An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Coláiste Éamann Rís
Callan, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 61510R
Date of inspection: 8 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Éamann Rís. 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.
Coláiste Éamann Rís is a Christian Brothers secondary school serving boys from the town of Callan and its environs. Junior cycle students are placed in mixed-ability class groups for the first two months of first year. They are then set for English into one higher-level and one ordinary- level class grouping for the rest of their junior cycle years based on the results of a common first- year English examination, teacher observation and assessment, and reports from feeder primary schools. As English classes are concurrently timetabled from first to sixth year there are opportunities for students to change levels if incorrectly placed. This facility is used and English teachers are commended for working closely together to ensure that they are broadly covering the same range of work each term so that students will not be disadvantaged if they have to move classes. Students are also permitted to change level but still remain in the same class grouping. It is recommended that English teachers give consideration to allowing first-year students to remain in mixed-ability class groupings until the end of first year before they are placed in higher or ordinary level classes.
The Transition Year class group of students is placed in a mixed-ability class. Fifth-year students are set into higher and ordinary class groups on the basis of student choice and teacher advice. Teachers consult parents before their son changes level.
Timetabling provision of English is satisfactory at junior cycle where students have four forty or forty-five minute class periods a week of English. Provision is good in Transition Year as students have three class periods a week for English. It is also good in senior cycle where students have five class periods a week. Some English teachers give of their own time to take students for extra classes which is laudable and typical of the commitment of the English department in the school.
English teachers bring students on theatre visits as appropriate and guest writers have visited the school to discuss their work with students. Transition Year students and some junior cycle classes are given opportunities to partake in in-class debates, which is good practice. English teachers are facilitated in availing of continuing professional development and it was reported that there is regular contact with the English Support Service.
There are three English teachers in the school all of whom are qualified in their subject area. Management endeavours to ensure that the teaching of higher or ordinary-level class groups is allocated on a rotating basis among all English teachers and that English teachers retain the same class group for the three years of junior cycle or the two years of senior cycle. This is good practice.
Some English teachers in the school have their own base classrooms. One of these rooms also doubles up as an English library and resource area where common resources are stored for the English department to use which is very good practice. English teachers have ready access to audio-visual (AV) equipment. The English teachers are commended for building up the library and allowing students to have access to a range of reading material in an effort to promote reading in the school. Private reading is encouraged and formal reading classes are organised by English teachers for a term in first year for one class a week. Students were surrounded by a print-rich environment, in a range of subject areas, in all classrooms visited. Consideration should be given to displaying samples of students’ work in English and key word posters or key quotes from texts on the classroom walls in order to further enhance the classroom environment and the learning process.
Overall, there is good whole-school support for English in Coláiste Éamann Rís. All reasonable requests for extra resources are facilitated by management. The school is awaiting the installation of broadband. There is currently no data projector in the school which is regrettable as it would be a useful resource in English lessons. However, English teachers use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for production of a range of resources used to support teaching and learning in the school and also encourage students to use ICT for research purposes.
There is a co-ordinator of English in the school. This role rotates annually among all English teachers. There was clear evidence that English teachers work hard in this role to develop their subject. The school has engaged with subject planning as part of the school development planning process. Subject planning meetings are arranged for all staff for a minimum of twice a year and English teachers also meet informally on a regular basis. Best practice is seen in that records of meetings are kept and present a basis for further action in the subject area. The benefits of subject planning are evident in the collegiality among English teachers, the sharing of good practice and resources, and the fact that there is close collaboration and regular discussion among all English teachers about their subject. Teachers have already completed a subject plan for English and individual teachers also presented detailed schemes of work on both an annual and a term basis. These schemes of work include in-built evaluations by teachers of each aspect of the course taught. This is very good practice.
The English plan includes the sections of the syllabus to be taught, the aims and objectives of the teaching of English, curriculum content and a homework policy for English. It is recommended that English teachers use their ICT and word processing skills to prepare an electronic copy of the plan so that it can be easily amended from year to year, rather than having to be re-written each time. In addition, it is recommended that teachers agree the key skills or learning outcomes that students should have acquired at the end of each year, and that these be incorporated into the English plan.
English teachers make joint decisions on core textbooks but allow some flexibility of choice of texts for higher and ordinary level. There was clear evidence that the abilities and specific needs of students are taken into account when selecting texts so that they are suitable to the student cohort. All aspects of the syllabus at junior and senior cycle are covered and appropriate progress has been made by all teachers in advancing their courses each year.
There is a written Transition Year programme for English which is comprehensive and outlines the strong cross-curricular links with History. The programme is designed on a modular basis and covers a broad range of genres and themes. Students have opportunities to make oral presentations and to research topics during Transition Year English and the programme is commended for its breadth and balance.
Students’ literacy needs are identified by reports from primary schools, observation of students’ work, consultation with colleagues and literacy tests. At present the school does not administer an incoming first-year assessment test which would could also serve to identify students with specific educational needs. It is recommended that the school administer such a test as soon as is possible so that early identification of such students is assured.
Eleven students are in receipt of literacy support and the school has a learning-support allocation of 0.5 teachers. The fact that the learning-support teacher is also an English teacher ensures sharing of best practice for supporting students with literacy needs. Students are generally given literacy support during withdrawal periods and one small class has been formed to cater for first-year students who have an exemption from Irish. Good practice is evident in that students are withdrawn for extra support from a different subject each half term so that no one subject is constantly targeted for withdrawal. Paired reading with parents has been introduced which is an effective strategy to improve literacy. Education plans are maintained for each student and are regularly assessed so that all students in receipt of literacy support are well profiled. Some students in the school benefit from literacy support until the end of sixth year.
A high standard of teaching was observed throughout the evaluation. All classes were well planned and structured and the purpose of each lesson was shared with the students. It was evident at the end of each lesson that the lesson’s purpose had been achieved. The pace and content of all lessons were appropriate and a variety of tasks was given so that students had no opportunities to become distracted. In addition, there were seamless transitions from one stage of the lessons to the next. The language used by teachers was always appropriate and communicated in a way that was understood by students.
A variety of effective teaching strategies was observed in all lessons, including whole-class teaching, question and answer sessions, role play and group and pair work. In this way students were actively involved in their own learning. Teachers generally gave clear instructions and explanations. Younger students would benefit from these instructions being written on the blackboard to avoid any possible confusion about tasks. Students were constantly encouraged to reach a high standard, and appropriately high expectations were required by all English teachers. Learning was consolidated through the distribution of teacher-generated notes on every aspect of the English course and through the assignment of written work. This did not, however, inhibit independent learning and opportunities for this were observed in all classes. For example students’ personal responses to literature were invited. Students are also expected to engage in independent reading of some texts before overall reading in class. Opinions were sought and discussion generated as appropriate so that there was an appropriate balance between teacher and student input in all lessons. Students engaged in all lessons and were well organised and purposeful in their work. They took down notes without prompting from their teachers and were challenged in their work. Students demonstrated competence and familiarity with the concepts and skills necessary to complete their courses and were well able to answer questions and discuss topics.
Questioning was very appropriate and effective as teachers ensured that all students were on task by asking questions of individual students as well as global questions. In addition, students were encouraged to develop their answers beyond simple recall answers by being asked to justify their opinions and thus higher-order thinking skills were promoted. This skilled use of questioning by teachers encouraged students to think more clearly about topics.
Teachers integrated the teaching of language and literature so that students were asked to write diary entries or letters for the point of view of characters they had studied in texts. In this way, students were invited to empathise with characters’ feelings while at the same time learning functional writing skills. Good practice was seen when students were introduced to a drama extract by being asked to imagine their reactions and feelings in a similar scenario in real life. Appropriate emphasis was placed on the teaching of stagecraft, tones and gestures when teaching drama. It is recommended that a thematic approach be adopted when teaching first-year English rather than teaching units of work in isolation. Students might study a poem and short story or number of poems related to the same theme and then be asked to write in a number of genres on the studied theme. In this way all aspects of English can be taught in an integrated way throughout the year.
There was clear evidence of good language development in all lessons. The development of vocabulary was integrated into all lessons, teachers demonstrated skill at teaching writing skills and students had opportunities to master the skills of writing in different registers. Creative modelling was used successfully with ordinary-level class groups at junior and senior cycle so that students succeeded in writing good pieces of persuasive writing based on a passage they had read.
Teachers were skilled at using the blackboard to record and explain key points in a legible and clearly structured manner. In addition, a flip chart was used to good effect to record key points about media studies which could be used again in a later lesson.
Teachers moved around the classroom to ensure that all students were on task and individual help was given as appropriate. There was a very good code of discipline evidenced in all classes which resulted in an orderly learning environment. It was clear that high standards were also expected with regard to student conduct in class. A good relationship was maintained between teachers and students in all lessons and teachers were affirming of students’ progress. The enthusiasm of English teachers for their subject and their commitment to their teaching and to their students ensured that students were not only well taught but enjoyed their lessons also.
Teachers reported that students are encouraged to sit English at the highest level where possible. Examination classes sit formal ‘mock’ examinations which are externally corrected. All other classes sit formal Christmas and summer tests. In addition, English teachers give informal class- based tests at Easter and at the end of each unit of work. This constant monitoring of students’ work is commendable.
Parents receive two written reports yearly and there is a parent-teacher meeting held annually for each year group in the school. There is a homework policy included in the subject plan for English and this policy is clearly and effectively implemented by all English teachers. Appropriate and regular assignments were given to all classes and these written assignments were very well corrected. All teachers give a very high level of oral and written feedback to their students on areas where they need to improve in their work and this level of formative assessment is highly commended. Sixth year students’ work is marked according to the criteria for assessment which is appropriate for students at this stage and good practice.
High expectations are set when it comes to the maintenance of students’ work, and students respond to these expectations in a positive way. Students have different copybooks for different aspects of their course. In addition, students are expected to keep folders for the many notes that are prepared and distributed by teachers. For example, in some year groups students have a separate folder for comparative text notes and another folder for poetry, single text and language work. All copies and folders observed were very well maintained by students.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school support for English in the school.
· English teachers work together in a spirit of co-operation and collaboration to the ultimate benefit of the students in the school.
· The English teachers have developed a subject plan for English and individual teachers also presented detailed schemes of work. Transition Year students benefit from a comprehensive English programme.
· Students in need of literacy support are well provided for in the school.
· There was a high standard of teaching evidenced throughout the evaluation. Teachers were enthusiastic about and committed to their subject and students.
· Appropriately high expectations are required by all English teachers and students engaged in all lessons, were well organised and purposeful in their work. Learning was clearly evident in all lessons.
· Teachers constantly monitor students’ work and give excellent written feedback to students on their work.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· English teachers should give consideration to allowing first-year students to remain in mixed-ability class groupings until the end of first year.
· An electronic copy of the English plan should be prepared and the key skills or learning outcomes that students should have acquired at the end of each year should be incorporated into the plan.
· The school should administer an assessment test for incoming first-year students.
· A thematic approach should be adopted when teaching first-year English.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of English at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.