An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Directorate of Regional Services
Evaluation Review of
Youth Encounter Project Schools
Henrietta Street School,
Henrietta Street, Dublin 1
Roll number: 20021T
Date of inspection: 30 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report has been written following an evaluation of Henrietta Street School, Dublin 1. The evaluation is being carried out in the context of an expenditure review of those schools which were originally designated ‘Youth Encounter Project Schools. The report 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 inspector held meetings with the principal, the staff, the board of management and groups of parents, students and past pupils of the school. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, interacted with the class teachers and reviewed centre policy and planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Henrietta Street School is a community–based high-support school for children considered ‘at risk’. It provides an educational placement to twenty children, girls and boys, between the ages of eleven and sixteen years, from Dublin’s north inner city. Henrietta Street School is one of five high-support schools – three in Dublin, one in Cork and one in Limerick – which were originally established as ‘Youth Encounter Projects’ in 1977. According to information circulated by the High Support Unit of the Department of Education and Science in preparation for the current expenditure review, the original aim of the ‘projects’ was ‘to provide educational services for children who have become alienated from the conventional school system with the view of returning such children to the conventional school system in the shortest possible time’. Such a short-term remedial mission has proved to be impractical and unrealistic. The result is that today, Henrietta Street school functions fully as a school, engaged in the long-term education and personal development of those young people in the community who suffer the most extreme and multi-dimensional forms of educational and social disadvantage. The school is funded by the Department of Education and Science and administered by Special Education, Section 2, of the Department.
Henrietta Street School is one of five services managed by St Vincent’s Trust. These services are St Mary’s Day Nursery, Henrietta Street School, Community Training Centre, Henrietta Adult and Community Education Service and the Dominican Day Centre. Each of the services, in its own way, aims to address educational disadvantage and poverty in the north inner city of Dublin. St Vincent’s Trust is governed by a corporate board of management which is appointed by the trustees, the Daughters of Charity.
The distinctive character and atmosphere of Henrietta Street School is a true embodiment of the school’s mission statement. The school aims ‘to offer a nurturing learning environment where children can realise their unique potential and where individual programmes ensure that children experience regular success so as to facilitate their self-development and progression to further education/training.’
The school’s twenty students bring with them combined consequences of poverty, violence, neglect, bereavement, mental health issues and the consequences of parental or sibling drug use, alcohol misuse, imprisonment, homelessness and suicide. Without exception, they have experienced failure and rejection in the education system. Shows of emotional disturbance on any day can range widely through severe withdrawal, outbursts of aggression, anger, frustration, subtle or overt bullying, or any range of challenging behaviour. The professional, reflective management of a caring, structured and nurturing environment ensures that these young people, whatever their difficulties, are happy to come to school and engage successfully with a process of learning and personal development.
Emphasis is placed on the social development of the students through the creation of a school community where all children are treated with respect by staff and fellow students. The school day begins in the dining room where staff and students can have a cup of tea together, read the day’s newspapers, play cards and chat during the first half-hour of the day. During this period, one notices the genuine quality of relationships at all levels which provide a sound basis for the personal and social development of the students. The ‘bean an tí’, school secretary, social worker, along with the teaching staff all combine to create a positive, welcoming, family atmosphere for the students. The extent to which the ‘bean an tí’, in particular, is valued was made apparent by both present and past students. It is clear to the students that they are respected, so they feel safe, in a limited way, to ‘be themselves’, to engage in a degree of banter with the staff, knowing that their individual needs and local circumstances are understood. This relaxed, social start to each day also offers to staff the opportunity to observe if any student is absent, troubled or in need of specific attention. The acute but unobtrusive observation and interaction of staff are highly effective.
This ethos of care and respect continues to the classrooms where it underpins a realistic work ethic. Learning activities take place in a positive, stimulating and structured environment. Each student has his or her own space in the classroom, has an individual education plan and clear goals. It was impressive to witness students who had felt marginalised in previous schooling, now actively engaging in learning. While working individually, students felt comfortable to ask for the teacher’s help, to wait until the teacher was free to give that assistance, knowing that help would be given and did not engage in negative behaviour, even when temptation presented itself. That level of security and engagement is typical of the school’s atmosphere. It is not something that happens without thoughtful planning and constant vigilance and engagement by the staff. It is a reflection of the genuinely holistic approach evident throughout the school.
The distinctive character and atmosphere of Henrietta Street School is highly commendable. In its philosophy, its value systems, its personnel and its work ethic, this school suggests a model worth trying to replicate in those areas of the country where educational disadvantage and social exclusion are severe. However, the constant challenge which such an achievement embodies should not be overlooked.
Arising from the holistic nature of provision for students in Henrietta Street School, supports are wide-ranging, carefully selected and judiciously used. Social and dietary supports are offered by the daily provision of breakfast and lunch, prepared by the ‘bean an tí’, and which students and staff take together in the dining room. Students are offered exceptional supports by the staff, in terms of the high level of professionalism and experience they bring to their work, the pupil-teacher ratio, one-to-one tuition, and excellent school management. A full-time social worker provides vital supports to pupils and their families, including professional linkages with external agencies. St Vincent’s Trust provides the quite exceptional school premises but also supports induction to vocational training and progression opportunities for the students, who, having progressed, are supported as far as possible by the school and by the central services support team. However, the school does not have the service of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS)
The school, through the principal and social worker, liaises actively with the parent or carer of the student. While the principal deals mainly with in-school issues – student’s progress, behaviour and discipline issues - the social worker supports the parent or carer to support the student. This may require contacts with services and agencies outside the school, for example addiction services, psychological services, child guidance clinics, the Health Service Executive, the Probation Service, and sections of the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
The social worker liaises with agencies to support the students in several ways. Beginning with referrals for admission to the school, the social worker ensures that all relevant reports are received, responds to queries from referral agencies, and advises the principal on new admissions. In the event of serious student incidents, like drug misuse or attempted suicide, the social worker’s knowledge and information in relation to the services available enables the school to respond in an effective way to the specific need. For the frequent crises suffered by these students and their families, the social worker has a multi-faceted role in supporting the student through informal counselling, offering support to the parents by accessing and networking with specialised services, and keeping the school staff informed of events. Engagement with parents has led to greater home support for the students, with a view to maximising school attendance. The social worker is also engaged in the many visits and discussions with students, parents, schools, training centres, in arranging suitable placements for students leaving the school. Because of her professional ability to engage inter-agency co-operation, relevant support – insofar as it exists - can be accessed to meet the very severe needs of the students and their families. In the course of a meeting with parents in the context of this evaluation, they expressed their appreciation of the considerable support they received from the social worker. They further expressed the many ways in which the school, through her, had impacted positively in their lives, as well as in the lives of their children. From feeling alienated and fearful of any contact with a school, parents now come willingly to this school for a range of functions and occasions. The school wisely recognises home support as one of the most valued assets in the child’s education.
The school has links on a number of levels with a wide range of interested parties. These include the local Educational Welfare Officers, local schools, other high support schools, third level colleges, the HSE, child guidance clinics and family therapeutic centres, as well as community support agencies. School links are also extended through its position within the St Vincent’s Trust, through its annual report and various in-school newsletters.
Henrietta Street School, within the overall management of St Vincent’s Trust, has its own executive board of management whose members represent, in equal measure, the four interest groups: the trustees, teaching staff, parents and community. The chairman of the school board reports to the corporate board of St Vincent’s Trust. Four meetings of the school board are held each year on set dates. Items on the agenda concern both policy development and operational matters of the school. The latter, dealing mainly with issues concerning staff and students, are presented to the board by the principal. The former involves the monitoring by the board of items developed at staff level in the context of the school's annual development plan.
The board’s main concerns at present are three-fold, relating to staffing issues, external supports for their students and issues that require clarification by the Department of Education and Science. The staffing issues concern, firstly, the school’s desire to have the flexibility to engage part-time teachers as the need arises to meet specific student interest and ability. In particular, the need to retain the school’s social worker in a permanent capacity is emphasised. Secondly, the board is conscious of the need for further and continuous training for the staff, especially in managing challenging behaviour, but also in regular second level in-service. Concerning external supports, the board points to the inadequacy of child and family services needed to support the school’s students and their families. Concerning items requiring clarification by the Department, the board names not only the school’s official status but also the matter of entitlement to services from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), and a more complete service from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB).
The school has the benefit of an administrative principal whose function is the internal management of the school. While specific duties are carried out by each staff member, and the deputy principal acts as principal in the absence of the latter, other internal management roles and structures do not exist. The principal sees his role in terms of supporting and monitoring the work of the staff and ensuring that the school operates a cohesive system of learning and personal supports for the students. In doing this, he engages all staff members in an open and creative dialogue which results in a highly professional operation with a shared sense of responsibility. The principal has been described by a staff member as ‘the embodiment of all the beliefs underlying the work of the school’ as well as the crucial bonding element of the entire team. Staff members and students value his support. They point to the fact that his administrative or ‘walking principal’ role is essential and called upon in practice on a regular basis. Arising from his vision of the centrality of student welfare and his open and inclusive style of management, the principal has facilitated the creation of a welcoming, caring and professional school atmosphere.
The school has the benefit of a full-time secretary who also acts as receptionist. She occupies an open-plan office in the main entrance hall of the building. This hall leads to the kitchen, where the ‘bean an tí’ also performs some receptionist functions.
Programmes in Henrietta Street School are devised and tailored to meet the needs of the individual student. Development of literacy and basic numeracy skills is the primary objective in all the programmes. The core curriculum consists of English, Mathematics, Art, Physical Education (PE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). The school regrets the loss of Home Economics (Cookery) from the curriculum, since the part-time teacher of that subject left to do further study. She has not been replaced for combined reasons of space and budget. The subjects offered are taught at a multiplicity of levels, to accommodate abilities of students whose academic skills range from low levels in literacy to ability to sit a number of subjects in the Junior Certificate examination. A number of students take this latter examination each year, some succeeding in achieving a pass in five or more subjects, often staggered over a two-year period. Eight students are preparing to sit a range of subjects in the Junior Certificate examination this year. Participation in a number of the literacy initiatives within the JCSP programme is proving successful, engaging the students in activities that interest them. Each year, a number of students sit examinations in literacy and numeracy run by the Associated Examination Board (UK). Evidence of the relevance and success of these examinations in support of the school’s literacy goals was seen by the inspector. Apart from the Cookery already mentioned, to date the school has not been able to provide for subjects that incorporate practical elements. Space and budget may continue to constrain such developments, but so too does the school’s very appropriate prioritisation of literacy, numeracy and personal development of the students.
The school has four fulltime teachers, an administrative principal, and three part-time teachers. It has a secretary and ‘bean an tí’, both of whom are permanent. Each fulltime teacher has a dedicated classroom and a class of approximately five students, some of whom may be shared at times with another teacher. All staff members are suitably qualified and are experienced in their current positions. As well as initial professional and academic qualifications, mainly at post-primary level, most have further qualifications and experience in special education, family support, literacy teaching and resource teaching. All have undertaken a number of appropriate continuing professional development courses (CPD). For teaching staff, these have included all primary CPD on the revised curriculum, second level inservice training in Civic, Social and Personal Education, Mathematics, Relationship and Sexuality Education and Social, Personal and Health Education as needed. All staff, teaching and non-teaching, have had courses in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention. Further training needs in second level subject areas, in managing challenging behaviour, and in managing stress have been identified. The extent to which the entire staff functions as a team, while at the same time carrying out individual roles and responsibilities, is admirable.
A social worker, whose position was permanent to 2003, but whose contract is now due to end in September 2006, occupies a core position in the school. Her uncertain status is a matter of concern to management and staff.
The ‘bean an tí’, social worker and secretary, along with the teaching staff, form a friendly ‘family’ support structure for all in the school. Each contributes to the school’s atmosphere and is appreciated by the whole school community. On occasions, a student, for whom the classroom becomes intolerable, can find a respite and some stability by helping temporarily with work in the kitchen, by going to the principal’s office, or by having a chat with the social worker. It is to the credit of all the staff that students understand and accept relevant ‘time-out’ care and activities when these are needed. Such flexibility and creativity sustain the school’s operation in a most enlightened way.
Accommodation is excellent and adequate for current needs. The school has sole occupancy during daytime of an entire Georgian house, property of the Daughters of Charity, which was suitably refurbished in 2000/2001. Adult classes are held in part of the building in the evening. Furniture is adequate and appropriate teaching materials are supplied. All materials and equipment are well maintained, readily accessible and well utilised in implementing the various programmes. The use of an entire Georgian house provides a pleasant ambiance, which is respected by the students and which supports the school’s régime of positive behaviour. The entire package creates an environment where the students acknowledge that anti-social behaviour within these walls is inappropriate. The building could not, however, accommodate much programme expansion within its confines. Already, the Physical Education programme depends on sourcing off-campus facilities. Given the fact, too, that the house is a ‘four-storey over basement’ building, one-to-one teaching in isolated rooms at the building’s extremities needs sensitive management, in the context of adherence child protection guidelines.
Planning in this school is carried out with a high degree of commitment and professionalism. It is given detailed attention by the principal and all staff members as well as by the board of management. It is supported and greatly enhanced by the school’s place within the umbrella organisation of St Vincent’s Trust. Current planning activity is taking place within the framework of the three-year School Strategic Plan, 2005-2007, developed mainly in 2004. In developing this plan, the staff had the support of the Department’s School Development Planning support service, as well as research carried out by external consultants. The latter was funded by the Daughters of Charity and the Combat Poverty Agency as part of a wider strategic planning exercise undertaken by St. Vincent’s Trust in the context of responding to educational disadvantage and poverty in the local community.
Written policies exist concerning all relevant areas of school life. At least twenty-five such policies were viewed in the course of this evaluation. Policies are continually reviewed and updated with new ones formulated as the need arises. 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 and Procedures (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, the school’s social worker, has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The process that brought about the Strategic Plan was multi-faceted and thorough. Within the broad terms of reference for the ‘St. Vincent’s Trust Strategic Planning Framework’, as authorised by the corporate board of management, the staff of Henrietta Street School worked initially on a proposed process and methodology. This included the identification of (a) key stakeholder groups to be consulted as part of the planning process and (b) key strengths, capacities and constraints in the operation of the school. This internal environmental analysis, combined with an extensive external environmental analysis became the basis on which the school staff and board of management members worked to agree priority goals and key actions of the school’s strategic plan. The school’s draft strategic plan was adopted by the school board in December 2004 for approval by the corporate board of St Vincent’s Trust. All staff members continue to be fully engaged in constantly planning and reviewing aspects of the school plan.
Key areas identified for development in the school plan related principally to the school’s students, with particular emphasis on developing greater understanding of their social needs, addressing their therapeutic needs in a more focused way, and enhancing their accreditation opportunities and progression routes. The plan also highlighted the need for continuing staff training in behaviour management. The third area named for consideration was the development of strategies for influencing public policy on educational disadvantage.
Since the adoption of the strategic plan, the principal and staff have advanced many of its elements. Work is continuing on increasing student involvement in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and in extending the range of subject options at Junior Certificate level. This is entirely appropriate in the school context. A student council has been formed and progression options for students are being actively pursued. Staff members are working on an agreed template for individual behaviour plans, six of which are already in operation. These behaviour plans are effective in giving a student clear, focused and attainable goals to which he or she can work. They also support the student’s education plan. Aware of the severe social, emotional and psychological issues affecting the lives of the students, the school is working on increasing linkages with and access to external support agencies. It is a matter of grave concern that appropriate services for these young people are so difficult to access and frequently they are either not available or non-existent. Priorities identified for future development planning include the piloting of a work experience module and an examination of the feasibility of providing a Leaving Certificate Applied Programme.
Internal school planning is an integral part of the fabric of this school. Principal, class teachers, part-time teachers and social worker meet for thirty minutes at the end of every school day to share information and agree action as required. A longer, more formal staff meeting is held once each week. As well as the more immediate items, this meeting is used to update, review or amend school policies. The range, nature and appropriateness of these documents are most impressive.
Planning and preparation are key, not just to the quality of teaching and learning in this school but also to the maintenance of satisfactory student behaviour and the smooth running of school life. All staff, teaching and non-teaching, are involved in this planning, which is multi-faceted, constant, thoughtful, caring and highly professional. Planning for students’ learning is done in detail by means of individual education plans, which are increasingly supported by individual behaviour plans. Student education plans, based on initial assessment of the individual student, are clear, relevant and allow work to be ticked off in the student’s presence as it is done. Planning is done for differentiated student work, according to need, even when items being taught are presented in common to a class group. The detail and effectiveness of teachers’ planning are observed, not merely in the course of any given lesson, but also by seeing the quality of work in individual students’ folders, which they are proud to show to the inspector.
With a student-teacher ratio of 5:1, supported by some additional one-to-one teaching, each teacher has what might be considered at first glance to be a comfortable classroom situation. Added to this, the students are carefully selected to be in the class of one teacher rather than another, this selection having been made to take account of several factors such as the academic level and interests of other students in that group, the absence in that class of students who might antagonise a newcomer and, at times, the specific, professional expertise of the teacher. Desks are arranged at different points in the room and at different angles to each other so that each student has his or her own space, including bookshelves.
However, to describe the management of work in a classroom in terms of conventional methodologies would be to underestimate what is occurring in each class in this school. Interacting with these students, the inspector was in no doubt about their multiple difficulties: their problematic life circumstances, their limited attention span, their history of failure and rejection, their very weak literacy levels and their potentially volatile behaviour.
Yet, in every classroom there was a calm, pleasant atmosphere in which students were meaningfully and productively engaged in their work. In all cases, the combination of personality, skill and professionalism of the teacher was the key to this success. Each teacher knows, in detail, the levels and stages of learning and behaviour of his or her students. In relation to learning, teachers have detailed plans of work to be covered by their class group and by each individual in that group. Each teacher works a programme that is structured, yet it is judiciously flexible and is constantly adapted, sometimes in content, often in presentation, to the learner’s needs. Each student has an individual education plan which is a regular point of reference and an indicator of achievement. This plan acts as an anchor and a motivator for the student, giving a sense of progress, of belonging and of self-worth. The student is also proud of work produced and which is neatly filed in individual folders within his or her own classroom space.
Depending on what is being taught and the student cohort in the room, students can sometimes be taught in a single class group. The teacher then judiciously selects appropriate exploitation of the material to suit the different levels. Individual student work on the theme can also be diversified. Prepared worksheets were in evidence in a number of classes. In these cases, students’ work shows varying levels of understanding and response. Whatever the level, each student is affirmed in the work done. Excellence, in all its forms, is celebrated in the school.
This high-quality work is supported throughout the working day by the careful vigilance, skills, knowledge and commitment of each of the teachers. The ability of these students to work with any measure of independence or self-direction is limited. What this means is a rather unique modus operandi developed by the teachers, operating as individuals but also as a unit. From the moment they arrive in school each morning, teachers are noting the moods and movements of each student, mentally planning or discussing with the principal and relevant staff members how best to handle potential difficulties. This may involve changing a task planned for a particular individual student. It means careful classroom management, being constantly alert to every movement of every student, being aware of possible ‘triggers’ that could leave a class in uproar. Excellent practice was observed in teachers’ ability to pre-empt situations involving the actions and reactions of particular students. Teachers were seen to be always one step ahead of such potential reactions. Intervention strategies were timely and appropriate, and in all cases observed, they diffused potential crisis situations in an unobtrusive and pleasant manner. Teachers were adept at knowing when to give positive attention to a student, when to ignore particular comments or behaviour, when to give a caring gesture or directive statement.
Managing the learning and behaviour of the students is physically and mentally challenging for the teachers. It is supported in large measure by the caring, respectful, inclusive and humane atmosphere that exists among all staff in the school. Teachers have commented on the value of the network of support and friendship that exists among the staff. Communication at all levels is open, trusting and supportive. Any staff member knows that he or she will be listened to by principal or colleagues at moments of difficulty. Principal and staff are able to share and explore ideas. They are at one in always seeking ways to advance the welfare and well-being of the students, but also of the staff. Morale is upheld in a special way by the regularity of staff meetings, formal and informal, facilitated by the principal. The staff’s ability to function in such an unencumbered professional way is also a significant barometer of the effectiveness of the school principal. However, the nature of the work observed in this school can be so demanding that further supports are needed. The school provides funding towards the cost of professional counselling, should such be needed by a staff member. Targeted CPD, relevant to the challenges of teaching students with combined learning, emotional, psychological and social difficulties, is particularly needed.
Assessment of progress takes place on a step by step basis for each individual student. Work is corrected as it is done, in a low-key way, feeding encouragement and reinforcing students’ progress. Appropriate and regular reference is made to the student’s individual education plan, so that the teacher is aware of strengths and gaps in the student’s work and can act as necessary. Students for whom literacy is a serious issue are prepared for the entry level certificate in adult literacy – and when appropriate, its sister test in adult numeracy - certified by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, UK. All students have an end-of-term review of progress. JCSP statements are used widely as positive expressions of achievement. For some, the desired goal is to pass the Junior Certificate examination in a number of subjects before they leave the school.
Henrietta Street School is clearly meeting the objectives for high support schools as articulated at the meeting of 16 December 2005 (the preparatory meeting for the expenditure review). The first stated objective is ‘to provide personalised holistic education for young people at risk’. There is clear evidence in the school that this is happening in a planned, structured and flexible manner. Personal development, development of social skills and school attainment are all happening within a nurturing, caring and stimulating environment. Students are seen to be engaged in a positive and productive way in their own learning and in the broader life of the school. Individual education plans and individual behaviour plans are used as structures to support learning, to motivate, encourage and measure achievement. Every aspect of this ‘personalised holistic education’ is planned and executed in a highly professional manner.
In relation to the second objective of the school, namely, the retention of these young people in the education system, records show that of the thirty-five pupils who left the school between 2002 and 2005, only three left prematurely. It is also noted that more students are staying longer in the school, most to age sixteen years. This again is a tribute to the professional supports in place to engage and retain the students in education. In meetings held with parents and students in the context of this evaluation, both sides said that the student ‘loved’ coming to this school and willingly left home early in the morning to be there. Parents went on to list the reasons why their children found this school such a positive experience for their children. They highlighted the facts that the children were given ‘time’, that their ‘individuality’ was accepted, that they were treated with ‘dignity’ and teachers had ‘confidence’ in them. Teachers, they said, had ‘ways of dealing’ with the children, contrasting this with ways in which the children felt they had been treated, or ignored, in their previous school experience.
The third objective of the school, ‘to provide support for these young people towards progression’, is an integral part of all aspects of the programme in the school. It is understood by the students who know that all the professionals in the school are there for them, for their well-being and future prospects. Progression of each student is planned with input from the student, parent, class teacher, principal and social worker. The student is supported by the social worker who makes appropriate contact with the school or centre to which a student wishes to progress. She then accompanies the student to enrol and supports him or her to adjust to that phase of education or training. Those wishing to return to mainstream schools are supported through the Junior Certificate programme. In all cases, personal and social development, improved behavioural patterns and increased self-esteem are deemed pre-requisites for any progression and are inherent in all aspects of school life. With a view to enhancing further the progression prospects of its students, the school is currently examining the feasibility of providing the Leaving Certificate Applied programme and of piloting a work experience module. As part of this examination, the school should also consider the feasibility of progressing the students to an institution in the neighbourhood that provides the Leaving Certificate Applied.
However, the school is acutely aware of the fact, as documented in social science research, that without relevant supports, contextual factors operate a more decisive influence on individuals’ behaviour and career than do residual effects of their school days. This fact needs to be acknowledged in the context of documented ‘impact’ of the Youth Encounter Project schools being sought as part of the current expenditure review of these schools. Leaving the school at sixteen years of age, these students have all made progress - personal, behavioural, academic and social - during their time in Henrietta St. School. To help counteract continuing negative forces in their environment, it is clear these young people will require a network of supports for some years.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
§ This is a school community dealing with young people who have severe emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties.
§ Management and staff show an understanding of the needs of the students and show that they value and respect them.
§ In a caring, protective and structured environment, students are encouraged and supported to develop personally, socially and academically.
§ Clear goals and strategies are in place to achieve this desired outcome.
§ Teachers are suitably qualified, skilled, experienced and committed.
§ With a maximum of five students in a class, individual attention and engagement are assured.
§ Professionalism is highly prized by all members of staff and management. .
§ Open, effective communication takes place between and among all stakeholders in the school.
§ Management is effective at all levels – within the school, at board of management level and under the benevolence of St Vincent’s Trust.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
§ Initial thinking about the provision of work experience for certain students might now be progressed, given their engagement levels with the school to age sixteen years and the dedicated resource offered through St Vincent’s Trust.
§ Proposals to extend the programme towards the provision of a Leaving Certificate option will need careful consideration in the light of the school’s current mission, local needs and local provision of senior cycle programmes.
§ Henrietta Street School has developed an expertise in the education of young people with severe learning, emotional and behavioural needs. Many more young people could benefit from this kind of dedicated programme. It would be useful if the expertise built up in Henrietta Street might contribute to informing a national strategy for the education of young people who are unable to cope in mainstream schools.
§ The lack of clarity concerning the remit of Youth Encounter Project schools, the ad hoc nature of provision to date and the uncertainties in which the schools operate should now be addressed, as a matter of urgency, by the Department of Education and Science.
§ Measures to extend the services of the NEPS to this ‘Youth Encounter Project’ school should be considered as a matter of urgency.
§ Consideration should be given by the Department of Education and Science to the provision of in-service training appropriate to the needs of teachers dealing with students who have severe emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The report was discussed at length at a meeting of the Board of Management on 10th October 2006. The Board sees the report as a ringing endorsement of the performance of the school and it welcomes it without reservation. The staff is greatly encouraged by the strong affirmation of their professionalism by the Department’s Inspectorate.
The report confirms what the management and staff have long felt about the effectiveness of the school’s approach and methods and it is encouraging to have these impressions endorsed by a professional evaluator.
The care and attention that was devoted to compiling the report is impressive as is the perceptiveness of the observations on the policy and practices of the school. The report clearly identifies the range of educational and socio-personal difficulties experienced by the clients of the school and offers a realistic, but positive, assessment of the contribution that the school is making to their resolution.
The report states in section 1.2 (final paragraph) “In its philosophy, its value system, its personnel and its work ethic, this school suggests a model worth trying to replicate in those areas of the country where educational disadvantage and social exclusion are severe. However, the constant challenge that such an achievement embodies should not be overlooked” and again in the recommendations on page 11 (final bullet point) “Henrietta Street School has developed an expertise in the education of young people with severe learning, emotional and behavioural needs. Many more young people could benefit from this kind of dedicated programme. It would be useful if the expertise built up in Henrietta Street might contribute to informing a national strategy for the education of young people who are unable to cope in mainstream schools.” The Board fully accepts that educational disadvantage is a multi-faceted problem not amenable to a simple solution. It nevertheless endorses the thrust of the above excerpts from the report that the intervention model developed in Henrietta Street might prove effective in other locations.
The report deals in some detail in sections 1.3 and 1.4, and again in section 4.4 (third paragraph), with the role of the social worker in the delivery of the school’s programme. The social worker’s position is a matter of on-going discussions between the school and the Special Education Section of the Department. The Board would like to take the opportunity afforded by the evaluation report to reiterate the view of the school that the social worker is a vital link with the clients’ families/carers and wider social environment and her work greatly enriches and reinforces the educational programme of the school. We urge the Department to restore the permanency of this position
The Board welcomes the recommendation on page 12 (final bullet point) that: Consideration should be given by the Department of Education and Science to the provision of in-service training appropriate to the needs of teachers dealing with students who have severe emotional and behavioural difficulties.
The Board would like to highlight an issue referred to in the report in section 3.3 (2nd paragraph) – the dearth of support services for severely marginalized children at risk and their families.
Difficulties in accessing and/or maintaining the HSE social work service for some of our students means that other essential HSE services are also unavailable to them. HSE waiting lists for various therapeutic services have resulted in children who are in crisis not being adequately supported.
The recently announced changes in responding to children aged under twelve engaging in criminal activity - with social services rather than Gardaí being the lead agency - is a welcome development. In our experience however, these services are so overstretched that this will be impossible without substantial investment.