RESOURCE AND LEARNING SUPPORT
The model of educational provision provided by the Resource Department is one which is innovative in its use of special educational resources. We are now established in our present format for ten years and believe our model to be a creative and effective way of delivering educational support to those students who are in need. Rather than the fragmentation of scarce teaching resources, the Department has centralised the majority of resources into one space. The Resource Department does not differentiate between students with resource entitlement and learning support students. This simple organisational change facilitates a whole range of educational possibilities that would be otherwise quite impossible were the teaching resources fragmented throughout the school.
There is a dedicated team of qualified resource teachers and special needs assistants who have built up a wealth of experience and expertise in the delivery of special education. Students in our school benefit from a model that is based on responding to the individual needs rather than to their legal entitlements. This is very much in keeping with the Salesian ethos of responding to the needs of the most marginalised within our school community.
The Resource Department provides a continuum of educational support to students ranging from the ‘total immersion’ of a special class for students with autism, to those who require short term learning support. Educational programmes can now be individualised to the learning needs of individual students in a way that was never previously possible and this has both enormous positive effects for the student and a subsequent positive effect on teaching environment within the main school community.
Staged Approach to Intervention
The aim of the Resource Department is to apply a staged approach to its delivery of educational support to all the students who require either resource teaching or learning support. We aim to respond to the individual educational needs of students and we do so in an inclusive and supportive way. Students who are entitled to resource teaching are initially identified in national school and in consultation with the student and his parents and if required, an agreed transition plan is implemented to enable a smooth movement into secondary school. The Resource Department conducts a series of standardised assessments in order to ascertain a full picture of the educational needs of every student and individualised programmes are developed when required. This individualised programme is evaluated and reviewed on a regular basis with our educational partners: parents, subject teachers, the student and other professionals. Every effort is made to ensure that any decisions to withdraw students from a mainstream class are made in the best interest of the student and in no way diminish their perception of themselves as learners or limit their future career choices.
Individual and small group withdrawals are the usual means of providing additional support. The needs of our students are matched with the skills, knowledge and experience of the resource teachers, facilitating access to the wider curriculum while also attending to the specific learning needs. Whilst literacy and numeracy are central to the work of the resource teachers, the Department supports the learning needs across a very wide range of the curriculum. These usually take place in the form of small group withdrawal and also team teaching and collaborative teaching is practised throughout the school in Mathematics in keeping with the department’s policy to meet the needs of the greatest number of students. It is the Resource Department’s intention to facilitate a wider use of team teaching across a broader range of subjects into the future.
The resource teachers have a direct role in the construction of the Resource Department timetable which provides a continuity of interventions across the school week. This places the student at the heart of any educational interventions and provides a capacity to respond effectively to the changing needs of students throughout the academic year.
Assessment of Students with Special Needs
The Resource Department engages in a comprehensive range of effective and informative standardised assessments when the students transition from primary to post- primary school. The progress of students is then tracked twice a year in consultation with the mainstream teachers and the Year Head. Where appropriate, educational interventions are agreed in consultation with all of the partners and implemented where possible by the Resource Department. We provide an “open door” policy to the parents of students with special educational needs and meet with individual parents on a regular basis both in and outside of normal school times.
The Resource Department places great emphasis on participation and achievement in certificate examination. The historic success of those students who attend the Resource Department is a source of great pride to the Resource Department staff. Every effort is made to facilitate reasonable accommodations in all in-house and public examinations and the Resource Department have an excellent working relationship with the National Educational Psychological Service and other outside agencies.
Communication with Mainstream Teachers
An audit of those students who attend the Resource Department is provided to the mainstream teachers and is updated twice a year. At the beginning of the school year a presentation is given by the coordinator of the Resource Department to the teachers of those students who are transitioning into the school. This presentation aims to inform them of the any special educational, behavioural or pastoral care needs of the students and encourages a differentiated approach at the planning stage of the school year. Additional to this information the teachers are provided with a teacher’s manual which provides easy access to information on a wide range of special educational needs and helpful teaching strategies. The Resource Department recognises and respects the key role of the mainstream teacher and endeavours at all times to provide information and support to the teacher about the student with special educational needs. Each academic year has a dedicated resource teacher who liaises with the tutor and the year head in order to facilitate an effective means of communicating issues of concern about students with special educational needs.
Resource teachers are also well represented in the Pastoral Care team where a referral system highlights the possible educational, emotional or behavioural issues of students.
Special Class for Students on the Autistic Spectrum
Our school established a Special Class for students with Autism in 2005. This class has a maximum of six students who have a wide range of social, emotional and educational needs. Our intention is to always mainstream these students wherever possible and to normalise the educational experience of these students. The “base class” provides a setting where the individual needs of these students and others with more specialised educational needs can be facilitated. These students are provided with an Individual Educational Plan which is constructed, implemented and reviewed in consultation with all of our educational partners.
The Resource Department facilitates the process of students with special educational needs in transitioning into further educational establishments. The resource/guidance counsellors meet with these students, along with their parents and inform them of the options available to them at third level. Where appropriate the Resource Department visits third level placements and accompanies students on transitioning programmes.
The Resource Department runs a Summer Project under the D.E.S. July Provision for students in the Special Class for students with Autism. This programme extends the school year by a full month and further enhances the service of holistic education to these students. This programme is extended out to other students with special educational needs who benefit from an additional month in school. This is central to our core belief in providing a service to those students in need as well as those students who have a legal entitlement.
Support for Students with Asperger’s Syndrome
The Resource Department supports a significant group of students who have a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. These students are spread throughout the school and are generally fully mainstreamed but require very significant levels of academic, behavioural and emotional support. A resource teacher is specifically assigned to be in daily contact with these students and liaises closely between their year head, tutors, class teachers and parents.
The Resource Department meets as a team every morning between 8.45-9am. We believe that this meeting is an invaluable opportunity to communicate and discuss issues of concern regarding the work of the department and the progress of our students. It provides a forum to reflect and evaluate our work and allows for on-going responses to identified needs. This daily meeting is attended by all the Resource Department as well as our guidance counsellors. It empowers the staff and provides a real sense of collegiality and mutual support to the resource staff. The coordinator of the Resource Department meets with the Principal on a regular basis to communicate issues of concern and to ensure that the work of the Resource Department is part of a whole school response to the educational needs of our students.
Celebrating Difference Week
Our annual Celebrating Difference Week is part of our ongoing education of the whole school community around understanding difference and diversity. Our aim during this week is to encourage greater awareness of the needs of others and to ensure that the whole school is involved at some level. This is achieved through a series of talks, many given by our own students, past and present, parents and agencies linked to our school. Students share their experiences of disability and difference. We highlight the diverse nature of our school community by having a series of events, concerts, competitions, a World Food lunch and preparing projects on the many countries represented in our school.
Social Communication: Social Evenings
The Resource Department understand the importance of developing the social and emotional skills of the students with special educational needs. Social communication skills and oral language development are explicitly taught by our resource teachers where students are assessed with deficits in this area. The Resource Department staff also organise a themed social evening for the students every half term and this allows them to practice many of the social skills that are specifically taught in social communication classes.
The Resource Department place great emphasis on creating a learning environment that is friendly, welcoming, caring and conducive to learning. Fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect is central to the work of the Resource Department staff. The department is relaxed and informal whilst being focussed and educationally targeted. The staff remain in the Resource Department during breaks. This provides a safe environment where students with more profound educational and behavioural needs integrate with mainstream students in a natural setting. This level of dedication and commitment reflects our core believes in the student centred and holistic nature of our work which is at the very heart of our Salesian ethos.