An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

                                                                                                                             Department of Education and Science

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

   

Oberstown Education Centre

Oberstown, Co. Dublin

Roll No: 19962Q

 

  Date of inspection:  27 October 2006

  Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

1.     Introduction – school context and background

2.     Quality of school management

2.1 Board of management

2.2 In-school management

2.3 Management of resources

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

2.5 Management of pupils

3.     Quality of school planning

3.1 School planning process and implementation

3.2 Classroom planning

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

4.2 Language

4.3 Mathematics

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

4.5 Arts Education

4.6 Physical Education

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

4.8 Assessment

5.     Quality of support for Students

5.1 Students with special educational needs

5.2 Other supports for students: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

School Response to the Report


Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Oberstown Education Centre. 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 acting principal, the teachers and the school’s 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 teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. They also visited the students’ residential units and interviewed the director of Oberstown Girls School and the acting director of Oberstown Boys School. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the teaching 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.

 

 

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

Oberstown Boys and Oberstown Girls schools are children detention schools owned directly by the Department of Education and Science. Oberstown Education Centre provides for the educational needs of boys and girls who have been placed in Oberstown Boys School or Oberstown Girls School by the courts. Together with a third school that is located on the same campus, Oberstown Boys School, Oberstown Girls School and the educational centre which serves them operate under a single board of management, established by the Minister for Education and Science. Reporting to the board of management are two school directors, one for Oberstown Boys and one for Oberstown Girls. Education is provided to boys and girls by a school principal and teaching staff in a single school building. Boys and girls attend same-sex classes for most of the school week.

 

The evaluation on which this report is based was concerned with the educational provision delivered by principal and staff within the context of an overall provision that includes education and residential care.  The residential care aspects of the provision for boys and girls have been the subject of separate care-inspection reports published by the Department of Education and Science in October 2005 and December 2004, respectively.

 

For purposes of clarity this report will, generally, use the term school to refer to the educational provision for which the principal and teaching staff are responsible. Terms such as care, care staff and care setting will refer to the residential care provision. Terms such as campus, centre and setting will refer to the provision as a whole, including care and education aspects.

 

The number of students enrolled in the school at any time is determined by court decisions. At the time of inspection there were twenty seven students on roll, six of whom were girls. All students are resident on campus. Some students are placed on a short-term, remand basis, awaiting court determination. Most students are placed on committal for a two year period. In most cases, students are aged from twelve to sixteen on enrolment. Living accommodation is provided in residential units that are differentiated on the basis of gender and of detention status - remand or committal.

 

The teaching staff consists of a principal and twelve teachers, one of whom is part-time and works here for three days a week.  At the time of the evaluation, the principal was on leave, the deputy principal was acting as principal and one permanent teaching post was unfilled.

 

Following a recent government decision, the ownership and control of the detention schools on the Oberstown campus is due to transfer from the Department of Education and Science to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There, the schools will operate under a newly created executive agency, the Irish Youth Justice Service. Subsequent to this change, which is expected to take place in early 2007, County Dublin Vocational Educational Committee will assume responsibility for the educational dimension of provision. In preparation for these moves, the Department of Education and Science has asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to develop a curriculum framework for the school sector that includes children detention schools and schools in high support and special care units. This work has commenced.

 

The school is nondenominational. The centre staff includes a fulltime chaplain who responds to the spiritual needs of the students and facilitates the religious and spiritual dimension of school celebrations.

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management  

The school is managed by a board of management appointed by the Minister for Education and Science. The board is comprised of a chairperson and ten voting members. Membership includes representatives of the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform. Two members represent the community within which the school is geographically located. One member represents all categories of staff across the three schools for which the board is responsible. This position is occupied on a rotation basis by one of a panel of three elected staff members. The directors of the three schools attend meetings on a non-voting basis. One of the three directors acts as secretary and treasurer to the board. This role is rotated among the directors.

 

The board meets on a monthly basis. Meetings follow a standard agenda that allows for a broad oversight of the operation and development of the school. Appropriate attention is given to minute-taking and financial reporting. Reports on the operation of the centre, covering educational and care matters, are circulated in advance of meetings by the respective directors. These reports incorporate reports from the school principal, which, in turn, are  informed by the principal’s attendance at weekly management meetings with the directors and deputy directors of Oberstown Boys and Oberstown Girls schools. 

 

2.2 In-school management

The school has benefited from sustained leadership, a well established collaborative approach and appropriate systems of communication. The principal, deputy principal and the four post-of-responsibility holders form a cohesive in-school management team.

 

Delegated duties reflect the curricular, pastoral and organisational needs of the school. It is accepted that duties may be reviewed on an ongoing basis in response to developing needs.

 

Examination of the minutes of staff meetings and observation of a staff meeting in progress indicated that the needs of the students are kept to the fore and there is a shared vision in attending to these needs. It is noteworthy that monitoring of individual educational plans forms part of the duties of three of the four post-holders. As well as monitoring student progress, the posts help to ensure that the school runs smoothly and that efficient use is made of the time students spend in class.

 

2.3 Management of resources

The school is well-served by a stable and resourceful teaching staff. The professionalism of staff is valued by school management. Commitment to ongoing professional development is supported. Most of the teachers have been in the school for a number of years. They create a safe and predictable learning environment for the students and they provide positive support for new colleagues. All teachers have appropriate initial qualifications. Almost all have additional, relevant, post-graduate qualifications. Most have formal postgraduate qualifications related to special education. Participation in short, term-time and summer courses is common practice. 

 

It is known that a major rebuilding project has been mooted for the campus. The current educational accommodation has features which could usefully be preserved or replicated in any new plans. Classrooms are bright, well decorated and well maintained and are generally of suitable size and design for the various learning activities. The central location of offices, staffroom and assembly area facilitates staff collaboration in the supervision of daily activities and transitions. Specialist rooms are equipped appropriately for Home Economics, Technology, Art, Information and Communication Technology and Woodwork. The location of the gymnasium a short distance away from the main building poses supervision and staff-support challenges that might be addressed in the context of rebuilding.    

 

Teachers make effective use of a wide variety of material resources, both purchased and teacher-made, to support teaching and learning. Suitable raw materials are provided for practical classes. 

 

There are eight computers in the school, four of which are in the computer room. These computers are somewhat dated. Further investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) would facilitate greater integration of ICT across the curriculum.

  

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Communication between centre management, teaching staff and care staff is well managed and consistently supported. Communication is facilitated by effective structures at all organisational levels, from senior management to front-line staff. The school principal attends weekly management-team meetings with the directors and unit managers of the boys’ and girls’ schools. Teachers interact with care staff on an ongoing basis. Student transitions between residence and classroom take place in a carefully structured manner that facilitates timely exchange of information.   

 

Consistency of approach is promoted by the implementation of a common behavioural reward system across school and residence.  The joint operation of the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) model, in relation to challenging behaviour, is an example of good collaborative practice. In this context, teachers value the input from care staff in relation to training and support. 

 

The school does not have a formal homework policy.  Homework, in the sense of work to be completed in the student’s residence, is not a regular feature but may be given at the student’s request, particularly during the approach to certificate examinations.  Teachers may also provide material to be completed in the residence during periods when a particular student is not attending classes.  The issue of homework, in a school such as this, is a complex one that should be considered in the wider context of collaboration and communication between care and education staff and clarified in an agreed policy document.

 

Direct interaction between teachers and parents is, necessarily, constrained in the circumstances in which the school operates. Parents are encouraged to engage with the school in the context of regular case conferences and reviews. Parents are also encouraged to attend school celebrations, presentations of certificates and displays.  

 

2.5 Management of pupils

Students and teachers engage with each other in a friendly and respectful manner. Teachers convey a sense of being in charge, while remaining accessible. They model appropriate behaviour in their interactions with students. They set high expectations, without being inflexible.

Many students are very proud of their achievements in the school.  They are quick to comment on the progress they have made and the help they have received.  Student transitions from class to class and from school to residence operate smoothly. 

 

Positive behaviour related to task completion, verbal interaction, physical interaction and general responsibility is rewarded throughout the day, through a clearly understood points system that operates across the school and the residential units.   The Therapeutic Crisis Intervention approach is implemented as centre-wide policy.  The recent care inspection reports have noted that the number of incidents requiring physical intervention has fallen considerably in recent years.  

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

School planning is facilitated by a range of well-developed and interlinked structures and processes, including short, weekly, teachers’ meetings, extended termly meetings, post-holder meetings and board of management meetings. Among teaching staff there is a culture of active engagement with whole-school issues. There is productive linkage between the planning processes on the education side and the equivalent processes on the care side. Teachers link effectively with care staff, at a number of levels. The school has engaged proactively with the School Development Planning Service provided by the Department of Education and Science.

 

The school plan records a commitment to shared values and aims and provides a useful guide to the operation of the school. It reflects the ongoing evolution of carefully planned, consistent, organisational procedures and conveys clear expectations in relation to student and staff behaviour. It reflects commitment to active co-operation within the school community, particularly between teaching and care staff. It incorporates policy guidelines which have been developed on a campus-wide basis. Discussion with teachers, in-school management, acting principal, school directors and board of management, and observation of classroom and school routines indicate that the day-to-day operation of the school is consistent with written policies and procedures. 

 

There is scope for development in relation to recording the policy-development process within policy documents, providing evidence of the formal adoption of policy documents by the board of management and specifying review dates.

  

The content of the school plan could be made more accessible by the use of a common format across a range of policy documents. In this regard, planning templates provided by the School Development Planning Service may be useful. Such a format should ensure that the following matters are included: the rationale for the policy, the process by which it was drawn up, the aims of the policy and its relationships to the characteristic spirit of the school, the content of the policy, success criteria, roles and timeframe for implementation and for subsequent review, recording of ratification by the board of management and a strategy for dissemination of the policy.

 

The extensive planning work carried out by school staff has generated a large number of documents of different types. It is suggested that, in revising the school plan, a hierarchical structure be used. This would distinguish between working documents that assist staff with the detail of day to day organisation, on the one hand, and documents containing core policies and principles on the other. The former type of document would be subject to ongoing change in the course of discussion involving staff and in-school management, while keeping the board of management informed. The latter type of document would be reviewed less frequently but more formally, in consultation with the wider school community.  The compiling of a staff handbook as a companion to the school plan might be helpful, in this context, in facilitating differentiated dissemination of relevant aspects of school planning.

 

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

 

3.2 Classroom planning

School policy emphasises the need for detailed practical preparation for each class period, in order to maximise pupil engagement and to underpin a preventative approach to the management of student behaviour. Practice observed in all classes indicated a consistency of approach among teachers in this regard. The students have come to expect to be immediately and actively engaged from the start of each class.

 

Teachers prepare good quality written plans in all subject areas. Learning targets are stated in terms of content and skills. Methodologies are described. Differentiation and assessment strategies are noted.

 

In planning for individual needs, teachers have regard to relevant professional reports and to standardised literacy and numeracy assessments carried out within the school. An individual education plan (IEP) format is used to identify priority learning needs on a cross-curricular basis. The IEP complements individualised programmes planned by the subject teachers. Each student’s total individualised programme, therefore, is comprised of subject-based individualised programmes and the cross-subject IEP. 

 

The current format for the development and recording of IEPs has significant strengths. In particular, it facilitates collaboration among teachers across subject boundaries and it supports communication and co-operation with care staff.  There is scope for development in relation to  breaking down learning priorities into measurable targets linked to specific teaching strategies.

 

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The quality of learning and teaching is good and in several respects very good, throughout the school. The performance of students in Junior Certificate examinations and in Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) modules is impressive, having regard to the learning challenges that they experience.

 

Students engage actively in lessons in all subject areas. Lessons are well paced and well resourced. Teachers take full advantage of the small size of class groupings, typically three students per class, to individualise learning activities. They praise students frequently and show obvious concern to promote self-respect and self-confidence. Questioning, discussion and subject knowledge are woven flexibly into the lesson structure, thus accommodating student preference for activity-based learning. Correction and guidance are given in a sensitive, friendly but firm manner. Teachers seek to accommodate student interests through choice of themes and projects, within the constraints of certification requirements. The element of student choice is further facilitated by the practice of allowing students to choose from a menu of subjects on Friday afternoons. 

 

The following subjects were provided at the time of the evaluation: English, Mathematics, Home Economics, Materials Technology - Wood, Art, Technology, Civic, Social and Political Education, Physical Education, Geography and Computers. All subjects are taught successfully to Junior Certificate and FETAC certification levels. The strong emphasis on practical subjects is responsive to the learning style of the students. All subjects are delivered by suitably qualified teachers who have the ability and commitment to use subject-based activities as a means to address students’ underlying needs. 

 

In this report, curriculum is discussed under six headings that correspond to the six curricular areas of the Primary School Curriculum, which, in turn, are broadly in line with the areas of experience in the junior cycle of post-primary education. History, Science, Music and Drama are not provided as distinct subjects. However, significant aspects of these subjects are covered under other subject headings. For example, aspects of Science are addressed in Materials Technology - Wood, in Home Economics and in Physical Education and aspects of History are introduced in English classes. This cross-curricular approach is a strong feature in the school. It is most evident in the commendable whole-school emphasis on literacy and numeracy. 

 

Taking into account the significant cross-curricular dimension noted above, the school responds well to the challenge of providing a curriculum that is broad, balanced, relevant to students’ needs and capable of sustaining student engagement. It will continue to be necessary for the school to consider the issues of breadth, balance and relevance in its curriculum, in the context of any future changes in staff and in relation to the emerging needs of the students. In this process of curriculum review, it will be helpful to view the subject-based aspects of the curriculum within a wider, total-curriculum framework that includes curriculum content addressed on a cross-curricular basis and also makes explicit links to the complementary learning experiences that may be promoted by care staff and other professionals. Work currently being progressed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, to which the school is contributing, is likely to be of assistance in this regard.

 

 

 

 

4.2 Language  

 

English

The development of oral language, reading and writing is approached in an integrated manner in English lessons and is reinforced in the context of activities in other subject areas. Assessments of students reading indicate that most students come to the school with reading skills that need to be consolidated and extended, while some are at an earlier stage of reading development.  Working with small class groups allows the teachers to differentiate lesson content and student assignments in response to individual needs.  

 

A wide range of reading material is made available in order to reflect the particular interests of students. Workbooks and worksheets are used judiciously to reinforce learning. Commercially- produced texts are supplemented by teacher-produced materials.    

 

Students complete written work in different styles and for different purposes. They write letters and postcards, summarise texts, complete forms and write short reports. In assisting students through the stages of the writing process, teachers direct attention to spelling, grammar and handwriting. There is scope for further development of writing skills through extended use of information and communication technology.

 

4.3 Mathematics

Mathematics lessons focus on mastery of basic number operations and their application to everyday life. Opportunities to integrate mathematical concepts and skills with other areas of the curriculum are pursued, particularly in Home Economics, Technology and Physical Education.   Students are encouraged  to work independently, to seek help when necessary and to assist each other when appropriate.

 

Greater use of strategies such as requiring learners to translate numeric computation tasks into verbally stated problems would focus attention on problem­­-solving processes and the choice and sequence of mathematical operations to be performed; it would also help in developing the students understanding of mathematical language. Increased use of computers in the mathematics classroom would further enhance the quality of learning in Mathematics. Greater use of concrete materials is also advised, bearing in mind, however, the age-level of the students.   

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

At the time of evaluation, Geography was provided as a discrete subject, while History and Science were not. Aspects of Science are addressed in Technology and Materials Technology - Wood, which are discussed in this report under Arts Education, and in Home Economics, which is discussed under Social, Personal and Health Education.  Aspects of History are included in English classes.

 

Geography

In the geography class the development of map-reading skills is emphasised. A variety of maps and charts is displayed on the classroom walls. Teaching is resourcefully differentiated to accommodate student ability levels.  Lesson content is linked to the students’ home regions and to student interests. Material for student projects is sourced from the internet. Teaching approaches and lesson formats provide regular opportunities for students to consolidate and develop oral language, reading and writing skills.

 

 

 

 

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

In Visual Arts, teachers are resourceful in the management of classroom space and facilities. Students explore a wide range of techniques and materials in two and three dimensions. Teachers select activities that allow students to experience success and to demonstrate their skills for certification purposes. Student preferences are accommodated in choice of themes and by interspersing favourite activities with certification-related activities    

 

Teachers are flexible and resourceful in the use of teaching strategies. Task demands and levels of assistance are differentiated to cater for student ability and motivation. Hands-on activity is emphasised. Theoretical and discussion-based aspects are skilfully interwoven with the practical activity. The level of student engagement is impressive. Off-task talk is re-directed unobtrusively.

 

In addition to formal evaluation through Junior Certificate and FETAC, students and teachers engage in ongoing evaluation through discussion, short questionnaires, portfolios and displays. 

 

Technology

In Technology and in Materials Technology – Wood  students work successfully towards Junior Certificate.  They also take FETAC modules in Craft Wood, Craft Leather, Craft Metal and Pyrography.  Technology programmes were inspected through lesson observation, teacher interview and document review.  In the case of Materials Technology - Wood, lesson observation was not possible as the teacher was acting as school principal. In this case, an extensive interview was conducted in the classroom setting, documents were reviewed and work samples discussed.

 

In Technology, the students explore and manipulate a range of materials and their uses.  The teacher makes full use of the somewhat limited space in the room and sustains active student engagement. Systematic reinforcement of literacy and numeracy skills and social and personal skills is evident. Pyrography activities, which are particularly enjoyed by the students, provide one example of this cross-curricular dimension. Mathematics skills are developed during technical drawing activities. Examples of students work, from this and other practical subjects, are displayed to the school community during an annual exhibition of work.

 

The woodwork room is of suitable size and is well supplied with materials and equipment that allow for challenging, age-appropriate learning activities. Samples of work on view are of an impressive standard. Curriculum planning and recording provide evidence of the cross-curricular linkage that is a feature of teaching and learning throughout the school.

 

4.6 Physical Education

Physical Education lessons are well planned and confidently managed.  Students participate with enthusiasm and enjoyment and demonstrate a sense of achievement. This is enhanced by the involvement of students on a regular basis in recording and evaluating their own performance. The main PE hall provides for indoor court games, gymnastics activities and general fitness activities. Two annexe rooms provide for weights activities, snooker and table-tennis.  An outdoor tennis court is also available. Because  the PE hall is separated from the main school building it is school policy to have a second teacher in attendance, in a supporting role, during lessons.

 

Programme content includes basketball, football, indoor hockey, badminton, minor games, weight training, circuit training, gymnastics, trampoline work and athletics. As part of the overall PE programme, students complete a FETAC module in Health Related Fitness. The knowledge, skills and awareness related to the functioning of the body, which are covered in this and other aspects of the programme, provide a strong cross-curricular link to Social, Personal and Health Education.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

This curricular area is discussed here in the context of Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and of Home Economics. Much of the learning that takes place in other curricular areas, such as Arts Education and Physical Education, contributes significantly to the development of social, personal and health-related skills. Similarly, the underlying climate created by school routines and by the typical interaction between staff and students, facilitates personal development through incidental learning.

 

One teacher has specific responsibility for delivering a dedicated programme in the area of social and personal development. The programme incorporates aspects of Junior Certificate CSPE and FETAC Personal and Interpersonal Skills. The following core areas are addressed: self-identity, rights and responsibilities, decision making, types of behaviour, valuing difference. The programme incorporates and builds upon the strands of the SPHE curriculum at primary level: Myself, Myself and Others, Myself and the Wider World

 

Students engage well in this area, which of its nature does not have the same concrete focus that exists in practical subjects. Engagement is assisted by the provision of suitable stimulus materials. Learning objectives are linked to ‘real-life’ scenarios and to stories about well-known historical or contemporary figures whose lives illustrate key concepts.

 

Home Economics

The following aims are outlined in relation to the Home Economics programme:  to develop and improve practical cookery skills and to develop the student for family life, for working life, for living in the community and for leisure. Students prepare for Junior Certificate and they complete FETAC modules in Food and Cookery, Food and Nutrition, Consumer Studies, and Child Development and Play.

 

The design of the classroom work-stations allows for students to take responsibility for complete work-cycles, covering preparation, cooking and cleaning. Good work habits and high standards of hygiene are promoted. Students engage in activities with enthusiasm and notable application.  Teacher time is used flexibly and efficiently for demonstration, individualised support and ongoing assessment of students’ work. The learning of factual content and theory is embedded in the practical lessons and reinforced in follow-up discussion. The practice of involving students in evaluation of their own work is well established. Cross-curricular links to oral and written language and to Mathematics and Science are identified and exploited.

 

4.8 Assessment

The school employs a range of formal and informal assessment processes. Assessment for external certification includes the summative, examination-based Junior Certificate and the continuous assessment approach required by FETAC. It is clear that access to both of these external certification processes provides significant motivation to students and a useful focus for teachers’ work.  In the light of this positive experience, the Junior Certificate School Programme and the Leaving Certificate Applied might also be considered as additional or alternative assessment frameworks for some students.

 

Formative assessment, aimed at guiding ongoing learning, commences on enrolment and continues throughout the students stay in the school. Teachers record student progress on a regular basis. Information is collated and shared at school level and is used to inform the school’s contribution to the planning and review process for each student within the centre. The practice of involving students in assessment of their own work is well established across the curriculum.

 

All teachers carry out baseline assessments related to the academic and practical requirements of specific subject areas. These assessments are generally completed in the classroom setting, using a combination of informal interview and short, set tasks. They are perceived by teacher and student as a normal part of the teaching and learning process. They allow relevant information to be gathered efficiently. They allow teachers to begin to engage the new student in teaching and learning from the first day of attendance. This useful assessment strategy can be developed further by refining the items and repeating the assessment at appropriate intervals during a students stay. 

 

In planning for individual needs, teachers have access to and take account of relevant professional  reports and standardised literacy and numeracy assessments carried out within the school. Assessment information facilitates the compiling of a student profile in the student’s individual education plan document. (See section 3.2 above.)

 

The various assessment practices are well documented. However, there is no single policy document that outlines overall policy in relation to assessment. The school’s good practice in relation to assessment can be consolidated and enhanced through the development of such a document.

 

 

5.     Quality of support for Students

 

5.1 Students with special educational needs

The results of tests of general ability and of attainment in particular areas suggest that a  significant number of students function at levels indicative of special educational needs. It should be noted that results on standardised tests need to be interpreted with care where students may have experienced serious social disadvantage and disrupted family relationships. In such circumstances, test results may underestimate a students underlying ability. Similar students in mainstream schools might be in receipt of special educational interventions in the form of resource-teaching allocation, or might be considered for placement in special classes or special schools. These students are well-served by the school’s emphasis on individualisation and differentiation, by the small class size and the level of individual attention, by the cross-curricular emphasis on literacy and numeracy, by the practical emphasis within the curriculum and by the emphasis on providing and building on success.

 

The schools policy and practice in relation to individual education plans facilitate a cross-curricular emphasis on priority learning needs, to the benefit of all students including those who may be considered to have special educational needs.

 

Attainment levels in literacy and numeracy, as measured on entry to the school, are in all cases below chronological age. Nevertheless, most students have acquired sufficient reading skills to allow them to read a range of texts and to use reading as part of the learning process. Teachers seek to address literacy and numeracy across the curriculum and provide individual assistance in all classes.  Additional one-to-one learning support is provided, where necessary.

 

5.2 Other supports for students: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

Many of the students come from families that have experienced social and economic disadvantage. Some students come from Traveller families. At the time of evaluation the school had one student whose first language was not English or Irish.

 

The teachers create a climate of social interaction that is based on mutual respect and tolerance and builds student self-esteem. Students come from cities and towns throughout Ireland. Their different backgrounds are acknowledged and celebrated in classroom discussion and in their work outputs in academic and practical classes. Curriculum content in Social, Personal and Health Education addresses issues related to the rights and responsibilities of individuals and groups.  Teachers are also aware that, particularly in small groups, it may not always be appropriate to focus directly on social, cultural or ethnic differences among students.

 

Students from a range of ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds may become a growing element in enrolment in the future, reflecting the changing composition of the Irish population as a whole.  School management is aware of this potential development and has begun to consider school development needs that may arise. Exploration has begun in relation to the possible need for staff training in foreign languages.

 

The school plan does not contain an explicit statement of policy in relation to including and respecting the social, ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the students. Guidelines on Intercultural Education in the Post-primary School, published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, advocate a whole-school, cross-curricular approach to developing inclusiveness and respect for diversity.  They suggest that intercultural education be seen not as an additional subject or as additional material within subjects but as an approach to education that can be integrated across all subjects. It is recommended that a policy statement on the intercultural dimension of education across the curriculum be developed.

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The school is managed by a committed, well-informed and effective board of management.

·         In-school management is characterised by sustained leadership, a committed and cohesive team of post-holders, a well established collaborative approach and appropriate systems of communication.

·         The school is well-served by a stable, resourceful, co-operative and well-qualified teaching staff that is open to continuing professional development.

·         Classrooms and circulation areas are fit for purpose, well maintained, and well resourced.

·         Relationships and communication between education staff and care staff operate efficiently at all organisational levels and in formal and informal contexts.

·         Teachers display confidence in managing student behaviour; they model appropriate social interactions and convey high expectations.

·         Well-developed planning practice is evident at whole-school, classroom and individual student level. Individual education plans are prepared in respect of all students; they facilitate linkage to individual care planning.

·         Effective classroom management ensures that students engage actively in lesson activities.

·         The quality of learning and teaching is good or very good across the school; activity-based learning is emphasised; lessons are well paced and purposeful while at the same time facilitating warm interaction between teachers and students.

·         Access to external certification, through Junior Certificate and FETAC, is a positive factor in motivating students; student achievement in external certification is commendable.

·         Teachers deliver a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum, with a strong practical emphasis, combining subject-related expertise with a cross-curricular approach.

·         Students with special educational needs are well-served by the school’s emphasis on individualisation and differentiation, by the small class size, by the cross-curricular emphasis on literacy and numeracy, by the practical emphasis within the curriculum and  by the emphasis on ensuring and building on success.

·         The climate of mutual respect and tolerance that is consciously fostered by teachers, is responsive to the needs of students from disadvantaged and minority-group backgrounds. 

 

 

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

 

·         The school should invest further in information and communication technology in order to advance the use of ICT as a tool for learning across the curriculum. 

·         In developing or reviewing school policy documents, a common format should be adopted; such a format should ensure that the following aspects are included: the rationale for the policy, the process by which it was drawn up, the aims of the policy and its relationships to the characteristic spirit of the school, the  substantive content of the policy, success criteria, roles and timeframe for implementation and for subsequent review, recording of ratification by the board of management and a strategy for dissemination of the policy within the school community.

·         Targets included in individual education plans should be stated in more specific terms and linked to specific teaching strategies.

·         In reviewing curricular policies, subject-based aspects of the curriculum should be considered within a wider, total-curriculum framework that would include curriculum content addressed on a cross-curricular basis and would also make explicit links to the complementary learning experiences that might be promoted by care staff and other professionals.

·         Current policies and procedures related to assessment should be reviewed through the development of an overall assessment-policy document.

·         The school should develop a policy statement in relation to the intercultural dimension of education across the curriculum.

 

 

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.


 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

 

The report was welcomed at the 24th April 2007 meeting of the Board of Management as a wholehearted endorsement of the work of the school.  The Board was delighted with the informed, in-depth, thorough manner in which the inspection was carried out.  Every aspect of school life was examined in a knowledgeable manner resulting in a report that captures the culture and ethos of the school and is a well documented testimony to the sterling work of the whole school community in Oberstown.

 

The Board would like to point out that as referred to on page 2, the inspection took place at a time of significant change.  The 2001 Children act which was enacted on 1st March 2007 will have a profound effect on the education of the young people sentenced to Oberstown.  The school is now licensed to cater for older students, under 18 year olds and for shorter sentences.  This legislative change impacts quite dramatically on all aspects of the educational provision for this potentially more delinquent, disaffected and challenging cohort of students.

 

As a Board that is described as “committed, well-informed and effective” (page 11) our main concern is that the high quality education currently delivered in the safe learning environment of the school, as detailed in the report, will be in no way diminished when these changes are embedded.  Bearing the educational needs of the young people in mind, and the necessary safety provisions for both students and teachers, the Board sees this WSE report as a positive contribution to enhancing teacher confidence in their own ability to plan and implement the necessary curricular changes while awaiting the outcome of the curriculum review being carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.  The report highlights the “professionalism” of the teachers (2.3), the “good collaborative practice” (2.4) the high educational “expectations” (2.5) st for students and the “impressive” (4.1) performance of the students.

 

 

  

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection

               activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.        

 

 

·         We are currently investing in new computers

·         All policies are being reviewed and rewritten following a suggested format