriculum, the Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme, and FETAC resources. The development of competence in Mathematics is recognized as an important element in the promotion of the life skills of the students. Opportunities to support the acquisition and practice of skills in Mathematics are availed of across the curriculum areas. Individualised programmes in Mathematics are developed for each student, following an initial period of assessment. Approaches to teaching and learning include both lessons on specific curriculum objectives, involving written tasks, and also the integration and practical application of mathematical concepts in areas such as Home Economics, Woodwork, and Geography.† Attention is given to the studentsí understanding and use of the language of Mathematics.† Appropriate individualised support and encouragement is provided to facilitate the students in completing specific tasks and practising skills. The students generally engage well in the tasks undertaken across the range of Mathematics activities.

Building on the developmental work undertaken to date in Mathematics, consideration should be given to the further employment of practical tasks and problem-solving approaches in this curriculum area. Consideration should also be given to making greater use of ICT materials in Mathematics, as appropriate to the age and learning needs of the students.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

Within this broad curricular area, Geography is currently taught as a timetabled subject. †Programmes in Home Economics, Woodwork and Technical Graphics are also relevant to this area.

 

Geography

The Geography programme is set out in the School Plan and the programme of work undertaken is informed by the requirements of the Junior Certificate, FETAC modules and elements of the Primary School Curriculum.† Classroom planning provides for the work of individual students. Good efforts are made to make the topics relevant to the lives of the students and to link aspects of the lessons to their experiences and interests.† The classroom has useful displays of visual materials including maps of Ireland, Europe and the world. The students participate purposefully and constructive discussion and interaction is promoted.† Appropriate support and encouragement is provided to facilitate students in completing written tasks and assignments.† Careful attention is paid to the literacy and Mathematics dimensions of this curriculum area.

 

Developing from the work already undertaken in Geography, consideration should be given to making wider use of thematic approaches and cross-curricular projects. Such approaches could also involve the practical use of ICT and other resources as students engage in activities such as researching and sourcing information, and recording the outcomes of their investigations in a suitable format.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts (Art, Craft and Design)

The art room is well laid out and contains a good range of stimulus and reference materials and resources. The Art, Craft and Design programme plan includes painting, print making, graphic design, pottery, sculpture, photography, and computer animation. Work on art history and appreciation is integrated within the practical activities. †Samples on display provide evidence of a high standard of work, incorporating a range of materials and techniques. ††Lessons are well planned and well paced. ††Students engage actively in the lesson activities and display pride in their work. There is a commendable emphasis on developing visual awareness and observation skills and on helping students to acquire subject-related vocabulary. Aspects of literacy and numeracy are incorporated in the lessons and projects. †Students work successfully towards JCSP statements and Junior Certificate. Students may also be offered FETAC modules at Level 3 and Level 4.

Materials Technology - Wood

The school plan concisely sets out the aims, objectives and content of the programme in this curricular area.† At classroom level students follow an individualised programme of work. The woodwork room is carefully laid out and a good variety of equipment, tools and materials is provided. There is storage capacity for resources and for the completed work and projects undertaken by the students. Samples of the good work completed by the students are carefully maintained. Due attention is paid to safety concerns arising from the use of tools and equipment.† A range of effective teaching approaches is employed.† Students engage positively and constructively in the learning activities and are suitably encouraged and supported in staying on task and completing projects. The opportunity to achieve certification at Junior Certificate level is an important source of motivation for the students and commendable efforts are made to enable the students to complete the programme successfully.† Cross-curricular linkages in relation to literacy and numeracy are provided for, as students discuss, plan, complete and record their projects.

 

Technical Graphics

This subject has only recently been offered by the school. The curriculum for Technical Graphics is drawn from the Junior Certificate syllabus, appropriate JCSP statements and FETAC specific learning outcomes. Themes relating to student interests have been prioritised. The practical nature of the subject with its activity-based problem-solving is motivating for the students.† Students are both challenged and engaged with the work. The classroom experience is a balance between direct instruction that is clear in its objectives and students working individually at their own pace on tasks selected to develop specific skills.† A spirit of cooperation is evident in the classroom, with individual support being provided by both teacher and peers. Good questioning technique was observed, with students being drawn into discussion and debate rather than being given direct answers.† The teacher is aware of the cross-curricular aspect of the subject and opportunities to develop skills in mathematics and literacy are exploited. †Key words are on view in the classroom and the acquisition and correct usage of subject-related vocabulary is stressed. †Student work, much of which is of a high standard, is retained in student folders or put on display, and is used to track progress.

 

4.6 Social, Personal and Health Education

 

Life skills

Students on remand or on assessment are timetabled for two classes of Life Skills per week while students on committal attend one class per week. A policy statement in the school plan reiterates the schoolís aims to provide a holistic education and to help the students to effect positive change in their lives. The Life Skills programme covers alcohol and drug awareness, health and hygiene, relationships and sexuality, decision-making skills and other relevant topics that are drawn from the SPHE and Relationships and Sexuality (RSE) curricula for primary and post-primary schools. The programme also draws on the FETAC module Personal and Interpersonal Skills, as well as from established programmes such as Stay Safe, Walk Tall, and On My Own Two Feet.† The needs of the students have been considered in the selection of the topics included in the programme.† The promotion of self-esteem, self-confidence, and physical, mental and emotional well-being are central.

 

A teacher has been assigned to co-ordinate the Life Skills programme delivery and a former SPHE national co-ordinator has provided advice to the school on the programmeís development. The objectives of the Life Skills programme are supported and complemented by the key workers and the other residential care staff in the course of their work with the students.† More frequent and formal contact with the care staff would enable more collaborative planning and ensure consistency in the delivery of this holistic programme.

 

Group meetings, where students can actively participate in exchanging views and experiences with their peers in the secure environment of the class, are an important methodology for an SPHE programme. Accordingly, the school should consider the occasional use of a co-operative teaching approach such as team teaching to structure opportunities for groups of four to six students to assemble for guided discussions. Group discussions and other active learning methodologies such as role-play, paired work, case studies, and use of video and information and communication technology (ICT) can provide opportunities for participatory and experiential learning that are likely to encourage student engagement.

 

Home Economics

A detailed school plan is set out for Home Economics and comprehensive and detailed individualised planning is undertaken at classroom level.† A broad and interesting programme, drawing on the content of the Junior Certificate syllabus is undertaken. A positive and affirming classroom environment has been developed and students are skillfully supported as they participate purposefully in the various practical and theoretical aspects of the subject. Highly effective teaching and learning approaches are in evidence. Students engage positively and constructively in the lessons and demonstrate satisfaction in their achievements. Very effective cross-curricular linkages are made and particular attention is given to vocabulary development, functional literacy and the practical application of mathematical skills.

 

A good range of equipment and materials is available and appropriate attention is given to safety issues.† Although limited in space, the Home Economics room is very well organised and provides a comfortable environment in which to undertake a range of activities. The social dimension of the studentsí learning in this area could be facilitated if, wherever practicable, a number of students could be accommodated for particular lessons. It was noted, however, that the size of the room currently used for Home Economics allows limited scope for this, beyond perhaps two students working together.

 

4.7 Information and Communication Technology

 

The studentsí practical skills and knowledge related to ICT are assessed as part of the initial induction process. This assessment involves the completion of an observational checklist of ICT skills and competencies as well as collating informal observations of the studentsí visual-motor skills, learning ability and style, behaviour, and personal and social development. The resulting information is used to gauge each studentís level of achievement and ability.

 

The relevant policy section in the school plan identifies two aspects of ICT in the school. One aspect involves the practical development of a studentís ability to use the computer as a tool. This takes place in a designated classroom that has been fitted with three workstations, each with a desktop computer. The ICT curriculum is structured on four sets of JCSP statements and the specific learning outcomes from FETAC Level 3 and Level 4 modules. The selected statements are targeted in the individual learning plans for the students. Students work independently under the teacherís close guidance and supervision. Observed students were engaged and sufficiently motivated in their learning. Last year, for the first time, four students were successfully assessed on completion of the FETAC Level 4 Computer Applications module.† The other aspect of ICT in the school involves the use of the computer as a methodology in teaching and learning in the subject areas. However, while the ICT policy correctly stresses the benefits to be derived from using ICT in the classroom and most of the classrooms have a desktop computer and a printer, this is an aspect that requires significant development. During the evaluation there were few observations of ICT in use as a teaching and learning tool and ICT was generally not a feature in†† planning documentation. The school plan lists this as an area for development, so it is recommended that the potential for development in the use of ICT and computer-assisted learning should be exploited.

 

4.8 Assessment †

The assessment programme in the school is outlined in the School Plan. This programme involves a variety of assessment methods, with the single aim of creating a comprehensive and accurate profile of each studentís achievements, abilit ies and needs, so that effective recommendations can be made. An educational report is completed by the school for students who are on 28-day remand for assessment, as one aspect of an extensive court report. Moreover, the results of a full educational psychological assessment, conducted by a centre psychologist, contribute to the school report. The results of this assessment and the educational report are of assistance to the teachers in the planning of instruction for students who are subsequently placed on committal.

 

The primary modes used by the school to gather information for the education report are a questionnaire, a practical subject assessment and standardised tests. The questionnaire is sent to the studentís previous school(s) to gather information for a profile of each student.† The practical subject teachers contribute by using a school-designed template to conduct a review of each studentís subject-based competencies. All teachers are encouraged to contribute information on the students through informal observations in and out of the classroom. In addition, a number of standardised literacy, numeracy and cognitive tests are administered. The school should review its continued use of these tests, as a range of newer and more appropriate standardised tests are now available for use with adolescents. It is acknowledged that, if the schoolís plans to use a computerised screening procedure recently commissioned and piloted by the CDVEC are realised, this issue will be resolved.†

 

After the completion of the formal assessment programme, teachers engage in continuous assessment. They keep work samples and photographs of completed projects in student folders and record all student efforts to improve work and behaviour. They also record the completion of targeted JCSP and FETAC learning outcomes. Some teachers award special certificates for completed work and skill attainment. A collated record of each studentís achievement reviewed and discussed with the student at a weekly guidance session with a designated teacher. The school has created a positive homework policy that clearly states the objectives of homework and the procedures to be followed by students and staff to ensure its completion. At the time of the evaluation the policy was not yet fully implemented. The school is advised to work closely with the centre to put this policy into practice.

 

There has been a notable increase in the number of students achieving in the Junior Certificate examinations in recent years. Additionally, four students were successfully assessed in the FETAC Level 4 module ĎComputer Applicationsí for the first time last year. This is a positive trend for the school in facilitating the attainment of recognised qualifications for students.

 

Work remains to be done in relation to a number of practices in the area of assessment. In accord with the list of areas for development noted in the school plan, it is recommended that an assessment policy, to include an agreed system of monitoring, recording and reporting student progress, be developed.† Advice on assessment and the development of a school policy is available in the Inspectorate publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (2007).† A copy of the Departmentís list of approved tests for second-level schools may be downloaded from the Special Education Support Service website (www.sess.ie) by following the links for Resources and then Assessment Tests.

 

 

 

5.†††† Quality of support for Students

 

A commendable level of support is available to the students both in the educational context and the residential care context. In the educational context small class size, individual attention, the ongoing communication among the teachers, the input of the educational psychologist, who is assigned by the centre to work within the school, the sharing of information with the residential care workers and the behavioural support provided to the school by the care workers, all contribute to the establishment of a stable environment for learning.† This is enhanced by the complementary supports provided on the residential side. ††These include the promotion of school attendance, provision of structured evening and weekend activities, the role and input of each young persons key care worker, psychological support, access to nurse, doctor and dentist on site and the provision of a number of programmes that address issues such as offending behaviour and anger management.† In addition, an outreach team provides a link to the young personís family.

In order to maximise the benefits to the students, the linkages across the centre can be further developed so that the various supports available through care and education can fully complement each other, particularly in relation to key areas such as literacy, numeracy and social and personal development.

 

Recent policy development work in the area of guidance has provided a framework for the introduction of a weekly individual support session. This twenty minute one-to-one session provides the students and the teachers with an opportunity to reflect on the week and to look forward to the coming week.† Using the studentís record-of-achievement folder as a focus, achievement and positive behaviour are acknowledged and areas for improvement are identified. †This strategy, which has been in place for approximately a year, has several positive features that can be developed. It creates for the subject teacher a broader mentoring role.† In doing so it has the potential to enhance the range and quality of communication across the centre and in particular with the key-care worker. †In the context of ongoing review and development of this strategy, it is recommended that the possibility of a training input, for example from a psychologist or guidance counsellor, be explored and consideration be given to how key care staff might be involved in or linked to this mentoring activity.

 

6.†††† Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

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 teaching staff and the VEC sub-committee, where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published October 2009