An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Notre Dame Secondary School
Upper Churchtown Road, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60160L
Date of inspection: 21 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Notre Dame 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 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 subject teachers. 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.
Class groups in Notre Dame School are arranged on a mixed-ability basis for English in junior cycle. Where at all possible, students retain the same English teacher from first year through to third year. This is good practice. The final decision on what level students will take in their Junior Certificate English examination is generally taken after their ‘mock’ examinations in the spring but students remain in the same class group. Students are also arranged into mixed-ability class groups in Transition Year (TY). The mixed-ability settings for English in junior cycle were observed to be working well and the mixed-ability setting for TY students of English is also appropriate. In fifth and sixth year, students are streamed into one higher-level class group and one mixed-ability class group. In this way, students are allowed to follow a level and pace appropriate to their abilities. Students’ access to levels is determined by a range of factors including consultation with students and their parents, and students’ performance and progress in class and state examinations. This is commended.
Class groups are concurrently timetabled in fifth and sixth year. This is good practice as it facilitates students to change classes in order to work at an appropriate pace and it also allows for whole year activities, such as the joint screening of a film version of a text. There was evidence that the teaching of levels is rotated between teachers, which is good practice. The timetabling of English lesson periods is good. First-year class groups have four periods of English each week which, along with two periods of Drama, is good provision. Second-year class groups also have four lesson periods each week. Third-year class groups have five periods each week for English. Provision is particularly good in senior cycle as TY students have four English lessons each week as well as Drama and Film Studies, fifth-year class groups have six English periods each week and sixth years have five English periods each week.
A range of extra and co-curricular activities pertaining to English are offered to students in the school. This is commended. In addition, some programmes which complement English are on the school curriculum. First-year students study Drama. TY students also study Drama and Film Studies and are prepared for Speech and Drama examinations. There is evidence that the Drama programme complements English on the curriculum, as a range of drama excerpts and poetry is taught. A musical is produced annually and first-year students perform in their annual school concert. Teachers bring students to the cinema and theatre and on visits to relevant lectures and museums, and guest speakers also visit the school.
Teachers in the school have participated in a range of in-service courses. For example, an in-service on Differentiation was provided for the whole staff. Some staff are members of the Association of Teachers of English. The school has also commenced providing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) training for teachers. The level of provision of in-service training for staff is laudable.
A range of resources is available to support English in the school, including televisions, DVDs and videos. It was reported that a budget is available for updating these resources and that money is supplied as requested. There is a school library which students can access with their teacher or during the evening for study. English teachers bring their students to the library to borrow books. As the library is in need of updating, teachers have also organised class libraries and reading lists for their students to encourage the reading habit. This is commended. Management is aware of the need to update the library and this is in the long-term plan for the school. Management has also invested in ICT equipment in recent times. The school has one computer room and two mobile units both of which contain a laptop and data projector. The English teachers have identified their upskilling in the use of ICT, as one of their priorities so that they can use ICT from time to time with their students. This is to be encouraged.
It was clear that resources are being invested in the area of supporting students with special educational needs (SEN) at present in the school. For example, a resource room is available, and appropriate resources are being sourced for this room. Students with English as a second language are also supported in the school and the school is commended for creating links with Integrate Ireland Language and Training.
Overall there is very good whole school provision and support for English in the school.
It was reported that English teachers rotate the role of subject co-ordinator. Teachers meet formally as a subject department at the beginning and end of each term, regularly meet informally and also attend subject meetings on some Wednesdays as time for meetings is allocated on the timetable on this day. Subject planning is in its second year and the English teachers have made considerable strides when it comes to developing a subject plan. Already a comprehensive English folder is in place which contains most of the information about the provision and teaching of English in the school as well as the long-term plan for the subject. Good practice was seen in that minutes of meetings are kept and there was evidence of good liaison between the resource and English teachers. For example, it was clear that the students’ work in English is reinforced during their resource lessons. This is to be commended. In addition, teachers receive information on SEN students from the resource department. There was also evidence of good collaboration between English teachers.
The aims articulated in the English plan, which include the development of students’ language and analytical skills, and giving students an appreciation of literature, are laudable. There was evidence that these aims were being lived out in the teaching of English in the school. The plan emphasises the importance of taking into account the different ability levels of students in the teaching of the subject. Again there was evidence that this was also being lived out. This objective is particularly important given the fact that groups of students from other counties attend the school for a number of months or years.
The English department was seen to be reflective about its practices, and plans to develop the liaison between the resource teachers and themselves, to continue to promote reading and to use ICT in their classes. The fact that teachers have tried out different methods of placement of students into class groups is also evidence of good reflection. English teachers are particularly commended for their promotion of reading and for developing the reading habit among the students. Students are given a reading list in most years, and there is a strong emphasis on students recommending and sharing their books and discussing what they have read. In addition, a Book Fair is held annually to promote reading. A structured reading programme was in evidence in some classes, with students being set a book to read every six weeks during school and once a month during the summer holidays.
All teachers had detailed schemes of work which outlined the work they did with their particular class groups. English teachers have the flexibility to choose texts suitable to their own students’ needs but core texts remain the same for class groups. It is commended that a novel is taught in each of the junior cycle years, with first-year classes either studying a novel formally in class or reading and discussing their own choice of novel in structured reading classes. The Transition Year programme is commended also. Text choice in TY is from outside the Leaving Certificate course while at the same time teachers promote comparative skills which will help students in preparation for the Leaving Certificate English course. There was evidence that teachers are willing to teach different texts as opposed to teaching the same texts from year to year. This is good practice. There was also evidence that the teaching of language and literature is integrated, and teachers’ plans indicated that, in junior cycle, texts are taught thematically. This is commended. In order to further develop the good planning for English already existing in the school, it is recommended that learning outcomes be developed for each year group, particularly at junior cycle, so that although English teachers may teach different texts they are all teaching and promoting the development of the same key skills. In addition, teachers should agree on the number of poems that should be taught in each year.
A learning-support policy is being developed at present. Students with literacy needs are identified through assessment, consultation with feeder primary schools and teacher observation. A test is also used to gauge the proficiency in English of newcomer students.
Teachers’ plans and observation of lessons indicated that teachers implement a range of teaching and learning methodologies with their students. Plans also suggested an awareness of the need to differentiate in order to cater for all abilities in the classroom. This is commended.
Although it was implicit as to what the purpose of each lesson was, it was not explicitly stated in some cases. It is recommended that English teachers share the purpose of the lesson with their students from the outset and then return to that purpose at the end of the lesson to determine if this was achieved. In most cases, the amount of work covered in the lessons was appropriate although there was one example where more content could have been covered so that students could have been introduced to other concepts such as target audience.
There were very good examples of pre-reading observed where students were directed to watch out for certain points when reading their text or when students were asked to speculate about the theme of a poem from its title. Drama texts are reinforced with film. There was evidence that good comparisons were drawn between the two genres. In addition, in the teaching of poetry, very good links were made between poems. When appropriate, the board was used very well to record key points made by students.
Active student participation was a feature of all lessons, which is very good practice. This was achieved through very good questioning of students, through frequent discussion, and through group work. Good practice was seen in that students were directed to look and think for themselves and to give their own opinions. Students had regular opportunities for oral participation in class and for developing speaking and listening skills. Students are also given opportunities to participate in class debates.
Good teacher questioning, often of a higher-order nature, challenged students and in this way very good learning was in evidence as skilful questioning led students to a deeper understanding of their work. There was a tendency in some lessons for a few more confident students to dominate the answering. In order to avoid this it is recommended that the teacher asks questions of all students as opposed to just those with their hands up.
There was a very good instance of a Shakespearean text being brought to life by students having to stand in the centre of the classroom to read their parts. They did this with confidence and it was clear that they were well used to such role play. Teacher-led dramatic reading of the play also led to a stimulating reading of the piece so that meaning became more apparent and the whole piece was brought to life.
The lay-out of all classrooms was conducive to good student participation as seating was arranged in an open square. There was also a very pleasant atmosphere in lessons visited and good teacher-student relationships, so that students were working in a secure learning environment. This sense of security enabled them to participate actively and ask questions of their teacher if necessary.
There was clear evidence of learning and of students appreciating their text and being enthusiastic about their course. Lessons were enjoyable. This was achieved through effective and enthusiastic teaching and active involvement of students. Students jotted down points made during the course of the lesson and were motivated to learn. Through interaction with the inspector it was evident that students had a detailed knowledge of their texts and were aware of key images dominating those texts.
Students sit formal house examinations in December and May. It is recommended that English teachers consider setting a common examination for fifth-year students in the course of the first term to ensure that students are correctly placed in their class groups. Minutes of meetings suggest that each year group’s progress is regularly reviewed, which is commended.
The English department has developed its own Homework procedures. The Homework procedures emphasise that both assessment of and for learning take place in English lessons. Observation of student work demonstrated that students had studied an appropriate amount of work for the time of year. Students’ work was very well corrected with detailed feedback given on where they needed to improve. Senior cycle students are aware of the criteria for assessment. This is commended.
Much of the work in students’ copies was in the form of summaries of scenes or poems studied. It is commended that students should do this form of work but it is also important, as stressed in the Chief Examiners’ Reports for English, that students have opportunities to write frequently in a range of genres. Therefore, it is recommended that English teachers agree a policy on frequency of giving longer pieces of work to students. It is recommended that students receive an extended piece of work for homework once a fortnight. The current practice is that students receive an extended piece of work after each topic and smaller pieces of work, such as summaries, in between. However, this would suggest that students might not receive long homework until after the study of a novel or play for example. In addition, it is important that homework is written on the board for all to record.
Reports to parents are issued twice a year for all year groups. First, second, TY and fifth-year students receive reports following house examinations while third and sixth-year students receive reports after their Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. An annual parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group in the school. Results in state examinations are analysed and compared with national norms by English teachers. This is excellent practice. An analysis of examination results shows an increase in the numbers sitting higher level and an increase in the attainment rates of all students in their chosen level. This is to be commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school provision and support for English in the school.
· A range of extra and co-curricular activities pertaining to English are offered to students in the school.
· Resources are being invested in the area of supporting students with special educational needs and there was evidence of good liaison between the resource and English teachers. There was also evidence of good collaboration between English teachers.
· The laudable aim of the English department is being lived out in the teaching of English in the school. English teachers strongly promote reading and the development of the reading habit among the students.
· The English department is reflective about its practices.
· Active student participation was a feature of all lessons. Students were directed to look and think for themselves and to give their own opinions, and they presented as being articulate and well used to class discussion.
· There was a very pleasant atmosphere in lessons visited and there was clear evidence of learning, of texts being brought to life for students and of students being enthusiastic about their course.
· An analysis of examination results shows an increase in the numbers sitting higher level and an increase in the attainment rates of all students in their chosen level.
· Students’ work was very well corrected with detailed feedback given to students on where they needed to improve.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that learning outcomes be included in the subject plans for each year group. The purpose or learning outcome for each lesson should be explicitly shared with the students. In addition, teachers should agree on the number of poems that should be taught in each year.
· Teachers should endeavour to ask directed as well as global questions thus ensuring that all students are questioned.
· It is recommended that English teachers consider setting a common examination for fifth-year students in the course of the first term to ensure that students are correctly placed in their class groups.
· English teachers should agree a policy on frequency of giving longer pieces of work to students. Students should receive an extended piece of work for homework once a fortnight. In addition, it is important that homework is written on the board for all to record.
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.