The Education and Training Inspectorate of Northern Ireland (ETI) has recently published two short reports based on an innovative new pilot project to promote greater collaboration between mainstream and special schools in the province.
Given the rise in the number of children with SEN in mainstream schools, it is both important and timely that expertise is shared between the two sectors. In addition, such inter-sector collaboration was identified as an area for development in the NI Chief Inspector’s Report (2008-2010).
The first report Special and Mainstream Schools Working Together (ETI, April 2012) is essentially a series of case studies based on a pilot project facilitated by the ETI. In total twenty-four special schools were invited to participate in a project of their own choosing with a neighbouring mainstream school, and were asked to submit a joint self-evaluation report at its conclusion.
Projects were many and varied. Two examples are outlined below:
- Erne Special School worked in partnership with Portora Royal School, Enniskillen on a music and drama project. Pupils and teachers from Erne Special School benefited from the subject expertise of the Portora teachers (the school has had specialist status in Performing Arts), while the mainstream pupils developed greater awareness of disability and SEN. The mainstream teachers identified their own capacity building in the area of teaching pupils with SEN, and were encouraged to disseminate their differentiation skills to colleagues.
- Kilronan Special School worked together with Magherafelt Primary School on an early years play project. Here pupils interacted and played with the toys in their respective schools and were able to interact very successfully. Staff were impressed by the increased independence of some of the children from the special school, and also by the way in which some pupils from the mainstream school took an interest in a non-verbal pupil from the special school, came and sat beside her, held her hand and said hello. The report notes that this was “a lovely moment”.
The report includes many more inspiring reports of projects which have produced very positive outcomes in a very short period of time. Plans are already being made to extend the projects in the coming year.
Accompanying this set of case studies is A Guide to Collaborative Practice (ETI, April 2012). Here the evaluative reports submitted at the conclusion of the pilot projects have been distilled into a series of guidelines to support schools in the future as they would seek to develop effective partnerships and overcome the practical challenges of turning the vision into reality. The guide highlights four key strands of effective collaboration, each of which is explained in detail:
- Identifying a clear rationale and strategic approach to collaborative working
- Deploying resources and agreeing shared responsibilities to enable the collaborative work to progress smoothly and to address any difficulties which may arise
- Building a collaborative ethos and school commitment to inclusive planning
- Monitoring and evaluating the impact and establishing the sustainability of further collaborative action and outcomes.
To read the reports in full, click on the links below: