An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Carmona Special School

Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin

Uimhir rolla: 20121A

 

Date of inspection:  29 February 2008

 

 

 

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 students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

School response to the report

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of Carmona 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 students and teachers, and examined students’ work. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

Carmona Special National School is an eight-teacher school, which caters for students with severe and profound general learning disabilities. The school is located on the same site as the Children’s Services of Carmona in the parish of Glenageary, on the outskirts of Dun Laoghaire. Carmona school was formerly known as St. John of God’s Special School and was re-established in 2002, following major refurbishment works to the existing school building, to allow for expansion of classes and an upgrading of facilities. Plans to relocate to a separate site in Glasthule are at an early stage of development.

 

The school is co‑educational and is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. The principal has been very recently appointed and there has been almost a complete turnover of staff within the last three years. There are currently 32 students enrolled. The average attendance of students is very good, as depicted in the school registers. Recent enrolment trends indicate a marginal increase in the number of students attending the school. Most students avail of the respite service offered by the Children’s Services in Carmona, while the majority of students travel to school on Department of Education and Science funded transport. The school serves a wide catchment area ranging from Ringsend to Bray.

 

The school’s mission, vision, philosophy and aims are reflected in the friendly, supportive, caring and positive atmosphere of the school.  The school seeks to implement the core values of the St John of God ethos of care, compassion, hospitality, trust, dignity, respect and diversity. The students are valued as individuals and staff members are sensitive to their unique needs. The school aims to provide a creative, structured and stimulating environment by seeking to maximise each student’s potential.

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

The board of management is properly constituted and meets at least five times a year, in accordance with the Department’s Constitution of Boards and Rules of Procedure (2007).  Board members display a professional, diligent and positive approach and are very supportive of the work of the school. The board, ably led by a committed chairperson, is cognisant of its role in overseeing effective provision for the students in its care and is proud of the school’s achievements to date. Agendas and relevant correspondence are circulated in advance of meetings, minutes are very carefully maintained and matters to be communicated are agreed.  A principal’s report and treasurer’s report are circulated at each board meeting. Recent minutes indicate that to date the board’s work has concentrated on the review, development and ratification of various organisational policies, staffing issues, health and safety issues, transition year student placement and the deployment of SNAs. Other items addressed at board meetings include multidisciplinary support services, individual education planning, extra-curricular activities, the proposed new school building and the development and use of school facilities. The board facilitates access to Department of Education and Science (DES) funded educational provision for all students during the month of July. The board articulates its satisfaction with the education provided for students in the school and has prioritised its commitment to pursue additional therapeutic multidisciplinary support for students. The board is very supportive of staff engaging in continuous professional development. Consideration should be given to the development of a staff development policy to incorporate details of continuous professional development undertaken by individual staff members.

 

The board is commended for its efforts in communicating with parents. Regular termly newsletters are issued containing messages from the principal, chairperson of the board, chairperson of the parents’ association, and general information about upcoming school pastoral care activities, social outings and curricular activities. To build on this excellent practice, it is recommended that the board issues an annual report to parents on the operation and functioning of the school and on its progress regarding whole-school planning, in accordance with section 20 of the Education Act, 1998. There is a need to reach an agreement towards the establishment of a formal channel of communication between the principal, board of management and members of the parents’ association to facilitate the participation of parents in the whole-school planning process, in accordance with section 26 of the Education Act, 1998.  

 

At the pre-evaluation meeting representatives from the parents’ association expressed concern that the chairperson of the board of management is also the director of Carmona Services, and indicated that a conflict of interest may arise particularly in relation to the provision of multi-disciplinary support in the school. It is recommended that the roles and responsibilities of board members be devolved to actively involve as many board members as possible, in the best interests of students and parents.

 

The board effectively oversees the regular maintenance of the school building. The school is fortunate to be currently located on the same site as Carmona Services and to have access to a range of on-site facilities. The important support provided by Carmona Services is acknowledged. The school has used DES funding to complete a recent three-year refurbishment programme, which has provided a very attractive and welcoming reception area, addressed health and safety issues and allowed for the upgrading of the school’s electrical works. A sensory garden area has also been developed for the benefit of students. Board members expressed their gratitude for the funding received from the Department to make these improvements to the existing school building.

 

Suitable efforts have been made to develop various policies in line with relevant legislation, as in the case of the comprehensive health and safety statement.  It is recommended that the section in the enrolment policy referring to deferral of enrolment be amended to fulfil the legislative requirements outlined in the Education Act, 1998. A reference to the eligibility of students for enrolment from four to 18 years should also be included in the enrolment policy to reflect the requirements of the Rules for National Schools. As the board continues to review aspects of school policy, it is recommended that school timetables be aligned and restructured in accordance with Departmental regulations to ensure that students in all classes access the appropriate teacher/student contact time. It would be of benefit for the board to prepare a planning diary and three-year action plan incorporating timeframes for the completion of agreed tasks.

 

2.2 In-school management  

The newly appointed principal adopts an enthusiastic, vibrant and positive leadership style and has set out to promote an environment of accountability. She displays a proactive approach to the management of the school. Positive, respectful and collegial relationships are fostered across the school community. The principal acknowledges the commitment of present and former staff members towards the students enrolled. The sharing of information and skills is encouraged and the continuing professional development of teachers and special needs assistants is supported. The principal is aware of the need to set priorities and targets for development, in promoting a culture of self-evaluation. She is cognisant of the areas of teaching and learning which require further development. The principal is confident of the school’s potential in implementing the recommendations arising from the whole-school evaluation report in developing and improving the work of the school. There is an awareness of the importance of fostering and continuously improving teacher-parent relationships.

 

The in-school management structure provides for one deputy-principal and two special duties posts of responsibility. Since the recent appointment of a new principal, a management decision was made to withhold the appointment of a deputy principal and post-holders until the whole-school evaluation was completed, so that the recommendations arising from the report could be used to agree on suitable areas of responsibility.  In the interim, the positions have been filled in an acting-up capacity and duties carried out accordingly. The acting-up deputy principal has taken responsibility for liaising with Angel’s Quest, the respite care facility, the coordination of language and communication and the purchase and updating of library resources. The acting-up special duties post-holder has responsibility for the purchase of art materials, the organisation of timetables for extra-curricular activities, the coordination of display areas, and the maintenance of the multi-sensory room. It is recommended that curriculum coordinators should be appointed to facilitate curriculum leadership and development. Post-holders should be assigned responsibilities that span organisational, pastoral and curricular areas, in accordance with the terms of Circular 07/03. It is suggested that the school plan should incorporate a description of post-holder responsibilities as well annual review dates. Regular meetings with senior management should be facilitated and decisions recorded, and acted upon.  

 

2.3 Management of resources

The current staffing complement comprises the principal, seven class teachers and thirteen special needs assistants (SNAs). A full-time school secretary assists with school administrative matters. A cleaner is employed for two hours daily to assist with the good upkeep of the school premises, and this ancillary support is complemented by Carmona maintenance services, as required. The teachers are allocated to classes on the basis of teachers’ preferences, qualifications and experience.  Special needs assistants are assigned to work collaboratively with each class teacher and their cooperation is positively regarded by the teaching staff. Staff contributes with sensitivity and skill in supporting the students during the school day. Some paramedical services of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy are provided for the students through Carmona Services. Parents report that this support is limited.

 

The school facilities have been significantly upgraded in recent years and the school authorities are commended for their proactive approach in relation to the improvement of the school buildings and facilities. School accommodation comprises five classrooms in the main school building, two temporary classrooms, a sensory room, staffroom, school office, reception/secretary’s area and other ancillary rooms and storage areas. Toilet and changing areas are located within or adjacent to the classroom areas. A clean, bright and accessible school environment has been established. The classroom and circulation areas are carefully decorated and the work of the students is attractively displayed throughout the school. There are limited play areas for the students. The outdoor grounds of Carmona Services are maintained to a very high standard, and weather permitting, the students can avail of opportunities to explore the outdoor environment. The staff is to be commended for their efforts in creating an attractive school environment and for the flexible manner in which they make the best use of limited classroom areas in implementing a wide range of curriculum activities. While the school accommodation has been significantly improved, the school community looks forward to the planned future move to permanent accommodation close to the location of the current school, and on the same site as a local mainstream primary school.

 

The staff has access to a wide and appropriate range of resources to support the activities of teaching and learning and to provide for the care needs of the students.  Ample commercially produced and teacher-designed resources are available. Specialist furniture, equipment and communication aids suited to the needs of individual students have been acquired. All classes have access to information and communication technologies (ICT), which is successfully utilised in most classrooms. Computers in a number of classrooms need to be upgraded. An audit of all available computer software should be included in the school plan.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The parents’ association is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council and meets on a monthly basis. A dedicated cohort of parents normally attends these meetings. The officers interviewed display a strong commitment towards promoting the interests of the student body in collaboration with the board of management, principal and staff. Parents provide support for the school through their involvement in swimming classes, sacramental ceremonies and fund-raising activities.  Regular communication is facilitated between the parents’ association and the broader parent body through the school newsletter and ongoing correspondence. It was reported that communication between the parents’ association and the school to date has mainly been on an informal basis with the principal and with the parent representatives on the board of management. As the officers of the parents’ association have not received specific training on the work of the parents’ association, it is recommended that the association should avail of training days offered by the National Parents’ Council in order to guide their work. In order to encourage the involvement of a greater number of parents, the parents’ association should give consideration to the development of a plan of activities, which might include various guest speakers.  Arrangements have recently been put in place to support regular meetings between the principal and representatives of the parents’ association. This initiative is to be commended.

 

Commendable work has been undertaken by present and past members of the parents’ association in their active contribution towards the development of a very well-presented, attractive and user-friendly information booklet and brochures for parents. Parents expressed satisfaction with the quality of the information included in these publications. Parents interviewed indicated a willingness to become more involved in the school development planning process and in the formulation and review of school policies, prior to their ratification by the board. Parents expressed a general satisfaction with the individual education planning process. It was articulated that parents would welcome a greater level of parental involvement and multi-disciplinary input in the IEP process, in line with the recommendations of Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act (2004). It was communicated that the most commonly raised issue at parent association meetings relates to the ongoing need for a much greater level of multi-disciplinary therapeutic support for the students attending the school. The need for occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and physiotherapy was particularly highlighted by parents as a key priority area. 

 

 

2.5 Management of students

The teachers and special needs assistants are highly knowledgeable and experienced in relation to the individual needs and concerns of the students and this is a significant factor in the positive relationships fostered between staff and students evident during the course of the whole-school evaluation. Members of staff are consistent in their supportive, affirmative and constructive interactions with students on a daily basis. Opportunities to promote appropriate interaction among the students themselves are fostered. Teachers display high expectations in relation to the students’ learning and behaviour.

 

3.     Quality of school planning                   

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

Considerable work has been undertaken on the development of pertinent organisational policies, which have a positive impact on the organisation and smooth running of the school. Aspects of the school plan developed to date are presented in accessible formats in the form of individually bound documents. Organisational polices formulated refer to the administration of medication, confidentiality, supervision, transport, roles and responsibilities of staff members, parent/school communication, health/care management, complaints procedure, enrolment and absenteeism. Attention is directed to the need to develop a code of behaviour in line with the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000.

 

Relevant organisational policies are communicated to staff and parents. The main information booklet, published in 2006, in collaboration with the parents’ association, and recently reviewed by staff, provides a very good overview of the work of the school. This booklet contains a detailed table of contents with information on the school’s structure and organisation, curricular areas and extra-curricular activities, communication, healthcare management and organisational policies. It is recommended that the reference to ‘cognitive development’ in this document be adjusted to Mathematics in line with the Primary School Curriculum (1999). This comprehensive document also publicises the school’s mission, vision and philosophy ‘to celebrate each child’s uniqueness.’ Additionally, a separate booklet has been developed to outline the roles and responsibilities of the health care services in Carmona.

 

Whole-school planning for curriculum implementation is at a very early stage of development. To date, there has been insufficient emphasis on the development of whole-school curricular plans to guide and lead whole-school curricular improvement and development. The school has recently considered the need to improve whole-school assessment strategies as a target area for development. It is recommended that an agreed action plan with timescales be developed to identify key whole-school priorities, roles and responsibilities, and review dates.  Each whole-school policy developed should contain a clear statement of content/themes, a reference to teaching and learning approaches and methodologies, and modes of assessment.  The school should utilise the support offered from the School Development Planning Support (SDPS) initiative to facilitate whole-scale review and to guide planning for improvement. The creation of sub-committees containing representatives from board, parent and staff levels should also be considered. The Inspectorate publication, Looking at Our School: An Aid to Self-Evaluation in Primary Schools (2003), should be used to guide the school’s self-evaluation efforts in promoting quality within the school.

 

A child protection policy has been developed and is available in the school plan. The procedures outlined are related to the St John of God Services. Attention should be directed towards clarifying the appropriate steps taken by the board of management and staff in the development of policies in accordance with the provisions in Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. It is recommended that explicit evidence be articulated in the school plan confirming that the board of management has integrated the existing comprehensive St John of God child protection policies with the guidelines and protocols of the Department of Education and Science.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

In compliance with Rule 126, individual teachers provide useful and relevant written preparation for their work. The absence of whole-school curricular policies to date has resulted in varying levels of detail in classroom planning. Traditionally teachers planned for curriculum implementation on a monthly basis. Teachers have recently reviewed the whole-school approach to classroom planning. In instances where the learning targets are specific, there is a greater impact on the systematic delivery of the curriculum. Visual teaching materials are well designed and enhance the impact of lessons as well as contributing positively to the learning environment. The practice of drawing up individual education plans (IEPs) for each student in consultation with parents is effectively implemented. Good attention is given to the differentiation of tasks for individual students.There is a need to continuously bring more cohesion to bear on planning notes on a school-wide basis to highlight specific learning objectives in all aspects of the curriculum. It is recommended that agreement be reached with regard to the use of a monthly recording framework incorporating each strand and stand unit of the curriculum, to facilitate the recording of  a more detailed record of work covered. Each staff member should use the whole-school curricular policies, when formulated, to inform their own classroom planning. Clear guidance might be included in the school plan on individual teacher preparation.  

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

Conscientious efforts are made on a whole-school basis to provide appropriate, challenging and stimulating programmes of learning. Challenging behaviour is very well managed on a whole-school basis using a positive, proactive approach. Students’ efforts are acknowledged, affirmed, encouraged and celebrated. Students are also provided with immediate feedback. Staff members are alert to students’ medical and care needs. Pupils are given the opportunity to make choices, as far as possible, and learning is adapted to the students’ immediate environment. Students clearly enjoy the learning experiences offered and respond well to structured teaching and learning experiences. Very good emphasis is given to the development of students’ sensory abilities and to the development of their functional, social and adaptive skills.  It is recommended that approaches such as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), social stories and three-dimensional tactile symbols be used more consistently as multiple scaffolds for students’ receptive and expressive communication skills.

 

4.2 Language

 

Language and Communication

Language and communication lessons are well structured in all classes and there is very good collaborative focus on progressing students towards their individualised targets. Teachers receive very good support from the special needs assistants employed.  Staff members vigilantly look for opportunities to challenge students to communicate and to interact with their immediate environment. Students’ attempts at communication are consistently acknowledged and affirmed by staff. Students are encouraged to respond to given prompts, such as familiar environmental objects of reference, gestures, facial expressions, pictures, multi-sensory materials, use of scent, vocalisation, eye tracking, smiling or pointing.  Care is taken to use minimal, clear language throughout all activities. The use of exploratory, physical and constructive play, drama, interactive story-telling and circle-time news sessions provide further opportunities for the development of expressive language and literacy skills, in accordance with the students’ abilities. Students have timetabled access to the multi-sensory room, which is used to further develop students’ senses and gives students opportunities to relax, when warranted.

 

Very good attention is given to the teaching of rhyme and jingles, and to the development of students’ awareness of and interaction with print.  Some students in junior classes are guided to recognise familiar sight words and phrases and to match words to pictures. The use of a wide range of sensory materials, music and large objects of reference in a number of classrooms is laudable. In some cases, teachers and support staff make good use of augmentative forms of communication such as picture visual schedules, the Language Augmentation for the Mental Handicapped (LÁMH) signing system and Canaan Barrie signs for visually impaired students. LÁMH signs and symbols are appropriately displayed in most classrooms. It is recommended that a more consistent and systematic approach needs to be adopted on the use of visual schedules, LÁMH and Canaan Barrie signs throughout the school.

 

All classrooms have good access to stories, poetry, sensory books, computer software and CDs to support students’ learning experiences. ICT is effectively used in a number of classes to support students’ interest in books and reading. It is recommended that consideration be given to extending the supply of bag books to complement the existing library book supply. There is a need to review the existing language and communication policy to clarify content and themes, activities undertaken, assessment approaches utilised and the overall methods of communication fostered.

 

4.3 Mathematics

Conscientious efforts are made during in-class interaction in all classes to support students’ awareness of Mathematics in their environment. A variety of multi-sensory experiences is provided for students to develop their awareness of number concepts throughout the school. In general, good attention is given to heightening students’ awareness of colour, shape, pattern, sequence, early mathematical matching and sorting activities. Very good attention is given to the development of students’ understanding of spatial awareness, and the shape and positioning of their own body and body parts. The concepts of object permanence and cause and effect are very well addressed throughout the school and every effort is made to alert students to visual, aural and tactile patterns in interacting with objects of reference. In the best practice observed, learning objectives set were clear, concrete objects and visual aids were used, and there was good integration with Language and Communication, music and song. Mathematics-friendly school environments are a feature of some classrooms. In order to develop the school’s mathematics-rich environment, further consideration could be given to the provision of large, bright, three-dimensional numerals, the use of clear visual patterns and sequences on corridors, the use of real shopping areas, and the display of big bright interactive clocks in classrooms and in prominent areas.

 

Even though the quality of teaching is good in each classroom, the monthly records of work covered indicate a lack of consistency in relation to the balanced implementation of the strands of the mathematics curriculum. This is largely due to the absence of a whole-school plan and a variety of approach adopted in individual teacher preparation. The development of a whole-school plan to support the teaching of Mathematics should be prioritised to enable staff clarify content and to maintain breadth and balance across the strands.  There is a need to reach consensus in relation to the consistent use of mathematical language and the development of a suitable bank of age-appropriate number rhymes. There should be clear links between the whole-school plan and individual teacher’s planning to ensure that each strand of the curriculum is developed in a systematic, progressive and sequential manner. It would be of benefit to teach the Number strand in tandem with another strand of the curriculum on a weekly basis, to support the implementation of an varied range of  experiences for students. The extended use of ICT could beneficially be used to scaffold students’ learning in Mathematics.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

Very good use is made of the personal experiences of the students in fostering an understanding of time and chronology, change and continuity and cause and effect, in accordance with the level of development of the students. The students are encouraged to develop a sense of time as it relates to present and past events in their own lives and the lives of people around them. Good thematic approaches are employed linking work in this area with aspects of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Geography, Visual Arts, Music and Drama. The students respond well to the activities and engaging approaches employed. Students’ interests are encouraged and their imaginations are stimulated in relation to the local and wider worlds. It is recommended that a whole-school plan be developed in History to support classroom practice and whole-school implementation.

 

Geography

Activities in Geography facilitate the students in exploring aspects of their environments. Classrooms have interesting visual displays and materials, to direct the students’ interests and attention. The classroom, school environment and school grounds are successfully utilised to promote a sense of awareness of space and place. Very good work is undertaken in promoting an awareness of the local community, contributing to the students’ sense of belonging. Topics related to the experiences and interests of the students are explored, such as the seasons, the weather, travel and transport, animals and nature about us. School trips undertaken provide important opportunities for students to explore and participate in the wider community. Good use is made of the digital camera to record these outings and to provide further opportunities for discussion and recall. Useful cross-curricular approaches are employed linking topics in Geography to language development, History, SPHE, Visual Arts, Music and Drama.  Students are responsive and stimulated through the activities provided. It is recommended that a whole-school plan be developed in Geography to support the continuous development of students’ geographical skills.

 

Science

In Science, seasonal and weather-related themes and displays are a feature of classrooms. Activities in Science facilitate the students’ participation in observation, sensory experience and exploration. Thematic approaches are adopted and opportunities for experiential learning and language development are promoted. Field trips are undertaken to enable students to explore amenities in the locality and further afield.  Students demonstrated a good level of engagement in the activities observed. It is recommended that a whole-school plan be developed in Science to support the ongoing development of Science.

 

 

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The students are provided with a very good variety of experiences in Visual Arts, which are rooted in sensory awareness and appreciation. Seasonal art forms an impetus for the development of creative displays. These displays contribute greatly to the vibrant, attractive atmosphere of the school. Students have access to a variety of media and there is an appropriate balance between the exploration of two-dimensional and three-dimensional materials. Care is taken to ensure that students are comfortably positioned to optimise their participation during lessons.

 

Lessons are well structured in clear attainable incremental steps. Students’ attention is drawn to the elements of art and opportunities for developing visual awareness are integrated into each curricular area. Students are given an appropriate amount of time in which to show a response. Students clearly enjoy and benefit from the multi-sensory experiences provided and attend, respond and engage well during lessons, in accordance with their abilities and functioning levels.  A strong emphasis is placed on providing students with a sensorial experience using appropriate prompts where necessary. The Big Mack switch is effectively used to enable students with sensory and physical disabilities to participate to their full potential. Students are given the opportunity to respond to their own and each others’ work. Students’ attainments are celebrated and the finished products are attractively displayed and clearly labelled in classrooms and in the public areas of the school. In order to further enhance the very good practice observed in this curricular area, it is recommended that a whole-school plan for Visual Arts be developed in collaboration with parents and the board to facilitate balanced and systematic whole-school provision.

 

Music

The students benefit from a broad musical programme which includes listening, composing and performing activities. Music is effectively taught in group work settings that encourage verbal and non-verbal communication and promotes turn-taking opportunities. Teachers are to be commended for the appropriate selection of lively, age-appropriate, rhythmic songs. Commendable emphasis is placed on song and rhythmic verse, echo-clapping and echo-singing across a range of curricular areas. Good attention is given to raising students’ awareness of the elements of pulse, pitch, dynamics and tempo through the use of students’ senses. The use of a suitable selection of background classical music provides an effective calming atmosphere for students in a number of classrooms. LÁMH signs are integrated to enhance students’ participation levels in some classes. It is recommended that greater attention be given to the consistent use of LÁMH signs and clear, large visual graphic notation symbols to support students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Such an approach would provide an additional stimulus for all students.

 

Students are also encouraged to explore rhythm and to listen to environmental sounds in order to develop their auditory discrimination skills. A good selection of untuned percussion instruments and CD recorders is used to good effect to enhance students’ musical experiences. The school has recently purchased suitable tuned percussion instruments to enhance the students’ experience in musical composition and performance for an audience. Consideration should be given to extending the use of the Soundbeam Programme, which is effectively used in some classes. It is recommended that a whole-school plan for Music be developed to guide whole-school curriculum implementation at each class level. An audit of suitable songs, listening to music excerpts, suitable ICT software packages, and suggestions for sensory approaches should be included in the whole-school plan.

 

 

Drama

The teaching of Drama was very good in the classes observed. Very good examples of ‘teacher-in-role’ steering the students’ dramatic experience were observed during the whole-school evaluation. Students are effectively supported in all classes to participate in the dramatic process through the use of a good variety of sensory stimuli to maintain their attention and interest levels. The appealing props and costumes used in a number of classes during these lessons succeed in generating a very good response from students. Good attention is given to the development of students’ visual tracking skills and to the reinforcement of individual learning targets during these lessons. Drama activities are integrated with other subject areas, such as Music, Language and Communication, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Social, Environmental and Health Education (SESE) and Mathematics. It is recommended that a whole-school policy for Drama be formulated to ensure a cohesive approach to the selection of appropriate content, approaches and methodologies, and assessment strategies.

 

4.6 Physical Education

The absence of a school hall or general-purposes room restricts the school’s provision for Physical Education, particularly in relation to gross motor activities. Notwithstanding these limitations, every effort is made to make optimal use of the spaces available to provide an appropriate programme of physical activities for the students. Most classrooms have sufficient space for the teaching of physical games and activities. The school has a good variety of equipment to support the involvement of students with complex physical and motor needs. A good range of appropriate and developmental physical education activities was in evidence. Students were observed participating responsively in a variety of suitable movement, games and relaxation activities. The activities observed were well structured and carefully differentiated to meet the range of needs in the class.  Music was used to very good effect in many of the learning activities. The students are provided with opportunities for swimming and a number of students participate in a horse-riding programme for students with disabilities. It is expected that the school will develop a whole-school physical education policy to reflect the six strands of the curriculum and to guide classroom practice.

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) permeates the range of curriculum activity undertaken across the school. Each of the curriculum strands is provided for with particular attention given to the strands Myself, and Myself and Others. The aims of SPHE are also addressed through the teaching and learning activities in other curricular areas, particularly Visual Arts, Music, Drama and physical education activities. Social skills, independence and daily living skills, are all carefully promoted. Teachers and SNAs are responsive to the individual needs of the students. Opportunities are taken during meal times, daily routines, assembly and at swimming sessions to reinforce self-help and independence skills. All staff members contribute to the students’ development in this important area. Social interaction skills, respect and turn-taking are all carefully fostered. The students’ SPHE programme is effectively enhanced by the supportive school climate and the positive relationships fostered among students and between students and staff. It is recommended that a whole-school policy be developed in Social, Personal and Health Education to guide and balance future curriculum implementation.

 

4.8 Assessment

The teachers are aware of the importance of assessing and monitoring the learning and progress of the students. Students are monitored on an ongoing basis and this informs individual programme planning. Following the staff’s attendance at a recent DES funded training session on severe and profound general learning disability, staff is in the process of implementing Routes for Learning Assessment to track and support the ongoing progress of students. This decision is to be commended. It is likely that this assessment programme will enhance the planning, monitoring and assessment systems in the school. Plans are in place to share information on the Routes for Learning Assessment programme with parents.

 

An evaluation of the work undertaken in classrooms throughout the school demonstrates very good participation by students across a balanced range of curricular activity. The whole-school approach incorporating photographic records of completed authentic samples of work is to be commended and is an example of very good practice. In the past, parents have been issued with annual written progress reports in each curricular area. It is recommended that this example of good practice be reinstated.

 

5.     Quality of support for students

 

5.1 Students with special educational needs

Staff interacts very well with students and demonstrates a very good knowledge of students’ care, strengths and interests, medical and development needs. Staff members display a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities in relation to the care and protection of students. All staff members have received training in the safe manual handling of students. Special needs assistants (SNAs) are deployed very effectively in supporting students. They are optimally engaged in all classrooms.  They display clarity of their role and make a very valuable contribution towards the inclusion and care of the students, under the direction of classroom teachers. The school greatly benefits from the services of a full time nurse employed by Carmona Services.

 

Individual education plans (IEPs) are compiled for each student and include individual profiles, a statement of strengths and needs, long-term goals, short-term targets, teaching strategies, a reference to possible resources and review dates. In order to enhance the IEP process further, it is recommended that targets are stated with greater specificity. It is recommended that the triad of impairments (i.e. the students’ social, communication and imagination deficits) for students with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) be addressed in the students’ respective IEPs. Transition programmes are in place to facilitate the students’ smooth transition to appropriate after-school day care and respite services. It was reported that many students transfer to Deaneway House after-school services provided by Carmona Services. It would be beneficial to incorporate a transition policy for final-year students in the school plan.

 

Other supports provided for students include weekly access to Festine Lente purpose-built riding school and access to the on-site hydrotherapy swimming pool. Students have participated successfully in the local Education Centre’s write-a-book competition, Veritas sponsored crib competition and Credit Union and Texaco art competitions. Through Carmona Services, the school has access to transport which allows the school to access a range of beneficial activities including swimming and educational trips.

 

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

There are strong links fostered with Carmona Services who provide a hot meal service on a daily basis for all students.

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         The board of management deserves particular commendation for its commitment and foresight in pursuing the significant upgrading of facilities in the school and in its strategic planning for the proposed new school accommodation.

·         The collaboration, support and range of on-site facilities provided through Carmona Services greatly enhances the work of the school.

·         The commitment and interest shown by the Parents’ Association in the work of the school is to be commended.

·         Teachers and support staff are highly committed to the education, care and development of the students.

·         The progress made in fostering a positive and respectful ethos and in providing a welcoming, attractive learning environment is praiseworthy.

·         Consistent and proactive positive behaviour management strategies are effectively  implemented on a school-wide basis.

·         Classrooms provide visually stimulating and creative learning environments for students.

·         The school is very well resourced with a wide variety of teaching materials to support students’ learning.

·         Students are provided with a range of very good learning experiences, particularly in Music, Drama, Visual Arts, Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE).

 

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

·         There is a need for the board of management, staff and parents  to jointly play a more active role in the whole-school planning process, attending particularly to curricular policy development.

·         It is recommended that the roles and responsibilities of board members be devolved to actively involve as many board members as possible, in the best interests of students and parents.

·         It is recommended that the board of management continue to pursue its ongoing efforts in seeking an additional level of multi-disciplinary support for students.

·         There is a need to further refine the whole-school approach to teachers’ long-term and short-term planning and recording of monthly progress records. A reference to learning objectives/outcomes, approaches and methodologies, resources, assessment approaches and a specific outline of content should be included in the agreed whole-school framework.

·         It is recommended that the individual education planning process continue to be

delineated in line with best practice, as advocated in the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process (2006).

·         It is recommended that special-duty posts should incorporate curricular, administrative and pastoral care responsibilities with annual review dates, to reflect the continuous changing needs of the school.

 

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 June 2008

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

 

The Board of Management and staff would like to thank the Department Inspectorate for the care and attention to detail that they showed throughout the Whole School Evaluation. The staff has been greatly encouraged by the clear affirmation by the Inspectorate of their commitment, creativity and positive ethos.

 

The Board of Management is committed to its pursuit of additional multi-disciplinary supports for pupils. This is an on-going area that the Board of Management, staff and parents, in particular the Parents' Association, give considerable time and energy to. The Board of Management also liaises with St John of God Carmona Services who advocate with the Health Service Executive on a continuous basis to increase clinical posts and further improve therapy supports to the school.

 

The Board welcomes the commendation of Carmona Services and the benefits they provide the school though the provision of support from multi-disciplinary teams, Children's Services, Administrative, Catering, Maintenance and Chaplaincy Depts.

 

 

 

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

               activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.          

 

 

All teachers have recently attended planning sessions facilitated by the School Development Planning Support Service. These have proved to be very positive and productive. Policies for Mathematics, Language and Communication, Drama, Assessment and Visual Arts have been reviewed and will be shared with parents and the board of management before ratification on 24th June 2008. Plans are in place for the SPHE policy to be reviewed before the end of term. All other curricular areas are to receive similar attention throughout the next academic as will the area of planning, with the aim of co-ordinating a whole school policy.

 

The post of Deputy Principal has been advertised with a closing date of 22nd May 2008. The post incorporates clear curricular, administrative and pastoral care responsibilities which will be reviewed annually. The 2 posts of responsibility will be filled by the end of next term with equally clear responsibilities attached.

 

Roles and responsibilities of Board members were discussed on 30th April with a view to delegation. The role of secretary has been delegated to the school principal with effect from September 2008.

 

St. John of God Carmona Services provides a range of day and residential services for children and adults with an intellectual disability in South East County Dublin and its environs