An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Loreto High School, Beaufort,
Grange Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60340N
Date of inspection: 12 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto High School, Beaufort. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The timetabled provision for English is good. First and second-year students have four class periods of English. The provision improves in third year as students have five class periods of English each week. Transition Year students have four class periods of English. In addition, all junior cycle and Transition Year class groups receive one class period of Drama each week. Fifth and sixth-year students currently have five class periods of English each week as well as a module of Drama. Following a review of the curriculum, there are plans to introduce six class periods of English a week for fifth and sixth-year class groups for the next academic year. This is to be welcomed as very good provision for senior cycle students.
Students are placed in mixed-ability classes for junior cycle and again in Transition Year. Fifth-year students are placed in class groups based on their results in the Junior Certificate examination and on ability. For example, students who attain an A or B grade are generally banded into the top two classes and students who attain a C or D grade are banded into the next two higher-level classes. It is school policy that this second band of classes is smaller in size. There is also a small ordinary-level class created. If students wish to change level there is consultation within the subject department and with parents, students and the principal. Concurrency is facilitated on the timetable for Transition Year, fifth and sixth-year classes to allow movement of students as necessary. Overall senior management demonstrated a keen interest in and clear awareness of the operation of the English department. There is good whole school support for English in Loreto High School.
A wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is available in the college. For example, Transition Year (TY) students produce an annual musical production and partake in public speaking examinations. Other year groups and students are also involved in debating. Students are regularly brought on theatre and cinema outings. Theatre workshops and talks by visiting writers are organised and held in school. Students are involved in the college web page design and in the production of the Year Book and newsletters. English teachers have organised a lunchtime ‘Movie Club’ for students. The range of co-curricular activities available to students is laudable and is indicative of the commitment of English teachers and management in the school.
Eight teachers teach English in the school. At the time of the evaluation two of these teachers were substituting for full-time English teachers. Teachers generally retain class groups from second year into third year and from fifth year into sixth year. The principal allocates teachers to class groups in consultation with the English teachers. Teachers are encouraged to attend inservice courses and feedback on courses that are of relevance to all is disseminated to staff. For example, two teachers recently gave feedback to the staff on a course on the topic of group learning. Two higher diploma students are currently teaching in the school. These student-teachers are well supported by the school.
English teachers have their own base classrooms which are all equipped with televisions, videos, DVD players and whiteboards. Teachers also have access to overhead projectors and to the library and computer room. There are plans to install laptops, data projectors and screens into ten classrooms from September. Books and other resources are purchased on an annual basis and it was reported that management is supportive of English teachers in their purchase of necessary resources for the teaching and learning of English. One English classroom is the designated ‘English’ room where central resources are stored. This room was an example of excellent practice in its print-rich environment and in the range of resources, including a classroom library and displays of student work.
The school has a library which is run by two librarians working in a job-sharing capacity. The work of these librarians is commended. For example, they access resources and books for students and teachers; organise reading activities; induct students on the use of the library; and issue reading lists to students. The library is open all day including lunchtime and after school. It is well-organised and well-stocked with books, references, newspapers, periodicals, CDs and DVDs. Computer and internet access is available for students’ use and many projects are completed by students in the library. The library facilitates a range of activities including discussions on books and advice on favourite authors and books, short story competitions, writers’ visits and the displaying of students’ project work. The strong emphasis on promoting reading in the school is commended.
The school is at an advanced stage in the school development planning process. School self-evaluation is an in-built feature of this process. There is a subject co-ordinator of English which in the past was a position held by the same person. There are now plans to rotate this position among all English teachers which is to be encouraged as it will ensure that all teachers in the department gain the experience and skills necessary in the execution of the duties of this position. Formal timetabled subject planning meetings are held, generally around four times each year. These have agendas and minutes are recorded for each meeting. The minutes show that a good level of discussion takes place at these meetings. They are also evidence of the good collaboration that exists between English teachers. In addition, newer teachers reported being very well supported by their more established colleagues. There was evidence that resources are shared freely and good ideas exchanged. Teachers also meet informally on a regular basis.
Joint decisions on core texts are made at the last formal subject meeting of the school year and there is flexibility for teachers to choose other texts depending on the level and class group they teach. There is a written plan for each year of the English course. All aspects of the syllabus are taught in each year which is good practice. It is recommended that the plans of work for each year be collated and set in the same style. When reviewing the plan it is recommended that an outline of the key skills and learning outcomes that each year group should achieve, a list of suggested texts, including poems for each year group, and teaching methodologies be included. Because junior cycle classes are mixed ability there is no specific need to outline when certain aspects of the course should be covered each year.
First-year students generally study a novel, an abridged Shakespearean text and also benefit from library classes. Students are expected to write reviews based on the books they read in the library classes. All aspects of the syllabus are taught in first year, often in an enjoyable way, for example, through students acting out extracts from a play. In addition all first-year classes have a core textbook and students are expected to have a dictionary in class. Second-year classes study at least one if not two novels and some study a drama text. A Shakespearean drama is generally studied in third year. Care should be taken not to cover too many texts in any one particular year in junior cycle. For example, rather than teaching two novels and one Shakespearean play in second year it would be better to plan to teach one novel and one play, or two novels in both years. In this way the completion of full texts within a particular year will be assured. Teachers are commended for the range of appropriate and challenging poems that are taught to junior cycle students. There was evidence that good thought has gone into the choice of texts for study at senior cycle. In addition, the plan outlines what should be covered by the end of fifth year which is good practice as it allows for movement of students and ensures that all students are covering broadly the same range of work.
There is a written Transition Year (TY) programme. Transition Year is compulsory for all students. Apart from the study of English, students also study Speech and Drama and Current Affairs as well as a number of other subjects not examined in certificate examinations. The TY English programme is clearly outlined in terms of aims and objectives. Students partake in the annual musical and are taken to see a range of productions. They are involved in public speaking and debating, are given the opportunity to acquire a diploma in public speaking and can compete in the Leinster Public Speaking competitions, the Loreto Debating competitions and the Concern Debates. They also do a range of projects including the school magazine project and poetry projects. The English TY programme is broad and balanced and it was reported that teachers take care to choose texts in TY that will not be on the Leaving Certificate course in order to give students as wide an experience of English as possible. However, the written programme does not reflect this aim, nor does it reflect the range of activities and events on offer for TY students. It is therefore recommended that the objectives of the programme be rewritten to fully reflect the commendable work being done in this year.
All teachers were well prepared for class, utilised the necessary resources and many had individual schemes of work which outlined their coursework plans for the year. Teachers use the internet regularly to download useful resources for use with their classes.
The school has a special needs policy. Students with literacy-support needs are identified from meetings with the feeder primary school and parents, from the incoming first-year assessment test and observation of students’ work. There was evidence of good preparation for students in need of extra support. For example, class teachers prepare notes on the day prior to each lesson which are then brailed by the classroom assistant for the use of one student. English teachers liaise with the literacy-support teachers through subject meetings and informally. Students are withdrawn for support on a one-to-one basis or in small groups generally from non-examination subjects. The work done in the area of learning support is commended.
Lessons were well structured and the purpose of lessons was shared with the students from the outset. Overall, very solid teaching and learning was observed over the course of the evaluation. Teachers introduced new topics in a stimulating and interesting way to capture students’ attention. For example, when introducing a new poem, links were created with the novel studied by students on the same theme of racism. Teachers used a range of interesting resources, both created themselves and downloaded from the internet, to ensure not only were students’ learning but that their learning was enjoyable. A range of methodologies was observed during the course of the evaluation and other methodologies, not observed, are reportedly used on a regular basis. Such methodologies include quizzes, cloze tests, hot-seating and creating timelines of events.
Good practice was seen in that there is an emphasis on the acquisition of basic skills among first- year students. Students’ acquisition of the mechanics of language is important and it is praiseworthy that students are taught correct punctuation and grammar. It is suggested, however, that it would be better to integrate the teaching of such skills with the study of texts, for example short stories so that students learn these skills in context. Revision classes were effective in that students were reminded of key themes, given checklists and, overall, were well prepared for their state examinations in English. In addition, students proved themselves to have a good knowledge of the use of language in all its contexts and were able to discuss articulately key points and themes and explain techniques of language.
There was good use made of the whiteboard to record key points which students in turn recorded in their copies. Good links were created between texts and real-life situations. In most lessons, especially where classes were mixed ability, there was evidence of differentiation in that all students were included in questioning, but the questions were graded to suit the ability level of students and attention was discreetly paid to the less able students, especially in pair and group work.
There was excellent student participation in all lessons. The students were clearly engaged in their learning and made very good points in their discussions on various aspects of the course. Good practice was seen in the range of appropriate questioning. Best practice was observed when teachers asked a range of questions to the entire class group as well as questioning individuals. This is praiseworthy as it ensures that the same students are not always answering and ensures that all students are on task. Skilful questioning ensured that the students were led to think more clearly about the topic they were studying. For example, when a teacher asked a question about the tense in which a poem was written, the students were able to see clearly the subliminal message of the poem. Open-ended questions led to very good discussions in class on the topics being studied. For example, students were not only asked to identify quotes from a text but to discuss the relevance of the quotes and how they gave more information about the characters.
There was also good practice in evidence in the organisation of group and pair work. For example, good pair work was observed when students had to work together to find examples of key themes which were reflected through characters and events. Project work was used very well to consolidate learning. For example: students wrote diaries based on characters from Romeo and Juliet in first year; they made shoeboxes to reflect key scenes in the play; TY students had completed interesting poetry projects, and students had done very effective book reviews. Students were well prepared for these projects and reviews and were given a clear structure for their completion.
Lesson content was consolidated by the setting of appropriate homework for students. There also was evidence of the integration of language and literature. For example, students wrote diary entries from the point of view of characters in a novel they were studying and newspaper reports on events in a novel. This ensures that various aspects of the course are taught at the same time. In addition, it makes English a more enjoyable experience for students.
Some English teachers use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on a regular basis with their students for drafting and redrafting and for accessing resources and useful websites pertaining to English. Students are encouraged to make presentations using ICT and to use ICT for their project work. A laudable feature of the school was the lovely learning environment throughout. English classrooms were examples of good practice in that teachers had samples of students’ work, posters, key words and quotations on display. In addition, all classrooms were well resourced in terms of audio-visual equipment.
There was a very good student-teacher relationship in all lessons. Students benefit from committed and enthusiastic teachers and it was clear that students felt very comfortable to participate in their lessons.
The majority of students in the college sit higher-level English in their Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations. Results indicate a significant degree of success in these examinations.
Students sit ‘mock’ examinations in third and sixth year. Common examinations with a jointly- agreed marking scheme are set as appropriate for in-house examinations. These examinations are formal and are held at Christmas and in May for first, second, fourth and fifth-year students. Parents receive written reports on their child’s progress three times a year; at Christmas, Easter and summer. The Easter report is based on continuous assessments marks. Regular class-based tests are given by teachers. There is also a parent-teacher meeting held for each year group annually. Supervised study for third, fifth and sixth-year students is provided after school and the school is opened for study on Saturdays from February each year and during the Easter holidays.
The school has an agreed homework policy. In addition, English teachers have developed their own homework policy. This is commendable practice. Students’ copies and folders revealed that students are regularly assigned appropriate and often stimulating work in class and for homework. The standard of student work was generally very good and comprehensive records of each student’s performance are kept by the teachers. Students’ copies and folders are divided into different sections for different aspects of the coursework which is good practice. The use of manuscript copies by TY students is particularly commendable as their work was so well maintained. Students’ work is well corrected by teachers who provide written comments on areas where students should improve in their work and affirmative comments as appropriate. The innovative practice of students e-mailing their homework to their teacher for correction was also observed.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school support and provision for English.
· There is a wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English available to students.
· The library is run efficiently and promotes the reading habit among students.
· The school is at an advanced stage in the school development planning process.
· English teachers collaborate and have developed a written plan for each year of the English course.
· The English TY programme is broad and balanced but the written programme does not reflect the range of activities and events on offer for TY students.
· Students are well supported in the area of learning support.
· Solid teaching and learning was observed over the course of the evaluation.
· There was excellent student participation in all lessons, and clear evidence of learning.
· There was a very good student-teacher relationship in all lessons.
· Students benefit from committed and enthusiastic teachers.
· Results indicate a significant degree of success in state examinations.
· Common examinations with a jointly-agreed marking scheme are set as appropriate for in-house examinations.
· Students are regularly assigned appropriate and often stimulating work in class and for homework. The standard of student work was generally very good.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the plans of work for each year be collated and set in the same style. When reviewing the plan it is recommended that an outline of the key skills and learning outcomes that each year group should achieve, a list of suggested texts, including poems for each year group, and teaching methodologies be included.
· It is recommended that the objectives of the Transition Year programme be rewritten to fully reflect the commendable work being done in this year.
A post-evaluation meeting was 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.