Tor Bank School, Belfast is assessed and becomes a Centre of Excellence.
Evidence Submitted for Assessment
This is the first Inclusion Quality Mark assessment of the Tor Bank School and this report references my one day assessment visit to the school. The Self Evaluation Report, submitted as part of the evidence for the assessment, contains up-to-date and comprehensive demographic information together with the school’s rationale for undertaking the IQM process. I can confirm that from my discussions with key staff members and my scrutiny of the documentary evidence provided, that the SER document is an accurate evaluation of the school.
Recent ETI Report
The most recent Education Training Inspectorate (ETI) report (monitoring visit 2015) confirmed the school’s continued outstanding status, following the previous inspection and made particular mention of the school’s sustained self-improvement. In the absence of the school principal, due to ill health, the current senior leadership team is headed by the acting principal and during my visit to the school I met with:-
• The Principal.
• The Acting Principal.
• IQM Co-ordinator and Vice Principal.
• Members the Senior Leadership Team.
• Pupil members of the School Council.
• Members the teaching and support staff.
• Governor representatives.
• Visiting therapists (Speech and language, OT, Physio).
Immaculately Maintained Learning Environment
My tour of the school included access to all teaching and learning areas, which are separated into Primary, Secondary and 6th Form sections. The school is a modern, well designed building which is immaculately maintained providing light and airy classroom spaces, clever storage facilities in communal areas for students’ mobility aids. Classrooms and corridors are well equipped with quality furnishings and state of the art ICT. Displays are an excellent mixture of informative work, celebratory and working walls. Specialist teaching areas are equipped with sensory and physical aids to learning.
Excellent Resources for Parents
The school has also included in the design a family and meeting room used by the Tor Bank School Mums n’ Tots. A common issue for special school provisions is often the outside space, particularly regarding access for school transport, staff and visitors. The school was originally designed for 162 students, however there are currently 186 on roll and 120+ staff on site. The school has excellent access and ample parking spaces, student transport is provided, in most cases, by the Education Authority which also provides the escorts on the minibuses and taxis. The school offers extra training for the escorts.
Sources of Information
My sources of information for my visit came from the excellent and accurate SER document, the school website, which is both user friendly and interactive. The website contains:-
• Up-to-date information about activities taking place in the school.
• Policy details.
• Staffing and leadership, including school governors.
• Rights Respecting Schools (The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child describes Tor Bank as “A vibrant, inclusive and integrated culture embedded in the principles of Rights Respecting Schools”).
• Tor Bank Tots.
• Picture Gallery.
• BBC News video clips.
• School Council information.
Documentary evidence which was made available to me included the following:-
• ETI Reports (2012 and 2015).
• SDP working documents.
• After school policy (funding, membership, youth club).
• Primary department development targets.
• Teaching and Learning policy.
• Example IEPs.
• Governors’ survey and report.
• Parents’ surveys.
• Target setting and progress records.
• Teacher and support staff surveys.
• Internet safety documents.
• Child protection/safeguarding procedures.
• Class teacher and therapist meeting minutes.
Impressive Positive Behaviour Summaries
I was particularly impressed by the highly detailed Positive Behaviour Summaries and the Behaviour Support planning. The meticulous attention to the planning of these documents serve as essential information for all staff involved in the care and teaching of individual students, but would also stand as a benchmark for other schools.
An Ethos of Inclusivity
The dedicated staff team are relentless in their approach to offer all pupils the best possible educational opportunities. All staff have an in-depth knowledge of the pupils, based on rigorous assessment and the sharing of information, (this takes place on a face-to-face basis, staff briefings and joint professional development, planning meetings, email and informal sharing of information). The school also makes effective use of feedback from staff questionnaires and audits to determine levels of staff satisfaction and how school respects, understands and practices an ethos of inclusivity.
An Ever-Increasing Range of Needs
Therapists work directly with students both in specialist areas and also in the classroom, providing invaluable training opportunities for teaching and support staff who work hard to create an educational provision which can respond to, and cater for, an ever-increasing range of additional and complex needs. The curriculum is broad and varied with an increasing focus on a progressive approach to learning, which both engages and enthuses learners and helps them to become independent learners. (“Building a Bright Future Together” school vision statement).
Supporting the Professional Development of All Staff
The school, through its appraisal and performance management systems, supports the professional development and skills of the staff team. Both teaching staff and members of the teaching support team spoke highly of the opportunities offered to them together with regular updates to existing training models, (the school has Team Teach trainers on their staff). There is a sound understanding of the Inclusion agenda by all teaching and support staff. Self-evaluation is a key feature of the school’s planning, teaching and development. Teaching plans and evaluations for individual pupils (current levels and predicted progress/achievement) are submitted by teaching staff and then carefully overseen by department coordinators.
A Wide Range of Partnerships
The school has a wide range of partnerships and collaborative agreements (50+) with outside providers, other educational establishments and colleges including:-
• The Millennium Integrated Primary School.
• Belfast South East Regional College.
• St Gerard’s Special School.
• Dundonald Primary School.
• Bloomfield Girls School.
• The East Belfast Learning Community.
• Linked into the Health Trust Training programme.
• The Regional Cultural and Diversity Service.
Outstanding Practice in Place
The evidence presented to me during my visit to the school and information contained within the Self Evaluation Report, clearly demonstrates the outstanding practice in place within the school and the on-going commitment to Inclusion. The school has identified realistic future plans across elements of the “SER” and has set itself some challenging targets, I am confident that it has the capacity to sustain and develop inclusive practice.
Inspirational and Highly Skilled Staff
My visit to the school was a great opportunity for me to experience at first hand the happy and motivational environment of Tor Bank and to meet with the inspirational and highly skilled staff.
Recommended as an IQM Centre of Excellence
I am strongly of the opinion that Tor Bank School fully meets and, in many areas, exceeds the standards required and should be awarded the IQM Inclusive School Award to be reassessed in 3 years. The school is very keen to be considered for Centre of Excellence status and has submitted, in this report, a series of targets for the next twelve months.
I would wholeheartedly support this, on the basis of their levels of expertise, their understanding and inclusive ethos plus their existing collaborative work with colleges and other mainstream and special schools.
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