An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Ballyfermot, Dublin 10
Roll number: 60732H
Date of inspection: 5 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Caritas College, Ballyfermot. 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Caritas College provides a good range of programmes to meet the educational needs of its students. The Junior Certificate (JC) and Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) are provided in the junior cycle. In the senior cycle, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate (LC) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programmes are provided. TY is obligatory for students who undertake the LC programme and optional for LCA students.
In 2006, due to reduced intake in first year, the school was unable to form a designated JCSP class within its existing resources. Two class groups of roughly equal size were formed and two teachers are assigned to one of the groups. However, currently one is involved in the teaching of international students. It is understood that the class will be divided into two small units after Christmas with a view to offering individual attention to the smaller units and this should prove beneficial. While the school may not be in a position to provide a designated JCSP class in first year, the methodologies, resources and expertise are available in the school, and it is reported that these are deployed for the first year group. It is also reported that intake is set to improve again in 2007.
Timetabling allocation for English is good for second and third year JCSP students with six periods per week. The students are assigned to very small class groups taught by a qualified learning support teacher and receive personal attention. In second and third years of the JC, there are five periods of English distributed over the week and this represents good provision. However, in first year, only four periods of English are provided. Moreover, these are not evenly distributed over the week since there is a double period on Monday, followed by two single periods, one on Tuesday, and the second on Thursday. Students with special educational needs are catered for and small classes are an asset, nonetheless, given the substantial number of students who present with literacy needs in Caritas College, and the importance of first year for developing skills, this provision is inadequate and it is recommended that first year timetabling allocation be reviewed with a view to providing a minimum of five lessons distributed evenly over the week. In the senior cycle, four periods of English in Transition Year and five in fifth and sixth year represent good provision. Transition Year students have designated periods for film study and this complements the English programme. Numbers in English classes are generally small (the vast majority are under twenty in number) and this is a considerable advantage to students.
Given contextual factors, uptake of higher level is a quite good, especially in the senior cycle. Absenteeism and punctuality represent an ongoing challenge in some class groups. Students are taught in a mixed ability setting in first year and while normally streamed thereafter in the junior cycle, they are banded for this year. Access to levels is determined by teacher opinion and input form the learning-support departments. Students can change level and consultation takes place between students, teachers and tutors. All students are encouraged to achieve their potential at all levels and good examination outcomes are achieved. Some members of the teaching staff are past-pupils and thus provide role models for the students.
While audio-visual resources such as televisions, DVD/video players and tape recorders are available for the teaching and learning of English, it is reported that access is not convenient. Storage facilities are also very limited. Teachers are not classroom based and this exacerbates the situation. Management might consider switching to designate classrooms for teachers within the limits of existing resources. In this way, individual resources could be stored and teachers could also carry out administrative tasks. Failing this, consideration should be given to the establishment of a dedicated English teaching room to which all teachers of English have access at least once during the school week. A dedicated subject room would facilitate the storage of key resources such as audio-visual equipment (ring-fenced for the English department) and film resources as well as books and other materials. Management’s attention is drawn to the fact that film is prescribed on the Leaving Certificate syllabus and therefore there should be immediate access to such resources. There is no official budget for English but staff can make application to management for resources. Both the LCA and JCSP have discrete budgetary allocations from the Department of Education and Science (DES) and the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU). The school has a large staff room but there is pressure on space due to the storage of books, copybooks and other equipment.
It is reported that reading is encouraged and some teachers have boxes of books and assigned reading periods. While the department plan indicates that all first years should have a library class, it is not clear that this is universally implemented. Caritas College has a substantial library space with good displays of books and a computer. At present, the potential of the library is not being fully exploited as a learning centre. While teachers can bring their classes to the library, it is reported that the space is regularly in use for meetings. During the evaluation it was noted that photo-copying machines for staff use were located in the library and that office administrative tasks were also carried out there. It is recommended that the use of the library be reviewed and that it be restored to its original purpose. A library as a space for personal reading and research and as an interactive learning centre with appropriate information and communication technology (ICT) equipment should underpin the school’s literacy strategy. Staff and management should look to the JCSP demonstration library project and the research report that was published and consider how lessons learned from this could feed into library development in Caritas College. Contact could be made with local library services. Useful sources of information are www.jcsp.ie, the School Library Association in the Republic of Ireland (SLARI), www.library.ie, www.libraryassociation.ie and the School Library Association of Britain (www.sla.org.uk/).
ICT resources and facilities are in need of development in Caritas College. The school has a computer room with twenty-two computers and is currently in the process of installing broadband internet access. The computer room is accessed regularly for example, by LCA students and a timetable for its use is displayed. However, there is no booking form and this is a matter that could be easily addressed in the short term. It is reported that the school has a relationship with a local agency and LCA students are able to use its computer facilities after school. Such links to the local community are commended. It is also understood that management is currently reviewing ICT provision. The learning support department has access to computers but this is an area also in need of development. It is recommended that the use of ICT be integrated into the teaching and learning of English in all classes and at all levels.
A significant minority of students are in receipt of literacy support. The school has a qualified learning-support teacher who co-ordinates the learning-support programme and planning. A combination of withdrawal, small class groups and group support is used. The small number of students who qualify are in receipt of language support. Students with literacy and language needs are identified through referral from the primary school, psychological services, the Home School Community Liaison co-ordinator, and teacher referral. Those offering language support should liaise with Integrate Ireland Language and Training at 126 Pembroke Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. Useful information is available at www.iilt.ie. Progress is assessed through discussion with teachers and through testing. There is regular informal contact between the learning support teacher and members of the English department and this is commended. Students in receipt of learning support do not have individual educational plans (IEP), and this is a matter that should be addressed since it is a requirement of the Education Act (1998) and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act (2004). Guidelines for the writing up of IEPs have recently been published.
Co- and extra-curricular activities deepen and enrich the students’ experience of English. Debating is an important part of school life and a special duties’ post is assigned to it in Caritas College. Outings are organised and visiting speakers are invited to the school.
Facilitated by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), the school engaged in subject planning in 2004 and considerable activity took place in the academic year, 2004-5. The SDPI co-ordinator was invited back to the school in September and this should renew the impetus. A plan for English has been written up and contains some useful documents. However, it is now in need of review. The department has a co-ordinator who had undertaken considerable responsibility for the English plan. There is designated meeting time for all staff on Friday mornings but the focus is on a variety of areas of school life. Formal specific minuted meetings of the English department have been very infrequent since 2005: there are no records of any formal English department meetings during the academic year 2005-6 or in the first term of the academic year 2006-7. However, it is reported that English planning is included in formal programme meetings such as the LCA, JCSP and TY, and that an unrecorded English meeting took place at the start of the academic year. The English plan records an LCA meeting in October. There is a collaborative ethos within the department and this has been of considerable benefit with regard to the sharing of ideas and engagement in professional dialogue at an informal level.
Since planning gives direction, cohesion and consistency to the teaching of English, a minimum of three (and preferably more) formal, timetabled English department meetings should take place in each academic year and it is advisable to keep records of these meeting. The school reports that three meetings are scheduled for the current academic year and this is commendable. Action plans should be drawn up at these meetings. Detailed year plans for programmes should be included in the plan and a timescale for syllabus delivery should be documented. There is scope for development in the Transition Year English programme and the emphasis should be on experiential learning. Texts prescribed for the Leaving Certificate programme should be avoided. Advice can be accessed through the Second Level Support Services at www.slss.ie. Policies indicating the department’s approach to key areas of English should be formulated. Priority should be given to a policy on reading and the use of the library, and, arising out of this policy, a detailed plan should be drawn up and implemented for each year group. Since literacy is a whole-school issue, this should be the concern of management and all stakeholders. The English department should clearly show in the plan, how the school’s literacy policy is implemented in the teaching and learning of English. Similarly, the school’s policy on international students and the teaching of language should be reflected in the English plan and implemented in individual teacher’s schemes of work. The English department’s policy on assessment and details of modes and procedures should be included. While there are some very useful documents in the existing English plan, for example, the self-evaluation checklist, and templates to encourage reflection on methodologies, it is not clear how or when these documents are being used and this is an area that could be addressed in the review.
Useful items for the English department plan are DES circulars, syllabus material and guidelines, reports such as Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools, (DES, 2006) and an inventory of resources. Resources such as worksheets in hardcopy should be kept separately. The English team is committed to and enthusiastic about the teaching of English and the plan for English should reflect the work currently being done, including the range of extra- and co-curricular activities that relate to English. In view of the proposed development of the schools ICT facilities, the department should also consider setting up an electronic resource folder (containing useful information, references, questionnaires, worksheets and other material) to which team members could contribute from time to time.
In the course of review, the continuous professional development needs of the team should be identified with a view to targeting specific areas of relevance to the teaching and learning of English.
A range of syllabus appropriate topics was taught in the lessons observed to include media studies, poetry, drama, film and language skills. Preparation of resources was good and they were deployed appropriately to support teaching and learning. Photocopied handouts of poems, questionnaires, worksheets and a visual image were distributed. An audio version of the drama was relayed via an MP3 player with attached speakers and a tape recorder facilitated the playing of a song. Further use could be made of audio equipment for teaching poetry as this concentrates students’ attention on the aural element of poetry. A film clip had been made ready. Where visual print material is central to the lesson, high quality colour images should be used where relevant and students could also be encouraged to bring in their own images. The board was the resource most frequently used and in most cases it was used to good effect to record students’ answers, homework assignments or the day’s topic.
Lessons were well planned in most cases and pace was generally appropriate. However, care should be taken to avoid packing too much material into the lesson so that the learning intention is unclear and weaker students feel overwhelmed. In lessons observed, the objective was either communicated verbally or the general topic was written on the board. It would prove productive for students if the focus were on achievable learning outcomes clearly visible to all and more attention paid to lesson closure to ensure that the lesson objective has been achieved.
Question and answer sessions were effective when used for review of earlier material or as a pre-reading activity in order to establish empathy with the subject about to be learned. They were also used in order to lead students to an understanding of key terms necessary to empower them to evaluate. Students were encouraged to contribute from their own experience and this is praiseworthy. Good practice was noted where students’ suggestions and ideas were written on the board and the class worked collaboratively. In question and answer sessions, care should be taken that students are given adequate time to reply and that the teacher does not answer the question for the student. Very good practice was noted in a lesson visited when students were confident in their knowledge of the material under review, copious examples were volunteered and student understanding and enthusiasm were particularly in evidence.
Students learned analytical process through comparison of ideas or texts. This is good practice. Active learning strategies were used in some lessons and this is commended. Exemplary practice was observed in one lesson where well-planned group work was effectively used both the engage and challenge students. Students had designated roles and clearly defined groups. This could become a model for all lessons. In some poetry lessons, there was an emphasis on technique. Students should gradually be led to an understanding of figures of speech through numerous references and examples and wide reading of poetry. The purpose or effect of such devices should be explored and students could write their own poetry to give them a greater understanding of technique. Literary devices such as onomatopoeia and alliteration would benefit greatly by being heard and audio versions of poems, song, their own recording of sound, and prepared readings either individually or in pairs or groups, would greatly assist in cultivating aural awareness.
Good practice was noted in a lesson observed when attention was paid to language acquisition. This should be extended to all lessons and the development of language skills should be prioritised. Wall displays of key critical terms on charts would be useful. Where a text is to be discussed in class, and where language is underdeveloped, students should be equipped with a list of difficult or less common words in advance so that the text can be understood more easily. Students could also be encouraged to keep a dictionary of key words. In cases where definitions are written on the board, it is essential that that these are communicated in language that is immediately accessible to students so that the definition clarifies rather than complicates.
When written work was assigned, teachers circulated and offered assistance to those requiring support or reassurance. Good practice was noted where assignments were time-bound. In mixed-ability settings, such activities provide opportunities for differentiation. An exemplar of a written assignment was used in one instance and this was helpful to students. Writing frames should be considered in cases where written activity is challenging for students.
Students’ responses were valued and encouraged. In one instance, they were instructed to write down their views when the class had discussed the central issue. This is good practice since a broad perspective informs the written response.
Copybooks reveal that a fair range of syllabus appropriate material has been covered. Good practice was noted where frequent creative writing and story exercises were set. This fosters in students a love of writing and is commended. Language and literature were also integrated in some assignments and this is laudable.
In many classrooms, the wall space was used as a stimulating resource through the display of posters and students’ work. Exemplary practice was noted where students’ wall displays were very well presented. Students’ pride in their work was clearly in evidence through their willingness to show and explain their project work to the inspector. This is highly commended. Students in Caritas College are taught in a warm and sympathetic learning environment and students are challenged to reach their potential. Classrooms are well managed. A very good rapport exists between students and teachers and the teaching team is congratulated in this regard.
Records of homework and assessment are maintained. There are formal in-house exams at Christmas and summer. Those taking state examinations undergo mock exams in the spring. Junior Certificate exams are set and corrected internally, while the Leaving Certificate exams are set and corrected externally. In the latter case, care should be taken to ensure that outcomes are in line with teacher and student expectation so that useful advice can be given to those students who are about to make a final choice of level for the state examinations.
Common assessment is not regularly practised and this is an area that the department might review since common exams set for the relevant levels are a useful way of ensuring standardisation of syllabus delivery and of course content, particularly in the junior cycle where there are no set texts.
In the copybooks seen, best practice was noted where there was a range of syllabus appropriate homework assignments and these were regularly corrected and dated. While some degree of feedback was noted in a few instances and students were affirmed and encouraged, more could be done by way of useful positive advice in some cases. Planning documentation gives an outline of departmental approaches to assessment, specifically summative, homework and class tests. In the course of reviewing departmental assessment policy, the team should agree common practices and procedures, such as the number of substantial written assignments for the relevant year groups and levels and it would also be useful to standardise the dating of corrections so that teachers and students could measure progress. The team should also develop a range of assessment modes for each year group and departmental practice should be informed by a policy on assessment for learning. Information is available from www.ncca.ie. Since the Transition Year offers many learning opportunities outside the classroom, care should be taken to ensure that departmental policy and practice reflects this in assessment. Programmes such as the LCA and JCSP have their own intrinsic assessment modes. The JCSP provides good models of assessment in the junior cycle and these could be adapted to other groups as appropriate.
Reporting to parents takes place through annual parent-teacher meetings, formal reports sent home, through the school journal and personal contact from members of staff as need dictates.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
Time-tabling allocation is good for most classes and especially for JCSP groups.
Small class groups provide good learning conditions.
A start has been made in planning.
A good range of resources and methodologies is used in the teaching and learning of English.
Students are taught in a supportive and sympathetic environment.
Students are encouraged to achieve their potential.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The number and distribution of English lessons in first year should be reviewed.
The school as a whole should prioritise the development of the library as a fundamental strand in its literacy policy.
Management should investigate ways of providing adequate storage space and access to equipment for the English department. A move to teacher-based classrooms or a designated English room could be considered.
A root-and-branch review of planning should take place.
The English department should engage in action planning at departmental meetings; these meetings should be facilitated in the school timetable and records maintained in all cases.
Detailed plans for reading, literacy and language development should be written into the plan for English.
ICT should be fully integrated into the teaching and learning of English to all year groups and a booking form should be displayed in the staff room.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Short term recommendations (Booking I.T. Room etc) and subject meetings schedules already in place.
Time-table under review for change next year as changes re- subject choice be made this year – also also re room bases.
I.T. recommendations under review and costing as these are based on finances available.