An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Evaluation of English as an Additional Language (EAL)
Hartstown Community School
Clonsilla, Dublin 15
Roll number: 91339F
Date of inspection: 2 December 2008
Report on Provision of English as an Additional Language (EAL)
This report has been written following an evaluation of provision for students learning English as an additional language (EAL) in Hartstown Community School. It presents the findings of the evaluation of provision, teaching and learning of EAL and makes recommendations for the further development of EAL in the school. The evaluation was conducted over three days during which the inspector visited support and mainstream lessons and observed teaching and learning. The inspector held meetings with the principal and with groups of teachers and students, and reviewed school planning documentation, teachers’ written preparation, and students’ work. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and EAL teachers. This report forms part of the evidence base for a forthcoming composite report on EAL provision in primary and post-primary schools, intended to inform Department of Education and Science policy and to promote good practice in schools. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Hartstown Community School, founded in 1992, is a co-educational, multi-cultural and multi-denominational school with a total enrolment of 1019 students in the current school year. One fifth of the school population is made up of EAL students and approximately ten per cent of these students are receiving EAL support. Hartstown Community School serves the local community and enrols students from its two main feeder primary schools as well as accepting students into other year groups who move into the area from other schools or other countries. For example, last year, over twenty EAL students enrolled into fifth year. EAL students come from all over the world and bring an international flavour to the school. In addition, these students, in the main, have a strong work ethic and this is a good example to all other students enrolled in the school. The school makes tremendous efforts to ensure that EAL students in need of support are properly assisted and it operates an open and inclusive admissions policy. This is highly commended.
The school offers the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) programme, the established Leaving Certificate programme and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. EAL students participate in all programmes in the school. In addition, there is an Adult Education night school in operation which offers a comprehensive programme of night classes including EAL classes.
Hartstown Community School has a current allocation of four whole-time equivalent (WTE) teachers for EAL. Twenty-five teachers are currently teaching EAL support lessons; some of these teachers teach just one group weekly while others have more regular lessons with EAL students. While this is a large team, there was evidence that it is very ably coordinated and that good collaboration and communication take place between the team members. However, better practice would be to have a smaller core team of teachers involved in delivering EAL support and the school should aim to reduce the core teaching team for EAL students. One of the deputy principals and the EAL co-ordinator allocates teachers to EAL support classes and there was evidence of good continuity of experience for most classes in that the same teacher is generally timetabled with the group throughout junior or senior cycle as required. Every effort is made to allocate English or modern European language teachers to teach EAL support classes which is appropriate. Many EAL teachers have participated in EAL and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) courses, including courses provided by County Dublin Vocational Educational Committee (VEC), Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) and other providers. While the school has made contact with the English Language Support Teachers’ Association (ELSTA), consideration should also be given to joining this group.
While many individual EAL teachers have accessed their own in-service for teaching EAL students, there has been no whole staff in-service in this area. It is recommended that the core EAL teachers themselves provide in-service to the entire teaching staff on appropriate teaching strategies for EAL students as there was evidence that they have the necessary competencies in this area. A list of effective inclusion measures for EAL students has been disseminated among all teachers, which is highly commended.
There is very good liaison between the two feeder primary schools and Hartstown Community School. The relevant first-year year head and the principal visit the primary schools a number of times in the year prior to entry to gather information on all students in the school. This is to ensure that provisions can be made for these students and so that timely applications for resources can be made to the Department of Education and Science (DES), in the case of EAL students, or to the special educational needs organiser (SENO), in the case of students with special educational needs (SEN). There was evidence that very good supporting documentation is sent to the DES when applying for EAL resources. Information on incoming first years is reported to all relevant personnel including the EAL co-ordinator. All incoming first-year students sit assessment tests prior to entry to the school and students are assigned to their class group on the basis of these tests and information from the feeder primary schools. An annual open day is also held in the school so that students and their parents can visit the school prior to entry and see classes in action. This is highly commended. On entry to the school, first-year students are given a tour of the school during which systems in the school are explained.
The EAL co-ordinator assesses all EAL students as they enter the school through a formal written test and an interview. The year head also interviews each student and his/her parents to assess language proficiency if the student enters the school after first year. The EAL co-ordinator has accessed many tests to see which are the most useful. The test now administered to the EAL students on entry to the school is the Oxford Quick Placement Test. EAL junior cycle students sit the Cambridge English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Key English Tests (KET) during the Christmas and summer examinations and senior cycle students sit the Preliminary English Tests (PET) at this time. If students are unsuccessful in these tests, more support is sought. A report on each EAL student is given to the relevant year head based on results in these tests. The IILT language proficiency benchmarks are used to interpret students’ language proficiency and the IILT initial interview assessment is used by the co-ordinator to interview new students. In addition, the Teachers Handbooks contain observation forms for EAL students which are used throughout the year by all teachers to refer students for EAL support. These assessments are used to plan interventions and teaching strategies for EAL students, to plan class allocation and organisation and to review placement of students in bands by the year head. This practice is highly commended.
A system of banding operates in the school at junior cycle. There are three bands in each year group of junior cycle. Class sizes in the third band are smaller than in the other bands. Classes are concurrently timetabled for English, Irish and Mathematics within bands and this facilitates the timetabling of EAL support at the same time as Irish lessons. In addition, an extra teacher is provided in the second and third band for English and Mathematics classes and this is highly commended. Science and a modern European language are core subjects on the curriculum at junior cycle and class groups are completely mixed for optional subjects. There was evidence that teachers plan their courses so that all are covering the same curriculum at the same time in order that no student will be disadvantaged if they change class group. This is important and commendable practice.
If a student enters the school with little or no English, the student is initially placed in a lower band where EAL is timetabled beside Irish. This was seen to have a number of advantages including facilitating: timetabling of EAL, smaller class sizes and a more appropriate pace of learning. However, there was much evidence of students moving up from the lower bands when they have sufficient English to access the curriculum and many EAL students are placed in the top and middle bands where support is also arranged for them as necessary.
The current fifth-year class groups are placed in mixed-ability classes and concurrent timetabling of English, Irish and Mathematics allows students to access the curriculum in these subjects at the most appropriate level. In addition, extra teachers are provided to create smaller classes in these subjects. In the current sixth-year group, banding is in place with the top students placed in four class groups to form one band and the next band containing three class groups. The top band in sixth year, which contains many EAL students, is divided six ways for English, Irish and Mathematics and the second band is divided five ways for these subjects. In fifth and sixth year, EAL support is timetabled beside Irish.
All students who need EAL support in the school are very well catered for and much effort goes into planning for these students to make the support they receive as useful as possible. EAL students are placed in age and language competence appropriate class groups for their EAL support lessons, which is commendable practice. Students who have received their official allocation of two years EAL support are given continued support in EAL support lessons if deemed necessary. Up to three different EAL support groups, of differing language competencies, are formed in each year group with the students with greatest EAL needs being placed in smaller class groups. These EAL students receive EAL support in junior cycle four times a week and five times a week at senior cycle. In some instances, an optional subject is divided to facilitate students in accessing the curriculum at an appropriate pace, for example, in sixth-year History and Engineering. Some students in need of extra support in particular subject areas are withdrawn from non-examination subjects for extra support by the subject specialist. A very small number of students in severe need of EAL support are withdrawn on a one-to-one basis. EAL class groups range in size from four to ten students depending on the needs of the group. It was reported that team teaching in mainstream classes is also used to support EAL students and that the school would like to pursue this model if resources permit. In the small number of cases where an EAL student has special educational needs (SEN) as well as EAL needs, priority is given in the first instance to SEN support which occurs at the same time as Irish. There was evidence of good liaison between the SEN and EAL departments. The school is commended for its flexible use of its allocation from the DES as is recommended in circular 53/2007.
All EAL students have access to the same curriculum and programmes as other students and many study Irish. All EAL students are encouraged to take their home language in the state examinations at Leaving Certificate level and special classes are put on after school in Russian, Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian for these students. The school has sourced teachers from these countries to instruct students in these languages.
The school has fifty-two permanent classrooms which are, in the main teacher based. The school also has four learning-support rooms and a number of other smaller rooms which are also used for EAL support. There are considerable demands on rooms in the school and students in receipt of EAL support sometimes have to move between rooms if their teacher does not have access to a permanent room. In other cases, students receive their EAL support lessons in the same classroom each week. School management is aware of the advantages of timetabling EAL students in the same classrooms for their EAL lessons each week.
The EAL team of teachers is congratulated for the range of resources it has accessed and developed to support the teaching and learning of the EAL students in the school. In addition, the co-ordinator of EAL has developed picture dictionaries for use with EAL students. Students were observed to use bilingual dictionaries as well as English dictionaries in lessons observed, which is good practice. EAL teachers use a range of text books and worksheets with a readability level more suited to the EAL students in their support classes to allow students to access the curriculum more easily.
There are common resource areas so that all teachers can access useful EAL resources. Other teaching and learning resources observed in mainstream classrooms included televisions and DVDs, computers and overhead projectors. Access to information and communication technology (ICT) is currently limited in mainstream classrooms although the school has three computer rooms and, in addition, the practical rooms are well equipped in this regard. However, plans are in progress to install ICT into several classrooms and this is very much to be welcomed as the rich material available through ICT can be accessed for EAL students and displayed by the teachers. In addition, new specific software for EAL students has been accessed. The support by management for these initiatives is highly commended.
There is a library in the school and the school also makes very good use of the local library. All EAL students are brought to the local library at the start of the school year and given library cards. Good practice also takes place in that a book club is run for EAL students on a monthly basis. Some subject teachers have developed key subject vocabulary learning aids for teaching EAL students, which is very good practice and the co-ordinator has also started to compile a subject dictionary for each subject. It is recommended that all subject departments dedicate one of their planning meetings to developing key words and visuals for their subject area so that a list of these key words and visuals in all subjects is available for EAL students. Very good practice has already taken place in that a list of key examination terminology has been compiled.
The mainstream classrooms visited were often nicely decorated with posters and, in some cases, key words relevant to the subject. Work should continue in displaying key words and visuals pertaining to the subject on classroom walls. The rooms dedicated to EAL and SEN support are nicely decorated with key words, words of welcome in different home languages, maps of home countries and other relevant resources. EAL students also do a project on their home country and these are on display in one of the specialist support rooms. It was reported that in the past a World Culture Day was organised on an annual basis, and many teachers expressed the wish that this might be revived. It is recommended that consideration be given to this idea.
School planning is ongoing and productive in the school and there was much evidence of self-evaluation and review in the planning process.
The school circulates its admissions, behaviour, homework and other relevant policies to the parents through the parents’ handbook. Very good practice takes place as a shortened version of this handbook is translated into five of the most common languages spoken by EAL students. The school is planning to have the handbook also translated into Polish this year.
The school’s admissions policy is an open and inclusive one which states that it ‘welcomes applications for places from all students regardless of gender, race, academic ability or cultural background’ and also ‘Hartstown Community School aims to prepare all students for life in a world where they will meet, live and work with people of different cultures, religions, languages and ethnic backgrounds.’
The co-ordination of EAL is very highly commended. The EAL co-ordinator is dedicated to the EAL students and organises their support in an efficient and caring manner. She has pursued many EAL courses and has accessed good practice in other schools in order to improve provision and support in Hartstown Community School. The co-ordinator is allocated one and a half hours each week for co-ordinating EAL. This co-ordination is not a post of responsibility although the school is aware that it is an area worthy of a post. It is suggested that consideration be given in the next review of posts to allocating a post to EAL co-ordination. The role of co-ordinator involves testing students to assess their competence level in English and placement of these students in appropriate groups, continuous testing of these students to assess their levels of improvement and overseeing their progress in general. In addition, the EAL co-ordinator communicates information about each EAL student to the relevant year head and provides many resources to the EAL teaching team.
A formal review of EAL took place last year which led to the development of a whole-school EAL policy. A core team of interested teachers was invited to sit on the planning committee for this policy and the policy was then ratified by the entire staff and board of management. Minutes of the planning committee reflect very detailed discussion and review of existing practices and there was evidence that many of the suggestions made at these meetings have since been implemented. Very good practice took place in that guidelines from the DES, IILT and the English Language Teachers’ Association (ELSTA) were considered in drafting the policy. The EAL policy is commended for its clarity around procedures used in assessing EAL and its documentation of practices, including assessment and monitoring practices, identifying EAL students with SEN, and organisational issues. The review document and policy are evidence of the reflective nature of the EAL team and their efforts to constantly improve provision. To build on the very good practice in place, it is suggested in reviewing the policy that EAL students and their parents should be consulted. A previous review of EAL was undertaken in the school as part of a Masters in Education thesis undertaken by a member of staff.
Formal time for subject planning takes place at regular intervals throughout the school year and EAL teachers meet together at this time to plan for their students. Good practice takes place in that minutes of these meetings are recorded and show very good attention to each individual student in need of language support. Each subject department is asked to submit a plan for each term of work so that EAL support teachers know what to cover and EAL teachers have access to all subject plans for each year and class group in the school. It was reported that subject teachers differentiate their planning to take into account the needs of EAL students and the teaching staff have received in-service courses on differentiation. EAL teachers observed had detailed programmes of work which contained the necessary flexibility to support students in their identified areas of need. These schemes generally incorporated a variety of resources and methodologies and supported flexible practice in meeting students’ changing needs. EAL teachers fill out schemes of work on a six-weekly basis, following liaison with relevant subject teachers, and they also fill out progress reports on their students at these times which are submitted to the deputy principal. It is suggested that relevant teachers also have access to these reports so that they can adapt their teaching on the basis of these reports. Forms are also used by mainstream teachers to refer students for language support and to record progress. This is highly commended.
Many EAL teachers liaise informally and regularly with mainstream teachers in order to ascertain what support is needed for their students to access the curriculum. It was reported that students themselves are also asked what areas they need support in. In other cases, it was observed that EAL support was focused on social language acquisition as opposed to focusing on the language of instruction. The language of instruction refers to the range of language skills that enable students to access the curriculum. In the student interview, students reported that they preferred to be given language support to help them to access the curriculum and it is recommended that all EAL teachers give consideration to this. This would support both the school’s admissions policy and the EAL policy which state that the purpose of ESL is to allow students to gain access to mainstream learning.
Four EAL lessons and four mainstream lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation. In both cases, three junior cycle and one senior cycle class groups were observed.
The pace of lessons was appropriate in all cases. Teachers ensured that all students were on task and lessons were, generally, well structured. Best practice occurred when the learning intention was communicated to the students at the start of the lesson and was written on the board. When work was assigned during the lesson, clear instructions were given and the teachers ensured that all the relevant resources were at hand.
Active learning was a feature of many lessons observed where very good group work and co-operative learning were taking place. In one instance, key words relating to the task were distributed to all students, which is highly commended as a very good strategy for teaching all students and in particular EAL students. Very good pair work was also observed; for example, when students worked on matching appropriate adjectives with characters. The use of pair and group work are particularly commended as they provide EAL students with opportunities to interact with their peers who may act as language models.
The school’s practice in relation to use of students’ home language is that it is discouraged as a general principle unless it is used to support learning in the classroom. However, the school is aware that students from the same country often rely on each other for translations in class and place students together if this is of benefit to them. In addition, a responsible Irish student is often placed beside an EAL student to support them in class. This is appropriate practice. In mainstream lessons, the purposeful use of the home language between students facilitated peer tutoring and this is good practice.
Students’ contributions were valued and affirmed when they fed back to the teacher in plenary session on any work assigned in class. Very good resources and strategies for teaching EAL students were seen in many lessons, including use of cloze tests, vocabulary sheets and mind maps. Other effective resources used included, in one instance, both the use of the overhead projector and ICT to display visual resources. This is highly commended. The board was very well used in most cases to reinforce key words and key formula and as a demonstration medium. It was also seen to be well used to correct students’ mistakes. In addition, teachers had worksheets prepared for use with their students. Teachers could also consider pre-teaching key words. The use of bilingual and English language dictionaries was observed in many lessons which is good practice.
Good practice occurred when there was an appropriate break up of tasks in the lesson. In a couple of instances, there was too much teacher talk during the lesson or there was a need to vary the activity of the lesson or change the task. In EAL lessons it was evident that students have opportunities to practise the four key skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Whenever work was assigned, the teachers gave individual attention to students which is good practice.
There were examples of teachers acting as good language models for EAL students through their clear expression, repetition and rephrasing. Best practice occurred when questioning covered all students as the teacher asked named questions. It was observed that EAL students asked and answered questions in all lessons and there were examples of very good questions being asked by the teachers to ensure understanding and especially when new vocabulary was being introduced. Good practice was also seen when alternative vocabulary was sought. Links were created with the students’ previous knowledge and life and links were also made with other subjects.
In all instances, students’ copies demonstrated that a range of appropriate work had been assigned, although in a couple of cases, more feedback or correction could have been given. Where constructive written feedback was given, it was clear that EAL students learned from their previous mistakes. EAL students also had folders with key resources for their EAL lessons. There was very good evidence of learning among all students in the class including EAL students and the work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended, given the fact that many of the students’ levels of English were low on entry to the school. In most lessons, EAL students were challenged and rose to this challenge in terms of their work. Students’ copies, in particular, demonstrated clear progression in learning.
Students were diligent and well behaved in all instances. There was a good student-teacher relationship and a secure learning environment observed in all lessons. Teachers were universally affirming and supportive of all students. In one instance, the EAL students were seated in a semi-circle so that the teacher was able to easily move between them.
The school has a policy of, wherever possible, not allowing students to take foundation level English in the Junior Certificate examination. It was reported that all EAL students passed ordinary-level English in the State Examinations and some did higher level. There was much evidence of significant improvements of EAL students, in English, even over a one year period.
All students in the school sit formal Christmas and summer examinations and reports are sent home after these examinations. Comments suitable for reporting on EAL students are included in the bank of comments available to teachers in filling out these electronic reports. EAL students sit standardised tests in English at the time that other students sit their Irish examination. The results of these tests are used as a basis of informing students’ progress. An annual parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group in the school. EAL students are allowed to attend with their parents if the parents have no English as a strategy for encouraging parents to attend. The co-ordinator of EAL has also devised visual prompts and translations of key words for teachers to use at these meetings to communicate students’ progress. This is highly commended.
The pastoral care system in the school is highly commended. There is a class tutor and year head system operating and these teachers are responsible for the pastoral care of students in their group. The school also has three guidance counsellors who are assigned to different year groups and a full time chaplain. Year heads meet with senior management on a weekly basis and assistant principals meet once a month. Year heads have meetings with the relevant guidance counsellor and chaplain and the guidance counsellors and chaplain meet on a regular basis also. In addition, regular assemblies are held with all year groups. All EAL students interviewed were very aware of these structures and often cited their year head as the person they would go to if in need of help. The year heads in turn often refer students to the chaplain or guidance counsellor if the particular student needs counselling. The staff is very keen to celebrate the cultures of the EAL students and is aware of the needs of these children and the difficulties and any homesickness they may face. A Rainbow Programme is commencing after Christmas for those who suffer bereavement, separation or other painful transition, and it is expected that some EAL students will participate in this programme. There is a mentor programme in the school where fifth-year students mentor first-year students and there was evidence that many of these mentors are themselves EAL students. Plans are underway to start a Homework Club in the school shortly. EAL students also reported positively on the approachability of their teachers and the ongoing support they receive.
The work of the guidance and counselling service in the school is divided among the three guidance counsellors. Guidance is timetabled for all senior cycle class groups, and all sixth-year students are met on an individual basis by the guidance counsellors also. The school is linked to the Access Programme run by the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) and it was reported that this has benefited some EAL students. A meeting of parents is held for each year group in the school throughout the year where key information is communicated about subject and programme choices and study skills. Consideration should be given to translating some of this key information into the home language of parents.
A parents council has been operating in the school for the last two years but currently there are no parents of EAL students on this council although it was reported that they get the same opportunities as all other parents to become involved. It was also reported that parents of EAL students interact with the school personnel but that some parents are difficult to contact. The school has tried many methods to overcome this including accessing phone numbers of siblings or other friends who are proficient in English to translate where communication difficulties exist. The school has also occasionally paid for the services of interpreters for meetings with parents if there are difficulties with particular students. Such efforts are highly commended.
As part of the large Adult Education programme run by the school, EAL classes are provided, as well as a range of other night classes which are open to all parents and the wider community. The school also has links with Blanchardstown Area Partnership and the local theatre and library. An ethnic policing forum has also been held with local Gardaí to promote positive relationships with foreigners which led to a questionnaire being distributed to all EAL students.
There is a student council in the school and a number of EAL students are on this council. It was reported that EAL students integrate better if they are enrolled in the school from first year. The fact that there are two teachers on the staff for whom English was not their first language also encourages an inclusive atmosphere in the school. A copy of the Intercultural Guidelines was distributed to all staff members. Flags and information on each country represented in the school are on prominent display and there is an EAL notice board for world news and information relating to different countries. This is updated regularly. There is also a section dedicated to EAL students in the school’s annual year book.
It was reported that most EAL students are actively engaged in the considerable range of extra-curricular activities offered by the school. The EAL co-ordinator organises an educational trip for all EAL students receiving support, except third and sixth years, at the end of the school year which is highly commended. All students’ achievements are celebrated by the school and many EAL students have been prize winners in the nomination scheme run in conjunction with NUIM where the top sixth-year student in each subject receives an award. The same is true in the Junior Certificate awards as it was clear that many EAL students received awards for best results. In addition, at the end-of-year sixth-year Mass, students from different nationalities say the prayers of the faithful in their home languages. There is a section about EAL students in the annual ‘Class Act’ school yearbook. Overall, it is clear that the school goes to great lengths to include its EAL students in the life of the school while maintaining a connection with their own culture and language.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A meeting was held with members of the EAL teaching team, the principal and deputy principal following the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2009