An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil Aonghusa Special School,
Cahir Road, Cashel, Co. Tipperary
Roll number: 19615S
Date of inspection: 26 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Aonghusa. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the reporting-inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers and the schoolís board of management. Both the reporting-inspector and the supporting-inspector held a pre-evaluation meeting with the parentsí representatives on the board of management. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils, examined pupilsí work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning records and teachersí written preparation, and met with in-school management personnel. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Scoil Aonghusa is a co-educational special school catering for pupils aged four to eighteen years. The school was established in 1978 and moved to the existing purpose-built school building in 1985 with four classes. An extension was provided for an additional two classrooms in 1997 and the school has expanded further into an adjoining building in the current school year. Provision is made both for pupils with moderate general learning disabilities and for pupils with severe to profound general learning disabilities, including pupils with a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). The school is under the joint patronage of the Tipperary Association for Special Needs and the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. The mission statement, aims and educational philosophy of the school are reflected in the pleasant, industrious and caring atmosphere. The characteristic spirit of the school is inspired by a vision that strives to enable all pupils to reach their full potential in a supportive and secure environment.
The most recent school report issued in 1999 and affirmed the positive and proactive role of the school in providing for pupils with special educational needs within the designated categories of general learning disability. Enrolment numbers have increased consistently since the last evaluation and there are fifty-seven pupils currently enrolled in the school. A trend is emerging whereby pupils with a range of complex disabilities are enrolling in the school. Management and staff have responded in a positive and proactive manner to the enrolment of pupils with more complex needs. The school currently serves pupils in the area of south Tipperary and adjacent county areas of Limerick, Kilkenny and Waterford, within a radius of 30 kilometres. The majority of pupils avail of the transport service provided through the Department of Education and Science, while a small number of parents also transport their children to the school. Several pupils travel long distances to the school and attendance is generally good. Current transport arrangements are shared with another adjacent school with the same opening hours as Scoil Aonghusa. The current arrangements give rise to concern as they result in a number of pupils arriving at the school earlier than is required and leaving the school prior to the schoolís official closing time. It is advised that the organisation of school transport is aligned with the terms of Circular 11/95 and the Education Act, 1998 regarding the entitlement of pupils to access the prescribed minimum of teaching hours per day.
The school is favourably staffed and consists of an administrative principal, ten class teachers, a part-time teacher, twenty-five special needs assistants, a school secretary and a caretaker. The school had the benefit of a part-time teacher of physical education until recently but this post was vacant at the time of the evaluation. The school benefits from the services of the Health Service Executive (HSE) who provide psychological support, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, social work, meal preparation and nursing care. A community employment scheme provides additional staff members who contribute to the school in meal preparation, maintenance and cleaning. School funds are used to fund the attendance of a reflexologist for a day per week.
In October 2006, a whole school evaluation (WSE) based on a model of team inspection was conducted in Scoil Aonghusa. The board of management, parents, staff and students readily participated in a spirit of partnership and collaboration and positively assisted the process.
The board of management is properly constituted in accordance with the requirements of the Education Act 1998 and takes an active role in the management of the school. The board meets five times per annum with occasional extraordinary meetings and the chairperson is in regular contact with the principal and endeavours to visit the school on a weekly basis. Board members have been appointed with particular responsibilities and induction training has been provided for them. Minutes are kept of all meetings and a financial statement is prepared annually by an accountant. The board is concerned with promoting positive staff relations, securing suitable accommodation for the school and providing suitable resources and training for the staff to meet the educational needs of the diverse pupil population attending the school. The matters of current concern for the board include the pursuit of enhanced accommodation for the school and the management of challenging behaviour. The expansion of the school into the adjoining building has alleviated some of the accommodation difficulties experienced in recent years. However, many of the classrooms are small and have no provision for the storage of large equipment.
The board has been actively involved in devising administrative policies for the school and is in the process of reviewing the current enrolment policy at present. It was brought to the attention of the board that in the light of recent legislation some of the existing policies in the school would need to be provided to parents as part of any enrolment process.
The school is in compliance with Departmental regulations on time in school and maximum class size. All attendance books, rolls and registers are kept up to date. School attendance records are conscientiously maintained and the Educational Welfare Board is notified of prolonged absences, in accordance with the terms of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000
In-school management duties and responsibilities are devolved by the board of management to the principal and teachers with posts of responsibility. The principal and senior staff members are responsible for the organisation of the work of the school and they provide a dedicated service to the students. The principal, appointed in 2001, consistently endeavours to implement the mission statement of the school in a committed, enthusiastic and flexible manner. Duties are carried out in a co-operative fashion and the sharing of information and skills is encouraged. A range of relevant curricular, organisational and pastoral policies and procedures are in place and beneficially enrich the pupilsí learning and teaching experiences. The principal is conscious of the importance of fostering and developing teacher-parent relationships, and parents are consistently informed in relation to the work of the school.
The in-school management structure provides for one post at deputy-principal level and two special duties posts of responsibility. Roles and duties of the in-school management team are briefly outlined in the school plan and include curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities. The deputy principalís role includes adopting the role of designated liaison person for co-ordinating pupilsí transition to adult placements and organising the placement and work experience of transition year students from the local Community School. In addition to these duties, she also assists in the compilation of the school plan and consults with and supports the principal. The two special duties post holders co-ordinate the provision of Information and Communication Technology in the school and address health and safety issues and the organisation of school transport. Post-holders are to be commended for the conscientious and thorough manner in which they carry out their assigned duties and responsibilities. The experience gained by in-school management now provides an opportunity for further collaborative teamwork in the future review of the responsibilities of the existing posts in accordance with the terms of Circular 07/03.
Teaching staff is deployed in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science in relation to current pupil:teacher ratios for the different categories of intellectual disability within the school. Currently there are four classes for pupils with moderate General Learning Disability (GLD), four classes for pupils with severe to profound GLD and two classes for pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Special needs assistants are suitably deployed within all classes and contribute sensitively and effectively to meeting the needs of pupils requiring additional support. The nurses, secretary, caretaker, cook and the staff members employed under a community employment scheme constructively contribute to the efficient operation of the school. A part-time teacher provides pupils with beneficial programmes in Home-Economics.
Individual teachers prepare daily class time-tables. The adoption of a whole-school approach to devising class time-tables that are linked directly to curricular areas would assist in maintaining a greater balance in pupilsí access to the different subject areas of the curriculum. Teachersí preferences, qualifications and experience are considered annually in the allocation of class groups. Staff has engaged in a diverse range of continuous development courses related to their work with the pupils in the school. It is recommended that an audit in relation to professional development is conducted that documents the in-service courses attended by individual teachers, and that identifies priorities for the future.
The contribution of the HSE in providing multidisciplinary support is acknowledged. The current multi-disciplinary team includes input from nursing care, psychology, social work, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy with an occupational therapy service on referral.† An improved availability of the therapeutic services would greatly assist in the further development of a transdisciplinary approach to meeting the needs of the pupils in the school and facilitate the involvement of multidisciplinary personnel in pupilsí Individual Education Plans.
The school building comprises ten permanent classrooms, a general-purpose room, a dining and kitchen area, a therapy room, a small kitchen used for home-economics classes, a nurseís station, a snoezelan,† a principalís office and a secretaryís office, a staff room, toilet and changing facilities, outdoor storage areas and an outdoor play area. Recreation areas include tarmacadam and grass areas and an athletics track. However, both indoor and outdoor accommodation is restricted and requires development. The car-parking area is particularly constrained and while comprehensive policies and procedures have been put in place in the interests of the pupilsí safety, concerns remain with regard to the safety of pupils and visitors to the school, particularly during arrival and dismissal periods.
A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on developing indoor and outdoor play and recreational facilities which effectively engage and occupy pupils during unstructured periods of the school day.† The outdoor play areas are beneficially delineated with reference to particular class-groups and contain a variety of attractive and colourful equipment that includes slides, swings and trampolines. A range of appropriate go-karts and cycling equipment is available for pupils in accordance with their individual needs and abilities. Due consideration is given to ensuring pupilsí safety and well-being while using all equipment.
The standards of maintenance of existing accommodation and resources are to be commended. Attention is directed towards providing a secure, attractive, comfortable and accessible school environment. Records and displays of pupilsí work and photographic records of pupilsí activities are attractively displayed in classroom and corridor areas. Commendable emphasis is placed on the maintenance of high standards of hygiene throughout the school, and particularly in the canteen area.† Healthy, well-balanced and nutritious snacks and hot meals are prepared daily for pupils and are funded by the Department of Social Welfare and a contribution from parents.
A wide range of commercial and teacher-designed teaching and learning resources is available in most classrooms and used appropriately to support the pupilsí access to the curriculum. Teacher-devised resources are of a particularly high-standard and reflect teachersí commitment to maintaining pupilsí attention and motivation during curricular activities. There is a strong emphasis placed on the development of pupilsí information and communication technology skills (ICT) and a minimum of one computer is available in each classroom in addition to a comprehensive supply of appropriate software and peripherals. The creative concealment of the computer to avoid distracting pupils with ASDs during curricular activities is particularly effective. All pupils are given the opportunity to develop basic ICT skills and access computer resources in their individual classrooms. A responsible attitude towards ICT is encouraged, and pupils demonstrate a level of competency in accordance with their needs and abilities. Pupilsí seating and posture are considered during ICT activities.
The school is conscious of the importance of developing positive relationships with parents and every effort is made to maintain open channels of communication through proactive home/school communication practices. Formal parent-teacher meetings are organised annually and parents receive an annual report on pupilsí progress at the end of each school year. Regular invitations are issued to parents to celebrate special school events and parents are encouraged to visit the school on a formal and informal basis. Meetings are facilitated with parents when requested.† They support various fund-raising events organised by the school and they are notified in writing of the existence and amendment of various school policies. The parents support the work of the school through the parental nominees on the board of management. The dispersed catchment area of the school and the consequent difficulties experienced by parents in attending evening meetings were cited as difficulties in effectively operating a parentsí association. The parentsí nominees commended the open-door policy of the school in relation to parents and expressed satisfaction with the curriculum being accessed by pupils. Concern was expressed with regard to pupilsí limited access to adequate therapeutic services. Parents also suggested that the restricted accommodation in the school needs to be addressed. At present the possibility of re-establishing a parentsí association with an affiliation to the National Parentsí Council is being explored.
The school fosters praiseworthy links with the local community through successful involvement in a range of initiatives that includes a tidy schools project with the local County Council, art competitions, a transition year programme with the local Community School and Special Olympics.
A code of behaviour is in place that aims to provide a safe and secure environment for staff and pupils. However, this code will have to be adjusted to fulfil the obligations under Section 23 of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000. Parents should be made aware of the code of behaviour when requesting a place in the school and should be required to sign acceptance of it as a condition of enrolment.
High expectations are evident regarding on-task activity, the maintenance of respect and appropriate behaviour.† Pupils are courteous and respectful in their interactions with each other, school personnel and visitors to the school. It is recommended that the code of behaviour is differentiated in accordance with the special educational needs of the pupils in the school. Involving pupils in the compilation of school rules, and displaying rules in an easily understood format that is in accordance with the needs and abilities of the pupils in particular classes should be considered.
A school plan as required by S.21 of the Education Act, 1998 is available. The school plan is envisaged as a clear statement of the educational ethos of the school, its particular aims and the methodologies that it will use to meet those aims. Considerable progress has been achieved since the last school inspection in the school development planning process. Organisational and curricular areas have been developed to reflect the changing needs of the school. The school plan contains a range of policies that includes, among others, attendance, child protection, gender equity, anti-bullying, school outings and bus transport policies. Policies have been developed in relation to staff recruitment and training.
The current enrolment policy is commendably inclusive with regard to applicants for admission to the school. However, in the event of the board of management declining admission, the enrolment policy should inform parents of their right to appeal the decision under Section 29 of the Education Act 1998. This should be included as part of a revised enrolment policy that includes the code of behaviour in use in the school.
In addition, the school will need to devise an Attendance Strategy that will need to be in accordance with Section 22 of Education (Welfare) Act, 2000. This will need to state the strategies that the school will use to promote attendance, and clearly outline the structures that the Board of Management will follow when parents fail to get their son/daughter to attend school. Reference should also be made within the plan to the role of the Education Welfare Officers with regard to attendance and suspensions.
Currently, there is no school policy on the development of individual education plans, the manner in which they will be constructed, the personnel involved or the review period. As individual plans will become a requirement with the full commencement of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (2004) the school has prioritised developing a policy and clear practice guidelines in this regard.
There are a number of areas that would benefit from the formation of specific policies. There is no indication in the school plan regarding the procedures for allocating staff to certain disability class or age groups. As there are enhanced opportunities for career in-service available for particular disability groupings, it might be of benefit to the school if these posts were to be rotated among the staff to allow staff to access a variety of in-service training options. Additional areas to be prioritised for review within the school plan are listed in an action plan for future development.
Curriculum plans have recently been developed with reference to the Draft Curriculum Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities and are usefully differentiated for pupils with moderate GLD, pupils with severe to profound GLD and pupils with ASD. Extensive curriculum-linked checklists have been devised and teachers are to be commended for the focused attention that has been directed towards this task. The whole school plan for curricular subject areas has been devised by the class teachers for the three sets of disability groupings within the school. The school is endeavouring to identify the most suitable method for planning for curriculum delivery by using the newly devised system on a trial basis in the current school year. The teachers have delineated the strand areas into strand units by forming a range of checklists for the various strand areas. However, there is no reference to the spiral approach to curriculum development, with particular strands being revisited at greater complexity as the pupils progress in age and ability. The curriculum experiences for pupils with severe to profound GLD provide a range of possible activities and could benefit from the indication of the level of prompting to be provided or how such prompting might be reduced and/or extinguished over time.
As many of the pupils may remain in the same class group for a number of years, there should be a concerted effort to provide a different repertoire of projects over consecutive years to provide pupils with an increasing range of educational experiences. In order to further develop practice in this area, it is recommended that a streamlined approach to curriculum planning is adopted that creates systematic links with individual teachersí planning and refers to the aims, content, approaches and methodologies, assessment strategies, parental involvement and resources. Although recent school policies are signed and dated, it is recommended that attention is directed towards the importance of dating and signing all policies and documenting procedures in relation to the compilation and dissemination of the school plan.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. In the interests of child protection, a clear protocol has been developed for the delivery of personal and intimate care.
All teachers engage in long-term and short-term planning in accordance with the needs and abilities of the pupils in their classes. In general, planning is referenced to the strand and strand units of the curriculum and the Draft Curriculum Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities. A variety of practices is in place in relation to the maintenance of monthly progress records. It would be beneficial to adopt a common recording format for the monthly progress report to reflect the curricular areas being accessed by the different sections in the school.
It is recommended that guidelines on the organisation of individual classroom planning and the monthly recording of progress are included in the school plan. Such guidelines should detail teachersí responsibilities in relation to planning and reflect a commitment to demonstrating that the aims, content, teaching methods and assessment strategies of the curriculum are addressed in a systematic matter in all classes. The attention to curricular integration that was observed during the evaluation process should be included in curriculum planning. It is advised that formal structures are put in place to ensure that class teachers have a distinct role in planning for and monitoring the pupilsí learning and teaching programmes that are being implemented by additional school personnel.
The English curriculum is guided by the recently developed whole-school plan based on the Draft Curriculum Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities. All pupils access differentiated programmes in receptive and expressive language, reading and writing. A comprehensive and well-balanced range of emergent literacy experiences is provided. Attention is directed towards the teaching of rhymes and jingles, the development of phonological awareness and the creation of a print-rich environment. Pupils are encouraged to express their views and feelings through sessions that include morning news, weather reports, current affairs, project work, language games, story and engagement with multi-sensory materials. Pupils display a commendable knowledge of the rules and conventions related to appropriate social interactions. The use of† exploratory, physical and constructive play, drama and interactive story telling, assistive technology where appropriate, circle time, language games and the immediate environment provide further opportunities for developing pupilsí language and communication. The LŃMH signing system is used to augment the development of pupilsí receptive and expressive language. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is also used effectively with pupils who require this approach. Teachers and staff are to be commended for creating a rich and responsive communicative environment in which all pupilsí attempts at communication are acknowledged, affirmed and encouraged. Pupils have time-tabled access to the snoezelan and are provided with opportunities to relax and enjoy multi-sensory experiences designed to nurture and develop their senses.
The language experience approach to reading is used to good effect and pupils were observed to engage in reading tasks with enthusiasm and interest. Information and communication technology is productively used in the teaching of reading. Sentence-strips and voice pointing provide valuable opportunities for pupils to meaningfully engage with the initial stages of the reading process. Commendable attention is given to the teaching of high frequency words and the development of common social sight vocabulary. Pupils are enabled to progress towards independent reading in accordance with their individual ability. Visits to the local library successfully stimulate pupilsí interest in books and reading.
Pupils are facilitated in practising and developing handwriting in accordance with their individual abilities and are encouraged to develop correct pencil grip. The adoption of a whole-school approach to the teaching of handwriting that incorporates a structured and consistent use of visual and verbal cues and provides opportunities for pupils to manipulate a variety of writing tools would further assist in developing pupilsí competence in this area. Pupils are encouraged to write for different audiences and purposes and are expected to present their work in a clear and legible manner.
Teaching in Mathematics incorporates verbal discussion with visual cues to develop concepts, facility with numbers and the language of mathematics and, in general, objectives in the Mathematics area are tailored closely to the abilities and real needs of the pupils. Emphasis is placed on the acquisition of number concepts in the junior classes for moderate gld through activity learning, and the teachers in the junior classes make effective use of the available materials for the consolidation of number concepts and processes. The teachers create opportunities for children to use mathematical language and the children learn to match, sort, grade and count. The Mathematics programme for the pupils with severe to profound gld focuses on the pupilsí knowledge of object permanence, cause and effect, the passage of time and the mathematical concepts of colour, size and shape. Throughout the whole school, emphasis is paid to the practical and functional aspects of mathematics, with particular attention being paid to basic number operations, money, time and practical aspects of measurement. Use is made of incidental social situations to help reinforce mathematical ideas such as one-to-one correspondence and the counting of place settings in party situations. Some children have an interest in numbers and the teachers pay attention to extending an area of relative strength.
The formal introduction of telling the time in hourly intervals could be begun at an earlier stage to assist the pupils in telling the time on a routine basis and to have accomplished all time intervals before leaving school. In a similar manner, the sorting and matching of coins and notes might be introduced early in the school to accustom the pupils to recognise coinage on a routine basis even if they have not yet acquired a concept of the value and use of money. Good use is made of visual schedules in many classes to assist pupils in recognising the sequence of school activities. Teachers in the senior classes seek to make the mathematical experiences meaningful for the pupils, and use is made of incidental social situations such as shopping and measuring in practical subjects to help reinforce mathematical ideas. The pupils are guided to see connections and assisted to generalise their mathematical skills outside of the classroom situation to their own lives with use of shopping experiences, money management and measurement techniques.
In general, the teachers give due consideration to all the strand areas of the revised Mathematics curriculum and endeavour to provide a range of experiences pertinent to the pupilsí ability levels.†
The teaching of history seeks to cultivate and add meaning to each pupilís experience as an individual, as a family member and as part of the school and the local and wider communities. Teachers employ consistent strategies to develop pupilsí awareness of the start and finish of the school day. Visual schedules that employ objects of reference, photographs and visual symbols effectively assist pupils in developing an understanding of the passing of time. Pupils are facilitated in developing personal autobiographical memories through the communication of past-events. Curricular displays and visual arts activities are beneficially used to augment pupilsí learning in this curricular area.
Pupilsí understanding of the school and immediate environment is effectively developed. Particular emphasis is placed on increasing pupilsí familiarity with the locality through organised weekly social outings. Opportunities are provided for pupils to engage in direct sensory exploration of both the immediate and wider environment. An awareness of seasonal and daily weather patterns is developed in all classes, while corridor areas are transformed into sensorial displays of seasonal changes. Teachersí creativity in enabling pupils to directly experience phenomena such as hot, cold, windy and wet through the use of innovative and sensorial materials is to be commended.
Science activities are constructively linked to pupilsí experiences and a praiseworthy use is made of readily accessible materials. Pupils are provided with structured opportunities to explore, experience and respond to a wide range of materials. Resources are used creatively to engage pupilsí interests and to encourage the development of investigation skills. Pupilsí curiosity in scientific concepts is stimulated through project-work related to flower planting, recycling and cookery activities.
In general, teachers are using the six strand areas of the curriculum as the basis for developing creative experiences in visual arts. Some teachers provide a model of a completed project to act as a stimulus, and direct instruction on techniques is frequently given on an individual basis. The students are provided with opportunities to explore the full range of media within the strands of painting and colour, drawing, fibre and fabric exploration, clay, printing, and construction.† The students are encouraged and supported in their engagement in the area of the Visual Arts using a variety of prompting systems as appropriate to their level of ability. Students obviously enjoyed participating in the activities and were eager to begin using the media to create their own individual work.
There is a high degree of thematic integration using seasonal changes and festivals as the basis for Visual Artsí work and frequently lessons were successfully integrated with other areas of the curriculum, particularly with social and environmental studies and areas of language. There was evidence of both individual and collective artwork throughout the school. The pupilsí completed work was attractively displayed on the walls in the classrooms and corridors and some teachers maintain photographic records of past accomplishments in the visual arts area. Visual Arts lessons are clearly structured in achievable steps and, in general, succeed in maintaining the pupilsí concentration and application levels throughout the lesson. The focus on the enjoyment of the creative artistic process was clearly evident. Frequently, the looking and responding element of the curriculum area is used for the pupils to reflect on their own work and that of their peers in addition to observing and appreciating a wider range of visual arts.
A variety of approaches is used to teach music, including providing a range of different opportunities for listening and responding, performing and composing music. Song-singing formed the core of the music programme in most of the classes. The introduction of song-books on either an individual or large-scale class basis might further assist pupils in recalling the lyrics to familiar songs. Pupils eagerly participated in rhythm exercises in various classes with obvious enjoyment and are familiar with the use of different types of percussion instruments. However, there was little evidence of the incremental development of musical literacy skills through the school and many of the classes engaged in the same type of activity in the senior and junior sections.
The school might consider exploring supportive methodologies such as Kodaly that will allow the pupils to access musical literacy skills in a manner that would be appropriate to their level of intellectual ability, while allowing them the opportunity to play and create music rather than merely to provide percussion accompaniment.
Pupils are provided with a range of drama experiences throughout the school ranging, from structured and supported free play in the junior classes to scripted drama in the senior section of the school. Some class teachers were observed to integrate the use of drama into other subject areas of the curriculum and to provide a variety of experiences for their pupils including role-play, mime and improvisation.
The classes for pupils with severe to profound disability use a wide variety of sensory stimuli to maintain the studentsí attention and interest levels during the drama experience. Pupils are facilitated to participate in the collective experience of a performance as part of an audience, with the full involvement of a teacher-in-role. The collective sensorial experiences using carefully adapted scripts and musical cues were of particular merit in engaging the pupilsí rapt attention and extending their enjoyment of the drama experience. As the area of drama presents particular difficulty for pupils with a diagnosis of ASD, the school might consider as an element of future in-service how this area of the curriculum might be structured to develop their ability to engage in structured drama experiences.
The provision of a range of equipment, a spacious general purpose room and well-developed playground areas facilitates the development of the physical education programme. Activities effectively develop pupilsí concentration and listening skills, fine and gross-motor co-ordination, turn-taking and listening skills and spatial awareness. Particular emphasis is placed on promoting pupilsí participation and developing pupilsí self-confidence, self-esteem and ability to co-operate and communicate with others.
Clear rules and high expectations of behaviour permeate all tasks. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on cultivating pupilsí understanding of the benefits of physical activity for general health and physical fitness. A range of gym equipment is available and fitness programmes are devised for individual pupils in accordance with their assessed strengths and needs. All the pupils in the school are given the opportunity to develop aquatic skills on a weekly basis in swimming sessions in various swimming pools. The sessions devoted to hydro-therapy for pupils with limited physical ability are particularly well structured and supervised to provide the pupils with an enjoyable physical experience that awards them a freedom of movement not available in other strand areas of their physical education curriculum. The high ratio of staff required to enhance participation by the pupils during the swimming sessions requires considerable commitment on the part of the school staff to supporting this area of the curriculum for all class levels on a weekly basis. Commendable attention is directed towards ensuring that pupilsí skills are transferred to out of school contexts through encouraging pupils to participate in extra-curricular activities such as Special Olympics. Pupils demonstrate a high level of skill and task-engagement during all activities.
There is a strong focus on pupils developing an awareness of self and others and responding to other people in an appropriate manner. Teachers make good use of circle time to develop peer interactions in a structured manner. The classes for moderate GLD not only endeavour to develop a sense of self but to extend the pupils responsibilities into the obligations of community involvement and citizenship. All the pupils in the school participate in a supervised lunch period in the dining room. Pupils are provided with hot meals on a daily basis and the teachers use the opportunity to develop good table manners and social skills. The provision of additional facilities such as a tray counter could educate pupils into the correct use of canteen/restaurant facilities that could be generalised into community use during social outings.
All the classes in the school have the opportunity to participate in at least one social outing weekly and the teachers make frequent use of local community facilities such as the library, shops and restaurants. As this is a major portion of the curriculum the pupils are following, consideration should be given to reflecting this area in whole school and classroom planning.
The cookery element forms a major portion of the schoolís overall programme for the senior pupils and should be explicitly referenced in this area of the school plan. Tuition is delivered in a small kitchen area adapted for use in home economics. The tuition in this area is well organised and the objectives are realistic and achievable given the pupilsí level of disability. There is no additional house-craft facility to develop routine housekeeping skills and this is an area that might be considered extending and developing should additional accommodation become available. The classes for moderate GLD might consider forming some beneficial linkage programmes with local schools to assist the pupils to relate to and integrate with their mainstream peers. Such linkages could enhance the pupilsí social skills programmes by providing them with a wider group for extending appropriate social behaviour, both in the junior and senior sections of the school.
A diverse range of assessment strategies is in evidence throughout the school. Teacher-observation, teacher-designed tasks, curriculum-linked checklists, photographs, homework, retention of work samples, progress reports, graphing, collaborative teacher discussion with classroom personnel and parental consultation are variously used to assess pupilsí achievement. Collections of pupilsí work could be usefully extended to portfolio assessment by recording the level of prompting required by pupils in completing tasks and by systematically retaining best samples of pupilsí work. Individual progress reports are issued to all parents annually.
Observation of pupilsí work and of classroom practice, and interaction with pupils indicate that their achievement in curriculum areas is generally good and is at a level that is commensurate with their age, ability and class level.
Professionalsí reports are retained centrally in individual files and some are retained in class teachersí files. It is advised that an educational profile is compiled in respect of each pupil that provides a summary of the implications of professionalsí reports for learning and teaching. It is further advised that the relevant findings and recommendations of these reports are clearly linked to curriculum planning and classroom practice. Pupilsí achievements are constructively recorded and photographic assessment is used to good effect in this process. The compilation of an annual summative report detailing the progress of pupils with ASDs in relation to the social interaction, communication and imagination deficits of the triad of impairments and sensory deficits should also be considered.
All the pupils have special educational needs and accordingly attention is directed towards individualised planning for all pupils. Commendable attention is directed towards ascertaining individual pupilsí strengths, needs, likes and dislikes, which are subsequently used to inform individualised learning programmes. Individualised planning variously refers to targets, achievement criteria, materials/resources, strategies, personnel involved and review date.†
The social, communication, imaginative and sensory deficits associated with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) are accommodated during curricular activities. Methods devised by Division TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped CHildren), elements of applied behaviour analysis (ABA), intensive interaction and PECS are used with selected pupils, as required. Staff is aware of the need to secure pupilsí attention and to utilise a clear and consistent language of instruction. The judicious use of task analysis, modelling and prompting systems successfully engages pupils in their curricular tasks. Consideration should be given to documenting the ASD appropriate methodologies observed in use during the evaluation in the school plan.†
There is a commitment to including pupils with ASDs and pupils with severe to profound GLD with their peers for social and educational activities during the school day. It is recommended that the positive inclusion and reverse inclusion practices observed during the evaluation are documented in the school plan. The recent enrolment of pupils with complex conditions including significant degrees of visual and hearing impairment imposes particular challenges on staff to ensure access to curricular experiences. Consideration might be given to environmental adaptations that might facilitate these pupilsí understanding of their immediate surroundings, using tactile corridor trails and olfactory indicators for various areas.
A wide range of methodologies is used to good effect in supporting pupilsí learning and teaching experiences. The use of circle-time, peer and teacher modelling, activity, experiential and constructivist approaches, direct teaching, backward chaining and task analysis effectively enhance pupilsí task-engagement. Due attention is given to the development of the visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, tactile, olfactory and gustatory learning channels and the teachers endeavour to maximise pupilsí individual learning style by adapting their teaching accordingly. The impact of the physical and social environment of the school is considered and purposefully organised to create a safe, calm, consistent and responsive learning environment for all pupils. It is recommended that the positive practices observed during the evaluation in relation to supporting pupils with special educational needs are documented in the school plan.
School policies and procedures promote an inclusive ethos that facilitates the access, admission and participation of pupils from disadvantaged, minority and other backgrounds. Parents of pupils are supported and invited to participate in the operation of the school. A daily light snack and a hot meal are provided for all pupils.† The school demonstrates a willingness to collaborate with other community providers in planning provision and delivering educational services as required. The Guidelines on Intercultural Education in the Primary School might be usefully considered in augmenting pupilsí curriculum experiences and in planning for creating an intercultural school environment for the future.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
Attention is directed towards providing a secure, attractive, comfortable and accessible school environment characterised by a pleasant, industrious and caring atmosphere.
The supportive role of the board of management, the involvement of parents, the leadership provided by the principal and in-school management team and the commitment and dedication of all staff creates a vibrant school community.
High expectations are evident regarding on-task activity, the maintenance of respect and appropriate behaviour.† Pupils are courteous and respectful in their interactions with each other, school personnel and visitors to the school.
A wide range of commercial and teacher-designed teaching and learning resources is available and used appropriately to support the pupilsí access to the curriculum.
Pupils attending the school have the opportunity to participate in a range of curricular activities in mixed groups of intellectual ability, allowing them to experience a wider group of peers than their individual class groups. This contributes positively to the atmosphere of inclusion and support that is a feature of the school.
The school has recently engaged in a process of curriculum adaptation with reference to the Draft Curriculum Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Aligning the organisation of school transport with the terms of Circular 11/95 and the Education Act, 1998 to maintain pupilsí access to the prescribed minimum of teaching hours per day.
Adopting a whole-school approach to devising class time-tables that is linked directly to curricular subject areas.
Devising and implementing a streamlined approach to curricular planning, monthly recording of pupilsí progress, planning for individual pupils and assessment.
Signing and dating all policies and documenting procedures in relation to the compilation and dissemination of the school plan.
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.