An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Brigid’s Special School
Harbour Street, Mullingar, County Westmeath
Date of inspection: 24 October 2008
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of St. Brigid’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 work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and a parent representative of 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 students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Brigid’s Special School, established in 1984, is a ten-teacher co-educational school that caters for students, aged four to eighteen years with mild and moderate general learning disabilities. The school is situated in Mullingar on the banks of the Royal Canal and benefits from a central location within easy range of a large range of local amenities. St Brigid’s is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Meath. Students travel to the school from a wide catchment area within a radius of 65 to 70 kilometres. While most students live in Co Westmeath, a considerable number comes from Longford and a small number from the bordering counties of Kildare, Meath and Roscommon.
The school has a current enrolment of 89 students, 37 girls and 52 boys ranging in age from five to 18 years. The majority of students is of post-primary age, a number of whom would have transferred from different mainstream primary schools. In 1999, at the time of the last inspection, 63 students were enrolled with nine teachers. While the principal, deputy principal and a small number of teachers continue to serve the school, several changes in staffing have recently occurred. Although average attendance patterns are good for most students, attendance is poor for a small minority of students and is a cause of concern. The school’s attendance policy makes appropriate reference to the use of special reward systems for promoting good attendance. Information in relation to student attendance is provided to the National Educational Welfare Board as appropriate. It is recommended that staff continues to monitor student attendance closely, in accordance with Section 21(9) and Section 22 of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000.
The school plan elucidates the school’s Catholic ethos and its intention to create a positive, supportive, safe and happy learning environment for students. The school’s motto is ‘to learn-to love-to live.’ Conscientious efforts are made to foster a spirit of mutual respect between staff and students. Expectations regarding good behaviour, gender equality and equal access and participation are clearly encapsulated in the school plan. Relationships between staff and students are very good. Staff members are sympathetic to the needs of students and conduct their lessons in a manner, which fosters positive attitudes to school work. Student learning and achievement are celebrated by the whole school community through the weekly assemblies, annual graduation and affirmation ceremonies.
It is advised that the mission statement’s overall impact on school practice should be reviewed by members of staff and management on a regular basis. During the course of the evaluation it came to light that there is a need for a more open and collaborative problem-solving approach to decision-making in addressing whole-school issues of concern. Although morale across the school is generally high, it is important to review the existing whole-school communication policy on an ongoing basis to facilitate meaningful two-way communication.
The board of management meets regularly and is representative of the various stakeholders in the school community. It is advised that the board ensures that membership on the board conforms to the procedures and requirements of Section 4(b) of Constitution of Boards and Rules of Procedure (2007). Board members interviewed display an interest in supporting the students and staff and a commitment towards the school. The chairperson, who is also chaplain of the school, has given many years of service to the board and visits regularly. It was reported that all board members have received training on issues relating to child protection. It is planned that present board members will have access to training provided by the Catholic Primary School Managers’ Association (CPSMA) during the current school year. Standard agenda including a financial report, principal’s report and teacher’s report are usually followed at board meetings. Accounts have not been audited by an external auditor to date. It is recommended, in line with best practice and Section 18 of the Education Act (1998), that accounts of income and expenditure should be audited externally on an annual basis.
The board reported that student enrolment in St Brigid’s is capped at 87 students, due to the limited potential of the school site for further expansion. Although the possibility of moving to a larger site was considered by the board in the past, the board has decided that the existing site is more favourable, due to the school’s close proximity to many local services and amenities. Since the issue of the last school report, the roof of the school has been replaced, emergency lights have been installed and floors have been upgraded. The school building and grounds are generally well maintained. There is a need, however, to de-clutter, upgrade and reorganise the central storage areas for teaching and learning resources and cleaning equipment.
Some whole-school policies, originally drawn up by the teaching staff, have been discussed, considered, amended and ratified by the board. A review of the minutes of the last three board meetings indicate that the main policies considered by the board relate to enrolment, discipline, information and communication technology (ICT), mobile phones, supervision and staff meetings.
The board praised the staff’s positive attitude, the focus placed on developing students’ individual strengths and the staff’s high expectations in relation to the promotion of appropriate behaviour. As documented in the school’s staff development policy, the board supports staff in attending various courses and seminars. Staff is encouraged to share the knowledge, skills and experience gained with other members of staff. The board endeavours to focus on celebrating the work of the school and students’ individual successes, and on improving outcomes for students. The board’s most pressing concerns relate to the school’s limited accommodation, the considerable amount of time required by the principal to attend case conferences and the school’s limited access to psychological support.
The board reported that an increasing number of emergency meetings had recently been held, which focussed on single issues relating to challenging behaviour and Section 29 appeal cases. It was communicated that the school was successful in only one out of a total of ten Section 29 appeal cases during the previous four years. Although the board has reviewed its enrolment policy on a regular basis, it is recommended, as a matter of priority, that the school’s practice of re-enrolling students each year and of charging parents annual fees be immediately redressed. A reference to the eligibility of students for enrolment from four to 18 years should also be included in the enrolment policy to reflect the requirements of Rules for National Schools. The evaluation also highlighted the need to address matters relating to time in school to ensure that the school is compliant with Department regulations (Circular 11/95) and guidelines in relation to balanced time allocation to curriculum implementation. Furthermore, there is a need for the board to ensure that correct procedures are followed at all times in relation to the appointment of teachers. It would be of benefit if the board assigned a specific period of time at all meetings to discuss relevant Departmental legislation and whole-school policies. As the board continues to review aspects of school policy, it is important that the board explores ways of involving parents in the whole-school planning process. The dissemination of information notes and regular correspondence to parents by the principal marks the beginning of the process of such positive home-school collaborative practices.
It is suggested that the board would prepare a planning diary and three-year strategic plan in which priorities relating to administration, maintenance, school organisation and teaching and learning are identified. It is also recommended that an annual report providing relevant information on the operation of the school be published for parents, in accordance with Section 20 of the Education Act, 1998.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, deputy principal and three special duties posts. Currently there is one vacancy in the in-school management team that inhibits its full development. The duties of this post were in the process of being negotiated at the time of the evaluation.
The principal, who has recently returned from a one-year study period, displays enthusiasm and has considerable experience in his role. He is thoroughly familiar with the wider school community and displays a clear vision and dedication in working with students with special educational needs. The principal displays a commitment to the good order and smooth running of the school. He sets high expectations of behaviour and effort among students and addresses students at weekly assemblies. Regular staff meetings are organised in accordance with Department guidelines. The day-to-day administration of the school is managed effectively, general school activities are well organised and many extra-curricular activities are arranged. Supervision of students during recreation is well managed in the main. Greater vigilance is required, however, in relation to the commencement of classroom instruction and the adherence to Department regulations in relation to the duration of teacher-student instruction time, as outlined in Section 2.1 above.
The task of maintaining official records of student attendance is delegated to the deputy principal in addition to her teaching duties. While students are registered accurately and students’ attendance is recorded daily in all classes, greater attention needs to be given to the careful and accurate recording of end of term attendance figures for most classes.
There is a strong commitment by the principal and staff to enable students of post-primary age to participate in further education programmes, such as the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) and Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). The additional training received and efforts made by staff in pursuing and teaching these programmes are praiseworthy.
The in-school management team carries out a range of administrative, pastoral and some curricular duties with diligence. Curricular duties undertaken relate to the coordination of JCSP and FETAC programmes and various sports activities. Other responsibilities relate to the coordination of the individual education planning (IEP) process, staff initiation, communication of information to staff, organisation of timetables and liaison with special needs assistants and escorts. It is advised that the current duties, roles and responsibilities assigned to the in-school management team should be reviewed on a regular basis (Circular 17/00). Such action would harness further the strengths of staff in progressing the whole-school development planning process and self-evaluation systems. Regular formal meetings should be organised to enhance the capacity of the in-school management team to carry out its duties effectively.
The general standard of school accommodation is good. As well as nine regular classrooms and a general-purposes room, accommodation comprises a principal’s office, secretary’s office, home economics room, kitchen, library cum staff room and computer room. Rooms are also allocated for external professionals, such as the speech and language therapists, physiotherapist and social workers. The school has suitable toilet and changing facilities and adequate storage rooms. A permanent structure funded by the parents’ association is used for woodwork classes. Overall, the school constitutes a comfortable and pleasant working environment. School corridors are attractively decorated with digital photographic records and samples of students’ work and achievements. Staff members are commended for such ongoing efforts to enhance the image of the school for the benefit of students.
Outdoor facilities include an open grassed area and hard-surface play areas, which contain climbing frames and slides. The mature trees on one side of the school allow students observe seasonal change, while the raised garden beds are used for extensive work in horticulture. The school has its own school bus which is regularly used to transport students to various places of interest. The very limited and restricted car parking area for vehicles at arrival and collection times poses a challenge for school management in ensuring the safety of students, staff and visitors. This issue is continually being reviewed by the board.
Current staffing comprises an administrative principal, nine mainstream teachers, one part-time teacher and four part-time teachers/instructors, who provide supplementary support for students in Home Economics, ICT, Irish dancing and Woodwork. While the majority of the staff holds post-primary teacher qualifications only three members of staff hold primary teacher qualifications. At the time of the whole-school evaluation none of the primary trained teachers was assigned to a primary class. This has presented a challenge to the principal in deploying staff. Although it is desirable that teachers experience a range of teaching contexts over time, it is important that teachers are assigned to classes in accordance with their training and qualifications.
Funding for part-time teachers and instructors is mainly provided by the Vocational Education Committee (VEC), the Department of Education and Science or directly by the board of management and parents’ association. Ancillary staff includes 18 special needs assistants including one job-sharing post, a full-time secretary and a full-time caretaker. Two hard-working kitchen staff completes the staffing roster, who, in addition to their regular duties also prepare breakfast each morning for students who travel a considerable distance. Several other external tutors work with different student cohorts at various times during the school year and provide tuition in chi-kung, horse-riding, karate, swimming, cycling, fishing and golf. Inevitably the organisation of such a wide range of activities during school time and the involvement of such a large number of external personnel has an influence on the capacity of the full-time teaching staff to provide a broad and balanced curriculum in keeping with the time allocation laid down by the Department.
The teaching staff has assembled a reasonably good range of suitable teaching resources and visual aids, which is supplemented by commercial materials and items from the students’ own environment. Students in each class have access to a computer room, which contains six computers, a scanner, a photocopier and two printers. Most classrooms are also equipped with computers. In some cases ICT is used extensively to prepare schemes of work, maintain records and in a small number of cases to present the curriculum. The range of computer software available is limited and could be extended.
The school avails of a library book borrowing facility organised by the County Council. The range of library books, especially of large format books, is restricted. It would be of benefit to undertake a comprehensive audit of existing teaching and learning resources including ICT software in the school. There is a need to supplement concrete materials for Mathematics, Music and Science in particular. The range and quality of books in classroom libraries needs to be improved in almost all classes.
A policy has been drafted to develop and ensure dynamic and supportive links between school and home. Prior to the board formally ratifying this policy, it is recommended that the policy be reviewed to include a reference to the approaches and strategies to be used to facilitate the meaningful engagement of parents in the school development planning process.
Very good efforts are made to inform parents of students’ progress. Annual parent-teacher-professional days are organised at the beginning of each school year and pupils’ progress, IEPs, teacher plans and professional reports are discussed at these meetings. Written school reports are issued annually to all parents. Parents are also encouraged to communicate with teachers through the use of journals. Pupil reading records are utilised in some classes.
As the school’s parents’ association has not as yet affiliated with the National Parents’ Council, it was necessary to meet parents’ representatives on the board of management, in accordance with A Guide to Whole-School Evaluation in Primary Schools (2006). Although both parent representatives were present at the pre-evaluation meeting with the board, only one parent, a previous officer of the parents’ association, attended the meeting with the inspectors.
The parent interviewed communicated that the school’s parents’ association is very active. Members of the parents’ association meet regularly and make frequent contact with school management and parents. It was reported that the business of the association has always been on fundraising, directed at providing additional supports for students. Recent projects have included the building of a woodwork room on the school grounds and the purchase of a kiln for pottery classes. The association has also supported the part-purchase of a school bus, the school summer camp, drama and art clubs and a holiday fund for children’s trips. In addition, the parents’ association contributes towards the fees of a school counsellor and play therapist. The association has organised talks on parenting skills. It was confirmed that there is strong support from the general parent body in the organisation of extra-curricular activities and other school-based social events. It was highlighted that the parents’ association has not been involved in any aspect of whole-school development planning to date. It is recommended that the parents’ association affiliates with the National Parents’ Council. This would enable parents avail of relevant supports to facilitate the meaningful engagement of parents in school planning and other school activities.
The parent interviewed expressed satisfaction with the range of facilities available in the school, the open-door policy and regular communication with parents and the various further education programmes on offer for students. The staff’s focus on students’ individual interests and strengths was praised. Positive reference was also made to the equal access for boys and girls to the curriculum and the many opportunities provided to discuss students’ progress.
The school liaises with external agencies and voluntary community groups, such as the Link Club, to enable past-students with special educational needs derive benefit from after-school social interaction opportunities. A number of staff members give generously of their time to such initiatives. Strong links are also maintained with community groups such as the Special Olympics. The school community is reported to give very good support to school celebrations, such as ‘Affirmation Day,’ the Christmas craft fare and the Hospice morning arranged by students. The whole school community is also involved in a range of fund-raising events for various local, national and international charities.
The caring and supportive staff provides an environment which is highly responsive to the students’ learning needs. The school is a welcoming place for students. Students are well cared for and this enables them to thrive in a safe environment. Classroom interaction between teachers and students is very positive and a spirit of mutual respect exists among students, and between students and staff. Students’ questions are welcomed, encouraged and clearly addressed. Such a positive approach contributes greatly to the learning environment and the social and personal development needs of students. Students’ individual achievements and successes are celebrated. Students display an interest in learning and in communicating with others. Emphasis is placed on praise, reward, encouragement and reassurance. The success of this approach is reflected in the students’ behaviour, which is generally good.
Staff and board members have invested considerable time in the development and recent review of the comprehensive code of discipline, which has recently been ratified by the board of management. It is recommended, however, that the practice of allowing senior students outside the school premises during lunch-hour even with parental permission, should be reviewed in the best interests of the safety and welfare of students during school hours. Given also that a number of students have been suspended for incidents of challenging behaviour, it is recommended that the behaviour policy continues to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. This review should be undertaken in collaboration and consultation with parents and the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB), in line with Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools (2008).
A school plan has been developed, which exhibits considerable endeavour from members of staff. As a number of staff members are relatively new to the school and were not involved in the planning process itself, it is strongly recommended that the current planning processes be reviewed to include collaboration and consultation with key stakeholders. In order to involve parents, who have not been involved in this process to date, the board should ensure that there is close collaboration with officers of the parents’ association. As the school has not availed of curriculum support provided by the regional Cuiditheoir service to date, it would be of benefit for staff to utilise sustained support and guidance offered by Department-funded national training services, such as Primary Professional Development Service (PPDS) and Special Education Support Service (SESS).
The school plan contains a number of important documents dealing with specific organisational and curricular areas. Organisational documents developed include a code of behaviour, safety statement, polices on enrolment, homework, bullying and the administration of medicine. Parents have been given the opportunity to offer their views on the code of discipline, the mobile phone policy and the information and communication technology (ICT) policy. Policies are also developed in relation to healthy eating, acceptable internet use, record-keeping and assessment, staff development, gender equity, school attendance, supervision, and access, participation and equality. Most policies developed to date are not dated or signed and have not yet been ratified by the board. It is recommended that a standard format should be adopted for all policies, which should include development and review dates. The chairperson’s signature should be included in all policies to indicate formal ratification by the board.
The Primary School Curriculum (1999) provides the basis for whole-school planning in the junior section of the school. For students of post-primary age, whole-school planning for the curriculum is mainly linked to the learning targets as set in the JCSP and FETAC programmes. Senior students are given appropriate opportunity to access FETAC modules relative to their ability, learning style and interest levels. Modules are prepared for external assessment in Communication, Mathematics, Personal Effectiveness, Work Orientation, Preparation for Work, Career Information, Horticulture, Food and Cookery, Art and Design, Computer Literacy, Personal Care and Presentation and Outdoor Pursuits. Individual students, where possible, are given access to The Junior Certificate foundation and ordinary level courses in one to five subjects. In order to ensure further balance, breadth, systematic development and progression, it is recommended that the JCSP and FETAC programmes be used in tandem with the NCCA Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities (2007). The content of relevant strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) should be incorporated into whole-school curriculum plans to ensure that students have access to the full range of curriculum experiences. It is recommended that the school’s development folder be reactivated and a curriculum planning diary and three-year action plan be developed outlining roles, responsibilities and target dates.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has developed a policy on Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). The board reported, as indicated by the school’s policy, that a designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. No evidence was provided in the school plan, however, to indicate that the policy has been formally adopted by the board to date. It is strongly recommended, that the board, as a matter of priority, should sign and date this policy to indicate that these child protection procedures have been formally adopted by the board of management and brought to the attention of management, all members of the school staff (including new staff, external instructors) and parents. It should also be explicitly stated in the policy that all staff members have received a copy of the procedures and are familiar with the procedures to be followed.
In compliance with Rule 126, all teachers provide long-term and short-term planning and copies of the monthly records are maintained centrally on file. Teacher-designed visual aids are well utilised and enhance the impact of lessons as well as contributing positively to the classroom environment in all classes. Good attention is given to planning for differentiated teacher-selected tasks in all classes. Although a whole-school template has been agreed, which incorporates both short-term and monthly records of work covered, there is notable variation among teachers in relation to the level of detail included in these templates to inform teaching and learning or the specific content covered. This planning ranges from limited to comprehensive. It is evident that in a number of cases, the written preparation provided is general in nature and consists of lesson titles only, which do not identify clearly what students are expected to learn from the activities organised. In senior classes, lessons planned are drawn mainly from the JCSP and FETAC programmes with limited reference to the specific strands of the curriculum. There is a need for greater cohesion and clarity in planning schemes to highlight specific learning objectives to be achieved in all aspects of the curriculum. It would be of benefit to provide clear guidance in the school plan on individual teacher preparation. It is recommended that the principal monitors the written preparation of the teachers, in accordance with Circular 16/73, to ensure appropriate continuity, progression and breadth in students’ learning across each curricular area.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The teachers provide a relevant and differentiated programme taking into account the broad range of abilities and interests of the students. Junior students pursue the primary curriculum, while senior students participate in the Junior Certificate School Programme, and Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) programmes. A small number of students succeed in completing either foundation or ordinary level in the Junior Certificate examination in one to five subjects on an annual basis. A number of senior students complete up to Level 3 in the FETAC programme. These programmes provide a beneficial recognition of achievement for students.
During the evaluation, teaching and learning activities were presented in a competent manner and across the school students were provided with an interesting and relevant learning programme. Teachers use equipment, artefacts and other resources to interest and challenge the students. Lessons observed were interesting, exciting and engaging. A variety of teaching arrangements including class teaching, group and individual work was in evidence. Teaching staff explains new ideas in a way that makes sense to students. The staff recognises how students learn through practical and first-hand experiences and give students time to explore and apply their learning. Some teachers capitalise on opportunities to integrate and link various curricular areas with literacy and Mathematics and this is to be commended. The further sharing of good practice in this regard is recommended.
Investment in ICT has had some impact on the teaching of a number of curricular areas. However, the potential of ICT is not yet fully exploited to extend students’ learning across the curriculum. As well as sourcing data from the internet and from CD-ROMs, students also engage in a limited amount of word processing. ICT skills are used occasionally to maintain records of educational visits and to support learning in other subjects, for example imaginative writing in English. It is recommended that concerted attention be paid to the use of computers by staff in all classes.
Cé nach bhfuil an Ghaeilge aitheanta mar ábhar curaclaim sa scoil, déantar freastal cuí ar fheasacht cultúr na Gaeilge tríd na deiseanna a chuirtear ar fáil do na daltaí éisteacht le ceol traidisiúnta na hÉireann agus damhsaí Gaelacha a fhoghlaim. Moltar na hiarrachtaí seo. Tuairiscíodh go n-eagraítear Seachtain na Gaeilge le linn na scoilbhliana chomh maith. Ba thairbheach deiseanna oiriúnacha teagaisc agus foghlama a chur ar fáil go rialta do na daltaí le mion-mhíchumais nach bhfuil díolúine ón nGaeilge faighte go hoifigiúil acu de réir Ciorclán 12/96. Moltar aird ar leith a dhíriú ar fhoilsiúchán na Comhairle Náisiúnta Curaclaim agus Measúnachta (CNCM), Treoirlínte do Mhúinteoirí Daltaí le Mion-Mhíchumais Ghinearálta Foghlama: Gaeilge: Teanga agus Cultúr (2007).
Although the Irish language is not recognised as a curricular area in the school, appropriate attention is given to the appreciation of Irish culture. Students are provided with opportunities to to listen to traditional Irish music and to learn Irish dance. These efforts are commended. It was reported that ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ is also organised during the school year. It would be beneficial to provide suitable and regular teaching and learning opportunities for those students with mild general learning disability who are not officially exempt from the learning of Irish, in accordance with Circular 12/96. Attention is drawn to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) publication: Guidelines for Teachers of Students with Mild General Learning Disabilities: Gaeilge: Teanga agus Cultúr(2007).
The students’ talking and listening skills are promoted effectively in accordance with students’ abilities throughout the school. Teachers and special needs assistants vigilantly look for opportunities to challenge students to communicate and to interact with their immediate environment. Students are encouraged to express ideas and opinions and to explain aspects of their work. Small group activities are organised well in some classes to enhance listener-speaker relationships. Successful vocabulary extension techniques are used in a number of classes. The use of play, role-play, interactive story-telling, mime and drama, gesture and facial expressions and circle-time news sessions are among other beneficial opportunities provided for the development of language. PowerPoint presentations and visual prompts are used very effectively in one class to develop students’ vocabulary and expressive language skills. The use of structured pair work and group work, and carefully guided discussion needs to be developed more systematically using an agreed structured oral language programme at whole-school level.
The attention given to poetry appreciation and the development of students’ recitation skills is variable among classes, ranging from good to limited. Satisfactory attention is given to students’ exposure to rhyme in junior classes and to the development of students’ awareness of and interaction with print. The attention paid to recitation skills in some classes is noteworthy and might be beneficially extended throughout the school. There is a need to develop print-rich environments further in some classrooms.
Most students have made good progress in their reading and by their final years in school can read simple texts with satisfactory levels of fluency and accuracy. Some students in senior classes are able to locate information from reference books and use search engines on the internet. Careful attention is given to the development of a structured pre-reading and phonics programme in junior classes. In most classes, students are given good opportunities to discuss their reading. The use of the novel, newspapers, media studies and the ‘real book’ approach is commended in the more senior sections of the school. Reading for pleasure and information is encouraged in most classrooms and reading records are maintained in some classes. Staff indicated that paired reading is encouraged with parents. The systematic promotion of paired reading programmes on a whole-school basis is encouraged. The acquisition and use of language experience charts and large-format books would further enrich the reading experiences of students in junior sections of the school.
Good attention is paid to pre-writing and early writing activities in the junior classes. The standards of handwriting and general presentation are variable and many students are capable of improving these aspects of their work. While most teachers nurture basic handwriting and writing skills successfully, in accordance with students’ ability levels, there is a need to review whole-school implementation in relation to the writing strand of the curriculum. Specific attention should be given to the systematic development of students’ imaginative writing in a range of genres using a process-orientated approach to writing across all classes.
Assessment procedures and the recording of outcomes in English varies from class to class. Formal testing is carried out in some classes, using mainly standardised and diagnostic tests. A number of teachers maintain individual self-evaluation profiles, class test results, individual work samples and pupil folders. The use of JCSP and FETAC programmes to assess students’ competency levels in English is to be commended. There is a need for greater consistency of approach at whole-school level in the assessment of English.
The whole-school plan for Mathematics provides a general overview of the concepts to be covered in junior classes and the learning targets to be achieved in the JCSP and FETAC programmes. This plan would benefit from further guidance on specific curriculum content and on the progressive development of mathematical processes and the language of Mathematics.
During the evaluation, good emphasis was placed on the use of concrete materials, differentiated worksheets, items from the students’ own environment and practical hands-on activities. Good opportunities are provided for students to relate and apply their mathematics to contexts drawn from their own environment and experiences. Students respond well to questioning. Students show good progress and understanding of recent topics studied including early mathematical activities, shape, angles, time, capacity, measurement and number. Good attention is paid to mathematical language, tasks are appropriately matched to students’ needs and good use is made of calculators. The use of mathematical trails is encouraged. Support staff is deployed flexibly to support students, who experience difficulties with their learning.
A good standard of presentation of written work is promoted in Mathematics in some classes. There is a need for a whole-school approach in relation to the correction and monitoring of students’ work. The purchase of additional mathematical equipment and suitable computer software is necessary to support some classes in facilitating students’ active engagement in learning. The potential of using ICT in supporting students in Mathematics should also be explored.
Due to current timetabling arrangements in the school, the allocated time available to teach History, Geography and Science is greatly diminished. The timetable should now be adjusted to ensure that students have appropriate and balanced access to these subjects.
The students display an interest in History and teachers display an enthusiasm in teaching the subject. During the evaluation, lessons were linked to students’ own experience and integrated successfully with other curricular areas. Good opportunities are provided for students in junior classes to make comparisons between past and present lifestyles. Discussions on how the celebration of seasonal festivals has changed over time help students to understand the passage of time. Older students demonstrate good knowledge of various famous people, past events, other civilisations and issues relating to discrimination and human rights.
Teachers exploit the facilities offered locally through visits to old buildings, bridges, castles and other places of historical interest. Good use is made of photographs and stories about local history. Class discussion is encouraged and a wide range of questioning is used. A variety of maps, charts and carefully prepared worksheets is used. Timelines and ICT assist students’ learning effectively in some classes. Teachers are commended for introducing older people from the locality to the students to share stories about life in the past. Where students’ literacy skills are limited, pictures, cartoon strips or drama could beneficially be used to encourage students to participate in discussion. The use of ICT and suitable historical websites should be extended further as a tool to aid students’ learning in SESE. It would be helpful if a collection of CD-ROMs on historical topics could be assembled and documented in the school plan.
In Geography a wide and interesting variety of learning experiences and projects is organised at all class levels. Teaching is characterised by clear objectives, imaginative exposition and careful questioning. Local, national and global aspects of Geography are explored. Teachers challenge students with interesting content, activities and a variety of resources. The teachers utilise their own classrooms, school buildings and the local natural environments to good effect and organise a programme of local and distant visits. Horticulture features strongly in the senior section of the school. Photographic records help students to remember the sequence of preparation, planting, growth and harvesting. Visitors with extensive knowledge of the locality as well as local Gardaí have been invited to classrooms to share their knowledge with the students.
Group work is used very effectively in some classes to carry out projects on international themes. In many instances topics from the geography programme are effectively integrated with other areas of the curriculum, such as Visual Arts and Drama. Carefully selected novels relating to life in other countries are used well. In some classes attractive and labelled tables of interest are organised, although well resourced nature tables could be used more extensively. The school has made some investment in atlases, maps and reference books, which are used regularly as teaching aids. The use of song, classical and folk music from other cultures would further enhance the geography programme provided.
Students demonstrate good understanding of geographical systems such as food chains and the water cycle. The school has established links with a number of other schools across Europe through a Comenius School Partnership Project. Although digital cameras are used effectively to record trips and events, some follow-up work could be undertaken to develop literacy and mathematical skills. ICT features strongly in some classes with good use of word processing and the internet. The use of ICT and geography software could now be used more extensively throughout the school.
Science lessons during the evaluation were well planned with clear objectives. Teachers employ a suitable range of methods, including demonstrations and clear exposition. Practical work in some classes often draws on students’ own experiences in order to promote the skills of scientific investigation. Shortage of scientific equipment limits the range of practical work that students can carry out in small groups.
In junior classes a good foundation of knowledge and understanding of the basic skills of scientific enquiry is laid. Play activities and the immediate environment are exploited to explore and investigate plant life. Students are able to make comparisons and arrive at conclusions based on evidence. The curriculum strand Living Things receives a good deal of attention. Greater attention needs to be given to the strands Energy and Forces and Materials. In senior classes, the elements of Science taught are strongly influenced by the JCSP and FETAC programmes. While the content of these programmes is valuable and should be retained, it is recommended that the general curriculum be used as a framework to ensure that all aspects of SESE are covered.
All classes including junior classes have access to a part-time teacher who provides support in Home Economics three days each week in a well-equipped home economics room. Students access either a JCSP or FETAC programme in Home Economics. The duration of lessons lasts for periods of time ranging from 45 minutes to two-hour classes. In view of implementing a balanced and consistent approach across all class levels, it is recommended that a whole-school policy for Home Economics be developed and reviewed on an ongoing basis. Attention is drawn to the Guidelines for Teachers of Students with Mild General Learning Disabilities: Home Economics(2007).
A strong emphasis is placed on using an active approach to learning using concrete experiences, which greatly appeal to the students’ learning capabilities. The chalkboard is used effectively to engage students in following recipes using visual representations. Students display good understanding of relevant language and terms associated with the topics studied. Very good attention is given to safety, proper hygiene and to healthy eating options. Each student has developed a cookery folder with the support of class teachers. A collection of suitable menus has been compiled in booklet form and distributed to each class teacher. It would be of benefit to provide each student with a modified version of this booklet, which could incorporate diagrams, colour-coded text, enlarged sketches and colour pictures to facilitate the easy reading of text by students. It is recommended that the key vocabulary of the week should be displayed on the cookery room walls. Cookery items should also be clearly labelled. Each student should be encouraged to build up a dictionary of home economics terms and to maintain a diary of work undertaken.
It was noted that there is no whole-school plan in Visual Arts. It is recommended that a whole-school plan be developed to ensure that students experience continuity, progression and a broad and balanced experience in Visual Arts throughout the school.
Good attention is given to the effective integration of art activities with other curricular areas including English. Evidence was provided that students in most classes have recently engaged in a variety of art experiences to include drawing, working with paint and colour, print, construction, clay and using different materials. Good work is undertaken in looking at the work of famous artists in a number of classes. Students are encouraged to examine various historical artefacts in another class and to source additional information using ICT. Students have gained a good knowledge of the material explored in these classes. Visits to the local art gallery are also undertaken and relevant preparatory and follow-through work is completed. Greater balance needs to be achieved between two-dimensional and three-dimensional creations.
In lessons observed, the emphasis placed in some classes on developing students’ understanding of the elements of Visual Arts and of primary colours is to be commended. Good attention is given to clarifying the students’ stage of development in art in a number of classes. This approach is of value and could be beneficially extended. In order to further expand on the opportunities to look at and respond to the Visual Arts at whole-school level, there is a need to compile a range of additional resources such as art books, prints of art works and different art forms.
School notice boards are purposefully used to display samples of students’ work. Students in some senior classes have appropriate access to FETAC programmes in Art, Craft and Design. Portfolios and photographic records of art work completed are used to a limited degree in a few classes. It is recommended that portfolios including dated samples of students’ work be maintained for all students to reflect a range of art experiences.
A whole-school plan for Music has not yet been developed and the teaching of Music requires considerable attention at whole-school level. In order to ensure balance, breadth and appropriate development in the music curriculum implemented, a whole-school plan needs to be developed. Classroom planning should be more specific, with particular attention given to continuity and progression of content to be covered. An insufficient supply of resources limits the whole-school implementation of the music curriculum.
During the evaluation it was observed that good attention is given to developing students’ rhythm skills in some classrooms and in the Irish dance classes provided by an external instructor. Students in most classes are given some informal opportunities to listen and respond to music. Good attention is given to describing the instruments of the orchestra with students displaying a good understanding of musical terminology in one class. The skill of a member of the support team is appropriately used in another class to accompany students singing. Students in a further classroom have developed interesting music appreciation booklets and very good attention is given to developing students’ understanding of the musical elements in this case. This practice should be beneficially extended to other classes taking into account the students’ ages and abilities. Overall there is a need to increase students’ repertoire of songs learnt. An annual school concert is organised and a number of students are given the opportunity to participate in special school choir competitions. The ongoing efforts made with regard to these activities are acknowledged.
Whole-school planning in Drama has not yet commenced. While Drama was taught to good effect by a number of teachers during the whole-school evaluation, Drama is timetabled as a discrete subject on a weekly basis for one class only. Planning for drama lessons is limited in almost all classes. It is recommended that this imbalance be redressed on a whole-school basis and that a discrete time be included in all classroom timetables.
In the lessons observed during the evaluation, students collaborated well and actively participated in role-play, frieze frames, circle work and drama games. Students responded well to story and music through mime and spontaneous drama scenes. Drama approaches and methodologies were explored by some teachers in the delivery of other curricular areas. A dressing-up area is provided in a small number of classrooms. It is recommended that students’ drama experiences be extended using meaningful contexts in a more structured manner at whole-school level. Attention is drawn to the NCCA curriculum guidelines, which provide advice on organisational and classroom planning for Drama.
The school has a number of fine facilities at its disposal including a general-purposes room, a pool room, two playgrounds and a small playing field. The equipment available for Physical Education is adequate. The use of large PE equipment in the hall has been discontinued because of safety risks. This policy could now be reviewed and plans should be developed to extend the range of suitable PE equipment.
During the evaluation, students were observed working enthusiastically in movement activities, swimming, games and dance classes. Swimming lessons are organised for students in the local pool on a weekly basis. An external dance teacher is employed to teach the students Irish dancing, which the students greatly enjoy. Good attention is directed towards fostering skills related to fine and gross motor co-ordination, turn-taking and participation. There is good emphasis on the development of sending and receiving ball skills. Students participate in PE activities with enjoyment and cooperate well with each other and with adults. Basketball, football and pool are among the activities that are encouraged among senior students. The school participates in inter-school competitions at various levels in soccer, basketball and football and this increases student motivation and involvement. Staff reported that both boys and girls are given equal access to the full range of activities.
Students who have difficulties with basic coordination, balance, left to right orientation and rhythm are supported in a sensitive manner. It is necessary in some cases to differentiate tasks and activities and to use a wider range of PE equipment such as softer balls and larger targets. Some students follow specific programmes developed by the physiotherapist or occupational therapist. This work is successfully integrated into general PE lessons. Horse riding is arranged for a number of students where recommended by professionals. Students also have access to self–defence classes and Chi Kung, an ancient Chinese martial art. The school puts considerable emphasis on outdoor activities including walking, cycling, fishing, orienteering and kayaking. Valuable links are established with external sporting organisations and the students profit greatly from the support provided.
In some classes a large amount of time is devoted to Physical Education (PE), which is far in excess of the time allocated by Department guidelines. The school should ensure that the time dedicated to PE does not have a detrimental effect on the time available for other areas of the curriculum. A whole-school plan would facilitate a systematic approach to PE throughout the school. The school should also consider maintaining a profile of student’s progress in physical education over time.
The creation of a caring environment is an important and noticeable feature of the effective practice in all areas of the school. Staff is particularly successful in the development of positive self-esteem and social and communication skills among students. Students are encouraged to be respectful towards each other and to be responsible in their behaviour. Teachers successfully minimise disruption and poor behaviour through their skilful handling of students in lessons.
Teachers individually have engaged in planning for the delivery of SPHE and a discrete time is included in almost all timetables. Formal programmes, including Walk Tall at junior level and Junior Certificate School Programme, and the Civics, Social, Political and Environmental Education at senior level are used to support teaching and learning in SPHE. Methodologies such as talk and discussion, circle time and group work are used successfully to teach various themes. Functional and daily living skills are all carefully attended to as part of a Life Skills Programme. During lunchtime periods a healthy eating policy is in place. This time is effectively used to develop students’ social skills and language and communication skills. Senior students maintain a personal effectiveness folder and the core skills addressed include self care, leisure, community and interpersonal skills. The achievements and positive behaviour of individual students are acknowledged through Gaisce – The President’s Award. Students’ work is celebrated and displayed throughout the school.
Students are provided with ample opportunities to acquire skills and to practise a variety of games and hobbies. The school is to be commended for the valuable work undertaken in promoting appropriate recreational activities for students. Preparation for the world of work and the exploration of career opportunities are an important element of the programme as students enter their final years at school. Work experience placements are arranged and the students are supported in making decisions in relation to their choices for further training and employment.
A relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme has not yet been fully developed, as recommended by Department guidelines. Some talks for parents have been organised by the school on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). Elements of the RSE programme are currently being implemented with students in a small number of classes. Bearing in mind that the majority of students are of post-primary age, moving towards independence and towards a vulnerable stage of development, it is recommended that the school develops a comprehensive policy to support RSE. While the SPHE curriculum is well managed, the whole-school plan and the various programmes being followed at present should now be reviewed to ensure they are in line with the aims of the broad SPHE curriculum and the developmental needs of the students.
Teachers vary greatly in their approach to assessment across the school. A wide range of test instruments is in use and good attention is given to differentiation of teaching and learning. Norm referenced, diagnostic and criterion referenced assessments are utilised in some cases. Good use is made of checklists and teacher-designed tests in many classes. Constructive feedback is provided to students. Teachers endeavour to assess students in all aspects of their work, their behaviour and personal development to gain a full picture of students’ strengths and weaknesses. There is evidence of continuous assessment in the students’ folders completed to fulfil the requirements of JCSP and FETAC programmes. Bearing in mind the variety of practice that exists across the school and indeed within the junior, middle, and senior sections, it is recommended that the school reviews its assessment policy to ensure a shared understanding and consistent approach to the use of formative and summative assessment tools.
As well as providing for students with mild and moderate general learning disabilities, the school also caters for students with secondary disabilities, such as Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), hearing and visual disabilities, physical disability and a range of medical conditions. Some students require constant care and have particular needs around feeding and toileting. The support provided by the care staff is crucial in this regard.
Special needs assistants (SNAs) provide an important service and their dedication in supporting all students is commended. They are active in helping the teachers to create a learning environment that is responsive to the students’ needs. They display skill in their work, and are considerate and committed to the students. The SNAs attend to a variety of care needs and are also involved in supervision and in preparing materials. During lessons observed the SNAs provided support to students in their various learning tasks.
The school benefits from some multidisciplinary support including speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. These services are funded by the Health Service Executive (HSE). There was evidence of good collaboration and ongoing consultation between school staff and external professionals. For example, teachers in the primary section work collaboratively with speech and language therapists on a research project relating to the extensive use of communication boards. The school management is concerned about the limited support that is available from psychologists, although a commitment has been made by National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) to provide an enhanced service in the future.
Alternative and augmentative communication approaches are used to some extent. The range of methodologies used in developing communication with these children includes Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and the use of LÁMH, a sign system based on Irish Sign Language.
A part-time teacher post has been sanctioned by the Department of Education and Science in respect of one student, who has additional learning needs. The part-time teacher and class teacher work well together in delivering a support programme for the student involved. The programme involves some one-to- one tuition as well as small group work where the student can learn in a social context.
A small number of students has sensory disabilities including hearing and visual impairment. In order to maximise the benefits to be derived from the use of hearing aid technology, the school should now take steps to improve the listening conditions for students in the school. Written protocols around the management of hearing aids and other audiological equipment could be developed with the assistance of visiting teachers to ensure that appliances are used and functioning well.
Teachers have developed individual education plans (IEPS) for almost all students, in line with best practice. Students’ strengths and needs are identified. Academic, functional and social goals are set and teaching strategies are chosen. Priority is given to selecting key targets in communication skills, personal, social and life-skills that reflect the particular needs of students. Progress is monitored and it is reported that parents are given opportunities to be consulted at least twice a year. It is recommended that care be taken to ensure that the summary of professional reports be fully completed for all students to inform the IEP process.
St Brigids enrols students from across the socio-economic spectrum. The school authorities are to be commended for putting in place practical arrangements to support those students, who are less advantaged. A breakfast service is available for students. In addition to the nutritional benefit, this also provides important social and learning opportunities for students.
Most students avail of the free transport scheme which is sponsored by the Department of Education and Science. Seven buses and eight taxis serve the school and 13 escorts are employed to accompany students on their journey to and from school. Bearing in mind the issues around the school timetable, the board needs to review its school transport arrangements. It is recommended that school transport be organised in a manner that is in compliance with Circular 11/95 and the Education Act, 1998 regarding the obligation on schools to adhere to the prescribed minimum teaching hours per day.
The school has a few students from the foreign national community. A number of students from the Traveller community also attend the school. In anticipation of the possible admission to the school of children for whom English is a second language, it is recommended that the school examines available resources for teaching English as a second language including materials prepared by Integrate Ireland Language and Training. It is suggested that the Guidelines on Intercultural Education in the Primary School (2005) are utilised to augment student’s curriculum experiences and to further assist in planning for an intercultural school environment. In the spirit of inclusion it is recommended also that the school might develop a particular module to support the culture of Travellers.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
- The need to ratify and disseminate the school’s child protection policy
- the elimination of annual school fees
- the need to review the school’s enrolment policy in line with statutory obligations
- the need to undertake an annual audit of accounts by an external auditor
- adherence to Department guidelines in relation to time in school (Circular 11/95)
- the need to regularly review whole-school communication structures and decision-making processes
- the need to publish an annual report for parents in line with Section 20 of the Education Act (1998)
Published March 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
ü The Board of Management of St Brigid’s School would like to acknowledge the thoughtful and specific manner in which the Department of Education and Science Inspectors carried out the detailed Whole School Evaluation
ü The Board Members acknowledge the very positive comments outlined by the Department’s Inspectorate following the evaluation process. The account of the management, planning, teaching and learning taking place in St Brigid’s, affirms our high standards. The range of diverse educational needs of the students and the consistency of expectation which permeates school life for students, parents, staff and the wider community were acknowledged.
ü We acknowledge the inspectorate’s positive comments on Junior Certificate, JCSP and FETAC programmes in our school, as these course choices have had an enormous impact on student self esteem and widened their scope to access further education or employment.
ü The effective practices observed in relation to Literacy, Numeracy and Life Skills and the strong emphasis placed on the active approach was of value to all involved in the education process in St Brigid’s School.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board notes the comments and key recommendations from the Inspectorate on other practices within the school. We have already implemented suggestions of the inspectors and anticipate implementation of all further changes as suggested.
(a) As advised by the inspectors a co-ordinated primary and secondary school approach to improving the continuum of curriculum content and planning is being implemented. Teacher meetings continue to refine the process how the Junior Certificate School Programme, National Council for Vocational Awards (a FETAC Programme) and NCCA guidelines for the teaching of students with Mild and Moderate GLDs (at primary and post primary levels) will build-on the Primary School Curriculum throughout the school.
(b) Child protection policy has been ratified and disseminated
(c) The Parents Association has been affiliated to the NPC
(d) School timetables have been adjusted as per Circular 11/95.
(e) The staff is in the process of reviewing
i. Assessment across the curriculum. This process has been supported with the appointment of a teacher to a special duties post specifically relating to assessment and testing
ii. Teachers are also collaborating and planning our whole school policy for RSE
(f) A Draft Action Plan has been drawn up by the teachers and BoM to provide a frame work for the implementation of other WSE recommendations including PE and Home Economics.