An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Joseph’s JNS
Balcurris, Ballymun, Dublin 11
Roll number: 19431I
Date of inspection: 13 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St Joseph’s Junior National School, Balcurris. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St Joseph’s JNS is a
co-educational primary school which was founded in 1976 to cater for children
in the newly-constituted St Joseph’s Parish, Balcurris in north Dublin. The school operates under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. Enrolment levels have declined in recent years; from 227 in 2002 to 160 children
at present. The school benefits from extra staffing under the Breaking the Cycle (BTC) scheme and is in Band One of the Delivering Equality of
Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme. The School Completion programme,
administered locally by Ballymun Education Support Team (BEST), provides the
school with additional support services. School lunches, which are organised in
conjunction with St Joseph’s Senior NS, are funded by the Department of Family
and Social Affairs. AIB Bank’s Better Ireland
The school’s mission statement sets out the determination to provide pupils with “a well-ordered, caring, happy and secure atmosphere” in which their intellectual, spiritual, physical, moral and cultural needs are addressed. The principles of inclusiveness and respect are seen to guide the interactions between members of the school community. Although attendance levels for most pupils are generally good poor attendance by a significant minority of pupils gives cause for concern. Recent reductions in enrolment will affect staffing levels in the school and this will have an impact on how teachers are deployed in the coming years. It is noted that although there are a number of schools in the Ballymun area, the vast majority of Traveller children in the area attend St Joseph’s Junior and Senior schools. During the evaluation some members of the school community questioned whether this practice is the most effective way of fostering integration and it was suggested that other possibilities be explored.
The board of management of the school is properly constituted. It meets regularly, with meetings scheduled to take place at least once a term and often more frequently as issues arise. Proper records are kept of board meetings. The board actively supports the principal and staff and liaises with parents. The Chairperson visits the school frequently and is familiar with the work and requirements of the staff. Financial records are kept diligently. These records are computerised and are submitted annually for diocesan audit. The board plays an active role in the formulation of school policy: while minutes of meetings indicate that policies are discussed and ratified by the board, it is suggested that all policies be signed and dated by the Chairperson on ratification.
The board ensures that
the school building is maintained to a high standard. Despite an on-going
The principal was appointed to her position in 2004. In the relatively short time that has elapsed since her appointment she has led and managed the development of school policy across a broad range of curricular, organisational and pastoral areas. She brings a clear-sighted and dynamic approach to her work in a sensitive but determined way. Her vision for the future development of the school is clear and realistic and she has prioritised areas in which she sees the school can continue to progress. The emphasis she places on literacy and the programmes she has overseen to develop it within the school have had a noticeable impact on reading levels. She ensures that communication within the school is open, allowing for the contribution of all staff in decision-making processes. She supports the ongoing professional development of the staff in curricular areas and in the area of special needs and she ensures that newly qualified teachers are supported through a mentoring programme. Her regular school assemblies are used to promote and reinforce positive behaviour and she works closely with parents to encourage their active involvement in the life of the school. She collaborates closely with principals of other schools in the area through her active participation in the Ballymun Principals’ Network. The principals meet once a month with a view to sharing good practice among the schools. The network also works positively as a lobby group for the educational interests of the children of Ballymun.
The in-school management team is comprised of a deputy principal, three assistant principals and seven special duties postholders. This team provides support for the principal in the general administration of the school. Each member of the team has responsibility for a curricular, organisational and pastoral area. Duties were agreed among members at meetings of the team, and these duties reflect the current priorities of the school. Regular meetings are held at which post holders report to the team on developments in their areas of responsibility. Plenary staff meetings at which teachers engage in curriculum and organizational planning are also held monthly. Official documents, such as registers, daily attendance books and roll books are kept up to date dutifully. Procedures are in place to facilitate ongoing communication among members of staff and between staff and parents, the board of management, support services and the wider community. Members of the in-school management team were keen to acknowledge the consistent support given by the board of management, particularly in dealing with difficult issues that arise occasionally.
The teaching staff is comprised of the principal, nine mainstream class teachers, one special class teacher, two learning support teachers, one resource teacher, three resource teachers for Travellers (RTTs) and a Home School Community Liaison teacher who is shared with the senior school. Four of the teachers are job sharing at present and this creates two temporary teaching positions. Two of the RTTs are deployed as mainstream class teachers and one as a Reading Recovery teacher. In addition, the school serves as a base for a supply panel of five teachers which serves schools in the locality. The school policy of retaining teachers in one of the special education posts for up to three years, or up to six years when further professional development courses in the relevant area have been pursued, is commended as a strategy for allowing teachers to develop a range of professional skills in a variety of contexts. This policy has a benefit for the school as teachers return to mainstream classes having developed their skills in dealing with children with additional educational needs. It is recommended that this policy be continued, thus giving more teachers opportunities to upskill themselves and acquire the skill of providing differentiation of learning activities when they return to mainstream class settings.
There are three full-time special needs assistants who are assigned to work with individual children. They make a useful contribution to the care of particular pupils and are of valued assistance to the teachers. The school secretary, whose duties are part time has also undertaken duty as a part-time SNA. She makes a very important contribution to the smooth running of the school. All members of this team reported satisfaction with their roles and commented favourably on the quality of relationships within the school. The current caretaker is employed on a temporary basis. His skills as a fitter-turner have been very helpful to the school and he has made a valuable contribution to the upkeep of the building since his appointment. Three part-time cleaners are employed for two hours each day. They are also employed for two weeks during July for summer cleaning. The secretary and cleaning staff have a visible and praiseworthy commitment to the school. Their importance to the school is acknowledged and valued by management and teachers. The ongoing problems with vandalism of school property have frustrated many of the fine attempts to enhance the appearance of the school, but the determination of all members of staff means that the internal areas of the building are maintained commendably. Classrooms and reception areas are bright and clean and include many attractive displays of children’s work in a variety of curricular areas. Teacher-designed illustrative material and photographs showing significant events in the history of the school are also displayed.
The school is a very positive and inclusive environment. Teachers show great care for the children and this is evident both in the classrooms and in all other school-based activities. A very determined effort is made to foster and promote positive relationships in the school. The staff is supported by the board of management in this endeavour and teachers report that this support has a very positive effect on staff morale and the quality of relationships within the school.
The school seeks actively to include parents in the life of the school. Parents’ representatives have been involved in the development of policies, such as the substance misuse policy and the Code of Behaviour, and parents are also involved in helping children learn about computers, and in Maths for Fun, Primary Movement and Paired Reading programmes. Parents also assist with Book Fairs which are held in the parents’ room. The established practice of team teaching in the school promotes collaboration between teachers and the sharing of knowledge and insights into the progress of the children. The school operates an “open door” policy and parents are welcome to visit the school at all times. Regular informative newsletters to parents keep them abreast of developments in the school. The Home, School, Community Liaison Co-ordinator has played a very useful role in developing relations with the parent community.
The school manages pupils’ behaviour very effectively. Parents have been involved in the formulation of the Code of Behaviour and this code is implemented fairly and consistently throughout the school. Golden Rules are displayed in each class and discussed with the children. During school assemblies these rules are emphasised and positive behaviour reinforced. Teachers work to ensure that children’s experience of school is positive and the majority of children respond well to their teachers and engage willingly in their schoolwork. Planning to introduce The Incredible Years programme to foster children’s academic, emotional and social learning is at an advanced stage. Funding for this project has been made available by the Ballymun Partnership and teachers, parents and support workers have already availed of training for the programme.
The school plan has been devised collaboratively and is constantly kept under review. Most policies are drafted initially by teachers at staff and development planning meetings. They are then referred to parents’ representatives for consideration before being brought to the board of management for final editing and ratification. Not only has the school policies in the mandatory areas such as enrolment and health and safety but it has developed a range of other policies to govern the day to day management of school activities: these policies outline procedures to be followed in dealing with and managing the many issues and initiatives that affect the working of the school. An attendance policy includes strategies for promoting good attendance and for identifying and dealing with instances of absenteeism. Children’s behaviour is governed by the code of behaviour, discipline and anti-bullying policies.
Planning for all curricular areas has been done with a strong consciousness of the importance of literacy development. A comprehensive whole school policy for special needs identifies the human resources available in the school, the principles governing the delivery of support, the school’s aims in this area and clear outlines of the roles of the principal and class teachers as well as of each of the members of the special education team in the school. Procedures for assessment, liaising with parents and outside agencies and communication between teachers complete the policy on special needs. While the necessity for review of this policy is mentioned, a specific review date is not included in the policy. It is recommended that all policies should include target dates for review and it is also recommended that ratified policies be signed and dated by the Chairperson of the board of management.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The principal and teachers are to be commended on the work they have put into classroom planning to date. All teachers prepare schemes of work to guide their teaching and they provide a commendable range of resources including charts and concrete material for use during lessons. Teachers’ timetables are in accordance with the suggested time allocation in the Primary Curriculum; and time is provided for the teaching of each subject. Long-term schemes of work for each subject are prepared collaboratively by teachers at each class level. These schemes are organised month by month and they indicate the sequence in which curricular strands and strand units are to be covered in the course of the year. Short-term plans generally show the content to be covered in each subject over the course of a fortnight. Many teachers adopt a thematic approach to their planning and organise some of their plans by topics. While the collaborative approach to planning facilitates the sharing of ideas among teachers, it is recommended that plans should provide for the uniqueness of each individual class and the teaching style as well as more reference to differentiation, in view of the varying ability levels and different learning styles and needs of individual children. As teachers review formats adopted for short-term plans, consideration should be given to specifying learning objectives in terms of pupil outcomes for each lesson in addition to outlining proposed lesson content.
Evaluation of teaching and learning in the school was based on observation of teaching and of the interactions between children and teachers in mainstream settings. Children’s written work was also reviewed. Good quality teaching was observed throughout the school, with all teachers preparing appropriate resources for use during lessons and setting tasks for the children that were generally appropriate to their ability levels. Teachers had considerable classroom management skills. The majority employed a variety of teaching methods but there is scope for further use of group work in some curricular areas in order to allow children to become more quickly involved in the learning activities.
Is léir go ndéanann na hoidí iarracht atmaisféar dearfach don teanga a chruthú sna ranganna éagsúla agus ar fud na scoile. Leagtar amach nótaí ullmhúcháin idir fhadtréimhseach agus ghearrthréimhseach ach moltar béim sa bhreis a dhíriú ar leagan amach na gcuspóirí foghlama atá sa churaclam. Tá liostaí cuimsitheacha de théamaí atá oiriúnach do gach rang sa phlean agus tá béim ar leanúnachas agus ar leathnú foclóra le sonrú ann. B’fhiú tagairt a dhéanamh do mhodhanna múinte éagsúla sa phlean freisin. I roinnt ranganna baintear úsáid as rangtheagasc, grúptheagasc agus obair bheirte le linn na gceachtanna. Ar an iomlán tá an phleanáil go maith ach tá cuspóirí foghlama in easnamh i roinnt ranganna agus ní bhíonn sé soiléir i gcónaí ón ullmhúchán scríofa cad a bheidh ar eolas ag na páistí ag deireadh na gceachtanna. Le linn na meastóireachta bhí samplaí de dhea-chleachtas le sonrú. Baintear úsáid as pictiúir, cairteacha, leabhair mhóra, puipéid agus stór áiseanna spreagúla chun teanga labhartha na ndaltaí a spreagadh. I roinnt ranganna, áfach, baintear an iomarca úsáide as aistriúchán go Béarla mar mhodh múinte agus moltar cloí leis an nGaeilge mar theanga chumarsáide le linn na gceachtanna. Dírítear aire na ndaltaí ar chleachtaí éisteachta i ranganna áirithe agus úsáidtear drámaíocht agus cluichí i ranganna eile chun suim na ndaltaí a mhúscailt. Dírítear aire cheart ar chluichí cainte, ar ghníomhrannta, ar aithriseoireacht agus ar dhrámaíocht sna ceachtanna agus baineann na daltaí taitneamh as na gníomhaíochtaí a eagraítear dóibh. Eagraítear gníomhaíochtaí spéisiúla do Lá na Gaeilge gach bliain agus tá grianghrafanna de na himeachtaí le feiceáil mar chuid de na taispeántais tharraingteacha ar fud na scoile.
It is evident that teachers try to create a positive atmosphere for the Irish language in the classrooms and throughout the school. Teachers prepare long-term and short-term schemes for the teaching of the language; it is recommended that these include greater emphasis on curricular learning objectives. The school plan has comprehensive lists of appropriate themes for each class level and shows an emphasis on progression and on extension of children’s vocabulary. The plan should also include reference to the various proposed teaching methodologies. In some classes a variety of whole-class, group and pair work was observed during lessons. In general the quality of planning is good but in some classes the lack of specific learning objectives in the written preparation means that the desired learning outcomes are not clear. During the evaluation examples of excellent practice were observed. Teachers use a variety of stimulating resources which includes pictures, charts, big books and puppets to motivate the children to speak Irish. In some classes, however, an over-reliance on translation to English during teaching is noted, and therefore it is recommended that Irish be used to a greater extent for communicative purposes during lessons. Appropriate use is made of language games, action rhymes, recitation and drama during lessons and the children derive enjoyment from the learning activities set for them. Interesting activities are organised annually for Lá na Gaeilge and photographic records of these events form part of the attractive displays in the school.
The school has a very focused and resolute approach to the development of literacy. School planning documents for English offer comprehensive and practical guidelines for teachers at every class level. For each strand of the curriculum a wide-ranging list of aims is identified. Approaches to the teaching of reading, sight vocabulary, spelling, phonics and writing are set out, along with the rationale for adopting the various programmes and schemes in use. A general description of the school’s approach to differentiation and assessment and comprehensive lists of resources for each strand unit are also included.
Oral language lessons are taught in a well-structured manner. English lessons generally feature stimulating language development activities. Pupils are engaged in well-managed discussions on a variety of subjects which includes appropriately-chosen seasonal topics. The development of children’s phonological skills receives careful attention. Teachers have taken steps to ensure their classrooms become print-rich environments. Useful collaboration between the teachers and a neighbouring school, as a product of the principal’s involvement in the Ballymun Principals’ Network, has led to the introduction of a newly-developed phonics programme. Teachers express enthusiasm for the programme and many credit it with the improvements in literacy levels which school assessment shows. A common approach to the teaching of spelling ensures continuity and development as children progress through the school. There is a large supply of Big Books and an extensive supply of resources for the teaching of literacy. One teacher has trained in Reading Recovery and the collaborative approach to planning in the school allows other teachers to share in the expertise she has gained in this area. The development of personal writing is attended to systematically and children are taught to draft, edit and rewrite. Three teachers have trained in First Steps, and one of these has trained as a facilitator for the programme. This programme is having a positive impact on the way writing is taught in the school. Children’s written work across a variety of curricular areas is based to a commendable extent on their immediate environment and on stories and topics they have encountered. In most classes this work forms part of the classroom display. Assessment of children’s progress is based on a blend of standardised tests, developmental checklists which have been designed in the school and informal teacher observation. Further development and use of teacher-designed checklists to help build profiles of individual students would add to the quality of assessment in English.
Team teaching is also used very effectively to enable staff to focus on the needs of different groups of children. Extension of this model through the school would further enhance the quality of provision for literacy and the staff is encouraged to seek to continue to develop its use, not only in English but also across the curriculum. Special Education Teachers (SETs) work with mainstream teachers to support children with additional learning needs. Parents are actively involved in a paired reading programme and also organise book fairs twice a year. The strength of the overall provision for literacy development lies in the targeted and well-structured approach adopted by all members of the school community.
A broad Mathematics curriculum is taught in the school. Teachers plan for all curriculum strands, they prepare suitable resources for teaching and learning and they actively involve the children in the lessons. All classroom displays include Mathematics charts and posters and there are plentiful supplies of resources in each classroom. There is a plentiful supply of concrete materials, games, charts and other illustrative materials throughout the school and this includes a variety of carefully-designed resources made by the teachers. These resources are used effectively in most classes to allow the children to explore and develop mathematical concepts in a structured way. School planning documents for Mathematics include learning objectives, content for each class, proposed methodologies and lists of resources, as well as indications as to how Mathematics can be integrated with other areas of the curriculum.
All Mathematics lessons observed during the evaluation featured appropriate use of concrete material to explore mathematical concepts. Teachers were conscious of the need to balance oral and practical or written work and they prepared the lessons accordingly. Children were engaged in the set activities and were generally attentive during the lessons. Many teachers make appropriate use of the children’s immediate environment when setting problems and they pay close attention to the use of appropriate mathematical language in lessons. Children’s written work, in their copybooks and on activity sheets, is corrected regularly. Parents also work with children, sometimes within the class, on the Maths for Fun programme.
Standardised tests and teacher observation are used to assess children’s progress in Mathematics. Developing a system for recording children’s progress, possibly by checklists based on the learning objectives outlined in the school plan, would help to focus attention on those areas of the curriculum that require further consolidation.
The History curriculum endeavours to give children an understanding, appropriate to their age, of time and chronology, change and continuity, cause and effect. History is taught in all classes in the school and all of the curriculum strands are duly addressed. Story and photographs are used effectively to foster children’s interest in History and to promote curiosity about their past. Simple projects on their personal and family history, and on the history of Ballymun, allow the children to engage in the process of finding out about the past, collecting evidence; such as photographs, and recording the results of their research. Retelling stories and sequencing activities provide useful opportunities for integration with language lessons. A very attractive project is underway at present in the school; it seeks to chronicle the school’s history using a timeline constructed from photographs. Parents, many of whom are past pupils of the school, are keenly interested in the development of this project and many have contributed photographs for use in the timeline. This project, grounded firmly as it is in the children’s immediate range of experience, is a highly commendable instrument for teaching the children to appreciate the elements of the recent past which have given them and their locality a sense of identity.
Teachers’ planning in Geography covers all curriculum strands and strand units and there is a discernible emphasis on basing learning activities on the children’s environment. The school plan for Geography is a short document which shows the sequence of activities to be taught in each class. The skills of questioning, predicting, recording, experimenting and designing and making are referred to in the plan. It is recommended that the plan be augmented with suggested teaching methodologies and specific learning objectives for each strand. In general, lessons are well prepared and feature the use of a range of illustrative material and adept use of questioning to aid in language development. Opportunities for integration with other subjects are identified by teachers in their short-term plans and are used to good effect during lessons.
The school plan for Science shows the particular topics to be covered under the four strands of the Science curriculum. Materials for use during lessons are listed, as are proposed methodologies and integration opportunities. A comprehensive inventory of Science equipment and resource books available in the school has also been prepared. Science lessons involve good discussion and observation of concrete materials prepared in advance of lessons. Children are actively involved in the lessons and are given opportunities to predict, to conduct experiments and to discuss the results of their experiments. This approach is commended.
All teachers plan for all strands of the Visual Arts curriculum and they provide for structured activities to allow children to explore, invent, experiment, design and make in a variety of media, as well as providing children with opportunities to develop aesthetic awareness and self-esteem through self-expression. Objectives for this subject are derived from the Primary Curriculum. Lessons are structured in a manner that allows children to present and to discuss their work and to develop techniques and skills necessary for creative expression. Pupils are given opportunities to work with a wide range of media and imaginative examples of their work across all strands were observed. Their work is clearly cherished and is displayed attractively in their classrooms and along corridors. The children take pride in their artwork and are keen to discuss the ideas expressed in their work.
A programme of Art Therapy is provided once a week for ten to twelve pupils. This programme is part funded by the Edmund Rice Fund and is targeted at children who have low self esteem, who are experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties or who have been involved in or been victims of bullying. Referral for the programme is done by teachers.
Music plays a large part in the life of both schools on the campus. They share a strong belief in the educational benefits of music and the committed leadership provided by several members of staff contributes significantly to the outstanding Music education provided by both schools. Teachers are cognisant of the elements of the Music curriculum and they plan their work to ensure that each strand receives regular attention. They display a clear understanding of the strands of the Music programme which include listening and responding to Music, performing and composing. All strands are covered in all classes. A well-stocked music trolley is used regularly and effectively. Pupils are encouraged to listen and respond to a variety of music and they clearly derive both enjoyment and benefit from the Music lessons taught. Pupil achievement is monitored informally through teacher observation of their participation in the various tasks. Children are taught to play the recorder in first and second classes. This is funded by Provident Financial who also helps generously with financing the orchestra in the senior school. In 2006 the children played recorders and sang at Córfhéile na Scoileanna. Children attend Music in the Classroom in the Helix theatre and because the school participates in Breaking the Cycle, the Irish Times provides funds for this initiative.
Although in-service professional development has yet to be delivered for Drama, many teachers provide discrete planning for Drama across the three strands: exploring and making drama, reflecting on drama and co-operating and communicating in making drama. In many classes Drama is used in an integrated way with other subjects. Role play and improvisation activities were observed throughout the school during language lessons and in lessons in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE).
All strands of the Physical Education curriculum are taught in the school. This is an area of the curriculum in which the school’s engagement with outside agencies is notable. Dublin City Council’s Healthy Cities group works with teachers in the athletics and games strands of the curriculum, using material from the Primary Schools Sports Initiative. Provident Financial funds gymnastics coaches who work with the children, and a recent initiative, Dig It! also funded by Provident Financial, developed the dance strand of the curriculum. This project promoted the teaching and learning of Irish dance in a modern context whereby children and teachers were all actively learning. The project culminated in a performance at the local Axis Theatre to which parents were invited. The school hall is spacious and comfortable and suitable for teaching many of the strands of the Physical Education curriculum: a store room adjacent to the hall is well equipped with small PE equipment and resources for use during lessons. The school uses the new Ballymun swimming pool to provide lessons in the aquatics strand of the curriculum.
Resources for Social, Personal and Health Education are drawn from a number of sources, including the Walk Tall and Stay Safe programmes. Considerable attention is paid to pupil involvement in formal and informal discussion on a wide variety of relevant topics. Circle time is used to teach children the importance of turn taking and of listening to others. Competent teaching of SPHE ensures the development of pupils’ social and personal skills and contributes to the overall caring attitude cultivated in the school.
During SPHE lessons
children explore a range of issues involving personal health and safety and the challenges of making difficult
decisions. The discrete lessons are augmented
by the active nurturing of children’s self-esteem. The positive, supportive
school environment and the range of cross-curricular activities facilitate the
development in the children of responsible attitudes to themselves, to their
community and to the wider world. Social, Personal and Health Education themes
are judiciously integrated with
A range of assessment approaches is in use at individual class level; it includes teacher observation, monitoring of pupils’ written activity, checklists, teacher-devised tests and, in some classes, portfolios of children’s work. Standardised tests are administered annually to track pupils’ progress in Mathematics and English. The results are recorded and used to track children’s development as they progress through the school. The results of these assessments are used also for initial screening of pupils in order to identify those who may be in need of supplementary teaching. Additional diagnostic assessment is carried out by Special Education Teachers (SET) in order to identify specific learning needs. The results of assessment are communicated to parents at annual parent/teacher meetings.
Support for pupils with special educational needs is provided by a dedicated team of SETs who are deployed in a variety of roles. This provision is guided by a comprehensive whole school policy for special needs which outlines the beliefs, principles and aims of the school in relation to assisting pupils with learning difficulties. The spirit of the school motto, “Everyone Matters”, is strongly in evidence both in the policy and in the manner in which teachers treat the children in their care. The Learning Support Guidelines (LSG) (DES, 2000) and current Department circulars have been consulted and used to guide the development of school planning in relation to special education. The staged approach to planning for the deployment of teaching resources suggested in Circular SpEd 02/05 is followed. A commendable commitment by teachers to further professional development has led to the introduction of a number of initiatives targeted at specific areas.
The school policy clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of all teaching staff, in relation to supporting children with additional learning needs. The principal is charged with overall responsibility for the co-ordination of learning support and special needs services and for ensuring that adequate accommodation and resources are made available as required. The mainstream class teachers have primary responsibility for children with additional needs but the importance of regular liaison between mainstream teachers and SETs is understood and emphasised. Guidance for the learning support and resource teachers is included in the plan, and their roles are explained in helpful detail. A variety of models for providing support is suggested in the policy including those suggested in Chapter Four of the LSG.
Much of the pupil support is provided on a traditional withdrawal basis. However, examples of excellent practice in regard to team teaching are in evidence in some classes and it is recommended that this model be developed as the staff considers the benefits of in-class support.
The school policy provides valuable guidance on how the work of the special class and of the special needs teacher is organised and supported. The special class in the school is operated on an inclusive model; its children are taught most subjects in mainstream settings but are withdrawn for intensive support in language, literacy, SPHE and Mathematics. The holistic approach to the provision of support for children in the special class includes a strong pastoral dimension. In addition to addressing their academic needs, children’s social skills are developed in a caring and sensitive manner. In all special education settings teachers were seen to prioritise the creation of a secure and positive learning environment for the children and inclusiveness is a strong feature of provision
The policy refers to the role of the RTT but changes in the way the three RTTs are deployed since the completion of the policy mean that this section of the document now needs to be revised to reflect the change in practice. The relatively recent deployment of one of the RTTs as a Reading Recovery teacher and the introduction of the First Steps writing programme reflects the school’s prioritisation of literacy.
An emphasis on prevention of learning difficulties and early intervention where they occur is evident in the policy. Procedures for assessing children, monitoring their progress, record keeping and deciding on whether support should be continued or discontinued, are also clearly laid out in the policy. The policy encourages the involvement of parents and suggests ways in which this can be promoted. Parents meet with SETs regularly on an informal basis but formal meetings are also arranged. The policy presents the rationale for facilitating the attendance of SETs at cluster meetings with their counterparts in neighbouring schools and these meetings are used to share expertise. Liaison with external agencies and specialists, including psychologists, speech and language therapists, the National Council for Special Education and occupational therapists, is also covered in the document.
Pupils who need extra support are identified in the first instance through teacher observation. Mainstream class teachers bring their concerns about children to the principal and the special education team. Screening tests are also used annually to help identify children who may need support. Further diagnostic testing is carried out by the SETs to identify specific learning needs and all members of the team meet to analyse the outcomes of testing. The class teachers and principal are also involved at this stage. The selection of children for support is prioritised in line with the school policy and LSG. When children have been selected for supplementary teaching focused intervention is provided by the special needs team. Education Plans (EPs) are prepared at the beginning of each year. These plans include summaries of all relevant information available, including test results, psychological assessments, where applicable, and information provided by parents and class teachers. All staff, including the SNAs assigned to work with the children, have an input into the preparation of plans. Realistic learning objectives are set for the children for specific timeframes and the important guiding principle in devising these learning targets is that all pupils should have opportunities to experience success in learning. EPs are reviewed regularly and revised as appropriate.
It is noted that several mainstream class teachers have worked in the past as SETs in the school and have developed a range of additional skills for providing support for pupils with special educational needs. This flexibility in the manner in which the staff is deployed is an admirable feature of the management of special needs provision in the school and is commended. When the above-mentioned review of the special needs policy is undertaken, consideration should be given to providing more teachers with the opportunity to work for a period on the special needs team. Such a review would also necessitate revision of the school policy on the deployment of staff.
A co-ordinated and highly effective programme of additional supports is provided in the school. These are funded from a variety of sources including state grants which come through the DES. School lunches which are funded by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. The lunches provided in the school are of excellent quality and the credit for this goes to the determination of the teachers in both schools to ensure that all children receive nourishing food during the school day. The school runs a Rainbows group for children who have suffered loss or bereavement. The school participates in the School Completion Project (SCP) and funding available under this initiative is used to provide a wide range of in-school and out-of-school supports for pupils. School completion activities are organised in the locality through the Ballymun Education Support Team, who also provide an in-school support worker who with the teachers works to promote school attendance and to develop self-esteem among the most marginalized pupils. The school organises a homework club for children in first and second classes. Many additional activities in the Visual Arts, PE and Music are made possible through funding provided by Provident Financial.
The Home School Community Liaison programme in the school is carefully managed and is guided by the school’s aim of strengthening communication between home and school. Home visits to parents of specially identified pupils form the core work of the HSCL co-ordinator. Contacts are established with parents of junior infant children and with parents of children who enrol in the school for the first time during the school year. The HSCL co-ordinator organises class meetings each year at which parents come to the school to meet with their children’s teachers. She also maintains contact with families of children who are most marginalized and with families of children attending the St. Margaret’s Homework Club for Travellers which she has re-established: it operates on four evenings each week under the supervision of two teachers and two Traveller parents. Another feature of the co-ordinator’s work is liaising with the many community and other support groups active in the Ballymun area. She collaborates with the Visiting Teacher for Travellers, she monitors attendance and she also facilitates and promotes parental involvement in the school in Maths for Fun and Children and Parents Enjoying Reading programmes.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The staff of the school is deeply committed to ensuring that children’s welfare is prioritised, and the staff’s caring approach to all of the children is noteworthy.
· There is a strong spirit of collaboration between all staff members, including teachers and ancillary staff.
· Strong leadership from the board of management, the principal and the in-school management team contribute to the efficient management of the school.
· The school has put in place a range of high quality supports to children and their families and seeks to actively involve parents in the life of the school.
· The teachers, ancillary staff and parents have made very commendable efforts to create an attractive, hospitable and stimulating learning environment for the children.
· An admirable range of high-quality supports are provided to pupils in a very focused and targeted way.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· All policies should be signed and dated by the chairperson of the board of management on ratification by the board.
· Review dates should be included in each policy and the staff member responsible for initiating the review should be identified.
· The board should consider reviewing its policy on the deployment of teachers in order to allow more teachers opportunities to teach in mainstream and special education settings.
· It is recommended that teachers’ short-term plans should include specific learning objectives and more reference to differentiation, in recognition of the varying ability levels and different learning styles and needs of individual children.
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.