An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

St Dymphna’s Special School

Ballina, Mayo

Uimhir rolla: 19387I

 

Date of inspection:  27 November 2009

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

School response to the report

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St Dymphna’s Special School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the reporting inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the reporting inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

St Dymphna’s Special School is located in Ballina, Co Mayo and operates under the patronage of the Western Care Association.  The school is designated by the Department of Education and Science as a special national school for children with mild general learning disability. The school serves a wide catchment area in north Mayo and south Sligo.

 

The school now has a staff of teaching principal and three other full-time teachers, four part-time teachers and six special needs assistants. The multi-disciplinary team from Western Care Association provides additional supports. At the time of the whole school evaluation twenty-eight pupils attended St Dymphna’s.

 

St. Dymphna’s School is a lively and friendly community where the quality of teaching is very good. The school is well managed. The principal, board of management, staff and parents work closely together to achieve for pupils their simply stated motto, ‘Understand Me, Respect Me, Educate Me’. Careful consideration has been given to composing the school’s mission statement and it describes St Dymphna’s as a non-denominational special school which strives to provide a well ordered, caring, happy and secure atmosphere where the intellectual, spiritual, physical, moral, social and cultural needs of the pupils are identified and addressed. As it endeavours to fulfil its mission St Dymphna’s achieves high standards in all areas of its work. The staff constantly looks for ways to improve the quality of their work; they are imaginative in their planning and they make suitably challenging demands of pupils.There are good arrangements to support and include all pupils and care for them. The school has a strong partnership with parents and carers and outside agencies. Pupils have positive attitudes and are enthusiastic to engage in conversation. Teachers and special needs assistants work together in a very effective manner to tackle individual problems such as challenging behaviour, on the rare occasion that it is necessary to do so.

 

At the time of the whole school evaluation, twenty-eight pupils attended St Dymphna’s. September enrolment figures over the past two years show a significant change – twenty-three pupils in September 2007, twenty-one pupils in 2008, numbers were not available for 2010. The school records show that two pupils were absent for over thirty days, due to illness, in the past school year.

 

 

2.   Quality of school management

The chairperson and individual members of the board of management have served the school loyally and effectively for many years. The board can be rightly proud of the school’s achievements and its success in guiding and supporting the establishment of a high quality and exceptionally well-resourced new school which is a testament to their commitment, generosity, and voluntary efforts. The school’s vision is clearly articulated in its mission statement and there is a strong sense of common purpose among the school community.

2.1 Board of management

Outstanding leadership is provided by the board of management and especially by the chairperson. The board members take a keen interest in the performance of the school and the way it is perceived locally. The members of the board of management are very experienced and knowledgeable and they contribute substantially to the effectiveness of the school. They keep themselves very well informed about what is going on in the school. The board of management has a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the school and the challenges it faces. It succeeds admirably in fulfilling its duty in providing a sense of direction for the school. 

The board of management is properly constituted and is representative of patron, staff, parents and the wider community. It meets at least once per term. The roles and responsibilities of the board of management are clearly defined and board members undertake these responsibilities very effectively. The board of management complies with statutory requirements, and departmental guidelines and circulars. The board’s decision-making procedures are open, clear and effective. There is close and successful collaboration with Western Care, which provides substantial support to the school. During the inspection period it was evident that the school benefits from local arrangements regarding the management of school finances. Board members have availed of training opportunities which were organised by the Catholic Primary School Managers Association (CPSMA) in areas such as child protection. In line with statutory requirements, the board has agreed policies on admissions and enrolment.

 

In meeting regularly, the board of management deals with long-term strategy and provides support and direction to St Dymphna’s. The board is proud of the school’s achievements in terms of the facilities and quality of teaching and support staff, and is confident of the high regard in which the school is held in the wider community in Mayo. The board of management contributes very effectively to the school’s action plan. The board, in consultation with the National Council for Special Education, is giving consideration to extending the range of provision for pupils with special educational needs. Minutes of recent meetings indicate that the board is well informed about ongoing school matters and that it has considered and approved a range of policy documents. Through regular visits by the chairperson and other members the board have a secure and comprehensive view of the school’s strengths and needs. The board is particularly conscious of the workload on the principal. The appointment of an administrative principal and the acquisition of additional funding for ancillary supports are the key priorities of the board. In light of the increased prevalence of medical needs among the pupils, the board is eager also to acquire the services of a nurse for the school.

 

2.2 In-school management

The principal who teaches a class as well as attending to administrative duties brings a very clear vision for the school and her work in leading and managing the school is highly effective. With a combined staff of twenty people including teachers and special needs assistants, as well as part-time teachers and part-time ancillary staff, and bus escorts, the administrative burden on the principal is quite onerous. The principal also engages in extensive ongoing communication with various external agencies and she has worked assiduously over the summer months to support those involved in supplying and building the new school. The principal inspires and shares her enthusiasm with her colleagues. She exemplifies excellent professional standards and sets high expectations for herself, her colleagues on the staff and the pupils in all their daily routines. The principal also provides effective curriculum leadership across the school.

 

The principal promotes a culture of team work and collaborative decision making and she is very well supported by the deputy principal and teacher with a special duties post. The post holders have clear written descriptions of what is expected of them and these are reviewed regularly. Duties relate to a network of activities including the maintenance of roll books, communicating with external agencies and managing various initiatives. The deputy principal and post-holder also use considerable initiative in bringing new ideas to their work. They also attend to duties that are not listed in their role description and the additional responsibilities such as facilitating the continuous professional development of staff could be acknowledged and recorded in the school plan. The in-school management team should develop a formal reporting mechanism to the board of management regarding their respective roles and duties. All teachers, including members of the in-school management team, meet frequently. Priorities for development are identified and formal action planning is used very effectively for managing change. The entire team contributes very effectively to building and sustaining a positive climate and constructive relationships with the school community.

 

2.3 Management of resources

The pupils and staff of St Dymphna’s moved into the new school premises in September 2009. During the inspection period the finishing touches were being put to the building project. The management and staff are commended for the many contributions they made in supporting the design and building processes. The school worked closely with the design team and contractors throughout construction to ensure that the school would meet the needs of the pupils, now and in the future. The accommodation is of a very high quality and the school shares the campus with another special school. The school is very well designed, is all on one level and provides wide corridors and spacious communal areas including a general purpose room which is shared with the other school. All classrooms are bright and spacious and there are ample toileting and changing facilities which allow for easy access by pupils. Windows and doors are double-glazed and entrances and exits are designed to prevent heat loss. In addition to the reception area and principal’s office, there is a medical room and rooms for use by visiting therapists and other professionals. Careful attention has been paid to the overall design, the selection of building materials, lighting, colour schemes, and to the provision of access for wheelchair users to all areas of the school. High standards in relation to hygiene and food preparation have been set for the kitchen facilities and dining areas. Rooms for practical subjects are furnished with modern equipment which takes into account the special needs of individual pupils. There are ample storage spaces and laundry facilities. Well-ordered learning environments are maintained in each classroom and offer healthy, functional, and stimulating work places. Attention needs to be paid to improving the acoustic conditions in some areas. The use of sound-absorbent materials such as soft furnishings would reduce the reverberation that exists in some areas of the school. Outdoor and indoor recreation areas are of a very high standard, and offer splendid facilities for physical education and outdoor activities.

 

In addition to teachers and special needs assistants, there are also four part-time teachers as well as secretarial and caretaking personnel. Staff morale is high and staff members are valued, consulted and supported. They work effectively as a team, supporting the school leadership, and sharing accountability in their professional responsibilities. A tremendous effort was made by the entire school staff in managing the logistics to ensure a successful transfer to the new school premises.

 

The board actively supports the professional development of the staff. The board facilitates the attendance of teachers at continuing professional development (CPD) activities related to school developmental priorities. Some members of staff have attended training courses provided by the Special Education Support Services (SESS). The continuous professional development (CPD) accessed by staff is recorded in the School Plan. 

 

The school’s part-time teachers of Woodwork, Physical Education, Home Economics and Music contribute to the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum within the school. School secretarial support is highly efficient and courteous. A reliable service is provided by a skilful and resourceful caretaker who also cleans the school on a daily basis.

 

The school’s special needs assistants (SNAs) are deployed effectively in supporting pupils. The SNAs ensure that pupils are well-cared for in school and they contribute effectively to pupils’ personal and social development. They have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. In addition to attending to the immediate physical care needs of individual pupils, they assist with supervision of pupils during educational activities and at break times and they assist pupils in accessing particular activities and in completing tasks. The SNAs also engage in some concurrent recording of pupils’ engagement in tasks. Across the school year they contribute significantly to the maintenance of a positive social and educational environment throughout the school. The SNAs attend regular staff meetings which take place outside of instruction time and the principal holds additional meetings with the SNAs, as necessary.

 

Classrooms are well resourced and materials have been replenished and updated on a continuous basis. The school has invested in a range of reading materials, language resources, and mathematics resources. The school would benefit from the carrying out of an audit of curricular resources particularly in areas such as social, environmental, and scientific education. ICT is making a significant contribution to the quality of learning in several curricular areas, while allowing pupils to develop considerable confidence and skill in computer use. The school is well resourced with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities that are used both in classrooms for instruction in subjects and for focussed lessons in computers. All rooms are well-equipped, with computers and as well as printers and a wide range of software, including subject-specific material. There is a focus on the development of introductory computer and word- processing skills. The various technologies are used to develop motor, sensory skills, literacy, numeracy, and presentation skills. ICT is used effectively by teachers for planning purposes and to record pupils’ progress. Computers are used extensively to provide resources for teaching and several exciting websites are visited to down load stimulating materials. The pupils’ progress in developing discrete ICT skills is carefully monitored and recorded in written form. An excellent assessment instrument has been developed and pupils’ progress in word processing, data handling, internet use and ability to use e-mail are tracked. Consideration has been given to pupils with additional needs and electronic switches and adjustable computer tables for wheelchair users are available. The school is ambitious in its plans for developing ICT further. Broadband internet access is available across the school. Pupils have direct access to the internet in accordance with the school’s acceptable use policy. According to the school’s Strategic Development Plan the development of a web-site for St Dymphna’s has been prioritised. There is to be further investment in ICT in the coming months. In planning the purchase of additional ICT hardware for the new school, the staff members are examining the suitability of digital projectors and wireless keyboards. The intention is to network printers and to link the classroom computers to the school photocopier.

 

Fund-raising events are organised to support targeted projects and specific events. Particular credit is due to individual members of staff who devote both time and energy to support these efforts.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The school has a good range of productive and consistent links with parents. The board of management and school staff facilitate the active involvement in the community of the school. The school regularly explores ways in which parents can be involved in the life of the school. The mechanisms for exchanging information between school and home include a detailed information booklet for parents, home-school diaries, newsletters, and telephone calls. The parents’ consultation meetings in the development of Individual Education Plans and the schools’ open-door policy ensure a good level of parental involvement in their children’s education. The parents participate also in fund-raising events. The parents were actively involved in developing a policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education and on the use of the internet. The principal reports that school religious services, plays and other school functions are well attended by parents. The school organises a social evening for parents and all pupils, past and present, each year. The parents and guardians participate well in various school events, meetings and extra-curricular activities.

 

A formal parents’ association with affiliation to the National Parent’s Council is not currently in place. Such an association can add considerable value, both for parents and the whole-school community. Taking into account the wide catchment area of the school and the relatively small pool of parents available, the school management is advised to continue in its efforts to facilitate the establishment of a parents’ association.

 

Transition-year students from local secondary schools have been involved in a number of initiatives with St Dymphna’s. The principal reports that St Dymphna’s provides an informal support for teachers in mainstream schools and the staff of St Dymphna’s provides advice and assistance to those who are setting up programmes for pupils with special educational needs.

 

At the pre-evaluation meeting, the parents’ representatives on the board of management were very positive about the school. The parents identified several constructive features including the commitment of staff, the care of the pupils, the home-school communication systems in place, and the regular parent-teacher meetings. The parents were very appreciative of the work of the staff and in particular the time and support provided  to parents by the principal but they were concerned about the amount of work she is required to do in addition to teaching a class. They were very satisfied with the curriculum being provided but wished that the amount of time available for woodwork could be extended.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

The leadership and staff of the school share a common purpose and put pupils needs and their achievements first. The school has developed a Code of Discipline which is shared with parents. Important policies have been developed in relation to bullying, behaviour, and discipline. It is clear that pupils are valued members of the school community and are treated with fairness and respect. Pupils are very positive about what the school has to offer and take a full part in the school’s activities. They are praised frequently by staff and individual successes in projects, sport, and art are celebrated. The majority of the older pupils are confident and highly motivated learners. They have great pride in their school and in their achievements in school work. In general, they show respect for others and they behave well in different contexts including free social time.  During the inspection period they were observed to relate positively towards their peers and adults at all times. Senior pupils willingly take a lot of responsibility in the classroom and in the school and act as good role models for the younger pupils. They are making significant steps in their learning towards being independent and responsible. The return of former pupils to talk to pupils about their work beyond school has contributed to this development also.

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

The quality of whole-school planning is very good. A wide range of administrative policies provide concise guidance which improves the work of the school and the policies reflect compliance with legislative requirements, departmental guidelines and circulars. The school has developed an attendance policy with strategies listed for promoting good attendance by pupils. External supports have been used effectively to facilitate whole-school review and to guide planning for improvement. Priorities for development in teaching and learning as well as policies relating to administration and pastoral issues have been identified successfully in a three-year strategic action plan. The planning processes are highly collaborative.

 

The curricular policy documents reflect clearly the principles of the curriculum while specific schemes of work continue to be developed in some areas. The plans for the completed subjects outline content statements that ensure continuity, breadth and balance in the programmes provided. They also identify teaching approaches and strategies to support curriculum delivery. Bearing in mind the age of the majority of pupils, staff have begun to give consideration to including age-appropriate, post-primary programmes which lead to national accreditation. This development is encouraged provided that teachers are mindful of the importance of continuing to provide a broad balanced curriculum and one which continues to focus on addressing pupils’ learning needs especially in relation to developing literacy, numeracy skills, and in regard to fostering the pupils’ social development.

 

The school has developed ways of sharing the plan with the school community including making a copy of the strategic development plan and other school policies available at the reception area of the school. The development of the school web site will allow for the further dissemination of school policy documents.   

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

There is a whole school policy on teacher planning and this common approach ensures that plans are realistic and relevant. Teachers provide careful and detailed planning for all areas of the curriculum. Short-term and long-term schemes take account of the principles of the curriculum and the learning needs of the pupils. The planning identifies clear learning outcomes in terms of the knowledge, skills and understanding that the pupils will develop. Each teacher is required to cater for a class of pupils with a wide age range. The schemes of work detail how the curriculum is differentiated for individual pupils and how a spiral approach is adopted whereby strands are revisited over a three year period. Teaching and learning resources, including ICT, are well matched to the specific learning objectives and provide high-quality support for classroom practice. ICT is used effectively by teachers for planning purposes and to record pupils’ progress. Computers are used extensively to provide resources for teaching and several exciting websites are visited to download stimulating materials. Comprehensive monthly progress records are carefully maintained and used effectively to inform curriculum implementation. Individualised educational programmes contain relevant learning targets for pupils. The approach to practical subjects showed a balance between the practical skills development, health and safety rules, and the theoretical aspects of the subject.

 

The majority of pupils attend classes provided by specialist teachers in Home Economics, Woodwork, Music and Physical Education. Consequently there is a need to develop a measure of collective planning when pupils have a number of teachers. In order to maximise the benefit of the additional specialist teaching, further consideration should be given to the ways in which pertinent information is shared by class teachers and subject teachers on levels of attainment for individual pupils. Collective planning should be carried out for cross-curricular reinforcement of learning objectives across all subjects attended in the school e.g. numerical skills, literacy skills or social skills.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1   Overview of learning and teaching

The quality of teaching is very good throughout the school. Teachers have extensive knowledge of the range of special educational needs within their classes. Teaching is flexible and adapted to take account of the pupils’ interests. There are different ability levels among the pupils in each class. The teachers work diligently to respond to a wide range of learning needs. The majority of pupils are eager and motivated in their learning. The school maintains good records of previous work. Very good attention is given to literacy and numeracy in all classes. Within the school’s developmental planning process the role of teachers of specialist subjects should be re-examined with a view to maximizing the input of these teachers in relation to promoting the pupils’ literacy, numeracy and social skills. The teachers provide additional support for pupils as required and set up situations where the pupils are required to work collaboratively. Teachers have a good working relationship with external professionals, including speech and language therapists. The teachers use resources from within and outside the school very effectively to enrich the curriculum. High priority is also given to pupils’ personal development through opportunities for pupils to take responsibility, show initiative, and to become aware of their part in the wider community. There is a focus on the development of introductory computer and word-processing skills. The various technologies are used to develop motor sensory skills, literacy, numeracy, and presentation skills.

  

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Tá cead ag na daltaí a fhreastalaíonn ar an scoil seo, gan Gaeilge a dhéanamh, de bharr míchumais ghinearálta foghlama. Agus iad ag iarraidh feasacht cultúrtha i leith an chultúir Ghaeligh a chothú i measc na ndaltaí, d’fhéadfadh an fhoireann teagaisc, smaoineamh ar chlár uile scoile a fhorbairt a thabharfadh deiseanna do na daltaí gnéithe den chultúr Gaelach a iniúchadh, ceol, rince, ealaíon agus ceardaíocht Ghaelach san áireamh.

 

Irish

The pupils in this school present with general learning disabilities and are entitled to an exemption from studying Irish. In promoting an awareness of the value of Irish culture among pupils, the staff might consider developing a whole-school programme of activities in which pupils might explore aspects of Irish culture including music, dance and Gaelic art and craft.

 

English

In English, teachers plan work carefully and provide comprehensive long-term and short-term schemes as well as monthly reports. Differentiation in planning is very much in evidence and with the senior classes the emphasis is on developing functional reading and writing. The routines of the school day provide opportunities for engaging the pupils in language-rich social interactions and the teachers succeed in motivating pupils to participate in oral discussions on cross-curricular themes and extend the pupils’ vocabulary and general knowledge. In developing oral communication skills there is an emphasis on word games, poetry, and drama. The pupils show an interest in books, read poetry for enjoyment and justify their likes and dislikes. They use their imagination and inventiveness when preparing short dramatic activities. Print-rich environments are created in all classrooms and class libraries are well stocked with story books and non-fiction books. In English reading and writing, pupils reach standards of achievement  that are in line with their abilities. Pupils engage in reading on a daily basis and many read, write and communicate with enthusiasm. The teachers work to develop pupils’ phonological awareness and phonic skills. The pupils have learned to use a range of reading cues, including phonic, grammatical, and contextual prompts. The teachers scaffold the writing process and due attention is paid to spelling and punctuation. Many understand the sound and spelling system to help them read and spell accurately. The pupils show well-presented and legible handwriting and use a growing vocabulary in their written work. In each class, pupils use ICT to research topics of interest and to word process their work. They apply their reading and writing skills in other areas of the curriculum especially in the area of Social, Environmental, and Scientific Education (SESE).

 

The pupils’ progress and written work is monitored closely. In English, a variety of suitable assessment modes are used, including teacher observation, teacher-devised tasks and tests, work samples, literacy profiles, and check-lists of high-frequency sight words. It is recommended that an informal reading inventory be compiled of books and texts that are graded according to reading difficulty and used to match or set pupils to suitable learning levels and to ensure that pupils have extensive experience of reading at an independent level.

 

4.3 Mathematics

A whole-school policy and scheme of work have been developed in this area and a comprehensive programme is planned and implemented in Mathematics.  The programme ensures that each pupil is given access to a broad range of mathematical experiences. Classrooms are well equipped with mathematical material, charts, concrete materials, measuring instruments and discontinuous materials for counting. Realisable objectives for each class level are laid down. Basic numeracy targets and measurement areas and their practical application are given adequate attention. Stimulating and well-organised lessons are taught throughout the school with due emphasis on oral aspects of Mathematics. Good use is made of concrete materials as well as diagrammatic and pictorial representations to reinforce the basic concepts. Number facts and number patterns are carefully established and work is neatly recorded in copybooks and pictorially. The practice of basing oral problems in the pupils’ environment on a daily basis is commended.  Notwithstanding the good work underway in Mathematics, the teachers have now decided to review and update the plan in this area.

 

Criterion-referenced assessments have been developed in Mathematics, and a record is maintained of how pupils can perform in achieving learning objectives, e.g. with assistance or independently. This approach is highly commended. 

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

In the teaching of Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) the teachers focus on the personal development of the pupils and on their relationship with the social, natural and built environments. Valuable assessment booklets have been developed in the school to document pupils’ progress in SESE.

 

History

The teaching of History is effective throughout the school and teachers show a strong interest and good command of the subject. Pupils use sources of evidence and information to find out about the past. In accordance with their levels of ability pupils demonstrate a good knowledge and understanding of the lives of people in history. Story is used very effectively to interest pupils in history and pupils play traditional seasonal games. Pupils are given opportunities to work as historians and resources and artefacts are used well. Time lines are used effectively to develop a sense of chronology and pupils have acquired knowledge and understanding of people, periods, and events in local history as well as learning much about the history of Ireland and of the ancient world. The staff has been careful to record life in the school and school events over several decades in photographic form and particular attention was paid to documenting the development of the new school. There is much integration with the visual arts, and Geography. Very good use is made of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the internet is used extensively to access very valuable sites and software. Some of the selected tasks are used to develop pupils’ higher-order thinking skills to good effect.

 

Geography

In Geography some exceptional lessons were observed. The teaching methods in use strike a balance between giving information about places and providing opportunities to investigate and explore their surroundings. Pupils are interested in Geography and curious about places beyond their own locality. Well-chosen resources support the teaching and attractive and interesting nature tables are a welcome feature of each classroom. Very good use is made of plans, maps, and photographs. Fieldwork and visits to places of geographical interest is skilfully used to stimulate and motivate pupils. Pupils show knowledge of where places are and what they are like. They have an appreciation and understanding of the lifestyles of people who live there and how places and environments change over time. Pupils are making good progress as is evidenced by pupil portfolios, displays, models and photographic evidence. The level of work is suitably matched to pupils’ level of ability. Teachers exploit the vast resource that is available on the internet and valuable websites and interesting teaching resources are accessed. Within the provisions of the school’s acceptable use policy, the potential use of e-mail correspondence with other schools could be examined, with a view to extending the pupils’ geographical knowledge.

 

Science

In Science, attention is paid to all of the strands, Living Things; Environmental Awareness and Care; Energy and Forces. The teachers achieve a balance between the development of knowledge and the cultivation of scientific skills. Pupils are given opportunities to observe, investigate, and experiment during science lessons. Observation and recording of the weather conditions and discussion of seasonal change feature strongly and the work is linked to Mathematics. Both “high-tech” and “low-tech” approaches are used effectively. The pupils’ ideas and the environment are used as the starting point in science lessons and the pupils are allowed to develop their ideas by testing them in practical investigations using the immediate environment. Appropriate links are made both between science strands and with other areas of the curriculum. The whole-school plan for Science is to be reviewed this school year. As a way of developing the programme in the future, more emphasis should be placed on pupils’ use of scientific language.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The pupils show enthusiasm for the Visual Arts. They are provided with opportunities to explore art activities through guided discovery and the pupils use different materials and processes to communicate what they see, feel and think. Talk and discussion are features of the visual arts activities. The work is frequently integrated with other areas of the curriculum. Pupils have explored and used the ideas of artists from different cultures and times. Pupils are organised and tidy in their visual arts classes and they work with a variety of materials and techniques including clay, print, paint, collage, fabric and construction. A balance is achieved between 2D and 3D media. The pupils’ completed work is impressive and put on display in classrooms and in the corridors. Photographic records are also maintained of work done in visual arts. Consideration should be given to enabling the pupils making greater use of their ICT skills in developing artwork.

 

Woodwork

The woodwork teacher provides instruction in this subject on a part-time basis for five hours per week. The school authorities recognise the contribution Woodwork makes to the quality of curricular provision and wish the time available to be extended. All of the post-primary aged pupils in the school attend for woodwork instruction and support staff members attend the practical sessions with the pupils. Within the strategic planning framework the school plans to develop a woodwork policy and scheme of work. The lesson observed was based on a variety of projects that were devised to develop incremental skills in woodwork. The instruction involved clear demonstrations to model appropriate procedures and skills. The quality of the pupils’ understanding was reflected in their ability to use appropriate and specific vocabulary in discussing their work. The pupils have completed an impressive range of projects. They worked with enthusiasm, were highly motivated, and had their contributions consistently affirmed by the staff. Photographs of finished projects are appropriately valued and displayed in the main school foyer to demonstrate the level of skill to fellow pupils, to staff and to visitors. For a small number of pupils who present with additional learning needs, an album of photographs showing each stage of a process would facilitate understanding and might also serve to motivate pupils who are reluctant to participate. Further liaison with the class teachers with a view to the identification and reinforcement of mathematical and literacy objectives is recommended.

 

A risk assessment audit of the machinery available in the technology room should be carried out as outlined in the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools (2005). The report of this audit should be included in the school safety statement.

 

Music

In addition to the four class teachers, St Dymphna’s also avails of specialist support in music for 1.5 hours per week. In accordance with their personal strengths and subject knowledge teachers plan and provide good-quality music activities. The pupils have a wide range of musical experience embracing listening, performing, and some composing. An inventory has been compiled of the extensive music resources in the school. Some very successful and imaginative work was observed in Music. The pupils enjoy their music making activities and they were observed singing a range of well-known songs, showing enthusiasm and enjoyment. They perform simple pieces using un-pitched percussion instruments. The pupils also listen to and are encouraged to discuss and appreciate a variety of musical pieces. The work is closely linked to the development of literacy and mathematics. Music for listening has been carefully chosen for its appeal to the pupils and to evoke an active response and they have encountered music across a range of cultures including traditional music in recorded and live forms. The special needs assistants provide useful support for pupils who have attention difficulties. Recently a local choir and a group of traditional musicians provided live performances. The pupils might be given more experience of listening to traditional music and folk music of other cultures. Music could be used more to enrich lessons in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education. The internet might be used to access recordings and other resources for music. The pupils could also have more experience of the composing strand of Music. Audio and video recordings could be kept of the pupils’ engagement in musical activities.

 

Drama

A school plan has been provided for Drama but a whole-school scheme of work is yet to be developed. In the Drama lessons observed, pupils collaborated well and actively participated in role-play and drama games. The pupils responded well to story through mime and spontaneous drama scenes. Drama approaches are frequently used to reinforce concepts or themes from other areas of the curriculum, particularly SPHE, and explore them in a range of imaginatively constructed situations. Warm up activities include group social games and topics are chosen with care to promote team spirit and reinforce the enjoyment aspect of the subject. The school has arranged for a professional theatre company to stage a play in the school. The pupils were centrally involved and participated as characters in the performances. Some of the pupils attending the school have a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). As the concept of imagination and flexibility of thought is an area of particular difficulty for these pupils, additional structures are developed to enable them to engage in dramatic activities. The use of the methodology of social stories enhances these pupils’ abilities to enter into certain dramatic activities requiring them to enter into character, construct a mime or engage in improvisation.

 

4.6 Physical Education

The school now has excellent facilities at its disposal including hall, basketball court, playgrounds, and playing field which allows the staff to broaden the range of outdoor work. A ‘Trim-Trail’ is to be completed shortly and will allow for a range of outdoor activities. Pupils access a swimming pool in the locality. An inventory has been compiled of the school’s equipment for PE. The school staff members teach physical education lessons and the school also benefits from the support provided by a specialist PE teacher who works in the school for two hours per week. A comprehensive whole-school plan has been developed for Physical Education. It ensures breadth and balance and takes into consideration the age range of pupils in each class. The programmes are carefully managed and the approach allows for strands to be revisited over the course of the school year. Particular attention is paid to health and safety issues. The work done in observed PE lessons was very impressive and the quality of teaching was high. Lessons were well-structured with good pace. In gymnastics and games pupils are taught skills and techniques systematically with well-judged individual assistance provided as was necessary. The pupils thoroughly enjoyed their work and they co-operated well with each other. The inclusion of pupils with physical disability was commendable. A strong foundation in PE is established with the younger pupils and as pupils move through the school they develop a wide repertoire of athletic and gymnastic skills as well as an understanding of related language. The school has strong links with Special Olympics organisation and a number of parents are centrally involved in this work. A very impressive assessment instrument has been developed which is used to record pupils’ progress in developing skills across the strands of the Physical Education curriculum. This is an noteworthy and welcome feature of the school’s practice.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

The school provides a broad and balanced curriculum for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and staff members endeavour to help the pupils be as independent as possible. The general school climate is warm and the supportive relationships that exist contribute to SPHE. Learning and teaching occur both formally and informally. Staff members have received training in child abuse prevention: Children First, Relationships and Sexuality Education, and the Walk Tall programme. The school plan for SPHE has been recently updated. The plan sets out opportunities for pupils to improve their knowledge, and to develop positive attitudes towards healthy living.

 

In SPHE lessons, the pupils encounter a wide range of personal and social issues and the building of skills, the cultivation of values and the development of understanding are emphasised. Personal skills related to toileting, personal hygiene, food, and dress are developed with younger pupils in the context of daily routines and curricular activities such as swimming. With older pupils there is a focus on the development of personal and social skills for adult life and work in the context of classroom lessons, out of school visits and work experience. The pupils go on social outings in the local community and as part of the school leavers’ programme pupils are involved in working in the community.

 

Personal safety skills including relevant aspects of the Stay Safe programme are integrated within class programmes. The Relationships and Sexuality Education programme is addressed through the general content of the SPHE programme as well as in a sequence of dedicated lessons delivered to older pupils on the basis of parental consultation and individual needs.

 

In St Dymphna’s, the pupils feel valued and are helped to manage their behaviour, to resolve conflicts, and to cope with demanding situations. The pupils grow in social confidence through well-structured co-operative activities which are organised on a daily basis and through presentation of their work to others at the carefully managed school assembly. Individual, class and school achievements are celebrated. In line with work already completed in respect of other areas of the curriculum, the staff could now develop suitable checklists to record the development of self-help, personal and social skills among pupils.

 

Home Economics

The development of independent living is an important element of the programme for pupils. There is a fully-fitted kitchen in St Dymphna’s and the school has the services of a part-time Home Economics teacher for ten hours per week. Active participation is emphasised and valuable opportunities are provided for the development of practical and social skills for life and work. The pupils learn to use equipment in the appropriate manner and are given opportunities to consolidate their skills in food preparation. The programme of work is ambitious. The pupils thoroughly enjoy the activities and they engage in valuable social interaction and learn important skills for life. In planning and teaching, some cross-curricular links are made with other subjects such as English, Mathematics, SPHE and Science. The school would benefit from the development of a whole-school policy for Home Economics.

 

4.8 Assessment

A range of suitable assessment modes is used to evaluate pupils’ achievement and progress. Standardised norm-referenced tests are no longer used as teachers have found that class-devised tests provide more valuable information on pupil progress. The selective use of standardised tests is recommended in order to compare the performance the pupils with national norms. The teachers monitor the pupils’ work regularly and provide constructive feedback to the pupils. The pupils are encouraged to reflect on the quality of their own work through short conferences with teachers. Very good records of pupils’ learning outcomes are maintained in several areas of the curriculum. The pupils’ progress in developing discrete ICT skills is carefully monitored and recorded in written form. An excellent assessment instrument has been developed and the pupils’ progress in word processing, data handling, internet use and ability to use e-mail are tracked. The subject specific, criterion-referenced assessment booklets designed by the teachers are particularly impressive. Assessment booklets have been devised for English, spelling, Mathematics, and Physical Education. Samples of the pupils’ work across the curriculum are maintained. Assessment outcomes and information are discussed by teachers at the end of each year and used sensitively to improve the teaching and learning programmes and to inform future planning. There are also meetings between teachers and therapists on an ongoing basis.

 

The approach that is adopted in relation to the development of the pupils’ individual education plan (IEP) has many positive features. It allows for the involvement of parents, professional and pupils themselves as appropriate. The achievement of short term targets is noted and recorded on an on-going basis by teachers. The special needs assistants, with their close knowledge of pupils, provide valuable information which is used in review. In some IEPs, the statements of learning targets are too general and should be made more specific, measurable and time-bound. The teachers of practical subjects should be included, as appropriate, in the development of pupils’ IEPs to enable these teachers to effectively support the achievement by the pupils of their priority learning targets.

 

Functional assessments for vision and hearing difficulties would provide the staff with the knowledge to create the optimum learning environment and to meet the need of the pupils with special needs in these areas. Checklists of personal and social skills might be sourced or developed and used to describe and monitor the pupils’ social development. Where appropriate, and in a small number of case ‘functional assessments’ of behaviour could assist in identifying triggers or situations that may give cause for anxiety to pupils.

 

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

All the pupils present with needs related to mild general learning disabilities. Some pupils have additional needs, sometimes related to general ability or to diagnosed conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A small number of pupils also have physical disabilities and difficulties arising from sensory impairments.

 

St Dymphna’s benefits much from its close links with Western Care association. A range of professional supports is provided including social worker, psychology, physiotherapy, and speech and language and occupational therapy. The majority of pupils are covered by Western Care services, while others attend services in Sligo. In the pupils’ IEPs, reference is made to the involvement of other professionals.

 

The school has well-developed structures in place to support pupils at the time of enrolment and when they are due to leave the school. Visits are arranged to local training centres and links are maintained with relevant agencies such as the National Learning Network. On completion of their schooling in St Dymphna’s, pupils generally avail of adult training in centres operated by Western Care. Arrangements for smooth transition to further education and training are made in a timely manner.

 

Consideration has been given to pupils with additional needs, for example, electronic switches and adjustable computer tables for wheelchair users are available. A number of the pupils have a hearing impairment. It is recommended that the school should take steps, including the development of a protocol, to ensure that these pupils experience an acoustically friendly learning environment. The creation of a ‘deaf-friendly’ school could be accomplished in consultation with a visiting teacher for the hearing impaired.

 

While the school caters primarily for educational needs related to mild general learning disability a number of pupils have other disabilities and special educational needs. Examples of good practice in responding to these needs were observed in various classes. It is recommended that policy statements in relation to these additional needs be included in the school plan. Such policy statements would include references to appropriate teaching strategies, environmental adjustments and provision of resources and staff training needs.    

 

5.2  Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

The school authorities are commended for putting in place a number of practical arrangements to support pupils who come from less advantaged backgrounds. The pupils avail of the free and escorted school-transport scheme which is funded by the Department of Education and Science. School funds are used to supplement parental contributions to the cost of school outings or expenses such as photo-copying.

 

The culture and tradition at St Dymphna’s promote an inclusive ethos that facilitates the access, admission and participation of pupils from all backgrounds. In anticipation of the likely enrolment of such children the drawing up of a school policy to promote the inclusion of these children might be considered. The school can draw on previous experience of enrolling pupils for whom English was not the first language of the home, whereby the school acquired impressive tailored resources for teaching English as a second language. Documents published by the Department of Education and Science and relevant agencies in relation to the education of  pupils from minority  groups should also be examined in the formulation of this policy.

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The school board of management is made up of experienced, knowledgeable, committed members who give generously and voluntarily of their time and expertise to provide supportive direction and good governance to the school.

·         The school is led by an outstanding principal who is well supported by a dedicated and highly competent middle management team.

·         The school is staffed by highly competent and caring teachers and special needs assistants, who are flexible in responding to the needs of pupils and who are open to new ideas and keen to develop the service being provided.

·         The quality of teaching is very good throughout the school.

·         The school atmosphere is very positive and the staff provides a safe, warm learning environment where relations between adults and pupils are very good.

·         The behaviour of pupils is commendable and there is a perceptible emphasis on promoting the pupils’ self-esteem and confidence.

·         Teachers plan lessons carefully, utilize appropriate resources and are successful in engaging the interest of the pupils and in making learning pleasant for them.

·         The close connection with, and support provided by Western Care brings considerable benefits to the school.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published April 2010

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management of St.Dymphna’s school are delighted with the findings of the school’s WSE report and wish to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of its staff and the work of Western Care Association, its patron’s.  The staff would like to thank the Inspectorate for the positive, courteous and professional manner in which the WSE was conducted.  The B.O.M. appreciates the tremendous effort made by the Inspectorate to report back to the school in the face of adverse weather conditions and we accept all the reports recommendations.

 

 

 

 

Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

  1. School has begun drafting a social skills policy and assessment book.
  2. Other recommendations have been highlighted in the school’s three year strategic plan.