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Erasmus+ Job Shadowing: Including Children with Special and Additional Needs in the Maltese Classroom
In June 2019, one teacher and two Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) from Claddagh National School in Galway City went on a one-week Job Shadowing period to Mellieha Primary School in Malta. It was part of an Erasmus+ Key Action 101 School Education staff mobility project. In this post, Annie Asgard, Erasmus+ Coordinator and English as an Additional Language teacher, describes what she and her colleagues learned in Malta and how they will bring this back to their school.
Our Job Shadowing was part of our Erasmus+ mobility project ‘Claddagh Inclusion Project’ that enabled administrators, teachers and SNAs to do courses and job-shadowing in Slovenia, Spain and Malta. Our school felt it was important to include SNAs as they are an integral part of the ethos of inclusion in our school.
As our school's Erasmus+ Coordinator, I first made contact with the Principal of Mellieha Primary School, Claire de Bono, at an Erasmus+ Transnational Cooperation Activity networking meeting in Norway in November 2017. At the meeting, it became clear our schools would be a good fit for a job-shadowing project on inclusion of migrant students and children with special and additional needs.
Special Needs Assistants meet Learning Support Educators
Claddagh National School has four special classes for children on the autistic spectrum. We also have a variety of children with many different types of special and additional learning and developmental needs. In keeping with the aim of the Irish educational system to allow children, whenever possible, to attend their local school, Claddagh National School provides supports (including SNAs) to allow for the inclusion and integration of children with special needs into mainstream classes. These supports also enable special ASD classes for children on the autistic spectrum to happen in a mainstream school setting. In Malta, LSEs--or Learning Support Educators--are the equivalent of Irish SNAs. LSEs work on a one-to-one basis with a child in a mainstream class or they are shared between several classes.
The two participating SNAs in this job-shadowing, Joan McEvoy-Garvey and Jennifer Madden, have decades of experience between them. They have worked in mainstream classes from Junior Infants to the senior end of the school, as well as in the special class for children on the autistic spectrum. They brought valuable training, experience and wisdom to the project, and from the moment of their arrival in Mellieha Primary School, they began actively working alongside the mainstream class teachers and their LSEs.
Joan and Jen were able to share the many programmes for support they use at Claddagh NS with the LSEs at Mellieha Primary School and enjoyed seeing the way inclusion works in Maltese schools.
They were placed in different classes within the school each day and impressed the teachers, LSEs and the administration with their enthusiasm, professionalism and knowledge of working with children with special and additional needs. In fact, the Mellieha Primary School Principal remarked that Joan and Jen had as much fun as the children on the last day of school at the Water Fun Day!
Including Children with Additional Language Needs
There are over 40 different home languages spoken by the children at Claddagh National School. English as an Additional Language teachers at the primary level in Ireland mostly work separately with small groups or individual students during the day, to develop the English skills necessary to access the full primary school curriculum. In many cases, they also provide in-class support. Most developing bilingual and multilingual children learn Irish as well. At present, there is no facility to allow incoming migrant students special tuition in Irish at the primary level. However, this job shadowing demonstrated a different system which could perhaps be applied in an Irish setting.
In Malta, there are also two national languages, Maltese (or Malti) and English. Many people speak Maltese in the street and in their daily lives, and everyone also speaks English. But with the increasing number of incoming migrant children and families--who don't speak English or Maltese--it is becoming more challenging to maintain the high standard of Maltese in schools. Since some migrant children have already been exposed to English teaching before arriving in Malta, it is logical for teachers to use English with them. However, this means that the daily use of Maltese is diminishing overall in the classrooms in Malta.
In Mellieha Primary School, there is a dedicated Maltese as an Additional Language teacher who takes small groups of same-aged migrant children in a withdrawal group for intensive Maltese lessons. This teacher and the teacher of an ‘Induction Class’ (where students from outside Malta come for one full year to learn English), are not employees of the school. Instead they work for the Migrant Learners Unit. Once students have achieved a basic understanding of English, they may be integrated into their age-appropriate mainstream classes for particular lessons such as Maths, Religion, Art, Music or Physical Education. The rest of their time is spent in the Induction Class. It can be challenging for the teacher to cater for all the students' language levels and learning interests based on their age, maturity, language proficiency and diverse learning styles. The logistics of who integrates into the mainstream classroom, when and for which subjects, are very complicated. It was interesting to see the referral system for children who present with special or additional needs and this information--as well as information on how Individualised Education Plans work--will be shared with colleagues in Claddagh NS in the coming school year.
An Unexpected Benefit: Meeting Nurture Group Leaders
In the 2019-2020 school year, Claddagh NS plans to implement a Nurture Group to support the social, emotional and behavioural development of some students. Although this was not part of the remit of the project, we were able to make contact with the Nurture Class teacher at Mellieha Primary School and take away some planning documents and resources to share with the Claddagh Nurture Group teacher. The contact details of both the Irish and Maltese Nurture Group teachers have been exchanged and they can keep in touch and share resources, ideas and help each other in the future. This experience showed us that job shadowing with Erasmus+ allows a multitude of additional benefits to present themselves when one is abroad!
Sharing our Experience through Erasmus+ Schools Week
All of us who attended the Claddagh Inclusion Project trip to Malta highly recommend Erasmus+ Job Shadowing to other teachers and schools. Erasmus+ has been an enriching and enlightening experience for all of us. During Erasmus+ Schools Week 2018 we shared our experiences with others from within our school--and from other schools in Galway--through a series of workshops and an open day. We plan to participate in Erasmus+ Schools Week again in 2019, as we want to continue to share our experiences with colleagues at home. We look forward to a visit from the staff at Mellieha Primary School in an incoming job shadowing trip so we can repay their generosity, warmth and hospitality. We also hope to form a School Exchange Partnership (KA229) with them in the future.
Find out more:
Claddagh National School staff took part in job shadowing in Malta through Erasmus+ Key Action 1 for Schools.
Erasmus+ Key Action 229 School Exchange Partnerships encourage schools to expand their international outlook and improve language learning through exchanges.
Transnational Cooperation Activities (TCAs) provide opportunities for training, networking and making contacts for future projects.
Galway Education Centre has offered courses about Nurture Groups.
For more information on how learning support works in Malta, visit the Ministry of Education's website on Inclusive Education Support. You can also find out more about Learning Support Educators and the Migrant Learners Unit.
Images courtesy of Annie Asgard. We welcome contributions to 'Insights' at email@example.com.