An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Oliver Plunkett Special National School
Monkstown, Co. Dublin
Uimhir rolla: 19499T
Date of inspection: 06 May 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Oliver Plunkett Special National School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the 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 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.
St Oliver Plunkett Special National School, Monkstown was established in 1976 as a special national school for boys and girls with specific learning disability. The pupils who attend the school have been identified as having a specific learning disability following psychological assessment. At the time of this evaluation the school was operating at full capacity with fifty-four pupils on roll. Pupils are generally between the ages of eight and twelve years of age when they enrol and are normally placed in a class in line with their age. As a rule, pupils attend for one or two years after which they return to a mainstream primary school or proceed to post primary education, depending on their age. The catchment area of the school covers a wide geographical area of South Dublin, and North Wicklow. The majority of the pupils avail of the transport service provided through the Department of Education and Science.
The school is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. While it is a Catholic school, pupils from other religious denominations are welcomed and the school supports the principles of inclusiveness and equality. The school endeavours to promote the all round development of the pupils who attend. The school staff is conscious of the importance of the pupils’ self-esteem and aims to support their development in this area through the creation of a positive school environment and the engagement of the pupils in a broad, balanced and accessible curriculum. The attendance of the pupils is good. The last school report was completed in 1995.
The board of management is properly constituted, meets on a regular basis, maintains appropriate records, and endeavours to fulfil its statutory obligations. The chairperson and members of the board of management are highly conscientious in addressing the ongoing organisational and developmental needs of the school. The chairperson maintains regular contact with the principal teacher and visits the school. Matters addressed by the board include finance, school accommodation and maintenance, the consideration and ratification of school policies, staff appointments, the development of school resources and the continuing professional development of the staff. The board has been proactive in the development of the school and there has been considerable enhancement of the accommodation, staffing and resources available to the school since the completion of the last school report. The school manages its finances prudently. In recent years, a voluntary contribution has been sought from parents as part of the school’s approach to fundraising. In light of the school’s status as a special national school, it is recommended that this matter be kept under regular review in order to reduce the financial burden on parents. The chairperson and board of management are highly commended for their long-standing service and commitment to the work of the school.
The in-school management team in St. Oliver Plunkett’s consists of an administrative principal, a deputy principal and two teachers with special duties posts of responsibility.
The principal is a highly motivated and effective leader. She has a clear understanding of this special school’s role and an unambiguous vision for its future development. She works to create a positive school climate and encourages both staff and pupils to make their best efforts. She has successfully led the collaborative development and implementation of a wide range of school policies and procedures which now facilitate the efficient and effective operation of the school. The principal is enthusiastic in her role and displays a high degree of commitment to the whole school community. She promotes a culture of teamwork and mutual support among the staff and ensures a safe and caring environment for the pupils. The principal holds an annual one-to-one meeting with each post-holder at which their responsibilities and performance of their functions are discussed, reviewed and adjusted in accordance with the terms of Circular 07/03 to reflect the changing needs of the school. The principal also meets regularly with teachers and special needs assistants. The involvement of parents in the school is welcomed and actively promoted by the principal.
The deputy principal capably assists the principal in the organisation and supervision of the school’s daily activities and deputizes for her in her absence. She also has assigned administrative, curricular and pastoral duties including overall responsibility for information and communication technology (ICT) and assistive technology in the school, the promotion of the library and supporting teachers in their use of ICT. Elements of curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities are also discernible in the activities assigned to the two special duties teachers. One has responsibilities regarding textbooks and the notice board, Social, Environmental and Scientific Education and swimming and in-school religious matters. The other has responsibilities in the areas of assessment, English and Mathematics and the mentoring of new staff. As part of the in-school management team these teachers work in a co-operative and supportive manner with the principal and the deputy. The team meets together weekly and each delivers a report on specific work in progress and any new ventures at the monthly staff meetings. These reports are copied to the board of management. Through the diligent fulfilment of each post-holder’s role, the in-school management team makes a meaningful contribution to the management of the school. While the planning and organisation undertaken at frequent staff meetings contributes to school development, the loss of teaching time should also be taken in to consideration in the overall schedule of staff meetings.
In addition to the administrative principal, there are six class teachers in St. Oliver Plunkett’s. As it is a special school for pupils with specific learning disabilities, there is a 9:1 pupil-teacher ratio in the school. At the time of the evaluation, the fifty-four pupils were placed in mixed classes on the basis of their age and learning needs. Classes varied in numbers of pupils between six and eleven. While teachers generally remain in the same classroom, the class levels of pupils they teach varies from year to year. The teachers continue to improve their knowledge and skills by engaging in a range of post-graduate and in-service courses relevant to their work. The school has received valued input from support services such as the School Development Planning Support service and the Special Education Support Service.
The part-time services of three external tutors are funded by the board of management and the parents’ association. In collaboration with the teaching staff, they provide instruction for pupils in PE, Drama and Music. The Health Services Executive funds the work of a speech and language therapist who works in the school with targeted individuals and with a number of class groups.
The school’s six special needs assistants (five full-time, one part-time) are assigned directly to cater for the needs of specific children. They work collaboratively with and under the direction of the teaching staff ensuring that the children in their care are supported sufficiently to ensure their access to the curriculum and related activities.
A full-time secretary provides essential administrative support to the management and the staff. The school and school-grounds are maintained admirably by a part-time caretaker and the school is cleaned daily by a contracted part-time cleaner.
The school accommodation consists of single-storey building which dates to 1937 and an extension which was completed in 2000. There are six classrooms plus a school library and a small room currently used by an attending speech and language therapist. There is also a staff room, office space for the principal and the school secretary, and a good-sized hall which is suitable for whole-school assemblies and physical education activities. While there is limited physical space outside of the school, there is a tarmacadam playing area which is used for breaks and physical education activities. All in all the school is a well-maintained, bright, clean and safe learning environment.
Throughout the school, in hallways and in classrooms, teachers have mounted a range of curricular-related and thematic displays. The assembly hall features a large display created by the class with responsibility for the artist of the month. All teachers have created age-appropriate classroom environments for their pupils that are both attractive and well-organised. Classroom displays are a combination of curriculum-related information and resource posters and the work of individual pupils and class groups.
The school is commended for the recent establishment of a dedicated library in addition to the six smaller classroom libraries. This is a significant and well-used resource area. The new library has been part-funded by the state’s Dormant Accounts/RAPID Leverage Fund. With this and their own funding, the school has purchased a variety of suitable resources to fit out the library. As well as purchasing new books, the school borrows books en bloc from the county council library service. All of the books in the school are now catalogued using pupil-friendly software which allows pupil access through every classroom computer.
The school has also recently developed its ICT provision with a Department grant. There is a new desktop with broadband access and a printer in every classroom. There is also a good supply of educational software available. A number of pupils in the school have accessed assistive technology through the National Council for Special Education. There is a draft whole school policy on internet usage and the use of ICT including assistive technology in the classrooms
Classroom-based teaching resources include a good range of materials and equipment that is appropriate to the needs of the pupils and is used effectively to support their learning.
Good communication between home and school is actively promoted by the principal and school staff. Parental communication with the school is facilitated through a variety of arrangements, including parent-teacher meetings, information evenings, and a helpful and attractive school information booklet. Open communication contributes to an inclusive school climate. The members of the parents’ association are highly conscientious and have contributed significantly to the school over many years, including the raising of funds for resources for the pupils. The parents’ association has an important role in the introduction of the parents of new pupils to the school by inviting them to attend events organised by the association. During the year it undertakes a range of activities to inform parents on issues relevant to the education of pupils with specific learning disabilities. Parents are also actively involved on the board of management and contribute to aspects of policy development in the school. The parents who were met during the course of this evaluation spoke very highly of the school and members of staff. The role and contribution of the parents in the life of the school community is commendable.
2.5 Management of pupils
The relationships between the teachers, SNAs, and pupils are mutually respectful. The pupils work co-operatively together and are responsive to the guidance and instructions of the teachers. The approach taken to the management of the pupils is guided by an inclusive school ethos and a carefully planned code of behaviour. The code was developed in order to foster harmonious relationships between children, teachers and parents. Parents are informed when the behaviour of their children has fallen below acceptable standards and also when pupils have displayed positive behaviour and achievement. Suitably high expectations are set for the pupils in relation to their schoolwork and general behaviour. A programme of Discipline for Learning has been adapted to the circumstances of the school and positive behaviour is regularly acknowledged, supported and rewarded.
School staff is mindful of the critical role of fostering the pupils’ confidence in their own capabilities. The teachers endeavour to identify opportunities to encourage and support pupils in enabling them to experience success in learning. The systems and approaches developed by the school and implemented by the teachers to promote the positive engagement of the pupils in the learning process and in the life of the school are praiseworthy.
The school has established ongoing collaborative procedures which guide the whole-school development planning process. The process involves the active participation of the staff, the parents and the board. The planning process is lead by the principal and the in-school management team. All teaching staff make meaningful contributions. The board and the parents’ association are consulted during the policy development process and all completed documents are submitted to the board for ratification. The school now has a range of appropriate policies and procedures in place to guide the daily operation and the future development of the school. The school has received the support of the School Development Planning Service and all planning takes place within the school context. A copy of the school plan is kept in the office and is accessible to parents on request.
The school plan covers organisational, curricular and pastoral areas and is particularly responsive to the needs of pupils with specific learning difficulties. The curriculum policy documents in the school plan correctly reference the curriculum guidelines setting out objectives in each subject area. These documents are used by the teaching staff to guide the creation of their classroom curricular plans. Curricular plans cite teaching approaches and strategies that are appropriate to the effective delivery of the curriculum and list the range of suitable resources and teaching materials available in the school. Reference is made to the role of the local environment and information and communication technology (ICT) in achieving curriculum objectives. The plans make links across subjects to strengthen relevance, coherence and the application of the pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding in a range of areas of learning.
Areas that were identified as priorities and addressed at whole-school level this past school year include the introduction of the Wilson Reading System, the development of the school library and class libraries, a review of the posts of responsibilities and the further development of the parents’ association. In addition, a number of polices are at various stages of development or review including policies on assistive technology and substance abuse. A number of existing policies such as the School Transport Behaviour Policy and the Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) Policy have been earmarked for review. It was noted that the majority of policies include a review date and the date of ratification by the board. The date for review and the date on which the policy was formally ratified by the board should be entered on the remaining policies.
This year the priority areas for future development planning identified by the school include a review of the impact of the Wilson Reading System to inform a scheduled revision of the whole-school English/literacy Policy.
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.
An individual education plan (IEP) is prepared for every pupil in the school in consultation with the pupil and the parents. There is a well established process of gathering information, profiling pupils, identifying strengths and needs, writing targets and reviewing the IEPs twice yearly. A number of the IEP targets are non-specific. It is recommended that the writing of specific and measurable individualised targets should be prioritised for future development. These targets should in turn feature in classroom plans with attention given to the expected learning outcomes of individual pupils.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The classroom environments observed displayed evidence of the positive engagement of the pupils along with their progress in the learning activities. A core and constant priority in teaching and learning across all areas is the development of the pupils’ literacy skills. The teachers are conscious of and informed on the learning strengths and needs of their pupils and demonstrate very good knowledge and understanding of particular learning needs of pupils with specific learning disabilities. The classroom environments are print-rich. All areas of the Primary School Curriculum are provided for. Cross-curricular approaches are a feature of classrooms and are used successfully in making available a broad and balanced curriculum across the school. Teaching and learning activities are suitably differentiated in relation to the learning needs of the pupils. The teachers endeavour to link the lessons and teaching activities to the experiences and interests of the pupils. Teachers plan and organise their teaching carefully and make good use of a variety of carefully chosen resources, specific to the needs of these pupils, including ICT. While pupils are supported in working co-operatively in groups, pairs, and individually, whole class approaches are also successfully employed.
Tá díolúine ó staidéar na Gaeilge ag formhór na ndaltaí. É sin ráite tá polasaí úsaideach ag an scoil maidir leis an nGaeilge a dhíríonn ar ghnéithe ó bhéil an chláir. Glacann méid beag daltaí sna ceachtanna Gaeilge agus tugtar faoi na himeachtaí seo le scil fiúntach.
The majority of pupils have exemptions for Gaeilge. However, the school has a useful school policy for Irish which focuses on the oral aspects of the programme. A small number of pupils take part in the Irish lessons and these are undertaken with considerable skill.
Among the stated main aims of the English curriculum in St Oliver Plunkett’s is the prime objective of advancing each pupil’s oral language, reading and writing skills. This aim is reflected in the lesson timetables which allocate approximately ninety minutes for English each day. Overall, the quality of learning and teaching in the area of English language and literacy is very good. Teachers frequently begin lessons with an overview of previous learning and listed the work for the day on the board. Observed lessons were well-planned and structured. Pupils were motivated, engaged and active in their learning.
The school is fortunate to have the services of an HSE-funded speech-language therapist to guide and support oral language development. Because of the strong association between speech-language disorders and reading and writing difficulties, all pupils are screened. Every pupil’s oral language development is facilitated and monitored through the collaborative planning and the co-operative modelling and teaching of the classroom teachers and the speech and language therapist. Together the classroom teachers and the therapist introduce a range of exercises and activities that are structured to strategically develop oral language skills. This work involves developing skills in relevant areas such as phonology, auditory processing, short and long term memory, listening comprehension, word knowledge and analogies. Those pupils with diagnosed speech and language disorders are withdrawn from classes to attend for individual or group sessions with the therapist in the school.
The approach to literacy skills development in the school is intensive and highly structured. The eclectic approach that was previously in place in the school has now been augmented by the Wilson Reading System (WRS) - a highly structured reading and writing intervention programme. The WRS is described as a multi-sensory, phonological-based programme originally designed for pupils with specific learning difficulties. The programme’s main methodology is direct instruction but it also utilises approaches such as strategy instruction, guided learning and peer-assisted learning. Most of the teaching staff have received training in the delivery of the programme with the support of the Special Education Support Service (SESS). At the time of this inspection, the principal was considering a proposal to access further training for all staff.
The daily time spent on the WRS varies between classrooms but all teachers supplement it with their own English programme derived from the Primary School Curriculum. This programme generally consists of a range of whole-language activities such as a class novel and the Write-a-Book project, plus direct instruction in specific areas such as sight word recognition, grammar and vocabulary. A positive emphasis is placed on maintaining and reinforcing acquired skills in oral language, reading and writing through structured activities. Pupils are encouraged to develop and practice accuracy, fluency and comprehension skills by reading independently in the extensive range of books readily available in the school and class libraries and to partake in paired reading at home. Classrooms also use graded reading schemes in conjunction with supplementary readers and novels to progress pupils’ reading skill development.
Pupils employ and develop their writing skills in a number of ways including structured handwriting lessons, creative writing activities and thematic cross-curricular research projects. Although the WRS also targets word spelling, the programme is augmented by a range of spelling-related activities including the use of personal spelling dictionaries and the use of learning strategies such as look-say-cover-write-check and finger tracing. Words to be learned are taken from personal writing errors as well as from lists of high frequency words, common errors and patterns.
A variety of methods are in place to record outcomes. The WRS provides a detailed system for monitoring and recording individual pupil progress. In addition, teachers use checklists, work samples, teacher-made tests and records of observation. Homework in English is set and corrected daily. It typically features the revision of words for reading and spelling, paired reading, creative and functional writing exercises and project work.
The current whole-school plan for English dates back to 2005, but the school has scheduled it for revision in 2009 following an in-house review of the implementation and impact of the WRS. In this review, it will be essential for the staff to come to agreement on where the WRS fits into the whole-school plan. It will be necessary to ensure appropriate balance between the intensive development of the literacy skills of each pupil, the delivery of the breadth and balance of the primary school English curriculum and the most effective use of the WRS.
The school plan for Mathematics is based on the Primary School Curriculum. The plan sets out the aims, objectives, methodologies and resources employed in the teaching of Mathematics across the school. School planning and the approach of the teachers recognises that many of the pupils experience difficulties in Mathematics. School organisation and classroom arrangements provide for the variety of the pupils and lessons in Mathematics are consistently timetabled. The teachers are conscious that while some pupils may require particular support because their work in this area is a number of years behind their age cohort, others will benefit from opportunities to extend and enrich their learning in Mathematics. The pupils are grouped on the basis of diagnostic tests which are undertaken at the beginning of the school year.
Within classrooms, the teachers endeavour to enable the pupils to have positive learning experiences in Mathematics. Teaching and learning activities are carefully differentiated to address the range of learning needs and the progress of the pupils is carefully monitored. Concerns in relation to individual pupils in relation to Mathematics are addressed through the pupils’ individual education planning. The lessons undertaken are well structured and provide good opportunities for the pupils to develop concepts and to practise skills. Careful attention is given to the development of mathematical language. The pupils are encouraged to become active in the learning process and due attention is given to problem solving. Cross-curricular links are also explored. In a number of classes there is a useful emphasis on the practical application of Mathematics with reference to real life contexts and the interests of the pupils and such approaches should be extended wherever practicable.
A good range of resources has been acquired to support the programme of teaching and learning in Mathematics, including visual aids, concrete materials, workbooks, worksheets and ICT resources. Assessment of the pupils work is regularly undertaken and standardised tests are administered in June and September.
A carefully constructed whole-school policy based on the Primary School Curriculum guides classroom practice in the teaching of History, and all strands of the curriculum are explored. The school takes account of the impact of the pupils’ difficulties in the area of literacy. The methodologies employed endeavour to assist the pupils in accessing the subject meaningfully without undue reliance on written text. In implementing the programme teachers endeavour to foster the pupils interest in the past, and to raise their awareness of life in earlier times. The teachers aim to promote an understanding of the impact of various historical events and developments in people's lives. As the pupils’ gain an understanding of the concepts, due attention is given to fostering the sense of working as an historian, and employing the skills related to time and chronology, change and continuity, cause and effect, using evidence, synthesising and communicating.
Thematic approaches are successfully employed in classrooms and links to other curriculum areas are pursued effectively, particularly in relation to language and the Visual Arts. Very good practice was observed in classrooms during the course of the evaluation. The pupils engaged purposefully and with interest in the range of activities undertaken as they explored concepts and practised relevant skills. Across the school the pupils have completed projects on a variety of themes and examples of their work were attractively displayed in classrooms. Very good use is made of teacher-made and commercially produced resources including ICT.
The school plan in Geography is based on the Primary School Curriculum and provides very useful guidance in relation to classroom practice. The teaching and learning activities aim to explore the interrelationships between the human and natural environments. The teachers endeavour to promote the pupils understanding of the local, regional, European and global themes. The development of a sense of place along with caring attitudes and responsible behaviour towards the environment are carefully promoted. The teachers are conscious of the impact of the pupils' literacy needs in this area of the curriculum and successfully employ teaching strategies and resources that are not overly dependent on written text. The themes and topics explored are made relevant to the pupils’ interests and experiences and good use is made of aspects of the local environment. The pupils have engaged purposefully in a wide range of cross- curricular thematic projects. In the classroom activities appropriate emphasis is given to the practice of the skills involved in investigating, researching, recording, discussing and sharing and reporting information. ICT is used effectively to support teaching and learning activities. Interesting work undertaken by the pupils is attractively presented in classrooms. The pupils enjoy discussing their work and display admirable interest and understanding of the topics explored.
The school plan sets out the rationale, vision, and the aims of the programme undertaken in Science, and is based on the Primary School Curriculum. All strands and strand units of the curriculum are explored over a two year cycle. The environmental studies programme undertaken, in conjunction with Science, also supports the school's efforts to maintain their Green Flag recognition. This is part of a whole school action for the environment and raising pupil awareness of environmental issues. Due attention is given to active learning approaches and the pupils have opportunities to engage in practical tasks such as planting, watering, composting, recycling, maintaining and experimenting.
The pupils were observed engaging purposefully in a range of science and environmental learning activities and clearly enjoyed this involvement. As in other areas of the SESE curriculum, the teachers make appropriate accommodation for the literacy needs of the pupils. Lessons were well organised and active pupil participation is facilitated. The pupils display a lively interest in Science and a concern for matters relating to the broader environment.
Activities in the area of Visual Arts afford pupils with specific language and writing difficulties an alternative medium to communicate with others. In St Oliver Plunkett’s the visual arts are used to foster pupils’ imagination and encourage the expression of personal thoughts and ideas without words. There is a strong emphasis on the creative process and all efforts of artistic expression are valued. The rationale, aims and objectives of the school’s visual arts programme along with information on planning, assessment and methodologies are detailed in the whole-school plan.
The school has acquired a good range of support material. Teachers have an annual budget for materials and a list of available resources is in the school plan. Classroom planning in the area typically features a schedule of monthly activities with links to specific strands and reference to the skills and concepts to be developed. The Visual Arts are linked and integrated through cross-curricular thematic projects with a variety of other subjects including English, SESE, Mathematics and Religious Education.
There are good levels of pupil engagement and enjoyment and sufficient evidence of pupil knowledge and skill. The school proudly mounts displays of pupils’ art work in the classrooms, corridors and hall. In the visual arts curriculum, pupils are encouraged to look at and respond to a wide variety of art work. A school-wide programme called Artist of the Month features each class over the year actively partaking in an in-depth study to learn about the life and work of a selected artist. At the end of the project, the class makes a presentation during a school assembly and their work is displayed in the hall. A trip to the National Gallery provides a link and a follow-up to Artist of the Month.
Each class in St Oliver Plunkett’s is timetabled with another class for a thirty minute weekly music lesson with an external tutor. The class teachers attend these lessons in a supporting capacity. The school explained that this was a temporary arrangement organised to enhance the professional development of the staff. As is stated in the Primary School Curriculum, since the music curriculum is closely linked with other arts subjects and integrated with other areas of the curriculum, the class teacher is the most appropriate person to teach the music programme. If teachers require professional development in this area, the school should seek support from the Primary Professional Development Service.
The external tutor and the class teachers co-operate to plan the lessons under the three Primary School Curriculum strands of listening and responding, performing and composing. Each month is devoted to a different topic such as time and keeping the beat or the orchestra and genres of music. The music subject plan notes the lesson objectives and some of the activities planned. Pupils were observed participating actively and constructively in a variety of music activities including exploring sounds, listening and responding, singing songs and playing instruments.
An arrangement with an external tutor providing drama for two classes for a thirty minute lesson each week is in place. The comments about the role of the class teachers and the professional development needs of teachers made in the section headed “Music” above, apply equally to the teaching of Drama.
There is a school plan for Drama which provides a weekly overview of the drama exercises and activities planned for the school year with references to the appropriate curriculum strand units and elements of drama. Poems, stories and seasonal themes are often used as stimuli. Teachers can best maximise drama’s educational potential with their knowledge of the whole curriculum as a prime source of subject-matter for drama-related activities. Drama also affords significant cross-curricular opportunities with a number of subjects including English, SPHE and SESE and these should be identified in classroom planning. Teachers, therefore, are urged to base teaching and learning activities in Drama on the Primary School Curriculum and the Drama Curriculum Guidelines as interdependent teaching resources.
Physical Education is provided through a thirty minute weekly lesson which focuses on skills development and games and a weekly aquatics session. In the first instance, two class groups are combined and taken by an external tutor with the two teachers in attendance. This lesson normally takes place in the paved play area behind the school but moves inside to the hall in inclement weather. The school has a range of equipment available to support these activities.
The observation of one lesson suggested that pupils were motivated to participate. It was clear that pupils enjoyed and profited from the lesson. The tutor was competent and well-organised and made an effort to include every pupil regardless of their level of ability. Commendably, one activity featured a link to the mathematics curriculum via a clock game where twelve pupils formed a circle to represent the position of the hours and others moved in various positions to show time changing or different times such as quarter past six.
In addition, every pupil in St Oliver Plunkett’s attends for swimming instruction in a local pool each Friday afternoon. They are accompanied by two teachers and a special needs assistant on a rota basis. Qualified staff at the pool provide the training.
The school plan for Physical Education requires further development and this should be targeted for the near future. In devising a whole-school plan for Physical Education, the school should consider the rationale for an external tutor and the role of the classroom teacher and how the school provision might cover the remaining three strands of dance, gymnastics, outdoor and adventure activities to ensure variety, balance and continuity. The costs to parents as well as the amount of time that is currently required for swimming, and the impact that these arrangements have on the time availability for other areas of the curriculum also need be critically examined.
A detailed school plan has been developed for SPHE. All strands and strand units of the curriculum are provided for over a two year period. The school is conscious that this curriculum area is particularly important in the context of pupils who have been experiencing specific learning disabilities. Careful attention is given to the promotion of the self-esteem of the pupils. The school places a strong emphasis on the promotion of a positive school climate. The school aims to promote a successful learning environment for pupils through a range of supportive features, including systems of effective communication, addressing individual pupil needs, providing attractive and health promoting school accommodation, paying attention to the self-esteem and well-being of the pupils and respecting diversity.
A broad programme of activities is undertaken in classrooms. Teaching approaches involve the use of a range of learning strategies, including drama, and circle time, co-operative games, discussion, surveys, projects and the use of ICT. Relationships and Sexuality Education is provided, as are the programmes developed for all schools in relation to personal safety and substance abuse. The themes and topics explored in classrooms provide for the personal and social development of the pupils along with opportunities to develop a greater understanding of health-promoting behaviour, community, the media, environmental issues, and the wider world. The school holds an assembly on a regular weekly basis. This provides an important opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the work and achievements of individuals and groups of pupils. The values and guiding rules of the school along with the sense of community are strengthened through these occasions. A pupils’ council has recently been established and this gives further opportunities for the voice and concerns of pupils to be recognised and accommodated in the ongoing work and life of the school.
The school has a well-established procedure for profiling pupils on entry using information gathered from previous schools, psychological assessment reports and parent interviews. Before entry, new pupils attend for an assessment day in the school. The results of these tests are used with the profiling information to establish a base-line for each pupil and to inform class placement and planning. New pupils are also screened by the speech and language therapist at a later date for speech-language difficulties. All of this information feeds into the individual education plans (IEPs) created by the class teachers using a school template.
A range of methods is used to track general progress including teacher observations, IEPs, work samples, progress record sheets and standardised and teacher-made tests. Literacy progress is measured through teacher checklists and periodic re-testing and through the use of recording charts which are part of the Wilson Reading System. The Wilson Assessment of Decoding and Encoding is used before and after teaching to collect criterion-referenced and diagnostic data to inform planning.
It is school policy to set and correct homework daily. Homework is seen as reinforcing learning, fostering independence and self-discipline and providing an integral link between home and school. Parents are guided in how to support their children in successfully completing homework and are asked to sign the pupil’s homework diary daily. Parents are encouraged to monitor their children’s progress through the school’s system of blue cards which record homework, class work and behaviour. Parent-teacher meetings are held three times each year. Parents also receive an annual end of year school report and are made welcome through an open door access policy.
Pupils vary in the rate that they respond to even the most effective teaching approaches, depending on where they are on the ‘specific learning disability continuum’, but in St Oliver Plunkett’s there is a good record of evidence of achievement. All teachers keep their pupils’ files with their profiles, IEPs and the results of standardised and diagnostic literacy and mathematics tests as well as checklists of learned sight words and samples of writing. In addition, the principal maintains a master record of all cumulative test scores to track and monitor every pupil’s progress.
The school has scheduled the existing policy on testing for review. This review should result in a whole-school assessment policy which clarifies the purposes of the various aspects of assessment in the school and shows how the results are used to inform teaching and learning and to reflect changes in practice.
All of the pupils attending St Oliver Plunkett’s have been assessed as having specific learning disabilities. In addition to this diagnosis, many pupils present with additional special needs such as attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, speech and language difficulties, Asperger Syndrome, dyspraxia and emotional-behavioural difficulties. Teachers are aware of the additional impact these conditions can bring to learning and the necessity of providing individual assistance and of differentiating what and how they teach and how they assess learning.
The school provides additional support for pupils through regular access to a psychologist from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and a speech and language therapist funded by the Health Services Executive (HSE). The school also has the support of six qualified special needs assistants. The SNAs have been allocated by the National Council for Special Educational Needs to support individual pupils but also provide support for others as needed. The SNAs collaborate with the teachers in their work and meet regularly. A discussion document on the role of SNAs in the school has been drafted and the school plans to develop this document into an SNA Policy.
St Oliver Plunkett’s is well-aware of the causal relationship between specific learning difficulties and low self-esteem and the possible resulting ‘learned helplessness’ that can stem from repeated failure despite a pupil’s best efforts to learn to read and write well. The school is also well-aware of the positive role that a school can play and consequently has in place a range of practices to encourage the development of the children’s self-esteem in parallel with their academic progress.
The school recognises the potential benefits assistive technology could bring to their target population and it is a stated priority of the school to acquire and implement assistive technology as required by pupils.
In line with the school's mission, a committed, caring and equitable approach is in evidence as the school endeavours to meet the learning needs of all its pupils. In providing for the needs of the pupils, the school liaises effectively with other professionals and agencies. A small number of children from minority backgrounds or who practice a religion other than Roman Catholicism attend the school. Currently there are no pupils from the Traveller community in attendance, nor are there pupils who require support with English as an additional language. It is recommended that staff should consider the use of the Guidelines on Intercultural Education in the Primary School in order to enable the current pupils to gain a broader understanding of intercultural issues, and as a means of enhancing the school's capacity to accommodate pupils from different social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds in the future.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The chairperson and board of management are very conscientious and committed in supporting and developing the work of the school.
· The principal is a highly motivated and effective leader, ably supported by a dedicated in-school management team.
· The professionalism of the teachers and the valued contribution of the speech and language therapist, along with the support of the special needs assistants and ancillary staff provide
a positive learning environment for the pupils.
· The collaborative undertaking of the whole school community to address the individual learning needs of pupils with specific learning difficulties
· There is a commendable and central focus on teaching of language and literacy across the school.
· The imaginative implementation of the visual arts programme and the engagement of pupils in this curriculum area.
· The staff awareness of the holistic needs of the pupils and the approach adopted to facilitate positive school experiences.
· The parental involvement in the development of the school and the effective home-school links.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Consideration should be given to the further development of strategies to support the implementation of the pupils’ individualised plans. It is recommended that the writing of specific
and individualised targets should be prioritised for future development. These targets should in turn feature in classroom plans with attention given to the expected learning outcomes of individual pupils.
· In reviewing curriculum policies, priority should be given to the review of the English/literacy policies.
· The rationale, need for, and continued employment of external tutors in a number of curriculum areas should be reviewed.
· To enhance the pupils’ understanding of cultural, ethnic and social issues, and to further develop the school's capacity to accommodate pupils from different backgrounds, consideration should be
given to the use of the Guidelines on Intercultural Education in the Primary School.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
· St Oliver Plunkett has the capacity to accommodate pupils from different cultural, ethnic and social backgrounds when these children are referred to the school by means of private
or NEPS educational psychological reports.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· The employment of external tutors for Drama and PE has been suspended. The employment of an external tutor for Music continues.
· Two teachers have been on a one-day course for the development of Individual Education Plans.
· A further Wilson System training course has been held in the school and the staff continues to debate the organisation of the programme.
· Teacher meetings have been reduced to ten minutes, three times per month.