Inspirational Schools

Inspirational Schools

Ann Dinan, Director of Education, JMB, introduced two principals who represent schools she described as inspirational.

Mary McDaid, Principal, Ursuline Secondary School, Blackrock, Co. Cork

Sharon Costello, Principal (Acting), Coláiste Choilm, Swords, Co. Dublin

Ursuline Secondary School, Cork

The Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock, County Cork is located in a designated "educationally disadvantaged area". In this presentation, Mary McDaid from Ursuline outlined the steps it took for the school to become fully inclusive and to assure equal learning opportunities and outcomes for all students. The Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock was originally a boarding school for girls from high-income backgrounds. When the trustees made a policy decision to serve the needs of their local community, the school went through a process of adjustment by learning new teaching methodologies and introducing more inclusive school policies.

Because it believes that schools should be pro-active in responding to all student learning needs, Ursuline Secondary School is a member of many educational programmes and partnerships, such as the Taster programme, Bridging the Gap, the School Completion Programme, the Laptop Initiative, the Cork City Partnership. The school makes full use of the National Education Psychologist Services and was a successful applicant for Home School Community Liaison scheme. Through involvement and partnerships with such programmes, the school has been able to support students with socio-economic difficulties as well as those with special learning needs.

Ursuline Secondary School participates in educational initiatives funded by the Department of Education and Science. It benefits from networking and sharing good practice with neighbouring schools, and is eager to be involved in all school-based projects that optimise the learning opportunities of students from the margins of Irish society.

All Boys' School in Swords (Coláiste Choilm)

Another "inspirational" example is Coláiste Choilm, an all-boys' school in Swords. The school has 603 pupils, a staff of 40 and is a non-paying school. Prior to 1997, the school had no records of any students with special learning needs. That was not to say there were none enrolled. Rather the needs of these students had gone unidentified. There was no aptitude testing required for entry and tests were only conducted in three core subjects - Irish, English and Mathematics. As a result, there were no learning support resources and all classes had mixed ability students.

Since 1997, Coláiste Choilm adopted the "AH2: DATS" testing programme to determine each student's ability. Students identified as requiring special educational needs are individually assessed and an independent education plan is drawn up. The school also established formal links with feeder schools to provide continuity of support for students with special educational needs.

Sharon Costello, Acting Principal, declares that knowing each student's learning profile and providing continuity for the student's development are vital to the future learning progress and individual growth of each student.

Recently, the school created a Resource Department, comprised of five teachers dedicated to students with diverse learning needs. This group adopts a team approach in working with each student. Tests such as the Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT), Neale Analysis and Bangor Dyslexia Tests have been found to be vital to the assessment process. Individual Education Plans are then developed to address each student's specific learning difficulty.

Coláiste Choilm attributes its progress and success to five major factors:

  1. The commitment of the professionals involved in special education
  2. The lack of stigma attached to having a learning difficulty, and the level of acceptance and respect for the individual that permeates the school ethos
  3. The inclusive school policy that ensures students with special learning needs feel themselves to be an integral part of the school
  4. An open-door policy with parents so they are very much involved with the progress and development of their child
  5. Liaison with feeder schools

Costello cautioned that, while the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 is welcome, resources are vital for its effective implementation. Coláiste Choilm will certainly play its part through an innovative approach, liaising with resource and class teachers, providing meaningful staff training and development, supporting a professional team approach and being flexible to the changing needs and requirements of each student.