An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Saint Louis High School
Rathmines, Dublin 6
Roll No: 60890C
Date of inspection: 20 September, 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Saint Louis High 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 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
There is good whole-school support and provision for English in Saint Louis High School. First-year and second-year class groups have four lessons in English each week. This is satisfactory provision. Provision of English lessons is good in third year as students have five lessons a week. It is also good in fifth and sixth year as students have five lessons a week. Transition Year class groups have three lessons each week. In addition, Transition Year students do a module on Drama for half the year. Those students who do not follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are offered Drama in fifth year. This provision complements English well as seen from the plan of work for Drama.
All junior cycle students in St Louis High School are placed in mixed-ability class groupings throughout junior cycle for all subjects except Irish and Mathematic. Although Transition Year is optional in St Louis High School, the majority of students opt for it. There are three mixed-ability class groups in Transition Year this school year. The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme is offered to students on an annual basis. This year there is no LCA class as there was not sufficient demand. Students are banded into higher-level and ordinary-level class groups in fifth year. The manner of placement of students in class groups is commended. It was reported that students’ results in English in the Junior Certificate examination, teachers’ recommendations and students’ own choice determines access to higher or ordinary level. In order for students to change levels, if they so wish, class groups are concurrently timetabled in fifth and sixth year. There was evidence of good collaboration between teachers to accommodate the changing of levels for students after the Junior Certificate results.
There are seven teachers of English in St Louis High School. All are fully qualified to teach English to the highest level and it was reported that in so far as is possible English class groups retain the same teacher from year to year within cycles. English teachers take turns to teach higher and ordinary level class groups each year which spreads the expertise within the subject department.
A wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is provided in the school. For example, students are brought on theatre, cinema and library visits, a school musical is staged annually in conjunction with the nearby boys’ school, an arts festival is held every second year and guest writers are brought into the school. Students are also encouraged to make oral presentations during public occasions in the school. For example, students who apply to become members of the Students’ Council must make an oral presentation to staff. The school participates in the Concern debates and inter-class debating is held in junior cycle. This emphasis on developing oral communication skills is commended as it achieves one of the key aims of the English syllabus.
English teachers have participated in continuous professional development including that provided by the Teaching English Support Service (TESS) and the Irish Film Institute (IFI). Some English teachers also participate in the Teaching and Learning in the Twenty-First Century (TL21) project, which is run by the National University of Ireland Maynooth and which originated in the belief that traditional teaching methods may not best serve the needs of students in today’s society and which aims to help teachers in a co-operative way to develop new approaches to teaching. Higher Diploma students of English are mentored by established English teachers. These student teachers generally share classes with established English teachers and there is close collaboration between them.
The school makes good efforts to promote the reading habit in students. English teachers bring students to the library for reading classes, or to choose books, on a fairly regular basis. There is a librarian available to students in the library, at lunchtime and break time. The library is also used for debates, presentations and screenings and so is central to the life of the school. It also has internet access. The resource room in the school also contains a small library of books which students in receipt of extra support can borrow. Transition Year students, in the past, were involved in a paired reading programme with first years. It is recommended that the school consider the feasibility of reintroducing this successful programme for students with special educational needs (SEN).
While first-year and second-year students have their own base rooms, many teachers also have their own base rooms, which allows for teachers to take ownership of the room and create a print-rich environment. The English department has access to televisions, videos, and CD and DVD players. Interactive whiteboards have recently been installed in some classrooms and broadband is available in the school. Many English teachers are skilled in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and bring students to the computer room for English lessons as well as making use of the available resources in their classrooms. There was clear evidence that the potential of ICT to enhance teaching and learning is exploited by those teachers who have such skills.
There is a common area available for English teachers to store and access useful resources. It was reported that there is provision made for updating and maintaining resources. A small annual budget for books is made available for English and other equipment is funded on a needs basis.
The school has two whole-time teacher equivalents for language support. Each international student who does not study Irish is tested to ascertain proficiency in English. Students are withdrawn for support during Irish or during LCVP. It is commendable that St Louis school offers structured language support to students on a regular, timetabled basis and that a small core group of teachers deliver this support on a daily basis to those students who need it. In addition, it is reported that there is good liaison with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) who support teachers who deliver English as a second language. The school is commended for the great efforts it makes to integrate international students into the life of the school.
The school has one ex-quota learning-support teacher and a resource teaching allocation of sixty hours. Students in receipt of resource teaching and learning support are regularly tested to ascertain improvements. Education plans are available for resource students and good practice is seen in that the resource teacher meets the parents of each student in September and again at parent-teacher meetings. A small but committed group of teachers delivers the programme of extra support for students with special needs or literacy and numeracy deficits, which is good practice.
There is a special room for English as a Second Language (ESL) students and another for learning-support and resource students. These rooms are attractive and well resourced.
There is no co-ordinator of English in the school. Instead English teachers rotate the chairing of meetings. It is recommended that English teachers consider agreeing a subject co-ordinator on an annual basis so that there is a designated person to disseminate relevant information.
Formal subject planning meetings are held three to four times a year and there are many informal meetings between English teachers. Minutes of formal meetings reflect close collaboration between English teachers who agree common papers for appropriate levels and appropriate core textbooks for each year group.
English teachers have collaborated to draw up a curriculum plan for English which identifies their mission statement for English, aims, methodologies, assessment, resources and learning outcomes. To further enhance the plan it is suggested that the learning outcomes be expanded for each year group so that the key skills that each year group should achieve can be identified and assessed.
There is a written Transition Year (TY) programme available for English. This is written according to good practice and indeed the English programme is an example of good practice. For example, students are taught the skills of comparison through the study of three texts which are commendably not on the Leaving Certificate programme. Therefore, students learn the skills necessary for their Leaving Certificate course while still broadening their exposure to English. The aims and objectives of the Transition Year programme are laudable. Cross-curricular work is included in the objectives and students are also required to keep a personal journal throughout the year.
There was evidence that the novel, drama and poetry texts studied by students in each class group are carefully chosen based on age appropriateness and suitability. Teachers are commended for choosing interesting texts and for encouraging the reading habit in first year. For example, first- year students often study two novels in class. They are also expected to read privately a number of novels, and then write book reviews, the results of which go towards their summer examination grade. In addition, there is a strong focus on the acquisition of basic skills and writing skills in first year which is commendable. First-year and some second-year classes are given reading lists. It is recommended that all junior cycle and Transition Year class groups are given reading lists towards the start of the school year. It is further recommended that a third comparative text be introduced for ordinary-level Leaving Certificate class groups as outlined in the syllabus. Some teachers choose a non-Shakespearean play for study with their students in junior cycle. However, it was reported that all students are given some exposure to Shakespeare, for example through study of extracts from his plays, which is important to prepare them for senior cycle, especially if doing higher level.
Minutes of English meetings reflect teachers’ plans to display students’ work in classrooms to enhance teaching and learning. There was some evidence of this good practice which is to be encouraged.
Planning for both language support and resource students in the school is highly commended in this report. In the third term of each year the resource teacher liaises with main feeder primary schools to identify students in receipt of resource or learning-support teaching who will be entering first year. Psychological reports for such students often identify literacy difficulties. In addition, English teachers alert year heads and the special educational team about concerns over other students with literacy difficulties. Teachers can also alert the English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers about areas where students need support. Students are withdrawn for literacy support either in small groups or on an individual basis. These students are generally withdrawn during Irish if they have an exemption or from one of their modern European languages in first year. There is also a small second-year group who have learning support as one of their options and who are given literacy support at this time. Individual Education Programmes have been drawn up for each student in receipt of resource teaching. A timetabled learning- support team meeting takes place each week which is attended by resource, learning-support and language-support teachers, the guidance counsellors, principal and deputy principal. In addition, the Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) and the educational psychologist attend occasionally.
All classes observed were well planned, and effective resources were utilised. Good practice was seen in that teachers use core textbooks appropriately and supplement these textbooks with other resources. The purpose of most lessons was communicated to students from the outset which is important in focusing students’ attention and helping them to participate in their learning. Pacing of all lessons was good with the lessons progressing well from one part to the next while giving students the opportunity to assimilate material. There was a good sense of closure to lessons when homework was written on the board. It is recommended that at the end of the lesson the teacher briefly review the lesson with the students to ensure that the learning objective or purpose was achieved. Teachers linked topics with prior learning or with contemporary life which is good practice as it puts learning in context for students.
Clear instructions were given when tasks were set and a variety of activities was a feature of all lessons. In addition, all teachers wrote key points made during lessons on the whiteboard for students to record or got students to write these points on the board thus involving them further in their lesson. Learning outcomes, for example, understanding ‘point of view’, were seamlessly built into lessons, by the teacher giving a few well chosen scenarios which led students to understand clearly what ‘point of view’ meant.
A feature of all lessons was the active student involvement, whether through reading, discussion, listening or writing. In this way, students were taking responsibility for their own learning. This active participation led to effective learning. Because there was not a dominance of teacher talk students were engaged in their learning as opposed to being passive listeners. Props were used to good effect as was the use of role play so that students had to take on the persona of different characters and interpret their texts from the point of view of these characters. Song was also used both as a piece of writing to compare with a poem and as a live performance in class. There was recognition of the different learning styles of students among some teachers. It is suggested that audio equipment be used by all English teachers so that drama, for example, Shakespearean drama, becomes more accessible to students.
There was some evidence of differentiation in classes observed, with teachers preparing different worksheets for students with specific learning disabilities, for example, or better able students working independently, while assistance was given to less able students. Given the mixed-ability nature of junior cycle classes and the many students who receive language support in the school the use of differentiation is applauded where observed and to be encouraged among all teachers.
There was clear evidence of the integration of language and literature in many classes which is very good practice. For example students had to write a letter to a character in a text and had to write a diary entry from the point of view of a character studied.
First-year students have a dictionary on their booklist which is commended as it encourages the acquisition of vocabulary. It is also commended that students were given opportunities to interpret texts such as poems and drama themselves as opposed to parallel translation by the teacher. Pair and group work were also recognised by teachers in their collaborative plan as effective methodologies and it is recommended that these strategies be used to involve students collaboratively in understanding their texts.
Effective questioning was noted in most lessons. Best practice was seen when questions ranged from lower order, recall type questions to higher order, more challenging questions which encouraged students to think more about ‘why’. Good practice was also seen when individual as well as global questions were asked to ensure that all students were on task. Skilful questioning encouraged students to think more clearly about their text and to make good points. Open- ended questions also elicited very good students’ response. For example, students were asked what they were thinking when listening to a song played to them and their answers proved very sophisticated. In addition, there was a good example observed of a student asking a question and the teacher inviting another student to answer it. Teachers are commended for allowing students time to formulate answers.
Good use of pre-teaching was seen, for example when there was a discussion on character before going on to read the text. In addition, there was an appropriate emphasis on correct register when teaching language. The use of ICT was observed very effectively in some lessons. As well as interactive learning, ICT is recommended for the process of drafting and redrafting work. One excellent example of the use of ICT in class was a PowerPoint presentation given to students on a poem where a line of a poem and an associated image were displayed with the visual image reinforcing meaning. In addition, the techniques of the poem, for example assonance, were highlighted in different colours. Students were totally involved in their class through questioning and answering and it was reported that students were also creating similar presentations on aspects of their course.
Teachers were enthusiastic and committed to their teaching and to their students, which resulted in enthusiastic students. Classes observed were lively and entertaining but without exception students were extremely well behaved. In addition, teachers had a very good relationship with their students and there was a very pleasant atmosphere in all lessons and indeed throughout the school.
It is clear that there is an emphasis on high expectations in the school and the efforts made for each student to attain to the highest reasonable level are commended. The majority of students sit English at higher level and only a few if any students take foundation level. An overall analysis of grades achieved in state examinations is prepared each year, which is commendable practice. However, no formal analysis takes place of patterns in each subject area from year to year. It is suggested that this commence as it is a practice that should be gratifying to the school as well as being good practice in terms of analysing trends.
Parents receive four school reports annually on their daughter’s progress. Continuous assessment results are sent home in October and February. End-of-term tests are formal and examination students also sit mock examinations. Common examination papers are set for in-house English examinations, as appropriate, which have a common marking scheme. This is very good practice. In addition, a parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group on an annual basis. The school has also drafted a well-defined and commendable homework policy.
After-school study is available to students and they also receive advisory seminars on ‘Study Skills’. Students’ work was well maintained in either copies or folders. The English department has agreed suitable homework in terms of content and frequency for each year group. Examination of students’ work suggested that some classes had done more written work, be it in class or at home, than others. There is a need for all English teachers to consistently implement this homework policy. Generally, very good constructive feedback was given to students.
There was evidence that students were well profiled in many classes and in one case a writing analysis of students’ strengths and weaknesses was in evidence. The sharing of assessment criteria with students is recommended from first year through to sixth year and in particular the discrete criteria for assessment should be introduced to senior cycle students and used in marking their work from an early stage. In addition, consideration should be given to phasing in the use of English Language Proficiency Benchmarks for assessing progress of ESL students.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
There is good whole-school support and provision for English in St Louis High School
A wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is provided in the school
The school and English teachers make good efforts to promote the reading habit and to develop oral communication skills among students and there is a strong focus on the acquisition of basic skills and writing skills
There was clear evidence that the potential of ICT to enhance teaching and learning is exploited by those teachers who have such skills
The school makes great efforts to integrate international students
There was evidence of good planning and close collaboration between English teachers
The Transition Year English programme is an example of good practice
Planning for both language support and resource students in the school is highly commended
All classes observed were well planned and effective resources were utilised
A variety of activities was a feature of all lessons as was the active student involvement which led to effective learning
Teachers were enthusiastic and committed to their teaching and to their students. There was a very good relationship between teachers and students and a caring atmosphere throughout the school
Parents are kept well informed of their daughter’s progress
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
English teachers should consider agreeing a subject co-ordinator on an annual basis
To further enhance the English plan it is recommended that the learning outcomes for each year group to achieve be expanded
It is recommended that all junior cycle and Transition Year class groups be given reading lists towards the start of the school year. It is further recommended that a third comparative text be introduced for ordinary-level Leaving Certificate class groups as outlined in the syllabus. In addition, the school should consider the feasibility of reintroducing a paired reading programme for students with special educational needs
It is recommended that at the end of the lesson the teacher briefly review the lesson with the students to ensure that the learning objective or purpose was achieved
There is a need for all English teachers to consistently implement their homework policy
The sharing of assessment criteria with students is recommended from first year through to sixth year and in particular the discrete criteria for assessment should be introduced to senior cycle students and used in marking their work from an early stage. In addition, consideration should be given to phasing in the use of English Language Proficiency Benchmarks for assessing progress of ESL students
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.