An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills


Whole School Evaluation



St. Gabriel’s Special School

 Curraheen, Bishopstown, Co Cork

Uimhir Rolla: 20074R


Date of inspection:  27th November 2009





Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development





Whole-school evaluation


This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Gabriel’s Special School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and 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, parents, staff and pupils willingly participated in the WSE and contributed in a positive manner to the process.  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.



1.     Introduction – school context and background


St. Gabriel’s is a co-educational special school. It was established in 1998 and designated for students with severe to profound general learning disability, including those students with the additional diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). There have been a number of changes to the school since the last school report was issued in 2002: A new principal has been appointed; a parents’ association has been established; and there has been an increase in pupil enrolment. The expansion of pupil numbers has placed extra demands on the available accommodation within the school building and two additional classrooms have been sourced and rented from an adjoining building. There have been improvements to the exterior of the school with the provision of two sensory garden facilities, the upgrading of communal play areas and provision of external storage for play equipment.


The school is under the patronage of the Brothers of Charity who provide excellent support to the educational service through a wide range of multi-disciplinary team members. The in-school support includes nursing support, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, social work and psychological support. Positive collaborative practices are in evidence and teachers welcome their colleagues’ expertise and advice for classroom provision. The school staff works in tandem with this team and with pupils’ families to deliver the school’s mission statement of enabling each pupil to enhance and develop their unique abilities and talents in all areas.


St. Gabriel’s is favourably staffed with an administrative principal, seven class teachers, three ex-quota teachers to support pupils with challenging behaviour, and three part-time teachers of specific subject areas. The school has a current allocation of twenty-eight special needs assistants (SNA) posts. The SNAS demonstrate good knowledge of the pupils and accord them due respect. SNAs are assigned to the various classes to support education delivery by assisting in the management of challenging behaviour, looking after the pupils’ physical care needs and responding to their social and emotional needs. While the staff members support each other and there is a mentoring system for new teachers, there is no comparable system for new SNAs and this may be an area the school should consider for future development. The school also benefits from the services of an efficient school secretary, a part-time cleaner and two part-time caretakers. The bright and pleasant accommodation available in the main part of the school is due to the care with which the cleaning and maintenance staff members execute their duties. At the time of the evaluation, the school was receiving input from three part-time teachers. These teachers provide subject instruction in Art for two days a week and in both Music and PE for one day a week. Another part-time teacher will be providing instruction in Music from mid-November for an additional two days per week. The board of management and parents’ association are providing additional funds to support basic woodwork instruction for the senior pupils on an additional day.


The current enrolment is thirty-seven pupils within the severe to profound ability range, thirty-three of whom have the additional diagnosis of ASD. The school has maintained the level of enrolment over the last few years. An increase in pupil intake in 2006 led to the establishment of an additional class with a further increase of seven pupils occurring in September 2009. Parents are anxious to obtain a place in the school for their child and the school operates a waiting list for applicants. There are two pupils currently on this list who have completed the application process but were not granted a place in September 2009. There are an additional seven pupils on the waiting list for September 2010. The current class ratio for this level of disability is six pupils to one teacher and two SNAs. None of the class groups is operating at this level at present. The school has organised the resources available to support the pupils by creating small class groups rather than using the ex-quota posts in a peripatetic manner. Management felt that, given the complexities of the school cohort, this was the most appropriate model to meet their needs. Consequently this has created certain accommodation issues within the school by creating a need for more classrooms. There is a wide variation of size across the classes with some classes having five pupils to one class with a single pupil. The composition of classes is reported to be a very challenging annual task, as cognisance needs to be taken of pupils’ tolerance level for certain peers, levels of challenging behaviour, ability levels, the need to rotate staff and the need to ensure a safe working environment. Two pupils have been absent for more than thirty days but otherwise pupils’ overall attendance at school is good.



2.     Quality of school management


2.1 Board of management

The board of management discharges its duties in an efficient and effective manner. Despite the efforts of the board, the school has been unable to successfully appoint two community representatives to the board. Addressing this deficit remains a constant motion on the agenda at board meetings. These meetings are regularly convened and well attended. Minutes of the board’s meetings are maintained and issues discussed on an on-going basis include school finances, enrolment issues, policy development, accommodation issues and the provision of resources. Members of the board have been assigned roles and responsibilities to discharge. Both individually and collectively, members give generously of their personal time and professional expertise in the execution of their duties. Members of the board affirmed the work of the principal, teachers, support staff and multi-disciplinary team and the collaborative manner in which everyone works to support the pupils is a source of pride for the board.


The school authorities strive to provide a safe educational environment for each pupil and staff member and the board is highly supportive of all school activities. The limitations of the existing school accommodation and the challenge of providing an educational environment for the age range from 4-18 years are both matters that the board addresses on a continuous basis.


The board reviews school policies and ratifies them on an on-going basis. It is recommended that all policies should be signed and dated by the chairperson when ratified by the board and a review date should be included to continue the process of school self evaluation and developmental planning.  


2.2 In-school management

The principal exhibits well-developed administrative, organisational and inter-personal skills that contribute to the effective management of the school. She works in close collaboration with the clinical services and has competently led the school through a period of growth and curricular change. She displays enthusiasm and dedication in the performance of her role and she seeks to provide the pupils with an education that is challenging and appropriate to their needs while maintaining a safe, caring and secure environment for both pupils and staff.


The in-school management team consists of a deputy principal and three special duties post-holders. The in-school management meetings are held twice a term. The duties attached to these posts are clearly set out in the school plan and are reviewed periodically in response to changing school needs. Each post holder has agreed to support the principal in the development of particular areas of the curriculum and they are contributing to the effective management of the school. Some of the post holders attend to additional duties that are not recorded formally in the school documentation. In order to develop their instructional leadership role, they could be profitably involved in monitoring the on-going review of curriculum implementation across the school. It is further recommended that the provision of termly action plans by post-holders should be developed to establish the priorities for development within each facet of their role and facilitate the review of progress.  In addition to post holders, other staff members including SNAs take on leadership roles in the school. This is particularly evident where personal expertise in the practical subjects such as cookery, Art and PE are positively exploited to create whole school planning for these areas for the benefit of all classes.


2.3 Management of resources

The general accommodation within the school includes office accommodation for both school and multi-disciplinary team members, a small kitchen, a staffroom, an art room, a small general purpose hall, a small multi-sensory room and a room used by visiting therapists. The school policy of creating small class groups has impacted on the available accommodation in the building by placing demands for classroom spaces to accommodate groups of pupils. As a result, the size of the classrooms spaces varies across the school. Some classes are assigned for senior or junior pupils specifically, but in general, pupils are allocated to classes on a basis of suitability rather than in accordance with chronological age. There is no available space within the school to create distinct junior and senior areas and the youngest pupils in the school are frequently in close contact with the oldest. In recent years, the school has rented two additional classroom spaces from an adjoining building to provide adequate accommodation for all the class groups. The roof in this adjoining building requires repair and there are issues with regard to water ingress and slippery conditions in the hallways approaching these classrooms. As the board is not ultimately responsible for the state of maintenance of this building, the repair of the roof to prevent further damage is outside of its control. It is recommended that the board of management raises this matter with the management of the other building and with the Schools’ Capital Appraisal section of the Department of Education and Science.


Outdoor facilities include a large hard-surface play area, a well equipped playground, a sensory garden and a raised garden area with outdoor seating. Practical timetables are provided to ensure that all classes have access to the resources and facilities available within the school. The constraints placed on the accommodation have resulted in the allocation of the sensory room to particular pupils as a priority. Other classes use the therapy room as a relaxation and sensory space but it is less than ideal. The staff members make commendable efforts to provide a suitable learning environment for their students. However there is a high level of ambient noise which is exacerbated by the floor and wall surfaces, and which may negatively affect the sensory sensitivities of the pupils. The use of the hall area as a conduit to traverse across the school is particularly distracting to the conduct of classes in the hall.     


The part-time school secretary provides efficient administrative support and among her other duties she assists in the smooth day-to-day running of the transport provision. The attentive manner in which the school grounds and main building are maintained is due to the industriousness of the part-time maintenance and cleaning staff. The continuing professional development of staff has been assisted by attendance at a variety of courses including Crisis Prevention Intervention training, LÁMH and PECS courses, Manual Handling, Behaviour Management, ABA and TEACCH courses. While there is little turnover of staff in the school, some staff have been working with particular pupils for a number of consecutive years. It is recommended that the policy on staff rotation be adhered to, throughout the school to ensure the effective deployment of staff and to reduce the stress on staff who may be dealing with particularly challenging pupils for a number of years. The school could benefit from the setting of a maximum guideline number of years that any teacher should spend with the same class group.  


Library facilities have been developed in the school including a good collection of relevant texts relating to ASD and teaching resources for the delivery of the curriculum. Many table top resources are stored centrally and categorised according to the development of particular skills. There is a well organised borrowing facility for the supply of materials and equipment to ensure maximum use. An additional toy library is available to parents to rotate the toys used at home or to interest their children in new items prior to purchasing them.  


The school borders a rural area which is used frequently by the classes for walks. The school is located at a distance from shopping facilities, swimming pools or community facilities. In order to allow the pupils to use these facilities, the Parents’ Association and school have raised funds to provide the pupils with independent transport. The school currently has three minibuses that are in constant use by all the classes throughout the week.


2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The school has established effective structures to promote good communication with all the partners. An active parents’ association is in existence with parents represented from all class levels. The association plays a positive role in social networking, fund-raising to provide educational resources and involvement in whole school celebrations such as art exhibitions. Teachers are aware that close liaison with parents is essential since parents have a wealth of knowledge about their children. Parents are involved in developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for their children at formal meetings on an annual basis. Parents are involved at an early stage in formulating specific plans for dealing with each pupil’s particular needs.


Officers of the parents’ association expressed complete satisfaction with the education being provided in the school and with the level of individual attention currently available for their children. While the staffing ratios for this level of disability are very favourable, the view was expressed that every child in the school required a ‘one-to-one’ response to maximise their participation. Parents were satisfied with the range and quality of information provided about their child through regular input in a home/school notebook, school newsletters and notes sent by the school about whole-school issues. An Education night for parents is organised, usually once a year, where particular methodologies such as PECS or LÁMH are discussed. Therapeutic input is frequently provided by the supportive multi-disciplinary team on these occasions to address particular areas indicated by the parents.


Another commendable initiative is the Siblings Day. For one day each year the school arranges a day for pupils’ siblings, aged 8-12 years old, to visit the school. On this day, the siblings attend St. Gabriel’s rather than their own school and interesting activities around the school are organised to allow them to experience their sibling’s world. The siblings are encouraged to observe their brother or sister in their own environment during one or two lessons where they are able to complete assigned work. 


Due to the absence of higher ability age peers within the school cohort, the school has developed some integrative practices with another special school for pupils with moderate general learning disability. This arrangement enables pupils with potential for greater social or curricular objectives to access a suitable group of peers who can challenge them more than their class peers. While this initiative is commendable, clear objectives should be agreed in advance for these shared sessions and suitable written and other records should be maintained, so that the success or failure to meet these objectives can be evaluated.


Collaborative ventures with Cork prison have resulted in the preparation of woodwork kits for the school to enable the pupils to complete basic construction from prepared pieces. Other companies have assisted the school by the provision of labour and materials to develop the garden areas while community facilities such as a suburban library assist the school by providing a venue for the school art exhibition.


2.5 Management of pupils

School personnel show a perceptive understanding of the particular needs of pupils attending the school. They are uniformly supportive and encouraging in their interactions with the pupils. In their day-to-day management of pupils, staff members are alert for signs of distress. Across the school there is a consistency of adult response to pupils’ behaviour. Records are kept of significant observations and these are shared with relevant personnel. Challenging behaviour is addressed in the context of the pupil’s overall educational, social and personal development. Agreed strategies are used by all staff members. Staff members are conscious of the communicative intent that may be attached to challenging behaviour. They try to find out the reasons for the behaviour and information is gathered from structured observation of the pupil’s behaviour in a variety of situations. There is no record of the behavioural element in the schools’ template for the monthly report and the school might consider the inclusion of such an element which would contextualise the remaining content of the report.


The school has found grouping the pupils by age alone not to have been suitable. Consequently, other factors are taken into account in the formation of classes including sensory sensitivities, cognitive ability, peer compatibility and communication needs. Some pupils need a distraction-free environment, especially when new activities are being introduced. In order to provide this type of environment, the majority of the classrooms are subdivided into four areas with permanent partitions. These serve to provide an area for individual work and three areas that are used for group work, eating and recreation. The use of the partitions creates a sense of enclosure in the classrooms and may contribute to some behavioural issues when pupils exhibit challenging behaviour and need to be removed to a place of safety. Some of the pupils are unsuited to these classrooms and are placed in larger rooms with little furniture or equipment on permanent display or in classrooms with an attached smaller room.  Cognisance may need to be taken of the physical layout of the classroom environment when completing observation schedules of challenging behaviour to ascertain the possible effect of the physical structures on pupil behaviour.


Occasionally, some pupils do not attend for the full school day as a reduction in time was necessary to deal with the level of challenging behaviour. Such a reduction needs to be consistently reviewed to ensure the pupils’ right to access the required time in school is not compromised any longer than absolutely necessary. 


Staff members use visual supports such as schedules and portable prompts on a consistent basis to indicate changes in activity during the day. The extension of these visual prompts into consistent use of a visual turn-taking format for groups could assist in reducing the anxiety for pupils while waiting to participate and alert them to when it is their turn to contribute.



3.     Quality of school planning


3.1 School planning process and implementation

The school plan is comprehensive and contains a large number of organisational policies that meet most legislative requirements and support the work of the school. The school is in the process of drafting an equality statement which should incorporate gender equity and should be developed in line with the Equal Status Act and relevant employment legislation. Policies are drafted at staff level and then presented to the board for review and formal ratification. Each classroom is provided with an administration file which includes whole-school policies and which is valuable in guiding practice. The school deploys a good range of methodologies and these receive attention in the planning documentation. Additional methodologies that might be included and described are Applied Behavioural Analysis as used in the school and clear guidelines on the use of Objects of Reference.


The curricular plans are available for all subject areas with some subjects still in draft form for review by the staff. The plans follow a set format and include detail on areas such as approaches, individualisation, linkages with other subjects and assessment options. It is recommended that each curricular policy should include details as to how parents can support students’ learning. Curriculum co-ordinators could be appointed within the in-school management team to lead curriculum review. They could research particular strand areas and identify relevant resources for use in the school. Assessment, record keeping, goal-setting and target-setting are carried out individually for each pupil in a systematic manner. The universal format used in the school for planning purposes assists in the easy retrieval of relevant objectives for individual pupils.


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 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.

3.2 Classroom planning

All the teachers provide timetables for their classes although there is a wide variation in composition. Most class timetables are structured in ways that show regard to balancing active and inactive sessions, group/individual activities and building in opportunities for pupils to have breaks from the classroom environment. Not all curriculum subjects are clearly evident in the timetables and this is an area that needs to be adjusted to ensure the pupils have access to a broad range of relevant curricula. Curriculum planning is highly individualised. An annual individual education plan is developed in consultation with the parents and relevant members of the multi-disciplinary team. The priority objectives identified in this process are then linked into the classroom planning for individual pupils. Teachers endeavour to balance individual needs with curricular objectives at the level accessible to the individual pupil.


In planning programmes, teachers recognise the need for learning at a very early developmental level. Staff members provide a responsive environment where all efforts by pupils are rewarded and encouraged. Teachers keep age-appropriateness in mind when structuring activities. Opportunities are created which encourage the pupils to explore their surroundings, experiment with objects, make choices and indicate their needs and desires. Teachers consider the educational and social objectives and they seek to ensure that the various activities are meaningful and beneficial for the pupils. Differentiation in planning ensures that teachers cater for the individual needs of pupils. The teachers vary content, activities, and methodologies when taking into account the range of abilities, interests, and needs of pupils. The high pupil to adult ratio in each class results in the pupils receiving considerable amount of one-to-one attention.



4.     Quality of learning and teaching


4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The approach adopted by staff in St Gabriel’s is characterised by a caring ethos where particular likes, dislikes and individual preferences of pupils are given genuine consideration and where pupils are treated with respect and dignity. Staff members are aware that pupils will often need a long period of time in order to tune in to an activity. The adults also recognise that the pupils’ disabilities severely limit their ability to interact with people and objects in their environment. The patient work of teachers and SNAs often involves awakening curiosity and interest in what is happening around the pupil. In general, activities are chosen that make use of both the pupils’ strengths and interests. Teachers endeavour to ensure that activities are meaningful and relevant, and to recognise and respond to the pupils’ efforts.


A cross-curricular approach is adopted in all classes to bring coherence to the pupils’ overall learning experience and stimulate interest in the prepared activities. The development of key life skills including communication skills and personal and social skills are incorporated in the broad subject areas. Visual arts, music and drama are included as an element in many activities and incidental opportunities, as they arise, are used to  reinforce aesthetic and creative skills.


4.2 Language



Tá cead ag na daltaí a fhreastalaíonn ar an scoil seo, gan Gaeilge a dhéanamh, de bharr míchumais ghinearálta foghlama.



(The pupils in this school present with general learning disabilities and are entitled to an exemption from studying Irish).



The staff is cogniscent of the importance of communication and language as an essential pre-requisite to progress in all areas. The oral language area receives due attention in all classes with the priority on the development of good receptive language ability and the use of an expressive communication system suited to the ability level of the individual pupil. All the pupils present with significant needs in the area of communication with some pupils presenting with complex additional needs. Pupils’ listening skills are promoted in accordance with their abilities. Teachers make use of props, musical and auditory cues to gain their pupils’ attention and assist in developing their understanding of oral language. Augmentative communication systems such as Objects of Reference, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), LÁMH and assistive technology are used throughout the school. A school policy that all staff will sign when in ‘eyeshot’ of any pupil who communicates using LÁMH would be effective for generalising learning outside the classroom and promoting communication. In addition, the school might consider expanding the use of sign language to include some of the Canaan-Barrie signs which include on-body points of contact for pupils with visual impairment. The objects of reference used include tangibles and remnants and need to be highly individualised for each pupil. The ultimate purpose for an object of reference is when one presents the object, it triggers the thought of the activity, place or person that it stands for. One pupil may understand a nappy as an object of reference for a visit to the toilet while another may link the understanding of such a visit with a toilet roll. The Speech and Language Therapists provide support in the creation of individual communication goals for each pupil.


Most of the classes use a circle time news activity in the morning establishing the pupils’ attendance, the weather and the sequence of activities for the day. Non-verbal pupils have their contribution appropriately affirmed using their particular system for communication. Communication passports have been used by the school for particular pupils who might need them for transition to respite or hospitalisation. These could be generalised more across the pupil cohort and be profitably used with visiting students on placement.


An interest in story and the reading experience is fostered using large format, auditory and tactile books while deploying props to alert and engage the pupils into the lesson. Reading materials could be expanded to include thermoform books for pupils with visual impairment. Some classes have developed language experience approach books on group outings and activities. Using the digital technology available the school could establish language experience books for each pupil and use presentation software such as Powerpoint to operate them on the computer using a basic switch system.


4.3 Mathematics

In St Gabriel’s, exploration and development of the senses in a sensory way through the use of a wide range of three-dimensional materials is an important part of the mathematics curriculum. The development of pupils’ abilities to indicate choice and preference is a skill that receives emphasis for early learning in mathematics and the pupils are given opportunities to develop and apply their early skills and understanding in both undirected and structured play. Activities in Mathematics are based on the pupils’ own everyday experiences. Well-organised Mathematics lessons open pupils’ eyes to colours, shapes and patterns. Some are learning to use numbers functionally in play or real-life situations. The whole-school plan for Mathematics is very detailed.


Through work in the strand Early Mathematical Activities, the pupils are helped to become alert to the similarities and differences between objects. Object permanence and one-to-one correspondence are introduced and pupils work on skills of classifying, matching, comparing and ordering. Number work enables the pupils to develop an appreciation of quantity and the pupils learn to match, sort and classify objects. They also examine the shapes of three-dimensional objects. Some develop the ability to discriminate. Matching and sorting activities progress from using three dimensional to two-dimensional objects. The pupils learn to become aware of time to make sense of daily and weekly routines. Senior pupils engage in a range of functional mathematical activities including domestic skills, office skills, and horticulture. The emphasis is on the functional application of early mathematical skills. Sometimes this work extends to carrying out tasks in the local church and grocery store.


4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education



In History, pupils’ personal experiences and elements of family history are utilised. Co-operation with parents allows staff to gather items from home such as photographs and clothes from childhood which are used to help to explore the pupils’ past. Imaginative ways are found of helping pupils to remember and communicate about events that have taken place. Across the school, pupils engage in various activities to help them understand the passage of time throughout the day, the week, and the year. In classroom activities, emphasis is placed on the start and finish of activities and patterns and routines are built into the school day and week. The work helps pupils develop a sense of their own personal history and staff members attend to the celebration of special events in a pupil’s life or family or class. They listen to well-known stories about the past involving themselves. Historical events of national importance are celebrated.



The teaching of Geography is focused on developing pupils’ mobility around the school and in the local environment. Classrooms are organised into areas of distinct purpose, such as play area, work area and self-care area. Useful practices that were observed during the inspection included placing teachers’ names on classroom doors, accompanied by photograph of adults and pupils. The teachers have examined ways of allowing pupils to access facilities, amenities and other resources in the locality. The school has used the proceeds of fundraising to provide three mini-buses and regular trips outside the school environment serve to stimulate the pupils’ interest in the wider world. Through organising regular walks around the school grounds there is an emphasis on observing and exploring features of the immediate environment and on providing opportunities for pupils to engage in recycling activities which helps to foster a sense of individual and community responsibility for environmental care. The pupils are also helped to become aware of weather and seasonal changes.


The planning process for field trips involves looking at photographs of places the pupils will visit and discussing and reminding them of features they will encounter along the trails. The staff could now examine other possibilities through giving further consideration to the management of trips that are made out of school. Staff could plan for the completion of more curriculum-related tasks and practice social skills along the way. A particularly successful example of this approach was observed, where a pupil was required to interact and communicate with a shopkeeper and purchase items independently. Pupils would benefit from more structured activities to help them appreciate sources of interest such as natural phenomena, materials, flora and fauna.


Participation in both walks and outings into the community should have clear educational benefits for the pupils. The current practice of many pupils spending a large portion of the day away from the school may not be the most beneficial use of the instruction time available. Some of the pupils may not access community facilities on a regular basis with their families but other students may do so and might benefit more from time spent in the classroom. The school has gone to considerable lengths to provide an environment engineered to prevent sensory overload. The frequent absence from the school premises on outings may be over stimulating for some pupils’ sensory systems and contribute to challenging behaviour on their return to the school premises. An outing will only equate with an educational experience when it carefully planned, executed and evaluated by the teacher. Planning  should focus on using appropriate strategies to engage the learner for the duration of the activity and using recording formats to observe the achievement of stated objectives.



In Science, the pupils are provided with many opportunities to investigate the familiar environment such as observation and recording changes in the weather. They benefit from the practical activities that help to make sense of the world. Pupils explore and experiment with a wide range of materials. Trips into the wider environment provide variety and stimulate interest and curiosity. Through nature walks and gardening, their awareness and understanding of plants in the environment is increased. When pupils return to class, multi-sensory experiences are used to remind pupils of sounds, smells and tactile experiences. Despite the limitations in terms of space in the school grounds, considerable thought has been given to creating and developing impressive gardening areas at different levels, where the ground is prepared and where plants including vegetables are grown and examined. Plants have been chosen that have maximum sensory impact in colour, taste and smell. The environment could be made more scientifically interesting also by the addition of a bird table outside some classroom windows. Observing and looking after plants, birds and other animals could enhance pupils’ understanding of life processes.


Exciting and motivating multi-sensory activities are organised which capture the attention of pupils and raise their awareness in the way in which things work in the environment and helps to develop an awareness of cause and effect and enables the pupils to anticipate and predict changes. The pupils engage in activities to help them make sense of sources of energy around them and they explore and experience different forms of energy such as heat, light, and sound. They explore ways of making different sounds using a variety of materials and they develop awareness of the difference between hot and cold. They participate in exploring the effects of water on materials and observe and experience the effects of heating and cooling on familiar objects. Pupils actively assist in cooking and preparing food and their skill acquisition is monitored closely. They are also enabled to attend to sensory experiences provided by a variety of electrical and battery-operated equipment. They use magnets in a playful way to explore their effects.


Pupils also have some access to a basic sensory room where learning is reinforced and a number of seasonal themes and topics related to the natural world are occasionally explored through multi-sensory experiences. The creation of a high quality Snoezelen environment with clear sensorial and educational objectives would enhance the educational experience available to the pupils in the school.


4.5 Arts Education


Visual Arts

All the pupils have the opportunity to participate in classes with the specialist art teacher in addition to the work done in their base classroom on an individual or collective basis. Excellent provision is made in all strand areas. The emphasis is on the enjoyment of the sensory and creative processes initiated by engaging personally with the media rather than the completion of a product. The pupils’ ability to observe, appreciate, engage, investigate and create is reinforced by the staff using appropriate affirmation no matter how tentative their efforts. While all strands receive due attention particularly innovative work has been planned and executed in the fibre and fabric strand. The pupils have opportunities to have their art work converted into wall hangings and T-shirts for routine use. The acquisition of a hand sewing machine could expand the work done in fibre and fabric further and provide a sensory input using the rhythm of rotating the wheel. The use of a hand machine would reduce the possibility of injury as the machine would stop once the rotation ceased. There is commendable recording of pupils’ orientation to the subject and their progress using the NCCA categories of attending, responding and initiating is monitored when the instruction on each strand module is completed.


A feature of recent practice in this school is the decision to remove rotating art displays in corridors and the hall area. The school has decided to reduce sensory over-load in these communal spaces and keep the walls blank. However, samples of completed work are evident in both the classrooms and art room and they demonstrate access to the full range of media.



Woodwork has been recently included to differentiate the curriculum for senior pupils and they have the opportunity to expand their ability on the construction strand of the Arts curriculum. The current programme enables the students to complete basic projects using prepared pieces. Each pupil is allowed to progress at his/her own pace to complete their piece. The completion of prepared pieces allows an incremental development of skills involving sanding, screwing, hammering and painting. This work could be profitably extended to include nail and thread pictures for pupils who enjoy hammering and basic upholstery using a staple gun under strict adult supervision. Some pupils display particular skill in their application to the construction task and could be further challenged by expanding their skills by assembling flat packed furniture. 



Resources for music are good and include recordings, percussion instruments, and books. A part-time music specialist works in the school one day per week. Music is used to encourage active listening and to promote auditory discrimination. In the music lessons observed, the emphasis was on stimulating and developing the pupil’s ability to listen to and make sounds. Pupils select their favourite instrument and everyday sounds are used to encourage an early awareness of music and pupils are assisted in making their own musical instruments. Familiar songs, rhymes and melodies are used to informally build up familiarity with the musical elements. Music is used to enrich learning in other areas of the curriculum including SESE and SPHE. Electronic or battery-operated instruments are used in enabling a pupil to experiment with sounds. SNAs are deployed to encourage and facilitate participation in the music curriculum. Performances are sometimes recorded and this helps pupils to remember and understand the event. Some teachers have drawn up a list of songs and excerpts for listening. These could be expanded to include more sensory approaches and to develop links with various areas of the curriculum.



Most of the work delivered in the Drama curriculum focuses on the dramatisation of familiar stories using props and costume elements or the copying of imaginative role play following an exemplar by the teacher. There is a high degree of staff support to enable the pupils to participate in these lessons as the concept of imitation and fantasy is difficult for them to grasp. Elements of movement to music to dramatise songs are also a feature in group music sessions. One pupil shows particular talent in entering into imaginative role play in playing a guitar and could benefit from a more challenging Drama curriculum.

The creation of a play by a junior class was a recent experiment in the expansion of dramatic experiences for the pupils and this was recorded to allow the pupils to observe themselves. The school includes the area of play in the whole school planning for Drama and this could include the integration of the various stages of play such as sensori-motor play, relational play, functional play, symbolic play, socio-dramatic play and themed fantasy play into the pupils’ experience. All the pupils will experience difficulties in developing creative and imaginative play but they can be given opportunities to rehearse particular repertoires of play involving symbolic understanding.

The creation of whole-class experiences such as a visit to a cinema created in the blacked out hall with projection facilities could expand the pupils’ understanding of dramatic media using elements such as cartoons, films and documentary footage on the pupils themselves. Pupils who engage successfully in this experience could be challenged further with a visit to a cinema for a short period.


4.6 Physical Education (PE)

A qualified PE  teacher works in the school on one day per week. A comprehensive plan is developed on a monthly basis for gymnastics, dance, athletics, games, aquatics, and outdoor and adventure activities. Activities are imaginative and well organised. Pupils participate willingly and vigorously. PE activities are used successfully to improve pupils’ fine and gross motor co-ordination, listening skills, self confidence, games skills, and the ability to co-operate and communicate with others. Each pupil is enabled to safely experience physical activities, and explore a wide range of stimulating equipment. Some pupils also follow physiotherapy programmes designed to develop muscle tone or programmes developed with the support of the occupational therapist. The individualisation of programmes allows staff to take into consideration the needs of pupils who have sensory-integration difficulties. SNAs sensitively support pupils who need physical assistance to enable them to participate. A record is maintained each week of the work completed and of pupils’ participation.


In gymnastics, pupils explore and experiment with movement on a variety of appropriate surfaces and equipment. The pupils are enabled to engage in a number of activities where the emphasis is on exploring diverse skills such as sliding, crawling, reaching and grasping. In dance lessons, pupils were observed exploring a range of body actions, and they enjoyed the activity. The games programme provides opportunities to use a selection of equipment of varying size, shape, texture and colour. Handling skills, hand-eye coordination, carrying and striking are explored through a variety of activities. The outdoor and adventure activities concentrate on pursuits that make good use of the school environment and locality. Linkages are made with communication, Mathematics, Science, SPHE, and Music.


Senior pupils take part in a Senior Fitness Programme which emphasises core skills in PE and this valuable resource was developed by staff members. One of the post holders assumes responsibility for organising access to the Motor Activities element of the Special Olympics programme for pupils. Pupils of twelve years and over are included in this programme.


4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

In order to give their pupils the best opportunities for personal, social and emotional development, the teachers and SNAs  pay particular attention to establishing a relationship with them based on consistency and predictability and thereby develop the pupils’ trust and confidence. The school endeavours to equip their pupils with as many independent skills as possible. There is a strong focus on developing self-care skills, usually on an informal basis, in the classrooms. As most of the instruction is on an individual basis, it has a significant impact on the class timetables. Detailed task analysis has been completed of basic dressing and hygiene skills using forward and backward chaining.


There is a strong focus on pupils developing an awareness of self and others and responding to other people in an appropriate manner. All the teachers use the Circle Time methodology to promote peer observation and interaction with varying degree of success. All of the teachers place an emphasis on the development of good behaviour and positive interactions. The pupils are sensitively supported through activities they find challenging either with physical or visual supports while they carry out their daily task. Pupils’ awareness of other peers, familiar and unfamiliar adults is assisted using photographs to encourage recognition and reduce anxiety.


Home Economics

The home economics curriculum concentrates on the development of basic culinary skills and the use of kitchen equipment at a level appropriate to pupils’ abilities. Many tasks include a sensorial element of olfactory and gustatory experiences and the observation of changes of materials through the use of heat. There is frequent use of microwaves in classrooms to heat food and toasters to prepare toast. Pupils could be more actively engaged in the process of basic cookery using this equipment and in serving themselves the cooked food.  


 4.8 Assessment

A consistent plan for assessment, recording and reporting runs throughout the school. In St Gabriel’s assessment involves teacher observation and noting of the level of pupils’ responses and engagement. Assessment is also used to identify strengths and priority needs, as well as starting points for learning. There is a well established system for Individual education Plans (IEPs) that is informed by clinical assessments. In preparing IEPs, the teachers gather information about the pupil’s strengths and need, likes and dislikes from sources such as parents, therapists and psychologists.


Monitoring systems and concurrent recording of table-top work are in place in all classrooms. These systems assist in matching teaching methods to pupil’s needs and help to identify how much learning has taken place. In general, the recording of individual progress in group lessons or other areas of the curriculum are not as well-developed. The assessment and progress recording of pupils’ participation in some areas of Arts education are of particular merit and could profitably be extended to other subjects in the school.


Expansion of the assessment instruments currently in use in the school could include the Affective Communication Assessment and the Early Communication Assessment. The school might consider using a formal assessment such as the Callier-Azusa Scales (H) (CAS (H)) for the assessment of communicative abilities. These scales were specifically designed for the developmental assessment of pupils with deafblindness and those with severe to profound intellectual disability. The CAS (H) provides a hierarchical progression of items over four areas, namely representational and symbolic activities, receptive communication, expressive communication and reciprocity which would be particularly relevant for the pupils in this school.


Pupils with additional impairment in vision and hearing would benefit from functional assessments of vision and hearing conducted over time and under varying conditions. As ophthalmologists or audiologists may use measures that are unlikely to provide information specific enough to help in the classroom, there is a need for the school staff to identify the optimum conditions for learning in order to maximise the vision or hearing. Given the sensorial needs of many of the pupils, comprehensive assessments of their response to sensory stimuli, particularly in a multi-sensory environment, would be beneficial to establish reinforcing activities, preferences and aversions.



5.     Quality of support for pupils


5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

All the pupils attending this school have special educational needs. Thirty-three of the thirty-seven pupils have the diagnosis of ASD in addition to severe to profound intellectual disability. Some pupils attending the school also have additional sensory impairments in vision and/or hearing. The teachers endeavour to provide appropriate educational resources to include these pupils in all classroom experiences using the sensory modalities accessible for the pupils.


The school has developed collaborative practices with HSE personnel and families to assist in the attendance of pupils at health clinics or with appropriate consultants. The school has initiated a commendable partnership model with the relevant health professionals in order to facilitate pupils’ access to necessary services and as a support to their parents.  Routine dental, paediatric and public health clinics are held in the school. The relevant professionals attend the school for the pupils’ appointments and pupils can return to their classroom immediately following the session so their parents can talk to the clinician and there is no loss of time for the pupil or from the clinician.  The school frequently accommodates third level students on placement from relevant educational and therapeutic courses to widen their placement experience.


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

There is an evident commitment to promoting and celebrating the full inclusion of the diversity of pupils in the school. The school policies in place display a respect for and appreciation of difference, providing a sense of acceptance of the uniqueness of each pupil. The parents of newcomer pupils are supported to contribute in their child’s education including facilitating interpreting if required. It is suggested that the Guidelines on Intercultural Education in the Primary School and materials developed by Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) could be profitably alluded to in the school plan. The school’s attention is directed towards Circular 0053/2007 for further advice in this area.


6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • The school has succeeded in establishing an active and involved parents’ association that supports parental involvement in the school, promotes the profile of the school in the community and provides additional resources through fund-raising.
  • The school has initiated a commendable partnership model with the relevant health professionals by holding routine clinics in the school that reduces anxiety for the pupils and facilitates transfer of information to relevant multi-disciplinary team members.
  • The professionalism of staff members and their commitment to providing a differentiated education for each pupil attending the school is an area of significant strength.
  • The teachers and support staff are successful in capturing the interest and attention of their students
  • The effect that the triad of autistic impairments has on pupils is well understood and catered for by a competent team of special needs assistants.


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

  • It is recommended that the school continue with its efforts to secure representatives from the community to the board of management
  • It is recommended that termly action plans should be provided by post-holders in order to establish the priorities for development within each facet of their role and facilitate the review of progress. 
  • It is recommended that the range of assessments in use be diversified further to include sensorial assessments including those of functional vision and hearing.
  • It is recommended that all school policies and curricular plans are signed on ratification by the board of management with a clearly identified review date.


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 May 2010