An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Holy Family Special School
Baker’s Road, Charleville, Co. Cork
Uimhir rolla: 19433M
Date of inspection: 4 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Holy Family 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’ association. 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 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.
Holy Family School was established in 1972 and officially recognised by the Department of Education and Science as a school for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities in 1973. There are currently fifty-nine pupils enrolled in three classes for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities, five classes for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities and three classes for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders. In agreement with a number of local national schools and in accordance with the wishes of parents, the school operates a policy of dual attendance for seven pupils. The schools’ catchment area is a radius of thirty miles and pupils are transported by bus and taxi on a daily basis, with the assistance of fourteen bus escorts. A favourable level of staffing is available to the school. Staff comprises an administrative principal, twelve class teachers, a full-time home-economics teacher and a part-time music therapist. Some of the permanent teachers are availing of a job sharing option and one of the class teachers is deployed as a resource teacher. A mobility instructor and the visiting teacher service for children and young people who are deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired provide guidance and advice as required. There are thirty-nine special needs assistants (SNAs) currently working in the school. These SNA posts include thirty-five full-time posts that include a job sharing and a shared full time post, and two part-time posts. In addition, the patron body provides for the services of three nursing posts. At present, due to job-sharing arrangements, four nurses are employed in the school. The support of a secretary, maintenance person, canteen person and cleaner are provided by grant aid from the Department of Education and Science augmented by board of management funds. St. Joseph’s Foundation provides for a multi-disciplinary team, which includes the services of a social worker, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, community nurse, speech and language therapist, psychologist and pastoral-care person. A building project was initiated in June 2007 and will alleviate the restrictive nature of the present accommodation.
The board of management is properly constituted and includes representatives of the patron, staff, parents and community. The board of management has a clear understanding of its responsibilities and conscientiously adopts an active role in the management of the school. Board meetings are held on a monthly basis and the chairperson visits the school once a week, on an allocated day. Decisions at board level are characterised by openness, accountability, clarity of communication and corporate responsibility. The board members are appreciative of the efforts and enthusiasm with which staff members endeavour to meet the learning requirements of a pupil cohort with very complex needs. Staff is constructively facilitated to avail of continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities. Enrolment has increased steadily in recent years leading to expansion in the number of classes and difficulties in accessing appropriate accommodation. As a result of the increase in enrolments, the hall area within the school is now being used as a classroom and the pupils have been given access to the gym by St Joseph’s Association. The board has been involved in improving the standard of accommodation available within the school to meet the needs of the pupils and has pursued a building project for a number of years. This has culminated in the commencement of a new school building on the present campus that will provide accommodation for all the existing classes and ancillary services within the same building.
The board identifies its priorities as being concerned with meeting the needs of every pupil in the school. The availability of a wide range of relevant organisational and curricular policies and action plans indicates that the board is concerned with compliance with statutory requirements, departmental guidelines and circulars. The organisation and clear presentation of the school plan is to be commended and a concern to promote equality of participation in and access to all curricular activities is evident. Whole-school plans and policies have been ratified by the board and some review dates identified. It is advised that a provisional review date for all existing plans and policies is identified in order to contribute further to the present positive planning process. The board has established a budget for each post of responsibility with a curriculum area, and a budget for defraying expenses. If individual requests for funding are over an agreed limit, an application can be made directly to the board for funding and will be considered on its merits.
Concern was raised by the board in relation to a number of issues. These include accessing the level of multi-disciplinary support for pupils who have highly complex and interrelated needs. The increased enrolment of pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities in the school has been accompanied by a greater demand for nursing care. Currently St. Joseph’s Association is making up any shortfall in service provision such as nursing care but there are concerns that this may not be able to continue into the future. Attention was drawn to both the financial and administrative workload that has developed in the management of the school bus escort system and the increasing workload of the principal in managing a large staff that includes teachers and special needs assistants. The structure and organisation of the July educational provision for some of the pupils attending the school was also a matter of concern for the board. Board members criticised the annual delay in receiving final official authorisation for this extended educational programme.
The duration of the school day is from 9.00 to 14.40 hours. Buses arrive during the morning assembly period. Attention has been directed towards aligning the school timetable with the terms of Circular 11/95, which refers to Time in School. Despite the complexity of medical issues in some of the classes for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities, attendance is consistently high across all class categories within the school. Attendance book, registers and roll books are all kept up to date. Specific forms have been usefully devised to assist parents in complying with the provisions of the Education Welfare Act, 2000 regarding pupils’ absences from school. Holy Family School liaises regularly with the National Education Welfare Board in order to monitor pupils’ attendance. It is suggested that the proactive approach and strategies employed by the school to promote pupils’ attendance are documented in the school plan in a formal Attendance Strategy. Positive relations are maintained by the board with the diversity of parents in the school and with the wider community. The board demonstrates a commitment to consultative practice and regularly seeks the views of parents and the school community with regard to policy development and school improvement.
The principal plays a pivotal role in creating a dynamic school environment that prioritises and optimises pupils’ learning and teaching. She encourages, supports and affirms the work of staff through promoting an open, communicative and collaborative school culture. A very positive school climate is characterised by constructive working relationships and an inclusive and caring ethos is evident. Staff members are motivated to assume leadership roles and are encouraged to express concerns and make suggestions for improvement. The principal demonstrates high expectations in relation to curriculum planning and the assessment, recording and reporting of pupils’ progress. Continuing professional development (CPD) needs of staff are acknowledged and the principal encourages staff to attend CPD programmes related to their work in school. The principal adopts a strong leadership role in relation to articulating high expectations in respect of pupils’ behaviour and school attendance. Through regularly reporting to the parents’ association meetings on items of interest and news from the school, the principal ensures that parents are kept informed and aware of school events.
A clear management structure is in place in the school consisting of principal, deputy principal, assistant principal and four special duties teachers. Transparent procedures have been put in place to distribute leadership, share the workload, and give a sense of responsibility to staff members for the development of the school. The organisational, curricular and pastoral priorities and responsibilities for each post are identified through a process of consultation and democratic decision-making by all the teaching staff. There is a high degree of accountability and transparency in the execution of the posts. Each post holder prepares a detailed annual plan of the work to be carried out on a termly basis and an individual monthly account of budgetary spending is maintained.
The in-school management team shares a strong vision for the school and is eager to establish it as a centre of excellence. The duties regarding posts of responsibility are included in the school plan with a reference to reviewing the duties annually in accordance with Circular 07/03 of the Department of Education and Science. In addition to assisting the principal with curriculum and policy matters, the deputy principal takes responsibility for a number of important areas including the curricular areas of oral language and mathematics, the induction of new staff into the school and work relating to the administration of special needs assistants’ posts. The assistant principal maintains the school registers and roll books, promotes multi-culturalism in the school and has responsibility for information and communication technology (ICT) and literacy areas. The four special duties teachers assume responsibility for all the remaining curricular areas and administration elements that include transport, catering, health promotion and assistive technology devices. Pastoral elements identified include school/community relationships, social events such as graduation, parent/school relationships and debriefing after critical incidents. The team meets once a week in advance of school time and they provide feedback to the rest of the staff on a weekly basis as to the content of these meetings.
Teaching staff is allocated to classes in accordance with departmental requirements. The principal assigns teachers to classes based on individual preferences, experience, expertise, teaching style, classroom dynamics, individual strengths and particular curricular talents. An inventory of CPD courses attended by staff is beneficially retained and the assistance of the Special Education Support Service is accessed as required. It is recommended that existing staff qualifications and CPD priority areas for the future are added to this inventory.
One of the class teachers is currently deployed as a resource teacher due to the lack of appropriate accommodation for an additional classroom. It is envisaged that twenty-five pupils will avail of resource teaching on a withdrawal basis during the three planned twelve-week blocks. All of the pupils accessing this teacher have special educational needs, within the particular disability category that would have been assigned the additional class unit within the school. Pupils are selected for additional teaching in consultation with the class teacher. A constructive emphasis is placed on the development of Language and Communication, Mathematics and Social, Personal and Health Education. Pupils’ progress and engagement during individual teaching sessions is carefully monitored and recorded. As it can take considerable time to get to know some of the pupils’ learning styles within their allocated twelve-week block, the school might consider using the resource time to allow the class teacher to do individual focused work with an identified pupil while the resource teacher takes the base class for a particular subject area. In this manner there would be no loss of time in getting to know an individual pupil’s responses and learning style and the maximum benefit might be gained from the resource tuition. This might not be the chosen method of delivery for all the pupils as some individual pupils may respond favourably to a new teacher approaching the chosen objectives from a different perspective. The school had structured a review of this provision at the end of the initial twelve-week block. It is suggested that an interim review may be constructive in re-orientating existing provision as the pupils attending for this twelve-week block will not be attending again in the current school year. It was noted at the post-evaluation meeting that the school had engaged in this process as advised. It is recommended that the provision of additional teaching is reviewed on a whole-school basis at the end of the current school year.
The thirty-nine SNAs work under the guidance of the class teachers and contribute in a positive and sensitive manner to the inclusive school climate that prevails. Special needs assistants demonstrate a clear understanding of pupils’ preferences and classroom routines. Additional use could be made of the observational skills of the SNAs to record pupils’ responses during sessions when the teacher or therapist may not have the opportunity to observe pupils’ reactions closely on an individual basis. There is also a need to redeploy SNA-support in order to optimise the attention that is directed to the care needs of all pupils in the school. It is advised that the deployment of SNA-support across all the class groupings is reviewed in consultation with the Special Education Needs Organiser. Commendable attention is directed towards creating a safe, secure and clean school environment. The school benefits considerably from the assistance provided by a highly competent school secretary, while cleaning and maintenance staff are to be commended for the superior standard to which the school building and environs are meticulously maintained. The multi-disciplinary and nursing staff employed by St. Joseph’s Foundation contributes significantly to the comprehensive provision available to pupils in the school.
The existing school accommodation is located on the St Joseph’s Association campus adjacent to the clinical facilities. At present, the classrooms are located in three separate locations, the main school building, a recently renovated building on campus and a rented bungalow in the community. The multi-sensory room and gym accessed by the school are also located in adjacent buildings rather than in the main school building. As the school expanded to meet the needs of pupil groups requiring classroom accommodation, the shared areas of the school were diminished. The home economics room forfeited the housecraft area in order to provide a small individual tuition room. The original staffroom was extended into a store-area to provide a tuition room and a class group was located in the general-purpose hall area. Pupils leave the school at lunchtime to access the main canteen for lunch as there is no dining facility in the school. The size of classroom accommodation varies considerably throughout the school and none of the rooms have integral storerooms or toilets. The toilet facilities adjacent to the classes for severe to profound general learning disabilities are cramped as the wheelchairs and specialised furniture not in current use are stored in these areas. Mobile hoists have to be used in confined conditions to transfer pupils for educational and care reasons. None of the classrooms have assigned relaxation or individual tuition areas where pupils exhibiting challenging behaviour can be withdrawn for their own safety or to assist in their self-regulation regimes. There is no available office accommodation within the school for members of the multi-disciplinary team to retain equipment, work individually with pupils or assess them in a comprehensive manner outside of the classroom.
The new school building has been designed to address these accommodation deficits and is the culmination of a consultative process involving the staff, the design team and the expertise available in the Planning and Building Section of the Department. The accommodation will include classrooms with storerooms, toilet suites and quiet rooms, shared office accommodation, multi-sensory rooms, a gym, dining room with servery, home economics rooms, woodwork and craft room, meeting rooms, landscaped sensory gardens and play areas. The new building was up to roof level at the time of the evaluation and is on schedule for completion as planned.
A wide selection of stimulating teacher-devised and commercially-sourced resources is available and used appropriately. The constructive emphasis on providing concrete materials, objects of reference, visual cues and suitably differentiated work-schedules and timetables succeeds in maintaining pupils’ interest and engagement in their respective tasks. Classroom and corridor areas are attractively presented and decorated with displays of pupils’ work and photographic records of activities. Pupils’ are consistently encouraged to attend and respond to curricular displays and demonstrate a praiseworthy awareness of the school environment. The potential of ICT to provide equal education opportunities for all pupils is constructively exploited in the school. Computers are available in all classrooms and are well-maintained. Peripherals and software ensure that pupils are motivated to engage meaningfully with ICT. Internet access is carefully monitored and broadband access is widely available. The availability of a digital camera in every class positively reinforces curricular areas immediately, and constructively assists in the implementation of the curriculum. The compilation of a list of software linked to all curricular areas would further benefit the use of ICT in the school. Staff is to be commended for the manner in which resources are sourced and shared for the benefit of all pupils in the school.
An open-door policy is in place with regard to parental involvement and parents commented on their access to the school in a positive manner. All classrooms are equipped with telephones and parents/guardians may contact the teacher directly in the case of an emergency, otherwise messages may be left with the school principal. A class-diary system is in place to facilitate home-school communication. A handbook for new parents has been developed by the school and provides information with regard to school personnel, curricular areas, extra-curricular activities, school policies, rules and regulations and school holidays. It is advised that this handbook is updated to reflect the changing curricular and legislative landscape.
The school has an active parents’ association that meets at least once a term and is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. The parents have established a parents’ association representative within each classroom whom the other parents can contact for news about meetings or events. Parents acknowledged the difficulty some of their members have in accessing school events, parents’ meetings or talks due to various factors including the wide catchment area of the school and the difficulty making arrangements for the care of a child with special educational needs in the evening. The parents’ association assists the school with fund-raising for equipment but the parents are not currently involved in actively assisting in curricular delivery within the school. Parents have scheduled meetings with the school staff relating to the compilation and review of their child’s Individual Education Plan but felt that they were only actively involved in supporting the curricular areas if pupils were bringing home items of homework.
All pupils are furnished with an annual school report. St. Joseph’s Foundation produces a Newsletter on a thrice-yearly basis and a member of school staff is on this committee. School events of interest are included in the Newsletter. The principal gives feedback on school developments to the parents’ meetings but as this is only accessible to those attending, consideration might be given to the creation of a newsletter for distribution to all parents. Such a newsletter was produced in the past but was abandoned when the more professional production was available form the patron body. The parents expressed regret at the loss of this communication. Such an initiative could profitably include strand areas of the curriculum that might receive particular emphasis in a specific school term or inclusion of school policies.
A high priority is placed on fostering relationships with the local community and a beneficial reciprocal connection is evident between the community, school staff and pupils. The school has endeavoured to facilitate parents’ wishes for their child to participate in their local school on a routine basis and teachers have generously shared their knowledge and expertise with the staff from these schools. One class of senior pupils is located in a bungalow in a local housing estate due to accommodation constraints and this has proved beneficial in fostering community relations. The senior pupils engage in structured shopping activities in local shops as part of their home economics programme while other classes are provided with regular opportunities to access local facilities. The local community is to be highly commended for the manner in which it supports and assists the pupils when accessing these facilities.
Pupils demonstrate a praiseworthy deference for one another, members of staff, visitors to the school and the school environment. High levels of courtesy, consideration and respect characterise pupils’ relationships with each other, staff members and visitors to the school. Pupils are to be commended for the enthusiastic manner in which they engaged in their allotted tasks and for their willingness to respond to questions and provide clear explanations of their work during the evaluation. A positive non-discriminatory approach to the management of behaviour is articulated in the code of behaviour and pupils are treated equally and with respect by all staff members. A clear concern for the pastoral care and welfare of all pupils is evident and attention is consistently directed towards pupils’ holistic development. The emphasis on providing pupils with choice during all activities is particularly noteworthy and contributes positively to the development of pupils’ self-esteem and self-confidence. The creation of group activities and the ability of pupils to remain in groups for the duration of the activity was a feature in all the classes. The retention of some pupils in a group activity for any period of time is the result of significant input from all the school staff working consistently over time to extend the pupils’ social experiences and is an achievement that is to be commended.
A whole-school approach to the management of challenging behaviour has been developed and a copy of this policy is distributed to all classrooms to ensure consistency of approach is maintained. Attention is duly directed towards acknowledging, affirming and rewarding pupils’ positive behaviours. Functional assessments of pupils’ behaviour facilitate both antecedent and consequence analysis of undesirable behaviours and suggest appropriate environmental alterations, skills teaching, direct intervention and/or response procedures. It is suggested that the school’s observed willingness to accommodate the behaviour of pupils stemming from a special educational need is documented in the code of behaviour. Displaying school rules in positive terms with visual cues on a consistent basis in all classrooms would further assist pupils in developing behaviour self-management strategies. The school has been proactive in accessing expertise and advice from other agencies to assist in the management of some pupils’ behaviour
The school plan is characterised by a commitment to include all members of the school community in the life of the school and a concern to engage in democratic and fair decision-making. Organisational and curricular elements of the school plan are well organised and clearly presented. Action planning is undertaken and identifies priorities for the future development of teaching and learning. A collaborative school planning process involving members of the board of management, the principal, teachers and parents is evident in the development and implementation of the school plan. Policies and plans provide succinct and relevant guidance directed at improving the work of the school. Attention is directed towards reflecting legislative requirements, departmental guidelines and circulars and the changing needs of the school in the planning process. Teacher and special needs assistant information booklets have been compiled and helpfully summarise organisational routines and procedures. An information booklet has also been compiled for bus escorts. The curricular plans are devised with reference to the Primary School Curriculum and the Curriculum Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on promoting a thematic and integrated approach to curriculum delivery, which provides valuable opportunities to consolidate and extend pupils’ learning. A concern to ensure continuity and progression in pupils’ learning is evident and differentiation of the curricular elements of the school plan ensures that the needs of pupils with moderate general learning disabilities and those with severe to profound general learning disabilities are addressed. Curricular plans provide a clear rationale for curriculum content, articulate appropriate teaching methods and approaches and identify innovative and accessible resources. In order to disseminate the valuable information documented in the school plan, it is suggested that clear procedures are identified for the circulation of the school plan to parents. It is further advised that following the development of the assessment policy that pupils’ achievement directly contributes to the review of the school plan.
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.
Teachers plan for their work on a long-term and short-term basis with reference to the strand and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum and the Curriculum Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities. The adoption of a whole-school approach to curricular planning creates a cohesive planning process, which successfully contributes to learning and teaching. Clear links are discernible between the content of the school plan and individual teachers’ planning. Delineating short-term planning in fortnightly terms would further enhance this process. Monthly records of work, reflecting curricular areas, are compiled and retained centrally by the principal. A number of records constructively refers to the strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum. Including references to the strands and strand units of the curriculum in all monthly records would contribute further to the process of summative assessment. Due attention is directed towards providing differentiated programmes for pupils and individualised planning with relevant learning targets is a key feature of practice. Pupils’ learning styles are accommodated through incorporating references to a range of teaching methods, strategies, environmental adaptations and resources in classroom planning. Assessment of pupils’ progress is consistently considered and acknowledged.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The provision of stimulating and meaningful learning and teaching experiences succeeds in generating high levels of pupil-motivation and commitment to learning activities. An enabling learning and teaching environment is created and pupils are effectively supported in engaging with their respective tasks. The attention directed towards the development of knowledge, skills and concepts in curricular areas contributes to the positive learning outcomes observed. Overall pupils’ achievement is good and commensurate with their identified needs and abilities. Pupils are encouraged to be active and independent in their own learning and the use of a clear and unambiguous language of instruction, visual cues, work schedules and a purposefully structured school environment promotes on-task engagement.
There is a wide range of abilities within each class regarding communicative competence, necessitating all programmes in this area to be individualised in accordance with each pupil’s needs and strengths. Frequent opportunities are created for the pupils to communicate and develop an understanding of the environment through routine and repetition. In the classes for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities there is a strong focus on developing each child’s awareness, alertness, interest and concentration in their surroundings and peers. In other classes, the language programmes are developed to promote confidence and competence in attending, listening, communicating, speaking, reading and writing at appropriate levels for the pupils’ abilities. Teachers ensure the individual learning objectives for communication and language acquisition are delivered both in focused language lessons and reinforced in other areas of the curriculum or routine classroom activities during the school day.
There is a concerted effort in all the classes to develop an environment that assists communication by the use of augmentative communication strategies, including the use of icons, objects of reference, remnants, tangibles, Lámh sign language, finger spelling, body signs, ICT, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and Moon. Pupils are assisted to use the most appropriate form of strategy given their particular needs and abilities. Frequent opportunities are structured during the day in a variety of social contexts to promote the use of oral language. These include morning news sessions, group discussions and paired activities with staff or peers. While it was observed that most classes were using the same method of communication for daily items, the creation of a universal school list of objects of reference, Lámh signs and a core of universally used PECS communication symbols would be beneficial. The inclusion of such a list both in the school plan, in material to parents and in the induction materials for new staff would assist in the fostering of a communication- enabling environment. Such a co-ordinated approach would assist all staff, including transient voluntary personnel in understanding any effort at communication by the pupils. It was noted at the post-evaluation meeting that staff had already initiated this process.
The foundation and emergent reading programme includes the provision of a print-rich environment, the development of phonological awareness, use of paired and shared reading, and the reading of a variety of texts. The staff acknowledged the difficulty of locating reading schemes that are not only developmentally suitable but also motivating for their pupil population, age-appropriate and at an appropriate literacy level. To that end, in addition to commercial schemes in use in the school, the school staff has created a personalised reading scheme for use in a standardised format to ensure progression through the school. Clear guidelines are given for the content at each book level and how it will be personalised to the level of the individual pupil. The objectives for the teaching of reading and writing are realistic and the programmes are geared to the needs and abilities of the pupils. Some of the senior pupils have good literacy skills and can successfully complete literal comprehension and expression tasks. Those pupils who are unable to complete expressive tasks independently engage in joint composition with an adult. Teachers have developed functional literacy programmes for the senior pupils to enable them to respond appropriately to information on safety labels, price tags, lists, recipes, menus, schedules and forms. Care has been taken in constructing learning experiences in this area to take into account the post-school literacy needs of the pupils.
There is effective use of ICT and communicative devices such as Big Mack are used in classes for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities to communicate responses. Software programmes to support language and reading development are used successfully in other classes. The provision of digital cameras to each class by the board of management has created an opportunity for the classes to develop powerpoint presentations using digital imagery of pupils engaging in curricular tasks for the further promotion of communication and language. While good work was observed in the use of poetry during the evaluation, particularly the use of sensorial productions of nursery rhymes in the junior classes, the school might enhance this experience further with the introduction of additional poetic genres suitable to the levels of ability and interests of the pupils.
The teaching of mathematics provides pupils with a wide range of mathematical experiences that enable them to develop skills in relation to interpreting, analysing, describing, predicting and problem-solving. Pupils’ engagement in their respective tasks is optimised through the use of direct teaching, guided discovery, activity methods and the judicious use of stimulating and attractive manipulatives. Adequate time is provided for pupils to practise and generalise new concepts. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on the acquisition and consolidation of mathematical language. Due attention is directed towards the social value of mathematics and in estimating and problem-solving in functional real-life contexts. Task analysis and direct-teaching are used effectively to enable pupils to extend acquired skills outside the school environment. The attention directed towards selecting age-appropriate resources that are of interest to the pupils and linking activities with pupils’ own experiences is particularly praiseworthy. The framework of attending, responding and initiating is effectively used in structuring mathematical experiences for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities. The differentiation of the mathematics curriculum enables all pupils to demonstrate achievement and experience success.
Pupils have access to a range of opportunities to develop early mathematical activities, number, algebra, pattern and sequence, shape and space, measures and data. Play is constructively linked to the development of pupils’ early mathematical skills and effectively promotes engagement with mathematical concepts through encouraging attitudes of curiosity and nurturing an enjoyment of learning. The provision of a variety of sensory experiences enables pupils to explore and gain an awareness and understanding of the properties of familiar objects in their immediate environment. Curricular integration and linkage is used effectively to reinforce concepts and skill development. The use of visual-timetables and the provision of clear routines assists in developing pupils’ understanding of the nature and sequence of time. Visual, auditory and gestural cues are effectively used to enable pupils to anticipate the next activity. Pupils are consistently encouraged to investigate, problem solve and interpret what is happening.
Information and Communication Technology is constructively used to augment the development of pupils’ mathematical skills. A list of software related to Mathematics is available in the school plan. The introduction of board–games would further assist in consolidating and reinforcing pupils’ existing mathematical knowledge and skills. The new school building will provide an opportunity to extend the role of mathematics in the school environment through the use of large number-strips, curricular displays and mathematics’ corners.
Social Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) includes History, Geography, Science and Sensory Education. Differentiated curricular experiences in SESE are constructively provided for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities and for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities. The school has commendably developed detailed planning for both odd and even year cycles in all SESE subjects thereby creating clear curricular linkage between the elements of SESE across the class groups. This provides opportunities for the staff to use cross-curricular projects and corridor displays from other classes to reinforce pupils’ learning in this area.
The history curriculum focuses on developing pupils’ understanding of change over time and the manner in which change affects their lives and the lives of others. Pupils’ own concept of time is effectively developed through clearly structured daily routines, visual timetables, linking learning experiences to seasonal events and celebrations, encouraging discussion of past events and anticipating future activities. An emphasis on developing pupils’ sense of cause and effect assists in convincing pupils that an intervention causes things to happen and effects change. Structured opportunities are provided for pupils to discuss and gather evidence about events in their own environment, the immediate community and wider world. The use of story and role-play effectively stimulates pupils’ empathetic understanding with characters from the past. Field-trips and visits to old buildings assist in developing a balanced appreciation of culture and historical influences in local and national contexts. Photographs, information and communication technology (ICT), the school and local environment, the library, family and community members and newspapers constructively augment pupils’ access to the history curriculum. The videoing of school events and subsequent replaying of recordings contributes to pupils’ understanding of chronology. A sensory approach to the history curriculum is successfully adopted and exposes pupils to valuable and enjoyable learning experiences. The production of pupils’ individual timelines using photographs and items from their past provides a commendable individualised sensorial experience of their life’s experiences and a haptic experience of their development through time. The creation of personal history books for each pupil constructively reinforces their understanding of how continuity and change relates to their own lives.
The study of Geography enhances pupils’ meaningful interaction with the local and wider environment. Activities that foster pupils’ curiosity and enjoyment enable pupils to explore, describe and understand human and natural environments. Pupils display a commendable understanding of their roles as an individual, family member and a member of local, regional, national, European and global communities. A sense of responsibility for long-term environmental care and the sustainable use of the Earth’s resources is constructively fostered. Pupils’ attention is directed toward the recycling of resources using compost facilities for kitchen waste and prominently displayed school recycling bins for dry items. The school was awarded Green Flag status in May 2005 and continues to build on this award through focusing on water conservation in the current school year. Optimal use is made of the school’s campus in developing pupils’ awareness of physical and natural environments. The pre-vocational class maintains a vegetable garden and shrubbery. A beautifully appointed sensory garden has been developed with the assistance of St. Joseph’s Foundation to contribute to the stimulation and activation of learning and experiencing the world through pupils’ sensory modalities. Active and experiential learning, optimising the use of the environment, guided discovery and directed learning successfully maintain pupils’ interest in the geography curriculum.
The science curriculum is designed to cultivate pupils’ curiosity, observation and enjoyment in order to develop pupils’ long-term interest in Science. The scientific potential of activities is exploited and a play-based approach is effectively adopted. Pupils were observed to respond appropriately to activities and the skills of working scientifically, designing and making are consistently cultivated. Active participation leading to knowledge and skill development is prioritised and an investigative and directive approach is adopted by teachers. Pupils have acquired a relevant knowledge base that enables them to anticipate and predict. An understanding of cause and effect enables pupils to understand the consequence of an action and encourages them to repeat the action intentionally to achieve the desired consequence. Observing and caring for plants and animals enhances pupils’ concept of energy and life while encouraging respect for living things. The provision of a wide range of resources for outdoor play that includes tricycles and bicycles develops pupils’ sense of movement and forces. An inventory of science resources has been compiled and a clear system is in place to enable teachers to access and share resources. While activities in the sensory room are effectively and creatively linked to the science curriculum, additional use of recording mechanisms to establish personal preferences or to link the pupils’ experiences back to classroom work would be beneficial.
Music as a unique form of communication and a means by which feelings and interests are organised is an intrinsic element of pupils’ curricular experiences. Pupils participate in a wide range of activities in accordance with the listening and responding, performing and composing strands of the curriculum. Opportunities are provided to enable pupils to make sense of, and appreciate environmental and musical sounds. Pupils are encouraged to vocalise and verbalise in response to music and the value of music as a non-verbal means of expression is consistently promoted. Teachers use a variety of appropriate apparatus during song-singing to engage the pupils to attend to the content of the song. Body movements, rhymes and songs are innovatively used to familiarise pupils with musical elements. A wide variety of percussion instruments is available and used creatively in the implementation of the music curriculum. Pupils derive enjoyment and benefit from the use of a resonance board in manipulating sounds, rhythms and tones. A visual system is effectively used in teaching the tin-whistle to some pupils and pupils are justifiably proud of their achievement in this area. The use of a song-book with some pupils increases pupils’ on-task behaviour and consolidates their literacy skills.
The Department of Education and Science provides ten hours of music therapy support for the school. The music therapy programme is linked with the music curriculum and is commendably supported by the patron body with considerable investment in appropriate musical instruments. Attention is directed to pupils’ acquisition of musical knowledge, skills and appreciation while using music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, social and behavioural needs. The music therapist conducts a range of sessions on both a group and individual basis. Detailed records of attendance and responses are maintained during both individual and group sessions. Inclusion in individual or paired sessions may arise from observations during group sessions or on referral by the class team. Music therapy reports are compiled and detail pupils’ progress in targeted areas following a period of therapeutic intervention. The music therapist is also employed in the vocational services of the patron body, thereby enabling pupils leaving the school to continue to access music therapy. As pupils are accompanied to the music therapy sessions by classroom staff, additional concurrent recording mechanisms could be used by those staff to assist the music therapist in documenting pupils’ responses to musical experiences. It is advised that links with the music curriculum are explicitly identified in the planning of music therapy sessions. The compilation of an inventory of songs and rhymes and the visual symbols used in the implementation of the music curriculum would assist in the development of a spiral approach to curriculum delivery. Introducing the work of renowned composers on a whole-school basis would further extend pupils’ musical experiences.
Pupils are provided with opportunities to enter into a variety of dramatic encounters including role-play, improvisation, puppetry and dramatisation of particular events, both within their own experience and from fictional perspectives. Staff members use considerable inventiveness and originality in employing sensory stimuli to alert the pupils to the dramatic experience, to sustain their attention and enhance their participation at an appropriate level in the dramatic encounter. Pupils are enticed to participate in the shared experience of a dramatic production as part of an audience with the teacher and staff members in roles. The classroom atmosphere is enhanced through the creative use of music, art, costume and prop elements, which successfully engage and entice the participants to attend to the dramatic experience for the duration of the lesson. The use of sensory stimuli including aromas and odours, unusual foodstuffs, lighting changes and sound effects all assist in the creation of a fictional occasion. Care is taken following the lesson to debrief pupils from the dramatic experience and re-orientate them to the normal roles of the personnel in the classroom in order to avoid confusion and role transference from the lesson. Constructive efforts were observed at all class levels to use drama as a device to integrate meaningful experiences into other areas of the curriculum particularly History, Geography, Music, oral language and communication sessions through the use of props that enhance understanding of concepts and experiences.
While individual teachers have planned carefully to provide incremental dramatic experiences for their class culminating in a bi-annual Christmas pageant, the same level of incremental development of skills and experiences is not yet reflected in the school plan. The understanding of imagination and entering into illusory fictitious experiences as an area of particular difficulty for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders and for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities, requires clear elucidation in the school plan. The structured development of a range of play skills observed during the evaluation in the junior classes including energetic play, constructive play, co-operative play, collaborative play and imaginative play could profitably form the basis for the development of fundamental dramatic activities.
Athletics, dance, gymnastics, games, outdoor and adventure activities, swimming, hydrotherapy, pony riding and personal fitness programmes are included in the physical-education (PE) programme. The PE curriculum is informed by the individual needs and abilities of the pupils in the school and the expertise and experience of staff. Due emphasis is placed on skill development and a concern to implement a structured approach based on appropriate content and methodologies is evident. Participation in activities is valued and encouraged and cognisance is taken of the developmental stage and physical ability of each pupil. Pupils interact and co-operate sensitively with each other during activities and exhibit positive attitudes towards PE. Health-related fitness is intrinsic to pupils’ programmes, while the benefits of relaxation are also addressed. The safety of pupils is prioritised and medical approval for participation in activities is sought from parents/carers.
Pupils have opportunities to attend aquatics sessions in a community pool in Mallow on a rotational basis. All the sessions are closely supervised by both nursing and classroom personnel with a high ratio of staff to pupils. Pupils are encouraged to view the visits as pleasurable and with the support of staff achieve competency in both swimming and buoyancy activities with a variety of apparatus. The provision of colour-coded swimming hats for pupils with convulsive conditions would further assist the nursing staff to identify particular pupils in the pool. The staff employed by the pool complex was observed to be particularly helpful to the pupil cohort however, the lack of hoisting facilities has placed restrictions on some pupils attending these sessions. The provision of a hydrotherapy pool with integral hoisting facilities on the campus in Charleville, will shortly provide an opportunity for pupils with physical disabilities to participate in this strand area.
A wide selection of appropriate resources is available in the school for this subject area and includes beanbags, balls of various sizes, shapes and textures, quoits, skipping ropes obstacle-course equipment and a variety of cycles. Direct teaching, activity learning, and guided discovery are used in implementing the PE curriculum. Music is successfully used to enhance pupils’ participation in PE activities.
The school places particular emphasis on this area of the curriculum and has endeavoured to promote a health promoting physical environment by participating in both the Health Promoting School initiatives and by acquiring a Green Flag for the school. The access to the main canteen for lunch time by the entire school cohort provides an excellent resource for the staff to teach informed use of canteen facilities, to reinforce appropriate behaviour in public and to develop independent life skills.
The classes with pupils with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) pay specific attention to developing social interaction skills, social communication and the concept of reciprocity in social relationships as these are areas of particular difficulty for pupils with ASDs. There is a strong emphasis on the pupils developing an awareness of themselves and others while responding to other people in an appropriate manner. The classes for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities not only endeavour to develop a sense of self, but also to extend the pupils’ responsibilities into the obligations of community involvement and citizenship. Classes for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities develop detailed programmes for the development of independent living skills while enticing pupils to form relationships with peers and adults in the school community. All of the teachers have realistic expectations with regard to behaviour. Consideration is given to individual pupils’ difficulties in dealing with various group situations or curricular areas yet reasonable emphasis is placed on the development of good manners and grace and courtesy interactions.
The school endeavours to foster social linkages with some pupils’ local schools by assisting the pupils to participate in a variety of dual attendance programmes to allow pupils to relate to and integrate with their mainstream peers. These linkages are seen to enhance the pupils’ social skills programme by providing them with a wider group for developing appropriate social behaviour in a different environment.
The home economics and housecraft element is an important element in the school’s overall SPHE programmes. The home economics hours have been recently increased to fulltime temporary allowing more pupils to access the subject area in the senior section of the school. Tuition is delivered both in the bungalow with the school leavers group and in the school in a dedicated home economics room. Given the large numbers of post-primary aged pupils to be timetabled for home economics, a rotational system has been established for the current year with one block of twelve-week tuition available to each of the pupils. The rotation of the tuition was individualised to the attention levels of the pupils so a pupil might avail of their thirty-minute tuition in two separate fifteen-minute slots if required to maximise their participation in tasks. The tuition was well organised with visual cue cards for both ingredient and appliance identification by the pupils. The learning objectives were realistic and achievable given the pupils’ various levels of need. The more proficient senior pupils were eager to demonstrate their culinary prowess and were able to describe in detail the procedures and items used to complete a recipe. Staff members make commendable use of community shopping facilities to allow senior pupils to purchase the ingredients in advance for the following week’s work by using visually based shopping lists and following routine procedures in local shops including queuing, paying and packing their purchases.
Assessment is viewed as a tool to celebrate the learning potential of pupils and successfully contributes to enhancing pupils’ learning and teaching. Teacher observation of pupils’ knowledge, skill-development and levels of participation is constructively used to assess pupils’ progress and plan for pupils’ learning and teaching programmes. Teacher-devised tests and tasks, retention of pupils’ work samples, project work, photographic records of achievement and curricular-related checklists are variously used as part of individual teachers’ assessment practices. Teachers’ assess their pupils’ work regularly by the use of structured observation, checklists and reference to professionals’ reports and recommendations. They look for gains in learning, preferences to personnel, gaps in skill acquisition and areas requiring additional attention through their day-to-day work with pupils. A hierarchical approach to the level of prompting required by pupils in task completion is constructively adopted in a number of classes. It is recommended that this practice is extended throughout the school. In all classes, pupil’s self-assessment is encouraged through consistently encouraging pupils to value and admire their own work. Parents are furnished with an annual school report that reflects the curricular areas of the Primary School Curriculum.
Assessment has been prioritised as an area for development in the current school year. Additional consideration needs to be given to the role of concurrent recording of pupil’s work in the classroom and the role such recording will have for assessing progress and adjustment or identification of future targets. In order to ensure that assessment information is recorded systematically in the school, it is recommended that a whole-school approach to maintaining assessment information is developed.
All pupils have special educational needs. Pupils’ levels of general learning disability and co-occurring disabilities are outlined in the school plan. A record of atlanto-axial dislocation in respect of pupils with down’s syndrome is maintained. A commitment to creating an inclusive school environment is fostered and opportunities are created for pupils to integrate with each other during the school day. A number of pupils attending the school have additional sensory impairments of vision and hearing. The teachers display a commitment to devising appropriate educational resources to include these pupils in all classroom experiences using sensory modalities accessible for the pupils. They displayed a level of commitment to researching the individual special educational needs and assessing the impact of these needs for learning and teaching activities. The school has weekly access to an instructor who assists on an individual level with referred pupils, giving advice and tuition for mobility and self-care issues for pupils with visual impairment. Her level of knowledge and experience has provided constructive support for the teachers working with pupils with visual impairment.
Teachers display an awareness of the implications of an assessment of autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) for pupils’ learning and teaching. The social, communication and imaginative deficits associated with the triad of impairments are accommodated in curriculum delivery. Methods devised by Division TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped CHildren), the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), the LÁMH manual signing system and elements of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) are variously used with pupils with ASDs and with other pupils, if appropriate. Approaches to the learning and teaching of all pupils consider the sensory modalities of pupils and include activities aimed at utilising pupils’ visual, auditory, olfactory, haptic, kinaesthetic and gustatory learning potential. Particular attention is aimed at manipulating the environment in order to optimise pupils’ learning. A range of manipulation techniques is used that considers both the need for a low-stimulus environment and the importance of creating a highly responsive and stimulating environment.
All pupils have individual education plans (IEPs). A clear structure is in place for devising IEPs that incorporates consultation with parents, multi-disciplinary staff and class teachers. A strengths and needs analysis, assessment information, curricular areas, commencement and review dates are included in the IEP process, This structure will provide a basis for the further development of the process with the implementation of the EPSEN, Act, 2004. The possibility of including the pupil in IEP process could be now considered. Clear procedures are in place for the management of challenging behaviour and staff in classes for pupils with challenging behaviour is equipped with a mobile phone. A pre-vocational programme has been developed for senior pupils to assist in effecting successful transitioning to post-school placements. Pupils are prepared for a graduation ceremony, which marks the transition to post-school placements. July Education is provided annually for pupils with severe to profound general learning disability and pupils with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs), and a concern to ensure consistency of approach is articulated in the school plan. It is recommended that the positive manner in which the school accommodates the triad of impairments associated with ASDs and the range of ASD-specific approaches being used by the school is documented in the school plan.
A commitment to promoting and celebrating the full inclusion of the diversity of pupils in the school is evident. School policies acknowledge the importance of developing a respect for, and appreciation of difference, providing a sense of social responsibility and justice and contributing to pupils’ awareness of their own culture. Lunch is provided free of charge to all pupils. The school liaises with St. Joseph’s Foundation who provides additional home supports and respite care for pupils as required. It is suggested that the Guidelines on Intercultural Education in the Primary School and materials developed by Integrate Ireland Language and Training are referred to in the school plan. The school’s attention is directed towards Circular 0053/2007 for further advice in this area.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A progressive shared vision for the school is evident and a commendable team spirit permeates staff relations. Positive relationships are beneficially cultivated between the principal, staff, pupils, parents, the board of management and the wider school community.
· The engagement of the staff in a collaborative planning process is evident in the range of wide-ranging policies and programmes which have been developed and implemented across the school.
· There is excellent work taking place in many areas of the curriculum, which successfully provides for pupils with a diverse range of needs and abilities.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management and staff wish to acknowledge the professional approach of the Inspectorate during the Whole School Evaluation process, and the professional and sensitive manner with which they interacted with both staff and pupils. The Board also welcomes the positive and constructive nature of the report.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
• All existing school policies will be reviewed annually.
• . A formal attendance strategy has been included in the School Plan.
• Interim re-deployment of S.N.A. support has been undertaken and will be reviewed in consultation with the S.E.N.O. in March '08.
• Our current positive practice in relation to A.S.D. will be documented in the school plan, as part of an overall policy document outlining all of the approaches employed in relation to the three disciplines for which the school caters, G.M.L.D., S.P.L.D., and A.S.D.
• Taking into consideration that assessment tools for each child will vary considerably depending on age, ability and specific disability, a whole-school policy of maintaining an assessment folder for each child will be trialled for the remainder of the current school year, with a review date during the school year '08/'09.