An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Sancta Maria College,
Louisburg, Co. Mayo.
Roll number: 64660F
Date of inspection: 3 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Sancta Maria College, Louisburg, County Mayo. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
There are three Irish teachers; one of whom teaches junior-cycle classes only and the other two teachers are engaged in the teaching of Irish from first year to Leaving Certificate. Students are banded in Leaving Certificate year two and classes in this year are organised on the basis of examination level. All Leaving Certificate classes are timetabled concurrently to facilitate flexibility between various levels. When necessary, additional classes are provided to assist Leaving Certificate students. The school is to be highly commended for this practice.
Each year group from second to fifth year has five Irish classes per week. At the time of the inspection the first year students had four Irish classes but this arrangement changes every other year. It is school policy to provide students with one class per day and it is recommended that this policy continues as it is best practice for students to receive input on a daily basis especially in language learning. There are 44 students following the Transition Year (TY) programme which form two class groups that have an allocation of two classes per week.
A total of 29 students have been approved by school management for an exemption from Irish under the provisions of Circular M10/94. It was reported that the majority of these were international students and the remaining number have recognised learning difficulties.
There is no formal budget allocated to Irish, it was understood from speaking with teachers and management that any needs for the teaching and learning of Irish are met as well as resources provided for organising various Irish events in the school. A broad range of co-curricular and extra-curricular events is provided for the students including; quizzes, competitions, Seachtain na Gaeilge, trips to the Gaeltacht, radio programmes, an electronic notice board with items in Irish , plays and visits from writers. The teachers are to be congratulated for their diligence in promoting the language outside the classroom.
The school had a good range of aids and resources, including computer facilities, audio-visual aids and compact disk players. The Irish department has access to the school’s computer room by reservation which is used from time to time. The school has a website at www.sanctamaria.ie, and it is commendable in terms of its design and the information it contains. The homepage contains two links to Irish sites: a dictionary link www.focal.ie and a magazine link www.beo.ie. This practice is praiseworthy, as it is important that the students understand that Irish is a living language in the modern media. It is also recommended that these initial steps which have been made in using information and communication technology (ICT) in the teaching of Irish be developed. Two of the three teachers have designated rooms. There is an Irish resource room to the side of one of the designated rooms, in which display materials, dictionaries and additional textbooks are stored. It was also stated that publications such as Foinse, Dréimire, Céim and Staighre are used in the teaching and learning of the language. The use of such authentic texts, both newspapers and magazines is commended. It is recommended that the use of such authentic resources be further developed.
The school adopted a policy for Irish in 2004. It is a student centred policy in which the principal partners have clearly defined roles in the support and promotion of Irish in Sancta Maria College. The emphasis is on oral skills to facilitate the acquisition of the language both within the classroom and outside the classroom. The enrichment of the language and the enrichment of the students’ cultural awareness are at the heart of the policy. The philosophy and concrete objectives of this comprehensive policy are praiseworthy. It is recommended that the policy must be continually reviewed as part of the school development planning process.
The school is engaged with subject development planning since 2005. There is no designated co-ordinator as two teachers share these responsibilities between them. It is recommended that every effort be made to ensure that both teachers have experience of the various aspects of co-ordination and that the responsibility for particular aspects should not fall to the same person year after year. A comprehensive level of joint planning is underway both formally and informally. The department holds a formal meeting once per month in addition to regular informal meetings. Arising from this good co-operative planning there are common plans for most year groups in line with syllabus requirements.. The planning material reviewed during the inspection provided an account of the subject matter to be taught on a term by term basis, guidelines on teaching techniques and an assessment plan. The variation in teaching methods outlined in the plans seeks to develop the students’ awareness in the language and of the language as set out in the school’s Irish policy. All language skills are assessed. This is a good example of a plan that successfully dovetails in terms of content, methodology and assessment.
The transition year plan is also set out on a termly basis. The emphasis is on oral skills and on the development of the students’ self-confidence in speaking Irish. A love for and understanding of the Irish language is nurtured inside and outside the classroom as an integral part of the Irish plan for transition year. It is evident that the staff is making every effort through project work, debates, an Irish input into the transition year radio initiative and cross-curricular links to give the students a varied experience in learning Irish during this year. This approach is commendable as it reflects the basic philosophy of transition year. It is recommended that current planning be further developed by making formal plans for differentiated teaching methods to cater more strategically to the students’ range of abilities in the mixed ability classes.
Similar to the good departmental planning there was also evidence of effective individual planning. The majority of classes evaluated had definite learning objectives and were well structured.
Good teaching practice was evident in all the lessons during the inspection. The content and pace of lessons were appropriate.
There was a mixture of instructional methodologies in the Irish classes in Sancta Maria College. Teachers employed a variety of methods to begin their classes. These techniques included conversation, homework correction and sharing of the learning objective. There was whole-class instruction and learning, group work and individual work. In general a balance was maintained between student activity and teacher activity. The students were frequently afforded the opportunity to manage their own learning and internalise the lesson content. This active learning was very evident during group work. Optimum participation in the group work was achieved as each student had a clearly defined role, a time constraint was agreed and sufficient time for feedback was allowed. This good practice is to be commended and it would be beneficial to extend this effective group-work throughout the entire Irish department. In other classes strategic questioning added to the students’ participation. The questions made the subject matter relevant to the pupils’ experience. This is good practice guiding the students to connect the lesson material with their own experience as it assists information retention.
In other classes the language skills of listening, reading and writing were integrated. The teacher skilfully integrated aspects of the examination paper along a single theme. The class covered the theme in poetry and prose, this discussion was reinforced by assigning the composition of a letter for homework. It is recommended that the language skills continue to be integrated using interesting themes and or through integrating different aspects of the courses.
Teachers made effective use of the blackboards to record the key words of lessons. However this recording must be structured as an example to students of how to organise their own thoughts when preparing for a written task.
All teachers had very good classroom management skills. Good discipline and behaviour were promoted constantly in all classes. The lessons had a positive and encouraging learning atmosphere. There was a caring relationship between teachers and pupils. The teachers regularly gave praise as well as positive feedback. The pupils displayed a willingness to participate in class and it was evident they had a good understanding of the subject. Irish was used as the normal language of communication in all classes.
A motivational physical learning environment existed in all classrooms. The teachers made beneficial use of their dedicated rooms. Posters, competition results and learning aids were displayed. One room had displays of the students’ own work. It is recommended this be extended as it not only improves the students’ visual literacy in the language but it acknowledges students’ work, which improves their self-confidence in the subject.
Assessment is conducted on both an informal and a formal basis as outlined in the subject plans. Formative assessment is conducted in class on an ongoing basis. The various methods used during the inspection included a variety questioning strategies, written work, feedback from group work and review of homework. Other methods of assessment such as quizzes, debates and ICT projects are also used by the department . It is recommended that assessment instruments currently in use be further enhanced by incorporating the principles of assessment for learning as developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie . The school has a policy on homework since 2005 and in the school’s Irish policy the parents have a clear role in helping students with homework and in bringing any difficulties with homework to the attention of the school.
It was evident from a sample of student copybooks reviewed during the inspection that a comprehensive range of work was carried out on a variety of topics in line with the requirements of the syllabuses. The students’ work was corrected regularly. However, in some copybooks the feedback was given in the form of a tick. It is recommended that teachers in addition to verbal feedback should elaborate more in their written feedback on the progress of the students. Pupils cannot learn from their mistakes or from work well done without direction from the teacher. It was reported that such developmental feedback is given in weekend copybooks. This is best practice and it is recommended that this be extended to all classes.
Formal summative assessment of non-examination students is carried out three times per year, in September, at Christmas and at the end of the year. Mock examinations are held in spring for the students of exam classes. Reports on the results attained by the students are issued to parents/guardians. Whenever possible, common assessments are conducted in listening and oral skills. The integration of all language and in addition Leaving Certificate students are tested monthly. Teachers record all results in their diaries. There is one parent-teacher meeting per year for each year group.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.