An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

St Joseph’s Special School

Balrothery, Tallaght

Uimhir rolla: 19520H

 

 

Date of inspection:  16 March 2007

  Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007

 

 

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

2.     Quality of school management

3.     Quality of school planning

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

5.     Quality of support for pupils

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St Joseph’s Special School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers and examined pupils’ work. 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; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

St Joseph’s Special School caters for pupils with mild general learning disability.  Pupils aged from four to eighteen years are eligible for enrolment in the school. The school was established originally in Tallaght village and moved to its current site in 1981.  St Joseph’s School serves a wide catchment area in south west Dublin and north west Wicklow that includes Tallaght, Templeogue, Rathfarnham, Clondalkin, Lucan, Newcastle, Saggart, Rathcoole and Blessington. The school operates under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and has a locally constituted board of management. 

Enrolment on 30 September 2006 was 110 pupils.  The enrolment has dropped over the past fifteen years. However, there has been a small upward trend in the past two years. The enrolment of new pupils is now predominantly at the beginning of post-primary schooling. This is reflected in the age profile of the pupils: there are now two class groupings at primary level, four classes in transition from primary to post-primary, and seven classes at post-primary level. As well as mild general learning disability, some pupils have been diagnosed as having other conditions that impact on learning such as ADD, ADHD, and speech and language difficulties.  Many pupils live in areas of social and economic disadvantage.  Some pupils are described by school staff as presenting with challenging behaviour.

Full-time staffing in the school comprises sixteen teacher posts, (including the principal and an ex-quota post for language support) and sixteen special needs assistants. In addition, there are four part-time specialist teachers of Woodwork (fifteen hours per week), Home Economics (eighteen hours per week), Art (eighteen hours per week), and Information Technology (eighteen hours per week).  The ancillary staff includes a school secretary, caretaker and cleaning staff.

The pupils are placed in thirteen classes. The pupils are prepared for the Junior Certificate Examination, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and for Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) awards. Application has been made to provide the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and the school management is hopeful that St Joseph’s School will be accepted if additional schools are added to the JCSP scheme.

Transport of pupils to and from the school is provided on minibuses that are funded through the Department of Education and Science school transport scheme.  Bus escorts are provided on each of the buses.

Staff members are aware of the need to promote attendance by pupils and a number of initiatives are implemented to encourage the pupils to attend school. Class teachers monitor closely the attendance of individual pupils and credit for attendance is given to pupils through the school discipline programme. The principal and deputy principal support attendance by communicating with parents, by the arrangement of alternative programmes in school and, in individual cases, by bringing work out to a pupil’s home by arrangement with his/her parents. Staff indicated that valuable assistance in relation to school attendance is provided by the local education welfare officers. Contact is also made with social work services in relation to individual cases. However, despite the efforts of staff, the attendance rates by pupils in the FETAC and LCA classes are low. It is recommended that specific strategies to promote attendance by the senior pupils be devised. To further develop the attendance strategies that are in place and to comply with statutory requirements, it is also recommended that the board of management should prepare and submit to the Education Welfare Board a school attendance strategy as required under section 22 of the Education Welfare Act 2000. 

 

The school maintains contact with further education and training institutions, and advice and support is provided to pupils during their final years in St Joseph’s School.  Efforts are made to inform pupils and parents in relation to the options that are available. Visits by pupils to training and further education institutions are facilitated.

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

 

The board of management is properly constituted and meets approximately five times per year.  Additional meetings are arranged as required.  Topics discussed at meetings of the board include staffing, the maintenance and renovation of the school building, school finances, matters of health and safety within the school and issues related to individual pupils. Two members of the board have attended training courses for members of boards of management. At the pre-evaluation meeting with the board, all board members indicated their willingness to attend training as opportunities become available. The board has ratified the school policies and procedures that are contained in the school plan.  Board members identified the quality and commitment of the staff, the success of the pupils in certificate examinations and the positive relationships between staff and pupils as strengths of the school. 

Board members identified the general level of funding available to run the school as a matter of significant concern. Improvements to the school grounds, the provision of broadband throughout the school, and additional opportunities for pupils in practical subjects were singled out as areas for development. A shortage of professional support services for pupils with significant language, emotional, behavioural and social needs was identified, in particular the need for educational psychological services, counselling for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties and speech and language therapy services.

2.2 In-school management

The in-school management team consists of the principal, the deputy principal and six teachers who hold posts of responsibility. The principal displays a high degree of commitment and dedication in the performance of her duties.  She provides consistent support for staff and pupils.  She works assiduously to advance the capacity of the school to provide the pupils with an education that is challenging and appropriate to their needs. She endeavours to motivate and involve staff in collaborative planning and practice. She welcomes and facilitates the involvement of parents in supporting the work of the school. The principal, deputy principal and experienced staff members provide support for newly-appointed teachers. The support structures also include a useful induction pack that contains information on school policies and procedures. 

The deputy principal implements a range of responsibilities at whole-school level. She takes a leading role in relation to supporting the management of pupil behaviour and the provision of advice and support to teachers. The deputy principal is not assigned to formal teaching duties. A substantial range of responsibilities is also devolved to the teachers who hold posts of responsibility. These responsibilities encompass specific areas of school organisation, curriculum and pastoral care. Post-holders report progress and discuss issues related to their respective posts with staff members at “level” meetings and at full staff meetings during the course of the year.  It is clear that the teachers who hold posts of responsibility are making a significant contribution to the operation of the school.

The duties attached to the posts are based on discussions that took place within the school a number of years ago. The duties have been reviewed, but not significantly changed, during the current year. It is recommended that the responsibilities for post-holders be reviewed in order to reflect the future priorities for the school. An objective of the review might be to link the work of each post-holder with specific aspects of school development planning. This would give each post-holder the opportunity to contribute to the management of change and school development into the future. It is also recommended that a structure and timeframe for the periodic review of the duties attached to the posts be set out in the school plan.

 

2.3 Management of resources

 

There are fourteen class teacher posts, and one ex-quota post for language support (language-resource teacher) at St Joseph’s School. The language-resource teacher works with a number of pupils on a one-to-one basis. Most teachers have primary teacher training. Two teachers have post-primary training.  Staff members are encouraged to attend in-service courses and many have availed of professional development opportunities. About half of the teachers have completed the one-year diploma in special education that is recognised by the Department of Education and Science. Staff members have also undertaken additional training in areas of the curriculum and in the management of challenging behaviour. Teachers are given the opportunity to work at different class levels at regular intervals. Staff meetings are held five times per year in accordance with agreed arrangements. Issues discussed at staff meetings include the supervision and management of pupils, school events such as concerts and celebrations and the operation of whole-school policies and procedures. New staff and substitute teachers are mentored by the principal and deputy principal and there is a school-created induction pack in each classroom. The range of curriculum options is extended through allocation by the VEC of four part-time specialist teachers for Woodwork, Art, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Home Economics.  In addition, there is a teacher of Irish dancing (one day per week), and coaches for basketball, football and swimming. The cost of the teacher of Irish dancing and the coaches is borne by the board of management with some contributions by the pupils.

 

A total of seventeen special needs assistants have been allocated to the school. Thirteen are assigned to classes and four to support the special educational needs of individual pupils. The special needs assistants contribute sensitively and skilfully to supporting the pupils under the guidance of the classroom teachers. Teachers and special needs assistants meet formally once per week in each class to discuss the needs of the pupils and to agree work plans for the special needs assistants for the following week. The in-service training that has been provided for special needs assistants includes manual handling and the management of challenging behaviour. It would be helpful to set out the specific duties and responsibilities for special needs assistants in a school   policy document.

 

Ancillary staff includes a secretary, a caretaker and cleaning staff. The full-time secretary provides important administrative support. She performs a broad range of functions including arranging payments for the staff members who are employed by the board of management.  A full-time caretaker takes responsibility for opening and closing the school and for general maintenance tasks. The school is cleaned daily by a part-time cleaner and is well-maintained.

 

The school building contains twelve classrooms and six additional teaching rooms for language support, Woodwork, Home Economics, Information and Communications Technology, Art and Pottery. There are also a number of shared areas outside adjoining classrooms that are used for group work and for joint activities for pupils from different classes. The shared areas are also used by pupils of similar age for social and collaborative activities. Additional small rooms in the school are used for games, first aid and photocopying. There is a staff room, a multi-purpose room and a hall which is suitable for whole-school assemblies and physical education activities. Offices are provided for the principal, the deputy principal, the LCA co-ordinator and the secretary. The Home Economics room is a fully-functioning kitchen with a good range of appliances and utensils, while the woodwork room has a stock of suitable machinery and tools. Considerable investment has been made recently in creating a dedicated computer room with twelve up-to-date networked computers with broadband connection. Most of the classrooms also have computers. Many of these machines are quite dated. Thus, their value in teaching and learning is somewhat limited. The school has good outdoor space for recreation and for Physical Education. There is a hard-surface area, and a large, well-maintained grass area for recreation. A swimming pool in a nearby community school is used for swimming classes.

 

The school building and immediate environment are well-maintained, and offer a bright, clean and safe environment for teaching and learning. The building is now in good condition following the completion of an extensive refurbishment programme which included the replacement of the roof.  The board of management and the staff are commended for the creation of an attractive and stimulating learning environment for the pupils. The teachers have created age-appropriate, stimulating and well-organised classroom environments for their pupils. The classrooms and hallways feature commercially-produced and teacher-made charts and pictures. Photographs of school events and examples of pupils’ art and project work in different areas of the curriculum are displayed.

 

The classrooms contain a range of reading materials and reference books and the pupils regularly visit the local library. Classroom-based teaching resources include subject-related equipment that is appropriate to the needs of the pupils. Teachers have created their own teaching materials to supplement the published materials available in the school. The school provides all the pupils’ books and workbooks as well as stationery. Parents are asked to make a voluntary annual contribution.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

Significant efforts are made to foster good relations with the parents of the pupils and to involve them in their children’s education and generally in the life of the school. A series of events throughout the school year is organised for parents, including monthly coffee mornings and meetings for new parents to make them familiar with school policies and practices. “Open mornings” are arranged for the benefit of parents whose children are in their final year in the school. These occasions are attended by representatives of further education institutions and training organisations, who provide useful advice in relation to the opportunities that are available for pupils following the completion of their education in St Joseph’s School.  Parents support the school through the parent representatives on the board of management. Recent efforts to form a parents’ association have so far proved unsuccessful due apparently to distances that many parents live from the school, the reluctance of parents to travel out at night and difficulties with transport.

The school maintains an open-door policy so that parents can easily access members of the in-school management and teaching staff to discuss issues related to their children. Pupil progress reports are given verbally at bi-annual parent-teacher meetings, where parents can formally discuss their child’s progress. Communication with parents is also facilitated through the use of home-school journals, weekly behaviour record cards, attendance at concerts and the provision of end-of-year written reports to parents of pupils in the junior part of the school. In order to provide information to parents and to facilitate their involvement in their children’s education, provision of a written report to parents of all pupils is recommended.  

The school facilitates the organisation of a youth club on one evening per week.  The youth club is organised by a group of past-parents and is used mainly by past-pupils.

Staff members argued that considerable benefits could accrue to the school from the appointment of a home-school teacher.  They indicated that although the majority of the pupils are living in areas of educational disadvantage, none of the programmes for schools in areas of educational disadvantage are available to St Joseph’s School. They suggested that a home-school teacher would support pupil attendance, and liaise with individual parents in relation to learning, behaviour and attendance. A home-school teacher could also involve parents more fully in the IEP process. The current involvement of the deputy principal in home-school work is facilitated by the decision of school management to relieve the deputy principal of class-teaching duties.

 

2.5 Management of pupils 

 

Staff members interact in a caring and supportive manner with pupils.  There is an atmosphere of friendly and respectful interaction between pupils.  Classroom discipline is maintained within the context of positive relationships between staff and pupils. As pupils progress through the school they experience an age-related progression in the classroom atmosphere and in the degree of independence and responsibility that is expected of them.

The school plan contains a carefully constructed behaviour policy / code of discipline that was developed in 1999 following considerable research. The policy, and the manner in which it is implemented, promotes a general consistency of approach throughout the school. The deputy principal co-ordinates the implementation of school policy. Each pupil is allocated a personal record card, with sections relating to the three teaching segments of the school day and the two break periods. The teachers write an individual record of each pupil’s behaviour on his/her card. Marks are awarded or deducted for positive or negative behaviour. The cards are sent home for signing by parents at the end of each week. The achievement of behaviour targets is rewarded by verbal affirmation and class and school prizes. Repeated inappropriate behaviour is the subject of sanctions that may include break-time detention and formal contact with parents.

It is noted that the school discipline policy focuses to a considerable extent on the management of challenging behaviour. The policy does not fully reflect the many affirmative actions that are taken by management and staff to promote positive behaviour among the pupils. Some staff members contended that arising from the enrolment of pupils with more complex needs including challenging behaviour, the achievement of an appropriate standard of discipline to enable effective teaching and learning to take place has become more difficult. It is recommended that the school policy on behaviour and discipline be reviewed. The review should give due emphasis to positive strategies for behaviour management and aim to help staff identify the antecedents for negative behaviours. Strategies for the management of complex challenging behaviour should be examined. The provision of further training opportunities for staff should be considered in light of the review.

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

 

Whole-school planning has been identified by the staff and board of management as a priority area. Successful initiatives in recent years include the introduction of the LCA and FETAC programmes. The development of Primary School Curriculum policies and the possible introduction of pre-school classes have been identified as priority areas for development.

Considerable progress has been made in drawing up and revising whole-school organisational and curriculum policies and procedures. School development planning days and staff meeting have been used profitably for this purpose.  Draft policies and procedures have been discussed at staff meetings and have been presented to the board of management for discussion and ratification.  The school plan now contains a wide-ranging series of school policies in organisational and curricular areas. These policies provide helpful information for the school community in relation to matters such as enrolment, health and safety, the school calendar, the responsibilities of staff, resources, the supervision of pupils, the management of behaviour, health and safety, first aid and the delivery of the curriculum.

Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.

Notwithstanding the progress that has been made, it is recommended that the curriculum and organisational policies in the school plan be further developed in order to bring about greater clarity for staff members and to guide the delivery of the curriculum in a progressive manner throughout the school. The alternative pathways that are provided to meet the varying needs and abilities of the pupils, particularly the range of curriculum and certification options at post-primary level should be stated. An overview of each area of the curriculum should be included, showing how the curriculum changes and develops at different class levels. Curriculum policies could set out, for example, how reading skills, knowledge of mathematics and themes related to the seasons, the environment, personal development and significant festivals during the year will be treated in a progressive fashion as the pupils move onwards through the different class levels. Organisational policies should contain the rationale for the policy, the responsibilities of staff members and pupils, and a statement of strategy for the review of the policy.

It is recommended that as a first step, an action plan identifying the key areas to be addressed and containing a timetable for the review should be devised.  All staff members should be encouraged to contribute to the planning process. Members of staff who hold posts of responsibility can make a key contribution by taking responsibility for guiding specific policies through the development and implementation processes. The involvement and contribution of parents, pupils and other members of the school community, as appropriate, can be facilitated prior to the presentation of draft policies to the board of management for ratification. 

 

 

3.2 Classroom planning 

 

New procedures were introduced in the school recently in relation to classroom planning and recording of progress. It is stipulated in the school plan that “all teachers should have a scheme of work for the year and class notes”. It is also stated that “all teachers should have progress reports/records for all pupils in their class … updated during the term”. Unevenness in the quality of teachers’ planning was noted. The features that are generally present in the teachers’ planning notes include a weekly timetable, and long-term and short-term plans for the delivery of the curriculum. Short-term planning is carried out on a weekly, monthly or bi-monthly basis. Curriculum plans are often content orientated and are unclear in relation to the means by which lesson content will be presented and differentiated to take account of the range of ability among the pupils in a class.

 

It is recommended that teachers’ short-term planning be configured in accordance with Rule 126 of the Rules for National Schools. Timetables should contain the names of curriculum areas as specified in official curriculum documentation. Scope for development in the recording of progress was also noted.  Greater specificity in the recording of work completed in class and the maintenance of an account of the progress of individual pupils will facilitate the beneficial use of progress records in forward planning.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The overall quality of teaching and learning in St Joseph’s School is good. Given the broad range of learning needs of the pupils, the school responds well generally to the need to provide a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum. Positive collaboration among teachers was noted. The teachers endeavour to present lessons in an engaging manner and suitable resources are employed to engage the children in learning. Profitable use is made of concrete materials especially in the primary classes. In most cases, the lessons that were observed were well paced and included appropriate content and learning activities. Due attention was directed towards the creation of a positive learning environment and most pupils engaged enthusiastically in their respective tasks.  In some classes, there was an excessive reliance by teachers on textbooks and on workbooks as the basis for teaching and learning. It is recommended that more frequent opportunities for active learning be provided. The arrangement of co-operative learning groups would facilitate discussion, exploration of ideas, and interaction between the pupils.

 

In general, the teachers seek to differentiate their teaching to take account of the range of attainments and learning needs of their pupils. Staff might consider the possibility of reorganising the pupils, particularly in the primary and junior post-primary classes, in order to create more homogeneous groups for lessons in English and Mathematics.

 

The decision in recent years to add FETAC and LCA programmes is a positive initiative that provides a focus for teaching and learning and valuable certification opportunities for pupils in the senior classes. It is clear that some pupils are deriving considerable benefit from their participation in FETAC and LCA programmes. However, the low rate of attendance by some pupils in these classes is a matter for concern. Staff contended that the low attendance rates among these pupils arose mainly from factors external to the school.

 

In this report the areas of the curriculum are discussed under the six curricular areas of the Primary School Curriculum. References to subjects that are provided at post-primary level only are made within the primary curricular area that is most suitable.   In the primary classes, all areas of the Primary School Curriculum with the exception of Irish are presented. Pupils in the Junior Certificate classes attend lessons in English, Mathematics, History, Home Economics, Woodwork, Art, Music, Physical Education, and Information Technology. Pupils who are preparing for FETAC awards are provided with the following subjects: English, Mathematics, Science/Characteristics of Living Things, Horticulture, Woodwork, Home Economics, Art, Music, Drama, Social Personal and Health Education / Personal Care and Presentation / Social Education, Physical Education, and Information Technology. The following subjects are provided to pupils in LCA classes: English/Communication, French, Mathematical Applications, Art Craft and Design, Social Education, Information Technology, Vocational Preparation and Guidance, Hotel, Catering and Tourism Leisure and Recreation, and Physical Education.

 

4.2 Language

 

Irish

Irish language is not offered as a subject in St Joseph’s School. However, it was noted that cross-curricular themes related to Irish culture are presented. For example, at the time of the evaluation, the pupils were taking part in a broad range of activities in Music, Visual Arts, History and Drama in preparation for the celebration of St Patrick’s Day. It is recommended that teachers make greater use of Irish incidentally during the day in order to give the pupils the opportunity to become familiar with common Irish words and phrases. The introduction of Irish as an option in LCA might also be considered, particularly for pupils who have studied Irish prior to enrolment in St Joseph’s School..

 

English

Good practice was observed in the teaching of English language in many of the primary and Junior Certificate classes. Positive features include the implementation of carefully structured programmes in oral language and the attention that is paid to the provision of opportunities for language development in other areas of the curriculum. The primary classrooms in particular are supplied with a good range of reading schemes, class library books and other developmental reading materials. Print-rich wall displays are in evidence. The teaching of reading, writing and oral language is frequently linked to broad language experiences based on class discussions, stories, poems and songs and discussion of daily events. The pupils use “individual” readers and their reading is monitored on a number of days per week by the teacher or the special needs assistant. Good practice was observed in the use of the class novel. Newspapers were also used effectively for reading and language activities. In general, the pupils are provided with a varied range of functional and creative writing opportunities and their work is monitored by the teachers and special needs assistants. Effective use of grouping arrangements for language activities was noted in some classes.

 

There is considerable variability in the reading attainments of the pupils in the primary and Junior Certificate classes.  Some pupils are reading independently, while other pupils are at an early stage in learning to read. The development of the reading skills of the less-able readers could be advanced by devoting more time to the formal teaching of reading skills, and the use of approaches such as repeated reading, paired reading and silent reading. It was noted that the reading material in some classes needs to be renewed, particularly the availability of more age-appropriate reading materials for the older pupils.  It is recommended therefore that the school policy on the teaching of English be reviewed. The feasibility of developing a school library with a range of age-appropriate and stimulating printed, electronic and aural material should also be investigated.

 

In the FETAC and LCA classes, good practice was also observed in the delivery of the English programme. Teachers avail of the cross-curricular opportunities to utilise and consolidate the pupils’ developing literacy and communication. Pupils use a variety of texts and teacher-made and media materials and resources to support their learning. Written work completed by the pupils is filed and stored in the classroom for continuous assessment. This system allows both teacher and pupil to monitor progress. Homework is set, collected and corrected daily.  Observation suggests that while whole-class teaching is the dominant mode of instruction in these classes, small class numbers allow the use of active learning methodologies and pupils work at their own pace through planned sequences of activities. Individualised, in-class support is consistently provided by the teacher and the special needs assistants. Additional support is provided by the occasional withdrawal of some pupils to work with a special needs assistant.

 

French

In compliance with the requirements of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme, pupils undertake modules in French as a modern foreign language. Pupils’ completed written work, including their key assignments, is collated for the continuous assessment feature of the course evaluation. The pupils are also prepared for a terminal exam that has oral, aural and written components. The pupils seem to enjoy the challenge of learning a foreign language. Like other modules there is a utilitarian approach to the language which is reflected in the module titles “Social Relationships”, and “Travelling and Finding the Way”. The walls of the shared area outside of the LCA classrooms feature pupil-made posters on various aspects of French life and France. These posters are products of pupil research and the active learning methodologies promoted in the LCA courses.

 

4.3 Mathematics

 

In general, a suitable range of mathematical topics is presented in the primary and junior post-primary classes. Good planning for Mathematics was noted in most classes. Objectives and methodologies for teaching and learning are clearly specified in the teachers’ plans. In most classes, good organisational arrangements including grouping and individualisation of learning were observed.  The teachers endeavoured to differentiate the level of difficulty of tasks in accordance with the abilities of the pupils. Demonstration, explanation, discussion and hands-on experiences were used profitably to enable the pupils develop mathematical understanding.  Positive use was made of practical materials and teachers often endeavoured to link concepts to the pupils’ experiences. Good practice in using the calculator was noted.

 

Examples of good practice in FETAC and LCA classes included the clear explanation and use of mathematical terms, the direct engagement of pupils through careful questioning, the efforts to make cross-curricular links, and the provision of support and encouragement to individual pupils by the teacher and the special needs assistant. The teachers use a variety of textbooks and commercial resources as well as numerous teacher-designed worksheets and activities to promote learning and the achievement of the set objectives and learning outcomes.

 

The standard of the pupils’ exercise books, homework and portfolios that were examined during the inspection varied in effort and presentation, but showed that all were making progress. 

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

In the junior primary classes, History, like other areas of SESE, is approached largely on an integrated basis and linked to themes and activities in SPHE and Language. As the pupils progress through the school the focus on History is strengthened by its inclusion among the school’s target subjects for Junior Certificate.  Teachers use a range of textbooks and other resources to support learning. Thematic and activity-based learning are widely used, though there may be an increased emphasis on desk-top learning in context of examination preparation.  A centrally located collection of historical artefacts is a significant addition to the stock of teaching aids.

 

Geography

Classroom timetables and planning documents show less emphasis on Geography than on other aspects of Social Environmental and Scientific Education. This may be related to the way in which the school’s curriculum has developed at the post-primary stage, where Geography is not offered for Junior Certificate, LCA or FETAC.  Important content and skills in Geography are addressed on a cross-curricular basis in the primary classes. This approach continues into the post-primary classes.  Where such a cross-curricular approach is used it is important to ensure that the linkages between subjects are clearly identified in classroom planning and that school planning indicates how themes and skills will be revisited and developed as the pupils progress through the school.

 

Science

The Science component of Social, Environmental and Scientific Education receives significant attention at the different age-levels.  Lessons observed, where Science was the main focus or part of a wider, seasonal or environmental theme, engaged students attention and participation.  Much of the work done in the areas of Home Economics and Horticulture provides a practical context for extending the pupils’ understanding of key concepts from the strands of the Science curriculum. It is suggested that these valuable linkages be highlighted in classroom and school planning.

 

Woodwork

A specialist Woodwork teacher works in the school for three days per week.  Pupils aged eleven to thirteen, approximately, attend every second week and are introduced to simple woodwork activities using basic tools. Older pupils attend more frequently and progress to more complex projects. Pupils successfully complete assigned tasks for the Junior Certificate and for FETAC awards. In the lessons observed, the classroom atmosphere was positive and the pupils’ interest and engagement were sustained. Classroom space and materials were well used.  The tasks were clearly outlined and valuable individualised support was provided by the teacher with support from a special-needs assistant. 

 

Home Economics

Home Economics programmes are provided to pupils from age eleven upwards. The classroom for Home Economics is spacious, well equipped and well organised. A high level of pupil engagement is facilitated by well-structured lessons that allow for discussion and development of theory, while emphasising practical activity. The lessons are well planned and pupil progress is systematically assessed.  In addition to allowing the older pupils to develop age-appropriate life-skills and to achieve external certification, the Home Economics activities complement the general school curriculum in SESE and other areas. Curriculum planning at school and classroom level should focus attention on ensuring that these cross-curricular linkages are identified and utilised effectively.

 

Horticulture

Pupils in the FETAC classes pursue two SESE-related FETAC (NCVA) level 3 modules, ‘Living Things in their Environment’ and ‘Horticulture’. The former module provides a basic introduction to the study and investigation of living things while the latter facilitates active involvement in cultivating plants. The walls of both the classrooms and adjacent hallways display photos and posters of living things and the classrooms exhibit class projects including an indoor greenhouse and a worm farm.

 

The pupils plant and maintain the school’s courtyard as well as contributing to the horticultural work in the area beside the local church. Every Wednesday and Friday afternoons during school time the FETAC pupils walk the short distance to Tymon Park to work in a plot which has been loaned to the school by the park. The plot has been fitted out with raised beds, a composter, a black board and seating by park staff who are available for advice. Here the pupils plant and tend their own vegetables and flowers.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

Activities in Visual Arts are well organised and provide the pupils with enjoyable and worthwhile experiences.  The pupils are engaged in activities with drawing, paint, colour, print, clay, and fabric and fibre.  The pupils’ art works are frequently completed to a high standard and are displayed prominently in the classrooms and in general areas throughout the school. Activities in Visual Arts are used profitably to consolidate and extend learning in other aspects of the curriculum. The pupils often achieve success in local and national art competitions with positive benefits for their own self-esteem and for the general profile of the school.  A specialist teacher works with the pupils in preparation for the Junior Certificate, the LCA and FETAC awards. The pupils work progressively through the stages of skill development and task completion. The practical and written elements of the tasks are completed successfully and the pupils typically achieve certification in these examinations.

 

Music

The pupils are given access to a wide variety of suitable activities in Music, including song-singing, voice-training, rhythm and percussion, and movement to music. A teacher, who works as a specialist teacher of music on two days per week, leads the preparation and presentation of Music to classes throughout the school. Activities in Music are linked to learning in other aspects of the curriculum with beneficial outcomes for the pupils. A school choir is formed each year and this enables pupils who have a particular interest in music to sing a broad selection of songs. Opportunities for performance arise at the weekly assembly and at school concerts. Good practice in the teaching of Music was observed during the evaluation and the pupils participated in the activities eagerly and with enjoyment.

 

Drama

Drama is not timetabled generally throughout the school as a formal subject. However, in some classes, Drama activities are presented as an element of teaching and learning in areas of the curriculum such as English and Social, Personal and Health Education. A module in Drama is presented successfully to the classes that are preparing for FETAC awards. During the current school year, the teachers are undertaking in-career development training in Drama with the Primary Curriculum Support Programme. Staff members are aware of the potential of Drama for the pupils of this school. At the time of the evaluation, the school policy on Drama was being developed.

 

4.6 Physical Education

 

Suitable facilities are available for P.E. There is a large school hall and extensive outdoor grassed and hard surface play areas. Use is also made of the swimming pool in a local community school and of a football pitch in a local public park. Both are within easy walking distance of the school.  A large stock of suitable equipment for PE and games has been collected. Coaches for basketball and football augment the programmes that are provided by the teachers.

 

A comprehensive programme of activities in P.E. is presented to pupils throughout the school. Commendable efforts are made to ensure that each pupil has access to activities that interest him/her. The activities include games, outdoor activities, athletics, gymnastics, Irish dancing and swimming. The games include mini-ball games, soccer, basketball, bowling, badminton and indoor hockey. Emphasis is placed on participation and enjoyment. Attention is also paid to the development of ball skills such as handling, throwing and kicking, and the understanding of competitive tactics and strategies in games. Outdoor activities include orienteering, walking and cross-country running. Each year, some pupils are taken on a visit to an outdoor adventure centre.  All pupils, except those in some examination classes, attend a lesson in Irish dancing on one day per week.  As observed during the evaluation, many pupils are making good progress in Irish dancing as they progress upwards through the school. All pupils are given the opportunity to attend swimming lessons in a local swimming pool over the course of the year.  A swimming lesson that was observed during the evaluation was well organised. There was positive interaction between the instructors and the pupils. The pupils worked in three ability groups and engaged in structured activities as directed by their instructors. An in-school swimming gala is held at the end of the school year. A broad range of games and activities that include football, basketball, darts, table-tennis, and a variety of board games is included in these competitions. The emphasis is placed on giving each pupil the opportunity to participate in an activity at his/her own level. As well as opportunities to participate in various within-school competitions, arrangements are also made for the pupils to participate in competitions with other schools.

 

The pupils who are preparing for FETAC awards complete modules in Health Related Fitness and Swimming. Over their two year course, the LCA pupils work to complete three modules in the areas of leisure and recreation. These programmes are designed to enable the pupils to acquire healthy living skills, to participate in active leisure pursuits, and to motivate them to live an active life. The modules also encourage co-operation between the pupils and allow for the development of personal and social skills.

 

The teachers and special needs assistants successfully organise games on one afternoon per week. The pupils choose favourite activities from a wide range of outdoor and indoor pursuits that include ball and board games. These activities also provide opportunities for the pupils to relate to pupils from other classes, thus broadening their experiences and helping them to enhance their social interaction skills.

 

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education 

 

The programme in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) for pupils in primary classes draws appropriately on the relevant strands of the Primary School Curriculum as well as programmes including Stay Safe, Walk Tall and Relationships and Sexuality Education. In addition, suitable cross-curricular links are made with the Social, Environmental and Scientific Education curriculum. The areas of personal safety, social skills and personal development are examined, as well as themes related to self, family, community and responsibilities in relation to the wider world.  Through effective planning and delivery, teachers work to ensure that the content of the lessons and the teaching strategies employed are appropriate to the ages and cognitive abilities of the pupils. There is also an emphasis on everyday life skills and personal safety in a range of circumstances. Pupils are encouraged and rewarded to attend, respond, and interact throughout the school day. The profitable use of puppets, and the successful implementation of “circle time” activities, drama and role play were observed during the evaluation.

 

The teachers of the Junior Certificate classes draw from the SPHE programme in both the Primary School Curriculum and the Junior Certificate to select the objectives, methodologies, activities and resources appropriate to the pupils’ ages and needs. Some aspects of the SPHE programme are also covered in the Religious Education and the Home Economics programmes. Pupils in the FETAC classes work on the module ‘Personal and Interpersonal Skills’ with units on self-awareness and decision making. LCA pupils study six modules in the area of Social Education which focus on their personal and social development. The course content is particularly useful in preparing pupils for their future transition to independent living. Effective methodologies employed in the senior section of the school include co-operative learning, discussion, debate and role play.

 

A whole-school assembly is held on each Friday morning. This time is used to celebrate the efforts and accomplishments of individual pupils and classes.  On one occasion during the course of the year, each junior class presents a theme to the other classes, e.g. “Say No to Strangers”. This is a commendable practice which engages the pupils with the theme in question and helps to consolidate their understanding.

 

4.8 Assessment  

 

A wide range of assessment tools, including teacher observation, skills checklists, standardised tests, teacher-designed tasks, pupil work samples, and project work is used in the school to monitor the progress of individual pupils and to aid lesson planning. For senior pupils, portfolio assessment is a key feature of the modules accredited by FETAC, as is the tracking and recording of progress in the Key Assignments of the LCA programme. In addition, a significant number of senior pupils undergo summative assessment through participation in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations. The language-resource teacher compiles information on the pupils’ attainments in literacy and numeracy through the administration of standardised tests at the beginning of the school year. All test data are made available to the class teachers in order to assist in the development of programmes and the monitoring of the pupils’ progress.

 

The teachers in the junior section of the school keep monthly progress reports for each pupil and complete individual pupil progress reports at the end of each term. The reports include lists of the curriculum content that was covered plus an update of a basic social competencies skills checklist. The teachers are encouraged to meet and to share this information with the next class teacher at the beginning of each school year. Daily homework is used to reinforce work that has been done in class. The school policy notes that if homework is causing friction between parents and pupil, it should be reviewed.

 

A useful range of assessment processes is already in place. Nevertheless, it is recommended that the school policy on assessment be reviewed in order to examine the purposes of assessment and to consider the value of the information that is gathered through current assessment practices. In revising the school policy, attention should be paid to refining the systems for recording the outcomes of learning, the use of assessment information in the selection of learning objectives for each class, and the setting of individualised targets for the pupils in their IEPs.

 

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs  

 

As well as mild general learning disability, some pupils have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and challenging behaviour. Three pupils have epilepsy and a further five are diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. At the time of the evaluation, staff reported that a number of pupils are taking medication regularly as a support to the management of their behaviour. As a result of his challenging behaviour, one pupil was attending school for a “short-day”, by arrangement with the National Education Welfare Board. The school works collaboratively with local community care, specialist learning disability services, and mental health services in supporting the pupils. Staff pointed out that the current availability of specialist professional support is inadequate. The shortage of speech and language therapy services was identified as an area of particular concern. It is noted that the school management has made application to the HSE for additional support.

 

The language-resource teacher provides useful additional support to selected pupils in primary and junior post-primary classes who have specific needs in the areas of speech or language. Support is also provided to selected pupils who have autism or “emotional-linguistic” difficulties. Programmes are provided in areas such as oral language, pre-reading, early reading, reading comprehension, grammar, and language for pupils who are learning English as a second language.

 

During the year of the whole school evaluation, staff members had commenced the process of developing an individual education plan (IEP) for each pupil. One whole-school development planning day was devoted to planning a format and structure for IEPs. A template for IEPs was agreed. Completion of the template requires the teacher to summarise previous assessment information, to note the pupil’s strengths and needs, to prioritise learning needs, and to identify learning targets, teaching strategies, and appropriate teaching resources. At the time of the evaluation, commendable progress had been made by some teachers in drawing up IEPs for their pupils. However, in general, there was scope for further development in the formulation of targets for learning. It is recommended that staff members continue to develop the IEP process within the school. Areas to be further developed include the setting of specific targets for learning, the drawing up of an IEP policy document, and making arrangements for the involvement of parents in the writing, implementation and review stages.

 

Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

As is pointed out above, laudable efforts are made to provide the pupils of St Joseph’s School with a broad range of educational experiences.  A monetary contribution is requested of parents to defray certain costs, for example school books, swimming and trips to places of interest outside the school. However, access to resources and participation in these opportunities is not dependant on a pupil’s ability to pay. 

 

As a special national school, the school’s resource allocation is based on the special educational needs of the pupils rather than on the social, cultural or ethnic backgrounds of the pupils. The school therefore is not a participant in Department of Education and Science programmes related to educational disadvantage. The catchment area that the school serves contains a number of areas in which families experience social and educational disadvantage.  Staff members contended that since many of the pupils live in areas of educational disadvantage, disadvantaged status should be allocated to the school. The advantage for the school would be the allocation of additional resources such as the post of home school community liaison teacher, the provision of additional funding and inclusion in schemes such as the school retention scheme.

 

Two “newcomer” pupils and three Traveller children are enrolled. These pupils are fully integrated into the general pupil population. Additional support is provided where necessary in accordance with each pupil’s special educational needs. This support includes additional English language support from the language-resource teacher for pupils who are learning English as a second language. In order to take account of the increasingly multi-ethnic nature of the communities in which the pupils live and of Irish society in general, it is recommended that a school policy on inter-culturalism be drawn up and implemented.

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         The board of management provides positive support for the school;

·         The board of management and the staff are commended for the creation of an attractive and stimulating learning environment for the pupils;

·         The principal and teachers have considerable levels of experience and expertise;

·         The teachers and special needs assistants are committed to the pupils and are commended for the many examples of good practice that were observed during the evaluation;

·         Staff members endeavour to promote positive home-school links;

·         The members of the ancillary staff make valuable contributions to the operation of school;

·         Many attractive examples of the pupil’s work in different areas of the curriculum are displayed both in the classrooms and in general areas of the school;

·         A wide range of resources is provided for teaching and learning;

·         The staff and board of management have made significant progress in the development of the organisational and curriculum policies in the school plan.

 

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

·         Strategies should be devised to promote attendance, particularly by pupils in the LCA and FETAC classes, and a school attendance strategy as required under section 22 of the Education Welfare Act 2000 should be submitted to the Education Welfare Board;

·         The duties of teachers with posts of responsibility should be reviewed in order to reflect the future priorities for the school and to link the work of the post-holders with school development planning;  

·         The specific duties and responsibilities of special needs assistants should be formalised and recorded in a policy document in the school plan;

·         A written progress report should be provided annually to the parents of all pupils;

·         The code of behaviour and discipline policy should be reviewed with the objective of giving due emphasis to positive strategies for behaviour management and helping staff members identify the antecedents for negative behaviours;

·         The organisational and curriculum policies in the school plan should be reviewed in order to bring about greater clarity for staff members and to guide the delivery of the curriculum in a progressive manner throughout the school;  

·         A review of school policy and practice in relation to assessment should be carried out in order to examine the purposes of assessment and consider the value of the information that is gathered through assessment practices;

·         An IEP policy document should be finalised, setting out the procedures for the drawing up of IEPs and should include the arrangements for the setting of specific targets for learning, the involvement of parents and the review of progress at specific time intervals.

 

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.