An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Saint Conleth’s College
Clyde Road, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60590N
Date of inspection: 2 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Conleth’s College. 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 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.
Provision of English lessons is satisfactory from first to fifth year as students have four English lessons each week throughout junior cycle and in fifth year, and three English lessons each week in Transition Year (TY). Provision improves in sixth year as students have five English lessons each week. However, the fact that classes are either forty or forty-five minutes in duration means that students get good exposure to the subject. In addition, class periods are evenly distributed throughout the week.
Students are placed in mixed-ability class groups throughout junior cycle for English and are also arranged into mixed-ability class groups in Transition Year. In fifth year students are again placed in mixed-ability class groups and are taught on a modular basis. This means that they will be taught poetry, for example, by one teacher, the comparative mode by another teacher and so on. This is an innovative practice and English teachers are commended for this collaboration. Concurrency is facilitated on the timetable for fifth and sixth-year English classes which allows for such team teaching. In previous years, before English teachers introduced the practice of team teaching, placement of students into class groups in fifth year was generally determined by English teachers, taking into account Junior Certificate results and students’ preference and potential. Students were placed into one top higher-level group and one higher-level group working at a slower pace.
School management encourages teachers to become members of the subject association and has always paid for membership of these groups. In addition, teachers are facilitated to attend inservice as relevant.
Students benefit from a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English including theatre and other cultural visits, attendance at lectures on various aspects of the English course and debating. Students have been entered for the World Debating Competition and have been so successful as to reach the finals on some occasions. TY students also participate in a musical each year and help in the production of a magazine. This access to co-curricular activities is commended.
There is good practice in that teachers tend to carry a class group through from second to third year and from fifth through to sixth year. A number of English teachers have their own base classrooms. They have access to a range of audio-visual resources to support the teaching of English. In addition, the school has a computer room with twenty-five terminals. English teachers reportedly use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) with their classes. TY students, for example, use ICT for writing their TY portfolios, where they record descriptions of cultural visits, film and book reviews among other things. This is good practice. It is recommended that English teachers further explore the potential of ICT for teaching and learning in the classroom.
There is a budget available for English and a press is provided to store common resources such as audio-visual material. There is also a small library in the school but it has been defunct for some time. A library committee has been established, however, which has submitted a report to school management recommending certain improvements. It is recommended that the library be reinvigorated, and that students have regular access to the library to promote the reading habit and thus further develop their literacy levels. The good practice of first-year students being brought to the local library to be shown how to use it is commended.
The school is made aware of students with literacy support needs when they enrol and their individual needs are monitored. However, the school does not assess students who may have literacy support or Special Educational Needs (SEN) to identify their ability and learning requirements. In addition, the school has not, to date, applied for resource hours for students who have been diagnosed with special educational needs. It is recommended that the school explore strategies to secure extra resource hours for students with SEN, if there are currently such students in the school.
Up to fifteen hours of extra English are provided for newcomer students whose mother tongue is not English. Newcomer students are withdrawn in small groups or individually for language support in subjects where they need help. The Integrate Ireland Language and Training website www.iilt.ie is recommended as a good source of resources for teaching newcomer students.
Traditionally the senior English teacher takes on the role of co-ordinator of the subject and this is currently the situation. The English department are in agreement that this role should be rotated from time to time, perhaps on an annual basis. A formal planning meeting is held by the English department at the start and end of the school year. Further meetings take place during each term to deal with specific issues including examinations, textbooks and extra-curricular activities. Each meeting has an agreed agenda and minutes are taken. Minutes of these meetings are evidence of good reflection among English teachers and a willingness to introduce new practices.
The English department is happy with the progress to date in planning for English and the plan is reviewed and updated annually. The department has engaged in self review based on the recent Department of Education and Science publication on English and this is to be commended.
Each year the principal receives a copy of the English plan or programme of study. The English junior cycle plan is written in terms of overall aims, course content and textbooks. Students always study two novels and a Shakespearean drama over the course of junior cycle as well as a range of short stories. In addition, some teachers teach another drama text in second year which is commended. Teachers make joint decisions on texts at both junior and senior cycle. This leads to a sense of security among all students that a similar programme is covered regardless of what class they are in or teacher they have. However, it is recommended, to build on the good planning work already in place, that the plan for each year should include learning outcomes or key skills that each year group should achieve, as opposed to focussing solely on content. In this way, even if a class group studies a different novel or play, they will still have acquired the same key skills at the end of the year. It is also suggested that the English department plan be customised into one style. As it stands different styles of plans were submitted, some handwritten and some typed. A range of suitable teaching methodologies for teaching various aspects of the course should also be discussed and documented, as in this way best practice will be shared.
Some individual teachers had also developed detailed schemes of work for their class groups, many of which incorporated learning outcomes for each aspect of the course. The second and third-year study plans developed by teachers also outline learning outcomes for students which could be incorporated into the overall English plan. These plans are effectively tick lists for students in their revision so that they are able to identify what they know and what they need to know. This is highly commendable work.
The school has a commendable Transition Year programme available which includes modules of Drama and Film Studies, both of which complement English. Evidence suggests that TY is well organised and the English programme is also commended. Students are encouraged to read a novel each month and review that novel. An assigned class novel is also chosen as well as a range of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Response journals are kept and students are also expected to complete a project. The ICT generated TY portfolio contains reviews and reports on key events throughout the year and is each individual student’s personal diary recording key events in their TY year.
Individual teachers have developed some good strategies to promote reading. For example, second-year and Transition Year students have to submit regular reviews on books they have read. This is good practice and it is recommended that all first-year students be also encouraged to read a number of books at home and write book reports on these books.
All lessons had a clear purpose which was shared with the students. Lessons were well structured and were paced appropriately. Resources were prepared prior to lessons which enhanced lesson content and ensured that there was no over-reliance on the core textbook. In addition, the board was used well to record key points. Instructions and explanations were always clear.
There was a very good mix of lower and higher-order questions asked to cater for all abilities within the classroom. In addition, teachers asked questions of all students, as opposed to those with their hands up only, so that all students were on task. Good practice was observed as the teacher allowed students adequate time to answer questions. Students were very comfortable to ask questions of their teachers. Links were created with other subjects, with contemporary life and between texts so that learning was put in context for the students.
Students were challenged to think more deeply about what they were doing by the questions asked and the course content chosen. This is highly commended. For example, when teaching quite challenging poetry, skilful questioning, and the pointing out of certain key points allowed students to have a deeper understanding of the poem’s meaning. Teachers always looked for students’ personal response to poetry which is good practice and students were happy to share their responses with their teacher. Indeed some students’ responses demonstrated a wide knowledge of poetry.
There was clear evidence of student learning in all lessons and very good student participation. However, it is recommended that, at times, students be put working in pairs or groups to discuss issues in texts or to work together to elicit meaning so that their point of view is voiced as well as the teacher’s. There was some evidence of this when students were put in teams to write advertisements for different props they were given. Pair or group work ensures that discussion is not always teacher led and that a range of opinions are voiced.
Students with special educational needs were well catered for in the classroom as was observed from the prior preparation of material for such students by the teacher. The majority of students in the school take higher-level English in their state examinations.
While many teachers had their own base classrooms there could have been more samples of students’ work, key words or quotes, or posters displayed to stimulate students and aid their learning.
There was a very good teacher-student relationship in all lessons. Many students approached teachers after class for advice or to discuss aspects of English. Students were clearly motivated and made very good points in their lessons. There was considerable evidence throughout the course of the inspection that teachers give of a lot of their own time to help students. There was an overall sense that teachers were enjoying their work and their students, and learning was clearly in evidence.
Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations. End-of-term tests are formal. Generally common examinations are organised for year groups with common marking schemes, which is good practice. Formal reports are sent home at these times. In addition, students are given regular tests during the year to assess progress. Many of these tests are also common. Parents also receive progress reports on their child’s progress three times each year and one formal parent-teacher meeting for each year group in the school is also arranged.
TY students do not sit formal examinations but are continuously assessed. Parents receive progress reports on their child’s progress during the year and students are examined mainly through project work and their portfolio.
The school has a comprehensive homework policy which is commended for the good and clear advice it gives to parents and students. St Conleth’s also provides after school study for two hours every day. Study skills programmes are available for third, fifth and sixth-year students. First and second-year students use a log book system daily which is a hardback book where they have to record what they have learned. This is checked by their form teachers on a regular basis. In this way students are taking responsibility for their own learning while allowing parents and the school to monitor their progress.
Some class groups have folders for maintenance of notes and use manuscript copies for their written work, which is good practice. Fifth-year students are given instructions on how to maintain and use their folders which is also commended. An examination of students’ copies and folders showed that in some classes students received excellent feedback from teachers on areas where they could improve. In addition, there was an appropriate amount of work done in most classes. Some teachers share the discrete criteria for assessment with the students and also ensure that junior cycle students are aware of where marks are gained and lost by sharing marking schemes with them. Good practice was also seen in that some teachers delay the introduction of using grades for marking work for a few weeks in order that students focus on written comments on where they should improve. Good practice was also reported in that teachers often get students to mark their own work before handing it up to the teacher and ensuring that students correct mistakes made in work. It is recommended that all English teachers agree a common policy on frequency of homework, standards of work expected, use of folders and copies and formative assessment when marking students’ work.
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.