An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Rose’s Special School
Balrothery, Tallaght, Dublin, 24
Date of inspection: 10 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Rose’s Special School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St. Rose’s School is a recognised, co-educational special national school founded in 1994. Its designation is in relation to pupils presenting with specific learning disabilities. The school is located in the Balrothery vicinity of east Tallaght in Dublin 24. The school’s catchment area is extensive covering the greater Tallaght area as well as surrounding areas such as Clondalkin, Crumlin, Rathfarnham, Templeogue, Terenure, Walkinstown, North Kildare and North Wicklow. Most pupils avail of the transport service provided through the Department of Education and Science and several pupils travel long distances to attend the school.
The school operates under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. The mission statement declares the characteristic spirit of the school to be of a Catholic ethos with due recognition of other religions. The school motto, ‘Success comes in cans, not in can’ts’ colloquially summarises the mission statement’s commitment to provide a ‘positive, caring, inclusive, happy and secure environment which is child-centred’. There is a definite awareness and acceptance of this among the board members, the parents’ association and the staff.
According to its stated aims, St. Rose’s School endeavours to create a positive school ethos, ‘thus allowing the child to develop socially, emotionally, morally, spiritually, physically and intellectually’. Mindful of its brief to accommodate pupils with specific learning disabilities, the aims of the school also refer to the specific need to enhance self-esteem and competency.
Pupils must be diagnosed as having a specific learning disability in accordance with criteria set by the Department of Education and Science to be eligible to enrol in St. Rose’s School. Enrolment is normally for two years with pupils then transferring to a mainstream primary or post-primary school. Pupils are between eight and twelve years of age and are placed in one of six classes between third and sixth. With the specified pupil-teacher ratio now set at 9:1, the maximum enrolment is fifty-four pupils. The school has had full enrolment for the past three years. The school’s proactive and positive policy of encouragement and reward has yielded a good level of pupil attendance. The number of teaching days per year and the number of instruction hours per week as detailed in the school calendar is in accordance with department regulations.
The board of management is properly constituted in line with the guidelines issued by the Department of Education and Science and meets at least four times annually. The minutes of recent meetings show that the agenda regularly features reports from the chairperson, the treasurer, and the principal. The board is committed to upholding the ethos of the school and has adopted a positive policy of communication and transparency in relation to its business. The board is supportive of, and actively involved in, the creation of school policies. Annually, in support of the teaching staff, the board sets aside a sum of money to help fund their continuing professional development and to hire a substitute on two days to release teachers for planning.
A current concern for the board of management is to secure adequate accommodation for the school into the future. Since its establishment, the school has leased accommodation from Scoil Aonghusa SNS, and Scoil Aonghusa JNS. All three schools share the same campus. The leasing agreement with the host schools is renewed annually and is dependant on the availability of surplus accommodation in these schools. Up to now, adequate accommodation for St Rose’s School has always been available. However, at the time of the evaluation, concern was expressed by members of the board that this situation might not continue beyond the current year. At the time of the evaluation, plans were in train for representatives of St Rose’s School to meet with representatives of Scoil Aonghusa Junior and Senior National Schools to examine the accommodation needs of the three schools and find a solution. Given the need of St Rose’s School for a long-term solution to its accommodation needs, it is recommended that the board of St. Rose’s School should keep the relevant sections of the Department of Education and Science informed and should work closely with the Department to ensure that the school has sufficient accommodation for the long term.
The board expressed concern about the delay the school experiences each year in achieving full enrolment. Lateness in the receipt of applications for places and the delays parents encounter in securing up-to-date psychological assessment reports delay enrolment and result in the school not knowing its actual enrolment figures until late August. This causes significant planning problems for the school. It is recommended that the school plan and implement a range of proactive strategies to raise awareness in the community of the role and entry criteria for St Rose’s School with the aim of ensuring that prospective pupils are assessed and referred within an adequate time-frame.
The in-school management team consists of the administrative principal and three teachers holding posts at the levels of deputy principal and special duties. The principal is fully aware of her responsibilities and works in a dedicated manner to fulfil her role. The principal successfully involves all staff in collaboratively planning the development of the school. An extensive and encompassing range of organisational policies and procedures are in place. Under the principal’s leadership, the school encourages and supports the involvement of parents in many aspects of school life. The principal is an effective leader, yet strives to continue to improve professionally through attendance at school leadership programmes.
The principal is ably supported by the deputy principal. They meet daily on an informal basis and schedule formal meetings to address specific matters. The deputy also serves as the teacher representative on the board and this successfully involves her in all management issues. The school has two special duties posts, one of which is shared between two teachers. These posts have an area of curricular responsibility assigned to them plus a range of whole-school organisational and pastoral functions. Duties include the co-ordination and production of individual education plans, the induction and mentoring of new teachers, the purchasing and maintaining of classroom resources including software and the organisation of maintenance of the school computers. All post-holders make an effective contribution and report regularly at staff meetings. As tasks are completed and policies are established, it would be advisable to review the duties of post-holders annually in the context of the changing priorities and needs of the school.
Staff meetings are convened formally about eight times each academic year. Curricular, organisational and planning issues are discussed regularly and minutes are recorded. From the minutes it is clear that all staff play an active and positive role in the development and implementation of the school policies and plans. It is commendable that the roles of chair and minuting secretary are rotated amongst the staff.
There are seven classroom-based teachers working in St. Rose’s School; five are full-time and two share the remaining post. The number and level of classes each year is dependent on enrolment. In the current year there is one third class, two fourth classes, a mixed fourth and fifth class, one fifth class and one sixth class. Each teacher is assigned to a base-class and takes responsibility for all areas of the curriculum apart from mathematics and religious education. The pupils are reorganised in new groupings for these subjects.
All members of staff are encouraged and facilitated to avail of opportunities to develop professionally and both individual teachers and the staff as a whole have participated in a variety of relevant in-service courses.
There is one special-needs assistant assigned to the school and a second is being recruited. The work of the existing special-needs assistant is directed by the teaching staff and the support provided is considered essential. Ancillary staff includes a full-time school secretary, a housekeeper who cleans the school daily and one-third of a care-taker’s services shared with Scoileanna Aonghusa. Co-operative work practices between the teaching and ancillary staffs were noted during the evaluation. As observed, all were contributing effectively to the smooth running of the school.
The accommodation features six classrooms but two of them are in a separate building across the playground. Each classroom has a sink, shelves, blackboard, bulletin boards, storage area, and an adjoining toilet. All teachers have created attractive yet educationally conducive work environments in their classrooms. Many classroom and corridor walls are decorated with the photos, artwork and written work of the pupils. Each classroom has a library area containing a range of books of appropriate readability and interest. There is are two or three computers with internet access and a range of software in every classroom.
In addition to the classrooms, the accommodation includes a multi-purpose hall which is suitable for drama, physical education activities and whole-school assemblies, an outdoor hardcourt play area with recently painted markings for games, separate offices for the principal and secretary, a large store room for teaching resources, and a staff dining and kitchen area. Pitches in the adjacent Bancroft and Tymon Parks are used as is the pool in a nearby community school. All areas of the school are clean, well-maintained and provide a safe environment for pupils and staff.
A health and safety statement is prepared annually by the principal and the deputy-principal following a risk assessment survey. This process ensures that corrective measures are taken as necessary. The statement is available to parents and staff and its provisions are adhered to. The school plan contains a comprehensive list of resources available in the school to assist the effective implementation of the curriculum including literacy and numeracy support materials, curricular-specific resources and equipment used for physical education.
The parents’ association is active in providing welcome support for the school in a variety of ways. The executive committee of the association meets two or three times each term. Despite the transience of the pupil population and the varied geographical locations of pupils’ homes, the association laudably manages to supply ongoing assistance to the school itself and to new and existing parents. It organises information evenings to welcome new parents and to support ‘networking’ between parents. It is also involved in a series of fundraising activities to support the school. It establishes and maintains links with the wider community concerned with the issue of specific learning disabilities by attending conferences and seminars. The parents’ association has contributed to discussions on such topics as healthy eating and the new school uniform and has had representation on a number of policy committees.
A newsletter, edited by a committee member, is issued termly by the parents’ association. The newsletter informs parents of current school issues and always features the art and writing of pupils. The parents’ association takes a leading role in organising the school’s St. Patrick’s festival and the ‘end of the year’ ceremony. Parents from the association also volunteer to help out at swimming and often assist at specific events within the school. On request, the association provides parent representation in policy development and endeavours to ensure that all parents are aware of existing school policies.
The school provides many opportunities to inform parents of pupil progress. Brief progress records are sent home fortnightly in the pupils’ journals. Parents are requested to read, sign and return the reports for the pupils’ cumulative records. There is also an informal system of sending home notes, particularly notes with affirmative comments. Where the school is aware of literacy difficulties in the home, telephone calls are substituted. Teachers often request parents to attend brief meetings in the school to address specific concerns, and parents’ requests for meetings with teachers are accommodated. More formally, the school schedules annual parent-teacher meetings. Prior to these meetings, parents are asked to complete a questionnaire to help in the planning of the meeting time. Finally, comprehensive written reports, including the results of standardised testing in English and mathematics, are issued at the end of each academic year.
The officers of the parents’ association reported that parents are encouraged to take a partnership role in their children’s education. They acknowledged the accessibility of the principal and the teachers and highlighted their appreciation for all of the staff’s commitment and dedication to the pupils. This they felt was apparent in their children’s happiness and motivation to attend school.
A visible and open school-wide system to promote and reward the positive behaviour of pupils is in place. This includes clearly displayed rules and a chart to record pupil behaviour in every classroom. Notes reporting behaviour to parents, commending the good and enlisting their aid in extinguishing the poor, are in regular use. Good behaviour is reinforced through regular praise as well as tangible rewards distributed at the end of the weekly whole-school assembly. There is noticeable mutual respect between the teachers and the pupils. The pupils are generally well-mannered and there are caring relationships between pupils. A conscious effort is made by all teachers to foster pupil self-confidence and self-esteem by praising their academic and behavioural efforts and encouraging pupils to contribute appropriately to school life. All of this allows the school to maintain a positive atmosphere favourable to learning. In addition to the above, the school policy records a hierarchical list of agreed procedures and sanctions that are available to teachers if needed.
Under the guidance of the School Development Planning Support (Primary) the school has successfully evolved a process of creating a comprehensive school plan which includes policy statements in line with statutory requirements, Department circulars and other guidelines on good practice. The process involves the collaboration of all of the teaching staff and management, and includes parents and pupils as appropriate. Some policies have initiated from the board and some from the staff, but all have been advanced collaboratively. The board has been involved in the creation of policies such as enrolment, the administration of medication in school, and special needs, and the board has worked directly with the parents in dealing with policy matters such as substance abuse, child protection and Relationship and Sexuality Education. In addition, the school plan also details its own development over the past six years and outlines priorities and future work including dates for periodic reviews.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented these policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the departmental guidelines.
The board has taken an active role in facilitating the development of school policies. There is evidence through the chairperson’s signature that a number of the policies have been formally ratified by the board. It is recommended that this practice be consistently deployed in the future and that the few policies that have not been ratified by the board be amended to conform to this.
The curricular policies in the school plan have been created with the guidance of in-service provided by the Primary School Curriculum Support Programme. These policies correctly reference the strands and strand units and reflect curricular principles. The school plan consistently takes into consideration the specific needs of pupils with specific learning disabilities. All teachers engage in half-yearly planning using an agreed school template that is linked directly to the curricular policies of the school plan. These note the content and give information on the material resources and methodologies to be used. The effective collaborative planning by two job-sharing teachers was noted. All teachers complete monthly progress records and, subsequently, these are lodged with and signed by the principal.
Short-term planning is progressed from the whole-school plan and takes the form of either fortnightly or weekly plans using an agreed school template. Some teachers’ plans show that attempts are made to link the lesson content to specific learning objectives. However, some of the teachers’ plans consist of a series of activities with named resources and do not specify the objectives or expected outcomes of the lesson. Provision for individual differences among pupils would be more effectively addressed through the setting of specific objectives for learning followed by the selection of appropriate teaching methods and modes of assessment. It would also facilitate the monitoring of pupil achievement.
All staff use a school template to produce pupil profiles and individual education plans in respect of the pupils in their base classes. A post-holder has responsibility for ensuring that individual education plans are completed. This teacher is also available to provide support to teachers in relation to individualised planning. The completed forms are submitted to the principal whose aim is to put in place a system by which these plans can be accessed by teachers on networked classroom computers.
The issue of literacy development permeates all curricular activity. Teachers endeavour to reinforce and consolidate literacy-based skills. The curriculum is adapted with a view to meeting the needs of children with specific learning disabilities. All subjects on the Primary School Curriculum are taught with the exception of Irish. A print-rich environment is a feature of all classrooms and the school as a whole. The teachers work with determination to create learning opportunities for the pupils with encouraging results. Class teaching interspersed with individual monitoring and intervention as required is the dominant mode. Pupils also work in pairs or small groups for some activities.
Deserving attention has been directed towards the development of information and communication technology. A target of three computers per classroom has been set. The computers are mainly used to reinforce and consolidate literacy skills with short, daily practice sessions with structured literacy development software. Pupils also use computers to access information for project work and to produce written work. Assistive technology has the potential of impacting significantly upon pupils with specific learning disabilities by contributing to learning, independence, self-esteem, and quality of life. Interactive books, content-free software and scan and read software are all examples of possible additional uses of information and communication technology in the classroom. It is recommended that the school, in consultation with the National Council for Technology in Education, investigates the increased and more varied use of technology.
As observed during the evaluation, some classes were set only a limited amount of homework. This included routine activities such as learning spellings, reading over core words, reading in a selected independent reader and solving maths problems. It is good practice to set a variety of homework tasks especially for those pupils in their final year at St. Rose’s School and to encourage them to complete it to the best of their ability as this promotes independent learning and self-responsibility for learning. Parents support pupils by monitoring homework, signing journals and assisting when needed. Parents can accommodate their children’s reading and writing difficulties by acting as readers, by scanning reading material onto a home computer for use with reading software or by monitoring the pupil listening to text on an audio tape. Homework does not have to mean written work. Pupils might be asked to think about, to draw, to learn, to review, to copy, or to model – there are ample tasks suitable for homework that do not make significant literacy demands.
De réir fhorálacha Imlitir 12/96 tá díolúine ón nGaeilge ag gach scoláire sa scoil seo toisc go bhfuil sain-mhíchumas foghlama acu. Faoi láthair, ní chuirtear ranganna foirmeálta Gaeilge ar fáil sa scoil. Rinneadh an socrú seo toisc na riachtanais fhoghlama faoi leith sa Bhéarla atá ag na scoláirí agus toisc nach bhfuil na daltaí ann ach ar feadh bliain nó dhó agus is gá an dul chun cinn is mó a dhéanamh lena gcuid litearthachta. É sin ráite, tá sé luaite sa phlean scoile go gcothófaí dearcadh dearfach i measc na ndaltaí i leith teanga agus cultúr na tíre. Cuireadh in iúl go ndéanfaí staidéar ar théamaí cultúrtha in ábhair áirithe agus trí pháirt a ghlacadh i ngníomhaí bunaithe ar fhéiltí agus nósanna Éireannacha. Spreagtar na múinteoirí an Ghaeilge a úsáid go neamhfhoirmeálta le linn an lae. Chonacthas dea chleachtas le linn na meastóireachta ina sníodh cultúr na tíre isteach sna teangacha, sa Stair agus san Oideachas Ealaín. Tugadh faoi deara go raibh Gaeilge neamhfhoirmeálta in úsáid i roinnt ranganna. Má theastaíonn ó thuistí go bhfoghlaimeodh a bpáiste an teanga go foirmeálta agus iad ag freastal ar an scoil is ceart an teagasc cuí a chur ar fáil dóibh.
All the pupils in St Rose’s School are eligible for exemption from Irish on the grounds of specific learning disability under the terms of Circular 12/96. At present, formal lessons in Irish are not provided for pupils in St Rose’s School. The decision not to provide formal teaching in Irish arises from the pupils’ specific needs in English language, their temporary placement in St Rose’s School for one or two years and the need to devote as much time as possible to the advancement of their literacy skills in English. Nevertheless, it is stated in the school plan that the teachers will endeavour to maintain a positive attitude towards the Irish language and to develop the pupils’ appreciation of Irish culture. It is indicated that themes related to Irish culture will be investigated in relevant subject areas and through participation in activities related to Irish festivals and customs. Teachers are encouraged to use Irish incidentally during the course of the day. Good practice was observed during the evaluation in relation to the exploration of themes related to Irish culture in curricular areas such as Language, History and Visual Arts. It was also noted that Irish was used incidentally in some classes. In the case of parents who would like their children to engage in the formal study of Irish while they are attending St Rose’s School, appropriate instruction in Irish should be provided.
The whole-school plan for English is presented in accordance with the structure and principles of the Primary School Curriculum and provides a framework for classroom planning. Guidance is provided in the whole-school plan for English in relation to the adaptation and differentiation of the curriculum to meet the needs of pupils with specific learning disability. Teachers link their classroom planning closely to the school plan and an integrated approach is used in planning for the development of oral, reading and writing skills.
The promotion of literacy skills is the foundation of the work of the school. Ninety minutes is spent daily in all classrooms on English and literacy-development activities. Teaching strategies are focussed largely on the provision of individualised literacy-development opportunities. Examples of the daily rota of language development activities that were observed include individualised story reading, individualised oral reading of core words with reinforcement of word-attack skills, choral class reading of lists of single pattern words to reinforce word-attack skills and phonic worksheets that were completed first as an oral activity and subsequently in writing by each pupil. Both commercial and teacher-made resources are widely used, including workbooks, comprehension programmes, language games, and literacy skill development software. The pupils’ written work is monitored and corrected consistently in all classrooms.
Pupils work co-operatively in pairs in many of the classrooms. Pupils work with a partner to review the recognition of words and to check spellings learned as part of a homework routine. In some classrooms a pupil finishes reading a class library book, he/she presents a review through an interview technique with another pupil. The partner pupil acts as the interviewer and asks questions about such aspects as the plot, character, setting, genre and the readability of the book. Pupils also complete programmes on computer which aim to develop knowledge of letter-sound correspondence, word recognition, and word identification skills.
It is clear that the staff members work assiduously to help the pupils acquire age-level skills in oral language, reading and writing. Persistent efforts are made to foster the development of pupils’ receptive and expressive language. Pupils attend well to questions and aurally presented information and take part in discussions and debates. However, while many of the pupils make significant progress, others continue to have significant difficulties with reading at the end of their placement in St Rose’s School.
While much of the current whole-school plan for English makes reference to direct, explicit instruction of decoding skills for word attack and word identification, it does not underlie current practice in the classrooms. In English lessons, the pupils undertake a range of generic literacy-based tasks which are not sufficiently systematic. In addition, although the pupils often work as individuals on specific tasks, sufficient opportunities to individualise the teaching and learning of specific decoding skills are not available.
The research indicates that pupils with specific learning disabilities experience specific language-based difficulties in acquiring and developing efficient reading (and writing) skills. Specific learning disability is manifested by weaknesses in phonological awareness. This prevents easy access to letter-sound correspondences and decoding strategies for automatic word recognition and leads to over-reliance on context and guessing instead of the use of the alphabetic principle to decode words. Slow and inaccurate reading means that the pupils do not get to the meaning of the text. They then avoid reading, and without exposure to text fail to develop the skills and vocabulary needed for comprehension and the eventual enjoyment of reading.
The literacy-development programme for pupils with such language-based reading difficulties must highlight the structure of language. Teaching should focus on direct, explicit instruction of decoding skills for word attack and word identification, and the development of the continuous prose reading skills of fluency and comprehension. Instruction should be systematic and cumulative and yet individualised to suit the specific cognitive strengths and weaknesses of each pupil.
It is recommended therefore that the school review and revise the ‘Reading’ section of the whole-school plan for English and the instructional strategies employed in the classrooms. It is also recommended that the school explore other possible intervention frameworks that would enable each pupil to receive more focussed and individualised instruction during the time allocated for literacy development. To do this the school should seek the advice and support of external experts with research-based and experiential knowledge in this area.
The majority of the pupils have very low levels of achievement in Mathematics on entry to the school. The school plan for Mathematics clarifies the necessity to adapt aspects to accommodate the strengths and needs of the pupils. The plan outlines the specific aims of the school and gives details of learning objectives, available resources, appropriate methodologies, and assessment procedures as well as school-based guidelines on the language of Mathematics. Classroom planning is based on the strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum and is differentiated to address the individual needs of the pupils.
The pupils are regrouped for the Mathematics lessons based on their specific abilities and needs. Additionally, the teachers differentiate content and approach for the various levels of ability and need within these groups. The lessons are generally well-structured and emphasis is placed on active learning. Mathematical concepts, computational procedures, and problem-solving skills are introduced and promoted through practical experiences, paired work, guided discussion and the use of concrete materials, textbooks, and worksheets. Time is gainfully spent on the acquisition and correct usage of the relevant mathematical language. The pupils display positive attitudes towards mathematics, responding well to oral questioning and engaging earnestly in mathematical activities with peer and teacher support.
Given the low levels of achievement in mathematics by many of the pupils, it is recommended that specific targets be set for the pupils at the beginning of the school year. Appropriate criterion-referenced tests should be used during the course of the year to monitor the pupils’ progress towards the achievement of targets. Additional teaching support can then be provided for pupils who are not making the progress expected.
Following in-career development to support the introduction of the Primary School Curriculum, a whole-school plan for History is under development during the current school year. The staff have begun work on a draft plan and have collated relevant documents and a list of existing resources.
In classes where the teaching of history was observed, the teachers worked from their own class level plans to implement a broad programme in History. They encouraged pupils to develop an interest in the past. The development of skills as a historian was emphasised and pupils clearly enjoyed and benefited from the relevant activities. Methodologies in use included discussion, story, examination of evidence, paired work and group work, work based on textbooks and project work. Good use was made of timelines to facilitate the pupils’ understanding of chronology. Integration with other curricular areas was evident, especially with English and the Visual Arts.
Whole-school planning with full cognisance of the strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum is established in the area of Geography. The teachers challenge pupils with relevant and interesting topics and various activities employing a range of resources. Pupils show an interest in Geography and the teachers take advantage of their natural curiosity encouraging them to look closely at the world, to investigate and to record their findings. Lively debate and interaction between pupils is promoted by questioning and probing techniques to urge pupils to explore responses. Observed methodologies included whole-class activities with individual assistance and paired work.
Pupils are consistently active during science lessons. They conduct practical experiments with the clear directions and support of the teachers. Investigation is promoted through open-ended questioning and teacher-led discussion. The pupils are facilitated to make inferences, to predict outcomes, and to record their observations. There is an emphasis on understanding and using the correct terminology. The pupils show a positive attitude towards science and a well-developed range of age-appropriate skills. They engage enthusiastically in the lessons and clearly work well together. As in other areas, the pupils’ written work is limited by their current level of literacy skills but there is still an emphasis on writing to the best of their ability. Many classrooms proudly display examples of pupils’ work in this area along with posters related to the science topics being studied. There is a practicable whole-school plan for Science with clear reference to the constituent parts of the Curriculum.
The area of Visual Arts is recognised as providing for the sensory, emotional, intellectual and creative enrichment of the pupils and as contributing to their holistic development. The programmes that are undertaken by the pupils in the different classes are in accordance with the strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum. Opportunities for integration with other areas of the curriculum are put into effect through thematic approaches and include topics related to the seasons, festivals, and particular school events. The range of activities that is provided in Visual Arts is commendable. The pupils are encouraged to use their experience and imagination. The pupils worked willingly and creatively on Visual Arts activities that were observed during the evaluation. Attractive examples of competed works are displayed in the classrooms and in general areas throughout the school.
Classroom programmes in Music are planned in accordance with the strands and strand units of the Primary School Curriculum. Teachers endeavour to give the pupils positive experiences in Music during their year or two years in the school. Song singing, percussion, rhythm work, music literacy and listening activities form the basis of the classroom Music programmes. School assemblies, school celebrations and religious events provide a focus for choral singing. The school has participates regularly in the Music in the Classroom programme. This included attendance by the pupils at a performance by the RTE concert orchestra. Activities associated with Music in the Classroom have provided a useful focus for Music education this year.
In a number of classes, the students are provided with activities in Drama that enable them to explore story, poetry, personal issues, and social situations. Issues are examined within a supported and carefully constructed classroom framework. Pupils are encouraged to engage imaginatively with the subject through mime and role play in an atmosphere of co-operation and trust. In the lessons that were observed during the evaluation, opportunities were provided for enquiry and discussion and the contributions of individual pupils were acknowledged and valued. The in-service programme for teachers that is provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Service in the current year should assist the school in the further development of Drama in all classes in the school.
Pupils participate in a broad physical education curriculum. While the small class numbers and the facilities limit the types of activities that can be planned for pupils, the teachers are quite creative in their organisation and implementation of the physical education programme.
The Physical Education programme is enhanced by a number of external activities including the provision of fortnightly swimming lessons for all pupils, under the direction of qualified instructors at a local pool. This activity is funded mainly by parents’ contributions but any shortfall is made up by the Board of Management. The pupils are organised in groups in accordance with their swimming ability and teaching is provided by specialist instructors. In addition, the Board and the parents’ association together fund ninety minutes of weekly pupil instruction in Olympic handball for a six week period and ten weeks of sixty minute instruction in Irish dancing, and the Irish Rugby Football Union provides twelve weeks of one hour coaching sessions to promote tag rugby. All activities are carefully organised and appropriately supervised. The school also strongly encourages pupil involvement in sporting activity within their own local communities.
The programme in SPHE encompasses the three strands – Myself, Myself and Others and Myself and the Wider World. Elements of nationally developed programmes related to personal safety and substance abuse are incorporated, including Relationships and Sexuality Education. Teachers endeavour to match content of lessons and teaching strategies to the ages and needs of the pupils. Appropriate programmes are planned in all classes and these include the areas of personal safety, social skills, personal development as well as themes related to self, family, community and responsibilities in relation to the wider world.
In lessons that were observed during the evaluation, techniques related to Circle Time and Drama were used effectively to promote individual and group awareness and to enable the pupils to address specific issues in a safe environment. School assemblies are held generally on a weekly basis and are led by the principal. These assemblies are helpful in reinforcing positive personal and social values, in promoting a climate of mutual respect throughout the school and in celebrating the efforts and achievements of individual pupils and classes.
On application to the school, the parents of each prospective entrant are asked to submit a copy of a recent psychological report which is used to determine the child’s eligibility for enrolment. On entry, each pupil attends an assessment session at the school when members of the teaching staff administer a series of standardised literacy and mathematics tests. The results of these tests, with those from the psychological report, are recorded on a class record sheet. The administration of some tests is repeated in the middle and at the end of each academic year.
Additional information about pupils is gathered informally and recorded. The observation and monitoring of skills in the areas of social competence and oral and written language development is a daily practice. All teachers conduct a series of daily and weekly checks on skill development in a variety of areas including oral reading, sight vocabulary, word attack, spelling and writing. Teacher’s record monthly progress in literacy programmes and monthly progress reports are completed and filed in the principal’s office.
Some teachers administer individual diagnostic tests in areas such as phonological skills, but this practice and the use of the resulting information is inconsistent within the school. It is apparent that the results of informal testing and observation provide the basis for the selection of specific classroom tasks. However, formal assessment and diagnostic testing do not appear to enlighten classroom planning. Teachers should consider the use of assessment results to evaluate their delivery of the curriculum and to inform future planning of whole class, group, and individual work. Staff might also consider the significant contribution that diagnostic tests can make to the creation of pupil profiles, focussed educational plans and the assessment of progress in the mastery of specific skills.
The wide catchment area of the school and the significant distances travelled by most of the pupils to attend are a barrier to the provision of after-school activities. However, part of the school’s transfer practice is to induce pupils to make and maintain links with clubs and groups in their own locality so that when the pupils leave St. Rose’s School, they will have some continuity in their after-school life. This also aims to provide them with opportunities to form relationships with pupils who will be attending their future schools. St. Rose’s School encourages parents to inform the school of pupil achievements outside of the school so that they can be celebrated in the school.
The pupils leave the school after one or two years. Transfer back to a mainstream setting is a major concern for many pupils and their parents. Some pupils return to their former primary school, others enrol in a new primary school and some pupils transfer to a post-primary school. St Rose’s School has evolved a helpful framework for transition through which parents and schools receive the information that is needed to bring about a smooth transfer. A teacher from each receiving school is invited to St. Rose’s School to learn about the enrolling pupil and relevant reports are provided in accordance with a suitable protocol. For parents, an evening meeting is held annually to inform them about post-primary schools, to advise them in relation to supporting their child’s transfer and to address their concerns.
Planning and implementation of curriculum and policy is generally consistent with the needs of pupils with specific learning disabilities. Pupils with additional diagnoses such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder or specific speech and language disorder are catered for through the school’s procedure of responding to each pupil’s individual strengths and needs. Given the needs of many pupils as identified in psychological reports, the board of management and the staff feel strongly that many pupils would benefit from the support services of a speech and language therapist. It is recommended that the school make representations to the Health Services Executive about the provision of speech and language therapy services to the pupils of St Rose’s School.
A limited amount of additional support to pupils is provided through contact with the schools’ assigned psychologist from the National Educational Psychological Service. The school should seek the provision of further support from the National Educational Psychological Service to assist the teachers in relation to the identification of the specific learning needs of individual pupils, setting targets for them, and implementing interventions.
All teachers create individual education plans for the pupils in their base classes. The individual plans are discussed with the principal and the deputy principal. Evidence of differentiation in teaching was observed. Some teachers differentiate work expectations by reducing the amount of questions certain pupils are required to answer or by limiting by time, how much they are to spend on a set task. Others differentiate by setting alternative tasks for some pupils. Teachers often provide individual assistance by physically locating some pupils nearer to them so that substantive help may be given in a less noticeable fashion. However, the individual education plans do not reflect the significant amount of differentiation that is actually in practice. It is recommended that such differentiation strategies be noted in the strategies section of the individual education plans.
The school’s open enrolment policy promotes social inclusion. While there are no specific school-based initiatives in place to support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, the board of management welcomes applications from pupils of all backgrounds and regularly provides funding to ensure all pupils can participate fully in all school activities. While the mission statement and the enrolment and admission policies of the school are socially inclusive in practice, the school has never received applications from pupils from the Traveller community or from pupils who require instruction in English as an additional language.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The teaching staff are skilled and dedicated and there is a high standard of teaching across the curricular areas.
· An understanding of the issues associated with experiencing specific learning disabilities pervades policy and practice throughout the school.
· There is a well-developed system to facilitate a good level of communication between teachers, pupils, parents, and school management.
· The teaching staff work co-operatively and systematically in the development and review of curricular policies.
· Effective leadership, focused management, and clear educational direction are provided by the in-school management.
· There is a highly-motivated parents’ association which actively supports new and existing parents and the school as a whole.
· The school has an active and committed board of management whose members provide effective support for the work of the school.
· There is a whole-school approach to the active and positive promotion of literacy skill development.
· A range of policies and practices serve to foster and affirm the self-esteem of pupils.
· Teaching staff and members of the board and the parents’ association have collaborated effectively in developing and implementing policy.
· A positive, caring atmosphere is cultivated in the school.
· There is a school-wide awareness and acceptance of the mission statement which facilitates its implementation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The board of management of St. Rose’s School should keep the relevant sections of the Department of Education and Science informed and should work closely with the Department to ensure that the school has sufficient accommodation for the long term.
· All policies should be ratified by the board of management and signed and dated by the chairperson.
· Planning should be more focussed to further enhance teaching and learning and to facilitate monitoring pupil achievement.
· The opportunity to attend lessons in Irish should be provided for pupils who wish to learn Irish as a formal element of their programme.
· The school should review and revise the ‘Reading’ section of the whole-school plan for English and explore other possible literacy intervention frameworks.
· Specific targets in Mathematics should be set for each pupil and pupils’ progress should be monitored through the use of appropriate criterion-referenced tests.
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.