Belfast Telegraph

Report criticises education at top special needs school: Concerns raised over standards at Fleming Fulton

By Lindsay Fergus

Northern Ireland's best known special needs school has been heavily criticised by inspectors for "inadequate" levels of education, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

For almost 60 years Fleming Fulton has been at the forefront of education provision for children with disabilities and complex educational needs.

The renowned south Belfast special school has won a string of awards for its outstanding work with vulnerable children, even beating schools in England, Scotland and Wales to scoop national titles.

But now Fleming Fulton has become the first special school here to be placed in formal intervention – an improvement programme – by the Department of Education, after inspectors raised a number of concerns about its education provision.

In the conclusion of a 10-page report, the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) said: "In almost all the areas inspected, the quality of education provided by this school is inadequate.

"The inspection has identified significant areas for improvement in standards, learning and teaching and leadership and management, which need to be addressed urgently if the school is to meet effectively the needs of all the learners."

Last night the principal of Fleming Fulton, Karen Hancock, who has been in charge at the school for a year, said staff would be working tirelessly to improve standards.

But areas highlighted by inspectors included:

  • Activities were not matched sufficiently well to the pupils' needs or abilities.
  • A greater focus needed on literacy and numeracy across the curriculum.

However, inspectors stressed that they have no concerns about pupils' safety and their pastoral needs. In fact they described the quality of pastoral care provided by the school as "very good".

"The school has a very caring and nurturing ethos in which every pupil is valued. The staff are highly committed to the welfare of the pupils," they noted. But in a damning indictment of the department– which placed the school in formal intervention – inspectors labelled the school buildings and playground facilities as inadequate.

Alarmingly inspectors also raised concerns about the deficient accommodation, which is home to the most vulnerable pupils, in 2008.

In a statement, the department said its had recently undertaken minor works, which will greatly enhance the accommodation for the benefit of pupils and staff.

These included:

  • Girls and staff changing room refurbishment completed in June at a cost of £190,000.
  • New car park and bus bay completed in August at a cost of £130,000.
  • Refurbishment of swimming pool changing rooms and traffic management works completed in March at a cost of £196,000.

A department spokeswoman explained: "Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) is responsible for maintenance at the school and will carry out maintenance work as and when the need arises. There are no specific maintenance works planned at present."

However, the chairman of Stormont's education committee, MLA Mervyn Storey, has written to the Education Minister to ensure that a proactive approach is taken by all concerned to address the issues.

The DUP education spokesman said: "It is disappointing that we have the first special school in Northern Ireland placed in formal intervention. The special education sector has been at the forefront of developing new approaches to teaching and learning for young people with special educational needs and Fleming Fulton has played a key role in these developments over many years. Indeed the previous three inspection reports of the school highlighted and commended this."

A department spokeswoman added: "The chair of the board of governors will work with the principal, staff of the school and officers in the BELB to address areas for improvement."

What the inspectors said about...


"In almost all the areas inspected, the quality of education provided by this school is inadequate."

The Pupils:

"Motivated and resilient learners; they are proud of their achievements."


"Almost all the pupils leaving the school go onto further education or training placements, however, the school is unable to demonstrate that by the end of their time at the school, the standards attained are appropriate and adequate for the individual pupils."


"In the less effective practice there was a slow pace to the lessons, unclear intended learning outcomes, activities not matched sufficiently well to the pupils' needs or abilities."


"The whole school planning lacks coherence and as a result there is a lack of continuity and progression in the pupils' learning."

Pastoral care:

"The quality of the provision for pastoral care in the school is very good. The school has a very caring and nurturing ethos in which every pupil is valued."


"The staff are highly committed to the welfare of the pupils."


"The lack of facilities for regular outdoor exercise is inhibited greatly by the inadequate outside playground space."


"There is an urgent need for the senior leadership team to provide effective strategic leadership."


"Based on the evidence presented at the time of inspection, the parents, staff and school community can have limited confidence in the aspects of governance."


"The school has comprehensive arrangements in place for safeguarding children."


"The school buildings and limited outside play areas are inadequate."

Principal: we’ll make school the best it can be

Statement from Karen Hancock, principal of Fleming Fulton

“Fleming Fulton School underwent an inspection by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) from 19th- 23rd May 2014.

“The inspectors commented that the pupils are motivated and resilient learners who are proud of their achievements. They acknowledged the success experienced in competitions with other schools e.g. Young Cook of the Year, Young Enterprise and sporting events.

“The quality of the teaching observed ranged from satisfactory to outstanding, with over half of the lessons in the post primary department very good or outstanding.

 “The inspectors found the provision for pastoral care in the school is very good. Comprehensive arrangements are in place for safeguarding children. The Board of Governors, school leadership team and the staff at Fleming Fulton School will work closely with BELB on the issues identified in the report.

“The Education and Training Inspectorate will monitor and report on progress in addressing the areas for improvement over the next 12-24 months.

“The staff are totally committed to meeting the individual needs for each pupil. Our aim over the next 12-24 months is to make Fleming Fulton School the best it can be.

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