An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Saint Paulís CBS
Brunswick Street, Dublin 7
Roll number: 60430O
Date of inspection: 18 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Paulís CBS, Brunswick Street. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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.
St Paulís CBS offers English in the following programmes: Junior Certificate (JC), Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY), and established Leaving Certificate (LC).† English and Communications is offered in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme.† The Transition Year programme has been reintroduced with great success this academic year (2005-6) and the individual efforts of the cohortís tutors are praiseworthy in this regard.† Two classes are enrolled.† The motto of the Transition Year is ďGive it a Go!Ē and this spirit informs the programme.
Most class periods in St Paulís are of forty minutes duration except for the first of the day and the one immediately after lunch, both of which are forty-five minutes long.† This is commendable since it facilitates movement of students without compromising tuition time.† Five periods of English are provided in the junior cycle.† While class periods are distributed evenly over the week in the case of the third-year classes, first and second years have two separate non-consecutive English lessons on one day.† This is not ideal since continuity and frequency represent best practice; moreover, absentees lose two periods of English on a single day.† However, the teachers of English manage the timetabling arrangements well in an effort to ensure that learning is optimised.† Nonetheless, the distribution should be reviewed.† TY classes have four periods a week, two of which occur on the same day and are consecutive.† Timetable provision in the LC programme is adequate to meet syllabus requirements.† The LCA classes have three periods a week and consideration should be given to allocating an extra period in line with best practice.†
Numbers are low in most classes (only one group has more than twenty students) and this is very helpful for students who need individual attention.† For example, the first year JCSP group has thirteen students.† The other group of twenty is of mixed ability.† Of the two second-year groups (total number thirty-five), one is a JCSP class; the second is subdivided into a pass and an honours set.† Of the three third-year groups (total fifty-one) two are JCSP groups and the third is taught the JC programme.† Because of the reintroduction of the Transition Year programme, there is no Leaving Certificate (established) class in fifth year.† There is, however, one small LCA group (thirteen) in the first year of the LCA programme.† In sixth year, there is one LCA class (nine) and two LC established groups, one having a combination of higher and ordinary level students, while the other is a designated ordinary level class.† Assignment to classes in first year is based on entrance assessments and on reports from the primary school.† In second and third year, assignment of students to their groups is determined by the results of the first year exams.†† However, placement is reviewed in individual cases, in consultation with students, parents and teachers.† When allocating next yearís TY cohort to fifth year groups, it is advisable to ensure that not only results of Junior Certificate examinations are taken into consideration, but also the performance of students in Transition Year across a broad range of tasks and learning experiences.†
Concurrent timetabling facilitates movement from one level to another.†† Further advantages of concurrency could be explored, for example, inter-class activities such as debating.† In St Paulís, uptake of higher-level English is satisfactory, given contextual factors.†
Six teachers are involved in the delivery of mainstream English.† The team is well balanced and highly motivated.† Of the schoolís three qualified learning-support teachers, one is mainly deployed in the area while a second is involved to a lesser extent.†† The schoolís information and communications technology (ICT) specialist has a learning support qualification and this is a useful resource on which the English and learning support departments can draw.† Additional teachers are involved in resource and language teaching.†† The school promotes continuous professional development and one of the staff development days had a focus on literacy and team teaching.† Teachers have availed of the relevant in-service programmes sponsored by the Department.† The school is involved in a secondary school network of inner-city schools and staff members have availed of focused in-service through this network.†
There is access to a good range of resources in St Paulís CBS, to include audio-visual equipment such as TV, VCR and DVD player, and two computer rooms.† In addition, the school has laptop computers.† The LCA classes use ICT facilities and the TY English class has also been brought to the computer room when engaged in the fiction element of their programme and this is laudable.† Teachers of English also use ICT in the generation of notes and for research.† Further opportunities should be sought for the integration of ICT into the learning of English in all classes.†† There is a JCSP resource room that can be accessed by mainstream classes and this is well equipped.† The teaching team has access to an annual budget.† Teachers have their own designated classrooms.
St Paulís does not have a library.† However, in the context of the schoolís whole-school approach to literacy, there is an emphasis on reading.† A specific reading initiative runs throughout the school for two to three weeks during the academic year and all subject teachers are involved.† Reading for enjoyment is promoted.† A reading period was also integrated into one of the lessons visited.† Class sets of books are available.† It is understood that paired reading is practised.† JCSP classes have designated reading periods.† This whole-school approach is commended.†
A considerable number of students in receipt of learning support have individual education plans (IEPs).† Students with learning needs are identified through psychological assessments, diagnostic tests at entrance and teacher referral.† A combination of strategies is deployed to support students, including individual withdrawal, team teaching and small class groups that follow the JCSP programme.† Re-testing occurs at the end of first year and at the end of second year in order to track progress.† Students are involved in the whole-school reading initiative.† There is regular contact between the school and the parents of students in receipt of learning support.†
The school has a growing number of international students in need of language support.† On entry, a designated teacher is assigned to this student cohort, their language needs are assessed on an individual basis and a programme of language tuition is devised.† The designated teacher liaises with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) and has developed a resource bank to include diagnostic tests.†
St Paulís is a participant school in the Pathways Through Education programme.† Designed to develop studentsí self esteem, the programme complements the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and the English programme in first year.† For example, this year, first years were involved in a filmmaking project, the theme of which was Irish myths and legends, and the students will present their film at an end-of-year awards ceremony.† This cross-curricular approach is highly commended.† The project also facilitated co-operation with another school.†† Students from St Paulís CBS attend theatre outings.† They have also participated in the Abbey Theatre project through the Home School Community Liaison scheme.† These activities develop and enrich studentsí experience of English outside the conventional classroom setting.
A formal departmental structure has not yet been established.† However there is a very strong collaborative ethos among the teachers of English.† There is one formal timetabled meeting per year but teachers meet regularly on an informal basis and the fact that the staff is small facilitates this.† The present phase of school development planning has prioritised the setting up of subject departments and this is a timely development.† During the setting up phase, sufficient time should be allocated by management for meetings in order to give impetus to the work involved.† All meetings should be fully documented, agenda set and minutes taken.† Timeframes should also be agreed.
Choice of texts is determined by syllabus and level in the senior cycle and a common approach is adopted in so far as is practicable.† This is positive since movement from one level to another is facilitated.† Moreover, it is possible that both higher and ordinary level may be taught in the same class by the end of the two-year cycle.† Choice of texts varies in the junior cycle and this is a matter that could be examined since a common approach is generally advisable with differentiation factored in.† An interdisciplinary approach was noted in one instance regarding texts and this is laudable.†
While individual teachers presented outline schemes for their class groups, there is no subject department long-term plan and this is a matter that should be addressed without delay.† Planning gives a common direction to the teaching of English and promotes self-evaluation within a framework of regular review.† Projected learning outcomes, activities, methodologies, resources and a range of assessment methods (formative, continuous, summative) should be documented.† Advice in this area is available through the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.† The subject plan should be reflected in individual schemes of work.† Interesting work is reported to have been done in the junior cycle poetry classes and this could be written into the plan.† Templates have already been issued to facilitate an audit of the teamís current needs.† Further information and templates are available through the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) at www.sdpi.ie.† The most senior English teacher acts as co-ordinator.†
Particularly noteworthy is the stated intention of encouraging Transition Year students to take on the challenge of higher level English in an enjoyable setting and this should be written into the plan for TY English.† The TY English plan presented is in skeletal outline only and is in need of more specificity.† There is evidence from the scheme that a Leaving Certificate-type approach to teaching may be adopted in a couple of areas and this is best avoided.†† Fiction is well chosen; the innovative activities that this is reported to have generated could be written up.†† The scheme refers to the preparation of a presentation; this is another area for development in the plan.† As part of their general programme, TY students are involved in the production of a film and they participated in a production course involving RTE.† Links with the teaching and learning of English could be developed and documented in the English plan since the two are complementary.†††
The LCA planning folder was presented during the evaluation and there was evidence of good forward planning in line with the requirements of the syllabus.†
While there is a good level of informal liaison between teachers of mainstream English and both the learning support department and those involved in language support, there is no formal mechanism to facilitate collaborative planning and the exchange of information.† It is recommended that a framework be put in place to redress this.
Preparation for individual classes was good in the majority of cases where worksheets, notes and sample answers had been generated in advance.† A film clip was also made ready and used effectively to support the written text that was closely read during the lesson.† Notes were of a high standard and were well used but care should be taken to ensure that students do not become over-reliant on such supports so that independent thinking is compromised.
In the lessons visited, a range of activities was in progress including poetry, language skills, the study of the language of narrative and drama.† Revision was the theme of some lessons, and this was appropriate given the proximity of the in-house and state examinations.† The board was used well as a resource to record language and concepts, and to organise studentsí responses thus giving focus and direction to the lessons.†
The structure and pace of many classes was good and students were stimulated and engaged by the learning activities involved.† Very good practice was observed where the learning intention was shared with the class.† However, in a couple of instances, lesson plans need to be reviewed, either where students are given too much time on a less than challenging activity or where a topic is completed so quickly that the remainder of the lesson is filled in with an unplanned activity, however appropriate that may be.†
In the lessons visited, questioning strategy was used to good effect.† A balance was maintained between global and individual questioning.† Understanding and learning were checked.† Questions were asked to gain empathy.† Best practice was in evidence where differentiated levels of questioning were used to probe meaning, to engage students in independent thinking and to lead on to dialogue and discussion.† In this context, it is important to allow sufficient time for the formulation of personal responses and for full class discussion.† Students were encouraged to read text closely and to find and select evidence (underlining, annotating, highlighting) leading to text-based conclusions; this is highly commended.††
In St Paulís, the concerted emphasis on language acquisition and use in all the lessons visited is praiseworthy.†† In the best instances, students were encouraged to be inventive and confident in expression both oral and written.† Subject related key words were mounted on walls and/or written on the board, and this is very useful for reinforcement and reference.† Students were equipped with the critical terminology necessary for analysis.† Basic skills such as spelling were taught.† The use of conventional spelling lists followed by tests should be reviewed since spelling is most effectively taught in context and in real and meaningful situations.† The good practice observed of sharing spelling strategies, of identifying words in a piece of text, followed by a written exercise in which students were required to use the word, is worth emulating.† Concepts such as grouping were well reinforced through the use of worksheets.† In lessons where students were involved in individual writing tasks, teachers circulated among students, monitored activity and answered questions.†
Students were forthcoming and enthusiastic in their responses.† In their interactions with the inspector, students showed a good understanding of language, concepts and themes and were confident in expression.† Evidence from some homework assignments indicated that key critical terminology had been learned in the evaluation of poetry, for example.
Many of the classrooms were decorated with stimulating material and books were on display and this good practice should be extended to all classrooms.† Teachers of English recognise that the classroom is, in itself, a useful resource.† Classroom management was very effective in the lessons visited.† Students were affirmed and encouraged to achieve.† In the best instances, students were constantly challenged and engaged in a dynamic exchange and it was clearly evident that they derived considerable enjoyment from their English lessons.† This is highly commended.†
The school has a homework policy.† In many of the lessons visited, teachers insisted on students writing down their homework in their school journal.† Exemplary practice was noted in one instance where class sets of folders were organised and maintained to a high standard, thus imparting very useful organisational skills.† Homework was regularly assessed in all classes and the standard of assessment was good.† Records are kept.† In some cases, work was dated and this practice is to be encouraged since it allows students to track their progress over a period of time.† Particularly commendable was the positive feedback and reinforcement noted in many copies examined.† In one instance, an opportunity for formative assessment was created when homework copybooks were being returned and students were given oral feedback in an immediate context.† In the junior cycle, a range of writing tasks was set and these were designed to give practice in a variety of genres. The integration of language and literature was also noted and this approach is good.† Homework assignments were designed to reinforce concepts taught in lessons.† It is reported that differentiation is practised in assessment, account being taken of the programme, level and number of assignments appropriate the needs of the individual student.† It was noted that shorter exercises were set for those who would find longer writing tasks challenging and that cloze testing was used.† However, consideration should be given to extending opportunities for story telling among this cohort and writing frames or templates could prove useful.† The sharing of assessment criteria, so that students understood the coding that was applied, was observed in one instance and this is highly commended.† In the senior cycle, syllabus appropriate tasks were set.† The discrete criteria used in state examinations were applied and this represents good practice.††
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and in the summer term and mock examinations are held for the relevant classes.† Common papers are not set.† Where possible and relevant, this should be considered (with agreed marking schemes) in order to co-ordinate syllabus delivery and regulate standards.† During in-house exams, provision is made for students with special educational needs.†† When contextual factors are taken into consideration, achievement in the state examinations is good: all students are actively encouraged to achieve their potential and high but realistic expectations are set.† It is reported that Transition Year have had no formal assessment to date but an awards ceremony is planned on completion of Transition Year.† As part of their Pathways Through Education programme, first years have an end-of-year ceremony at which their achievement is celebrated and their films screened. The school is congratulated on this initiative.†
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Class numbers are small but the distribution of English periods is not ideal in some cases.
There is a very good collaborative ethos among teachers of English but there is no subject department structure or subject planning.
The Transition Year programme has been very successfully reintroduced. The TY English plan has some very stimulating elements but is in outline only.
Reading is encouraged in St Paulís.
There is a very supportive learning environment and high but realistic standards of attainment are set.
There is an emphasis on the development of critical skills.† A concerted focus on language development and appreciation deserves particular commendation
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The establishment of formal department structures that has been initiated should be completed.† Within this structure, there should be formal liaison between those involved in learning support, language support and teachers of mainstream English.† A comprehensive plan for the teaching and learning of English in all programmes should be written up.† A common approach to the choice of texts should be considered when planning for the junior cycle.
The distribution of English periods should be reviewed; if possible within existing resources, an extra period for LCA English and Communications should be allocated.
Building on existing good practice, further opportunities should be sought for the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of English in all classes
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.