An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Stillorgan, Co Dublin
Uimhir rolla: 20028K
Date of inspection: 21 October 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Setanta School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Setanta School is recognised as a special national school by the Department of Education and Science (DES) and operates under the patronage of the Health Services Executive (HSE). It is organisationally linked to Beechpark Autism Services - the autism support service of the HSE in the greater Dublin area. The school caters for pupils of post-primary age (12-18) with autistic spectrum disorders. It observes the requirements for national schools with regard to school day and school year and, in addition, offers educational provision during the month of July. The school serves a wide catchment area in Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare. There are thirty three pupils on roll. Enrolment has been stable recently. Referral trends suggest a possible increase in pupil numbers and in diversity of needs. Pupil attendance is generally satisfactory.
The school staff includes the principal and ten full-time teachers, nine of whom operate as class teachers while one acts in a resource role. Part-time staff that are funded by the DES include teachers of Home Economics, eight hours, Art, four hours, Physical Education, four hours and Music Therapy, four hours. Additional support for Art and Drama (two hours each) is provided by Dún Laoghaire Vocational Education Committee in the context of Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) programmes.
The board of management is properly constituted, is representative of the school’s stakeholders and contains a range of relevant expertise. It has appointed a chairperson, treasurer and secretary, meets regularly and records its business appropriately. School accounts are professionally audited. Discussion with the board and review of relevant documents indicates that the Board is well informed, is supportive of the work of the school and seeks to operate the school in compliance with DES regulations. Essential school policies have been documented and further work in the area of policy development is proceeding. The board’s current concerns include the provision of alternative accommodation and the availability of and transition to post-school provision.
2.2 In-school management
The principal provides positive direction in relation to school organisation and development. He facilitates effectively the work of the board and the school staff in the development and review of school policies and curriculum provision. He supports parental involvement in the work of the school, maintains active engagement with pupils and staff and promotes a strong caring ethos throughout the school. The in-school management team includes, in addition to the principal, a deputy principal and three special duties post-holders. The team members have been assigned significant responsibilities that are relevant to the school’s priorities. They are involved in liaison with school staff, parents, the clinical team and outside agencies in a manner which contributes to a sharing of leadership and a collaborative approach within the school. The team meets formally with the principal every two months. It is recommended that consideration be given to creating a formal mechanism for the team to report to the board of management at appropriate intervals.
The school staff, including principal, ten full-time teachers, four part-time teachers and twenty special needs assistants (SNAs), is well managed. Formal staff meetings are held once a term with an additional meeting in June. In addition to their initial qualifications, teachers have obtained a range of post-graduate qualifications and training that reflects well on their commitment to professional development. The range of continuing professional development activity in which staff members have engaged shows a focus on issues relevant to the education of pupils with special educational needs in the context of autism. The board of management provides an annual budget to support staff members in undertaking relevant courses. The school has made profitable use of both external and internal resources to facilitate staff development. In order to consolidate and build upon the school’s commendable practice in relation to staff development it is recommended that a staff development policy and plan be drawn up following an audit of previous staff training and identification of current needs and available resources.
Special-needs assistants constitute a valued and valuable resource within the school. They work under the management and guidance of the principal and class teachers. They show a commendable sensitivity to pupil needs. They are a stable staff group. Most have been with school for over five years. Almost all have qualifications exceeding the minimum requirements for the post. They have availed of a range of professional development opportunities provided within the school and elsewhere. The practice of rotating SNAs between classes twice yearly is seen as helpful in terms of providing a variety of experience and maintaining motivation.
School management’s concern for staff well-being is indicated by the availability of a counselling facility and a rest-room for use by staff who may experience stressful incidents in the course of their work.
The main school building provides for six general classrooms, an art room, home economics room and a number of special-function and ancillary rooms. Part of an adjacent building that was formerly used by another school is now used by Setanta School to provide one general classroom, a resource teaching room, a general purpose/PE room, exercise room and space for recreational and social activities. Two classrooms are provided in prefabricated accommodation. The available accommodation is well utilised to support curricular activities. The basic fabric of the buildings is in good condition. A number of classrooms in the main building are restricted in size, thus placing constraints on classroom organisation. School management is to be commended for its work in advancing plans for the provision of a new school building.
Classrooms are well resourced with a wide range of school-made and commercially-produced materials that have been adapted, where necessary, to pupil needs. Computers are available in each classroom. Grants from the DES have been used to purchase materials and equipment for Music, Visual Arts, Home Economics, Physical Education and Information and Communication Technology. Two school buses, provided through fund-raising activities and donations, are used regularly to facilitate learning in out-of-school settings.
The board of management, in-school management and staff promote positive, productive relationships within the school community. In addition to ongoing informal communication a number of useful structures and strategies are in place to facilitate communication and collaboration between school and home. These include the parents’ association, general parent meetings, parent-teacher meetings, home-school diaries, the individual education plan (IEP) process and school reports.
In the context of a school with a small total enrolment drawn from a wide catchment area it is commendable that an active parents’ association is maintained. The association meets regularly. It provides a platform for communication between school and parents and among parents. The parent representatives on the board of management facilitate communication with the board. The association enjoys supportive links with the principal and staff. At the pre-evaluation meeting with inspectors, representatives of the association indicated that the school deals positively with parents concerns. Concerns mentioned included the issue of accommodation, maintenance of adequate capacity within the school’s clinical support team, and planning for transition to post- school provision. It was also suggested that additional detail in home-school diaries would be helpful in some instances.
Two general parent meetings per year provide opportunities for engaging parents in information- exchange and discussion in relation to school issues. One such meeting around the time of the school evaluation was focused on discussion related to a code of behaviour for the school. Annual IEP meetings and mid-year reviews facilitate parental involvement in relation to the individual pupils.
The school receives multidisciplinary supports from a clinicalal team within Beechpark Autism Services – HSE. This support is clearly valued by parents, school management and staff. A liaison committee consisting of principal, deputy principal and two clinical personnel provides a structure for managing collaboration and raising and discussing matters of concern as they arise. Class review meetings, involving classroom staff and members of the clinical team, take place once a year for each class.
Pupil behaviour is well managed, within a context of caring and respectful interaction and positive relationships. In interpreting and responding to behaviours, staff seek to accommodate the pupils’ autism-related needs in the areas of social interaction and communication. Pupil behaviour is supported by the provision of predictability and routine in the classroom and school environment. There is an appropriate emphasis on visual supports for communication and learning and visually-mediated reward systems. Minor inappropriate behaviour is managed unobtrusively. More serious challenging behaviour is addressed following assessment aimed at identifying the underlying functions of the behaviour in the context of the pupil’s autism, and on the basis of consultation with parents and clinical team.
3. QUALITY OF SCHOOL PLANNING
Significant attention has been given to planning at whole-school level. Areas in which policy documents have been recently developed, or reviewed or where work is in progress, include Relationships and Sexuality Education and Social, Personal and Health Education, the IEP process and the school’s code of behaviour. Board of management, staff, parents and clinical team contribute in various ways to the planning process. A consultative process is in train in relation to the review of the school’s code of behaviour and a working group, including two clinicians, two teachers and four parents, has been established.
A useful school information booklet, which outlines school structure, ownership, roles and responsibilities and some other aspects of policy, has potential for further development. Some policy documents follow a broad structure including introduction, rationale, relationship with school ethos, aims, procedures, responsibilities, evaluation, and date of ratification. In some other cases the policies, as written, lack contextualisation. Consistency in the quality of policy documents can be enhanced by outlining the process involved in the development and dissemination of the respective policies, ensuring that all policy documents are signed as and when ratified by the board of management and ensuring that policies contain sufficient detail and contextualisation in addition to broad principles. Accessibility and dissemination of the school plan can be enhanced by making signed master copies of policy documents available within a single folder and by further development of the school information booklet - perhaps providing parallel formats for staff, parents and others.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff members are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
At classroom level, planning is based on a broad curriculum framework that is differentiated to cater for a range of needs. Teachers prepare long and short-term plans of work and maintain a monthly record of curriculum delivery. A suitable format is used for the writing of annual individual education plans (IEPs), which are reviewed in mid year. The IEP process provides appropriately for the involvement of parents, school staff and clinical team members. Evidence of good practice in practical planning is seen in the preparation, storage and presentation of resource materials, the lay-out of the physical environment within classrooms and the organisation of regular routines and activities.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The overall quality of teaching and learning is good, and in several respects very good, throughout the school. Teachers and SNAs maintain a secure, positive, working atmosphere which supports pupil engagement. Lesson content is differentiated to take account of a wide range of academic ability. A range of teaching methodologies from mainstream and special education is used in a flexible manner. There is much emphasis on real-life learning in the context of visits to shops, restaurants and other facilities and recording and reflecting on these experiences in the classroom. Pupils acquire computer skills and use computers as learning tools.
Effective use is made of methodologies that are considered to be particularly relevant to pupils with autism. Classroom environments, sequencing of activities and structure of daily routines are adjusted to take account of the pupils’ need for predictability. Visual schedules, visual prompts and visual work systems are incorporated into lessons in all classes. Behavioural approaches are incorporated into the management of behaviour and the direct teaching of specific skills. The quality of informal interaction between staff and pupils allows for continuous reinforcement of skills. Generalisation of learning is facilitated by providing learning experiences across a variety of contexts, including individual desk-top activities, group activities, incidental interactions and daily routines. Inward and outward links to mainstream schools provide positive opportunities for reinforcement of social interaction skills.
The areas, subjects and strands of the Primary School Curriculum are used to provide a framework within which group and individual activities are planned. This helps to ensure the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum. Relevant areas of the curriculum are further developed in order to facilitate age-appropriate progression and to allow for generalisation of skills outside the classroom context. The introduction of FETAC programmes, with the support of Dun Laoghaire VEC, is a positive development providing affirmation and certification of a range of aspects of the pupils’ work.
Skills in oral language, reading and writing are developed within a broad language-experience approach. Meaningful communicative opportunities are created in the context of daily events, school activities, subject-based lessons across the curriculum, class visits and pupil interests. Pupil participation in language and communication activities is supported by the use of visual prompts and illustrations. Reading skills are addressed from an initial to an advanced level depending on individual ability. Reading material is provided from a wide range of sources including class readers, library, internet and classroom-created texts related to school activities and pupil interests. The use of grammatical conventions and the development of spelling skills are addressed in the functional contexts of a range of writing activities.
Well organised lessons in Mathematics were observed. The use of concrete and visual materials and activity-based learning were in evidence. Lesson content was pitched at a level appropriate to the needs of the pupils. Classroom programmes and the individualised support provided allow for consolidation of early mathematical concepts and more advanced work, depending on pupils' ability and interest. The practical life-skills dimension is seen in lessons related to money, time shopping, measures and TV schedules. Cross-curricular opportunities for learning and reinforcing mathematical skills, concepts and language are explored in Home Economics activities as well as in general classroom activities. Visits to shops and restaurants are used to provide real-life contexts for practising skills.
Suitable learning content and methodologies are incorporated in classroom programmes for Social, Environmental and Scientific Education. Subject-specific lessons in History, Geography, and Science are combined with cross-curricular topics and practical activities. Much of the work in this curricular area is linked to weekly class visits to places of interest in the local community and further afield. Good use is made of digital photography to record aspects of these visits and to provide a focus for subsequent classroom discussion and written work. A number of classrooms use display tables to provide a focus for aspects of Science. Work has commenced on the establishment of a gardening club to provide further practical opportunities for pupil engagement in learning while also developing work-skills.
4.5 Arts Education
Good practice in Visual Arts, Music and Drama was observed in a number of classes. Suitable learning activities are provided, and are used as outlets for imagination and expression and for the development of social and communication skills. Class teachers provide a range of opportunities for engagement with materials and techniques from Visual Arts, linked to suitable themes from across the curriculum. This is extended and enhanced by the input of the specialist part-time Art teacher. Music activities, involving song-singing and listening and responding to a range of music, are incorporated into classroom programmes. This can be further developed through the establishment of a school repertoire of songs and having a number of classes work together for some lessons. The work of the music therapist provides an additional context for development of social and communication skills linked to autism-related needs. Work done by class teachers, using Drama as a teaching strategy, is extended to good effect through collaboration with Dun Laoghaire VEC, in the context of the school’s FETAC programme.
Physical Education as a dimension of the curriculum is provided well. A part-time Physical Education teacher provides weekly sessions for all classes, supplementing the work of the classroom teachers. Impressive and highly structured activities are undertaken in conjunction with classroom teachers and special-needs assistants. Lessons include a range of gross-motor activities aimed at promotion of physical fitness and the development of skills. The pupils are encouraged and facilitated in their participation. Activities are suitably differentiated to meet individual needs. Good use is made of an exercise room which contains suitable items of equipment for individual activities. Swimming is a part of the weekly routine. Horse-riding lessons are available to pupils on a rotational basis. A commendable recent development is the organisation of a short session at the start of each day, in which pupils choose from a range of semi-structured physical activities, in order to provide a suitable transition from school bus to classroom.
Social Personal and Health Education is treated as a central aspect of the school’s curriculum. It is addressed in a range of contexts, including set classroom lessons, daily routines, informal interaction, out-of-school visits and activities, Home Economics classes and work undertaken by the resource teacher. Good use is made of circle time as a means of discussing and practising social skills. Classroom chores are used to develop daily living skills. One example of resourceful practice in this respect involved keeping of a classroom record of chores done by pupils at home.
Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) has been identified within the school as an area for further development. RSE content based on the primary school curriculum is incorporated within the wider SPHE programme delivered by class teachers, while more specific individualised and group support has been provided by clinicians. A school policy document on RSE has been brought to the BOM recently. Teachers have accessed training provided by the DES post-primary curriculum support service. Staff and parents have attended talks given by an expert speaker. Further training is anticipated. Development in this area should be continued.
4.8 Home Economics
Home Economics activities delivered both by the part-time Home Economics teacher and by the school’s resource teacher provide a highly motivating context for learning. Lessons are delivered by the Home Economics teacher in a dedicated room, which is appropriately equipped but with restricted space. Pupils attend in small groups - typically two pupils. Lesson content includes preparation of simple meals and snacks and associated hygiene and safety skills. The social and personal development work done by the resource teacher in conjunction with class teachers allows a similar range of skills to be developed and consolidated in a class group context with individualised support, as required, and for linkage to ongoing classroom-based and community-based activities.
The teachers use a range of assessment strategies to monitor, evaluate and record pupil learning. Pupil engagement in individual and group learning activities is closely observed and progress is regularly recorded, using teacher-designed checklists and summative comments. The annual school report format provides a useful summary record of engagement and progress across the curricular areas. Formal assessment reports provided by the multidisciplinary support team are available to inform teachers’ planning of learning programmes for individual pupils. The IEP process facilitates the recording of progress in relation to priority learning needs and goals. The introduction of FETAC programmes has created additional formats for tracking progress in relation to specific skills. In some cases, further consideration might be given to the use of relevant commercial and standardised testing materials to track progress in the areas of literacy and numeracy.
The quality of support provided by the school for pupils with special educational needs related to autism spectrum disorders is very good. This support is exemplified in the individualised and differentiated curriculum provided, the classroom structure and routine, the caring supportive interaction between pupils and staff and the support provided by special needs assistants. The level of support is enhanced by the opportunities that are available for pupils to engage and form relationships with a range of adults, and through the extended contexts for learning, created by the provision of a July programme of education, out-of school visits and activities, and links to local schools.
Multidisciplinary supports provided by Beechpark Services include psychology, speech and language therapy, behaviour support, social work, and psychiatry. The model under which these supports are provided involves assessment of pupils, provision of consultation and advice, skill sharing and contributing to planning of individual programmes. Members of the team have also contributed to in-career development for school staff. Clinicians contribute to the development of individual education plans drawn up by the school. In turn, teachers, with the consent of parents, contribute to the development of care plans drawn up by the clinical team.
The individualised support and differentiated curriculum provided for pupils and the caring, respectful climate of social interaction within the school ensure that the school is well placed to cater responsively for pupils from a range of social and family backgrounds.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.
Published April 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Setanta School welcomes the positive findings of the WSE report which acknowledge and affirm the professionalism, dedication and commitment of the school staff. The Board also welcomes the Inspectors’ recognition of the productive collaboration with the different sectors of the school community which ensures both good relationships and a caring environment for the pupils. We also wish to acknowledge the courtesy and professionalism of the Inspectorate during the visit to Setanta.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection