An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Loreto Abbey Secondary School
Dalkey, County Dublin
Roll number: 60130C
Date of inspection: 7 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Abbey Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days 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 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.
All junior cycle class groups have four lessons of English each week. This is satisfactory provision. Provision is also satisfactory in Transition Year (TY) as class groups have three English lessons each week. Provision in fifth and sixth year is good as class groups have five English lessons each week. Concurrency is provided on the timetable for third, fifth and sixth-year English classes which allows for movement of students between classes and between levels. This is commended. In addition, there is good practice in that lesson periods are evenly distributed throughout the week.
Class groups for English are formed on a mixed-ability basis in first, second and Transition Year. This year, for the first time, one class group which contains higher and ordinary-level students was created in third year to facilitate students in studying English at a lower level. There are five class groups in fifth year. Students who achieved best in their Junior Certificate English examination are placed in the top two classes and the three other class groups contain students who study English at a slightly slower pace. These are all predominantly higher-level students. The majority of students in the school sit higher-level English in their state examinations. Ultimately, the choice of level is based on the student’s own wishes. Students are encouraged to choose levels based on their examination results and in consultation with their teachers and parents. Good practice is seen in that if a student wishes to change level they must consult their teacher and the guidance counsellor and then fill in a form which has to be signed by parents, principal or deputy principal. Teachers agree on what texts to teach in second, fifth and sixth year in case a students moves between classes. This is commended. However, the practice of some students moving classes in third year in particular should be kept under review as the dynamic within a class may be changed and it may be difficult for students to become used to participating in a new class at this stage.
Teachers are commended for the range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English which is available to students. These activities include: theatre visits, inter-class debating, participation in national public speaking and debating competitions, the annual school musical and participation in writing competitions. All students also have the opportunity to contribute articles, poems or short stories to the annual year book. TY students have published poetry anthologies and they follow a module on Creative Expression during which they are entered for Speech and Drama examinations. The overall TY programme in the school is highly commended. First-year and TY students also do Drama. Prefects, in conjunction with their teachers, also run drama and debating clubs.
Eight teachers currently teach English in the school, including one higher diploma teacher. There is good liaison between English teachers and student teachers of English. Staff are encouraged and facilitated in attending relevant inservice courses.
The practice of facilitating English teachers to retain the same class group from year to year within cycles where at all possible is good. In addition, there is a good policy on the deployment of English teachers as all teachers are given the opportunity to teach programmes and levels, where applicable. There is a praiseworthy recognition among English teachers that this enriches the expertise within the subject department.
The majority of English teachers have their own room. These teachers are complimented for the way their rooms are stimulating learning environments. Examples of work displayed include book reviews, poems, key moments and themes from texts and character descriptions. Books, posters pertaining to English and samples of students’ work are also displayed in these classrooms. In one classroom, a quote box was used for students to contribute quotes that they found interesting and useful. It was reported that teachers have access to a range of audio-visual equipment including televisions, videos, DVDs and overhead projectors, all of which are available to support the teaching of English. In addition, teachers submit a budget for their requirements in the teaching of English at the start of each year and there was evidence that this has contributed to the acquisition of good resources.
The school has a large lecture theatre for guest speakers, which accommodates whole year groups. In addition, there is a well-stocked library and the school pays for a full-time librarian out of its own resources. School management has commendable plans to expand this library and it is also commended that English teachers host a library week annually in the school with prizes for students who design book covers and posters to promote reading and for book reviews. Reading lists are made available to junior and senior cycle students, which is good practice and all first-year students are inducted into the use of the library.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities are available in the lecture theatre and in the computer room in the school. It is recommended that English teachers explore the potential of using ICT in the teaching and learning of English having obtained the necessary skills. There was evidence that already teachers are using the internet to download material for use in their classes or for notes for students.
The school has a commendable Special Educational Needs (SEN) policy. There is good practice in that feeder primary schools are approached in the school year prior to students’ entry into first year to identify students who may have learning-support needs or SEN. In this way, all necessary resources can be put in place early. Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) are available for SEN students and there is very good liaison between the school and home in relation to these students. Students generally get literacy and numeracy support as required, with parental consent. A range of resources for use with these students is available in the learning support folder and it is recommended that these are shared with English teachers. In addition, it is recommended that the learning-support teachers attend English department meetings, perhaps at the start of each year in order to brief teachers on approaches to teaching these students in mainstream English lessons. There was staff inservice provided on differentiation recently which is commended.
Overall, there is good whole school support for English in Loreto Abbey Secondary School.
English is very ably co-ordinated in the school. Notwithstanding this fact, it is suggested that the position of co-ordinator for the subject be rotated among all English teachers to allow all to gain experience in co-ordinating the subject. So far this school year, English teachers have had five formal meetings for subject planning. There was strong evidence of close collaboration and co-operation between all English teachers and the level of planning in the English department is highly commended. Minutes of all meetings are recorded and an agenda set for the next meeting. There is good practice in that a record of each meeting is given to the principal. Further good practice was observed in that a brief record of informal meetings is also kept. Examination of the minutes of meetings reflects a very hardworking subject department. Issues discussed include choice of texts, preparation of examination papers and development of a long-term plan for English.
Texts are chosen jointly by all English teachers at junior and senior cycle on the basis of suitability, although teachers retain the flexibility to choose different novels in first and third year. This flexibility is important, as it allows texts to be chosen to suit the particular class cohort of students. All first-year students study a range of poetry, media, functional and creative writing and one novel and a range of short stories. First-year students also have a library class for silent reading once a week. It is recommended that the practice of using one class a week for silent reading be discontinued. Students should be encouraged to read their books at home and continue to present their book reviews in class. This will also provide teachers with one extra class of English for introducing another formal novel or some other aspect of the course. Some teachers teach a second novel in first year which is good practice and to be encouraged. The good practice of running a book club in second year is also commended.
All second-year students study a Shakespearean play which is commended. They then study their novel in third year. It is recommended that consideration be given to introducing another novel or drama text in either second or third year in order to broaden further students’ experience of English. Less time should be spent on teaching the Shakespearean drama in junior cycle. Senior cycle class teachers ensure that a lot of their course is covered by the end of fifth year. It is important to note that ordinary level students must study three comparative texts as outlined in the syllabus.
The long-term plan developed for English is excellent. It includes the objectives or learning outcomes, subject content, references (or resources), suggested methodologies and suggested assignments for each year group and for each section of the course. The level of detail in the plan is remarkable. In addition, the fact that a list of subject content is outlined for each year group ensures no overlap across years. English teachers collaborated by each preparing the plan for a different year group. Teachers should try out the different suggested methodologies from each year plan to expand their teaching strategies. A copy of the subject plan from the department is submitted to the principal at the start of each school year. It is recommended that the plan be kept under review and that the list of suggested methodologies and content be expanded over time.
The TY English programme has as its objectives to develop in students a sound knowledge of texts, to define the concept of literary genre and to be able to distinguish between different types of genres. The plan focuses on developing comparative skills. The texts used in TY are generally texts that have appeared on the Leaving Certificate list at some stage although it was reported that the teachers try to ensure that the texts they choose will not be on the Leaving Certificate syllabus for the coming year and that if they are the teachers will not use them. Notwithstanding this, it is recommended that English teachers also try to use other novels, short stories and plays to further deepen students’ experiences of English. Students also study a range of poetry and it was reported that a book club is run for TY students to give them “an opportunity to discuss their appreciation of literature in a relaxed and informal setting”. This is good practice.
It was reported that there is a common resource area for storage of English resources which is good practice. Good practice was also seen in that students have and use dictionaries in class. All teachers submitted individual plans or schemes of work during the inspection which is highly commended. It is recommended in junior cycle and in first year in particular that instead of teaching sections of the course for long periods of time, for example spending a certain number of weeks on media studies, a certain number on personal writing etc, the course be integrated so that students study a range of genres over these periods. Themes could be linked so that students could, for example, study some poems and short stories on one theme and then write an essay on the theme.
All lessons were carefully planned and the necessary supplementary resources, including handouts and audio-visual equipment were in place. There was a clear purpose to all lessons which was shared with the students. This is very good practice. In addition, teachers are commended for the good practice observed in most plans of using the textbook as a resource and supplementing it with other resources rather than adhering to it only.
Good teaching was in evidence and good learning. A lot of work had been covered over the course of the school year in the vast majority of classes, as was evident from discussion with students and examination of their work and teachers’ plans. Students were well prepared for examinations and were aware of literary and technical terms in relation to English. Chosen texts were appropriate and offered good opportunities for discussion and enjoyable activities. However, in some cases, there was a lot of whole class teaching and teacher talk. Hence, opportunities for discussion were sometimes lost. From interaction with the students in some classes, there was evidence that they were often not used to discussion and voicing their opinion. Lessons were livelier when the students’ voice was equal to the teachers, and when there were a lot of discussions and question and answer sessions.
Questioning was good in most lessons, especially when students were challenged to think and speculate about a piece of work as opposed to being told the meaning. Good practice was seen when teachers asked specific questions of individual students, and not just those with their hands up, as well as asking questions of the whole class. In this way they ensured that all students were on task. There were some very good examples of challenging or higher order questions being asked of students which pushed them to analyse their texts further and look for evidence. In a few cases, rather than looking for opinions, the teacher told students meaning and so students were not encouraged to look for evidence or challenged to come up with answers themselves.
A good example of active participation and learning was seen when students were put into groups to practice a group dramatisation of a poem. In addition, individual attention was given to certain students while the others were working in groups. Another example of very good group work was observed when students were put in groups to analyse newspaper articles to identify features of style and language. It was evident that students were comfortable in working in this way. Students worked together for a certain time and in plenary session shared their ideas with the teacher and other students which were recorded on the board. In this way, students learned from each other as well as from the teacher. Another effective example of group work was seen when students had to work together for a portion of a lesson to discuss the poet’s view on humanity. Again students’ points were shared in plenary session afterwards. Students were also observed working in groups to discuss aspects of media studies. In all these examples, students were well used to participating in their classes.
It is recommended that English teachers encourage students to participate more in their lessons and to allow more opportunities for group and pair work and active student participation through discussion, speculating about meaning of poems, role play and asking open-ended, challenging questions. This should be especially the case in junior cycle years in preparation for senior cycle.
There was a good structure to lessons. When a new poem was introduced, the students were often encouraged to read the poem silently. Best practice was seen when the students were given the opportunity in these cases to speculate about the meaning of the poem from the title or to give their initial, personal response to the poem before analysing the poem in depth or moving on to do some other work on the poem.
The board was used well to record key points and to record homework, which is good practice. In addition, teachers reminded students to write homework in their journals. Teachers often prepare a range of notes for use with their students as well as downloading resources from the internet. However, it is suggested that English teachers also encourage students to develop their own notes on their texts, either individually or together, so that students also share in responsibility for their own learning.
There was evidence of very good integration of the teaching of language and literature so that students were given the task of writing letters or diary entries from the point of view of characters in a text. In addition newspaper articles were written based on characters or events in texts. The fact that students are encouraged to write their own poetry at times is commended.
In all lessons students were well behaved and there was a very good relationship between students and teachers.
The uptake of higher level in both Junior and Leaving Certificate is very high in Loreto Abbey Secondary School and students achieve very well in English in state examinations. This is testament to the hard work of the English teachers in the school. In addition, there is good practice in that the English results are analysed by teachers and management.
All students in the school sit formal examinations in February, with examination classes sitting ‘mock’ examinations at this time. Non-examination classes also sit formal examinations in summer and they also sit Christmas examinations in class time (with the exception of TY). Common examinations are set for fifth-year students with an agreed marking scheme. Consideration should also be given to setting common examinations for first and second-year students.
There was very good profiling of students by teachers with teachers recording students’ attendance and results in homework and examinations as well as comments on their strengths and weaknesses in English. Parents receive reports of their child’s progress three times a year; one each term and there is a parent-teacher meeting held for each year group in the school. There are also awards given at the end of the school year for different aspects of school life including subject awards.
There is an agreed homework policy in the school which, among other things, outlines appropriate tasks for homework for each year. Study skills programmes are organised for third, fifth and sixth years. There is a commendable section on assigning homework for students with special educational needs and the school is also commended for referring in its policy to the formative assessment proposed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and especially the use of comment only corrections. After school study is provided by the school.
Students have separate copies for different aspects of their English course or else divide their copies for different aspects of the course. The standard of work observed in these copies was very good. In addition, senior cycle students have folders which are commended for their maintenance and the amount of work they contained. In almost all cases, the correction of students’ work included formative comments in keeping with the homework policy and this is excellent practice. Senior cycle students were also aware of the criteria for assessment.
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 English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.