An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Méanscoil Iognáid Rís
Naas, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 61710C
Date of inspection: 17 May, 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Méanscoil Iognáid Rís, Naas, Co. Kildare. 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.
First and second-year students have four forty-minute English lesson periods and third-year students have five forty-minute English lesson periods weekly. This is deemed quite good provision, especially in third year. Subject provision for English is satisfactory in Transition Year (TY), as class groups have three English lesson periods each week. TY students also study modules of Media Studies and Debating which complement their English studies. English provision is good in both fifth and sixth year as students have five lesson periods each week. Concurrency is provided in English from first year to sixth year with the exception of TY. The provision of concurrency is commended as it facilitates students to move between levels and allows the hosting of whole year activities. In general, there is a good distribution of English lessons across the week. Third, fifth and sixth-year classes have one double English period a week on their timetable this year which is reported to be working well. Overall, there is good subject provision for English in Méanscoil Iognáid Rís.
The manner in which students are placed in class groups is highly commended. Students are placed in first-year class groups on a mixed-ability basis, which is good practice. In second year, class groups are banded. A common end-of-term summer examination with a commonly agreed marking scheme determines student placement in second year. This is an open and fair process. Students are placed in mixed-ability class groups for the optional TY, which is appropriate. In fifth year, there are generally four higher-level class groups and three ordinary-level class groups. There are mixed ability students within these levels. This is good practice. Students are placed in fifth-year class groups on the basis of their Junior Certificate English results, student progress and tests. Movement within fifth-year classes is generally completed by the October mid-term break, although some movement is allowed after the ‘mock’ examinations. It is recommended that fifth-year students sit a common examination in October to ensure that students are correctly placed in terms of levels and to allow teachers to have the flexibility to choose their own texts and work at a pace suitable for their students from October onwards.
The provision of support for students with learning support needs or special educational needs (SEN) is highly commended. These students are identified prior to entry into first year through a range of standardised tests and other means. With parental permission, students with a reading age of two years or less than their chronological age are assigned into three English classes with a smaller number of students. Hence these students are not placed in mixed-ability class groups but their classes are timetabled to run parallel to mainstream classes in English. This is excellent provision and there was evidence that students move out of these class groups into mainstream if, and when, this is appropriate. Many of these students also receive extra support in literacy and numeracy, if they have exemptions from Irish. By the time they have completed first year, they are often reintegrated into mainstream, if that is appropriate, although a SEN class in second year and third year is also provided. This is highly commended. These students sit the same first-year examination as the other students. In addition, if needed, a smaller class group of such students is provided in TY, fifth and sixth year.
The school population has expanded in recent years and the school is awaiting the commencement of a building project to cater for increased numbers. At the moment, space is at a premium. Some English teachers have their own classrooms. There was evidence that these rooms are well equipped with televisions and DVDs and a number of them also contain computers. There is one computer room in the school and there was evidence that some English teachers bring their students to this room, if it is appropriate, and when the room is available. Due to constraints on space, there is just one learning support room and a small tuition room in the school available for students in receipt of extra support. This is to be regretted as there are a large number of small groups and individual students requiring tuition. It is recommended as soon as space becomes available that a second dedicated room be made available for this purpose. Indeed management has already identified the acquisition of such a room as a priority.
There is a school library which, due to lack of space, is now often used as a classroom. However, the library is being redeveloped and teachers have been asked to suggest texts for purchase for the library. Many websites, including www.childrensbooksireland.com, may be useful for accessing information on suitable books. The library is opened at lunchtime and all efforts to continue the good work of encouraging students to use the library are exhorted in this report.
The practice in the school of teachers retaining a class group from second year into third year and from fifth year into sixth year is commended. In addition, teachers agree the teaching of levels between themselves, with the ultimate decision being with management, which is good practice.
There is good whole school support for English by management in the school. Resources for the English department are made available on request, if reasonable, and there was evidence that a range of useful resources has been purchased, including, audio and audio-visual tapes and DVDs as well as books.
English class groups benefit from a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English. Students have been brought on theatre and film trips and on a trip to ‘Patrick Kavanagh country’. There is an annual musical in the school. Students compete in a range of public speaking and debating competitions which is highly commended. The production of an annual year book, which contains the articles, essays and poems of students from various year groups, is coordinated by members of the English department and this work is also highly commended.
The English department consists of fourteen teachers, all of whom have English in their degrees. There was considerable evidence of an atmosphere of collegiality and co-operation among members of the teaching team. Teachers are commended for sharing resources and collaborating to improve the learning experiences of their students. The English subject plan is fully developed and includes aims for the subject at Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate levels. Many of these aims are also the aims of the relevant syllabuses. Among the worthy aims outlined are “the development of skills in speaking and listening” and “to develop their (the students) creativity and originality of thought”. The plan is further developed into learning outcomes or subject objectives for each cycle and again divided into curriculum content for each year group which also outlines even more specific learning outcomes. This is very good practice as it ensures that students in each year group will have achieved the same key skills.
The English plan also outlines textbooks and course material for each year group and includes a list of suggested poetry, short stories and novels. This is good practice as it ensures no overlap of course content from first to second year when students will more than likely have a different teacher. All first-year classes study a novel which is praiseworthy. Students then go on to study a second novel in second year which is also laudable and they then study a drama text in third year. This text is always Shakespearean for higher-level students, which is good practice. Students also study a range of short stories in their junior cycle course. In order to foster an appreciation of reading, it is suggested that English teachers encourage students to read for pleasure at home and perhaps submit book reviews or have a specific time in class to share their opinions on the books they have read. This is already the practice in some classes. As the library is often used as a classroom, book boxes could perhaps be developed for each class group.
The TY English plan is highly commended as it articulates the aims of broadening students’ interests in and enjoyment of English and improving their ability to write and speak. English teachers have developed their own individual programmes, and documentation suggests that the range of activities covered in TY classes is worthwhile. Such activities include creative writing, enjoying poetry and song, drama and role playing and critical analysis. There is a strong focus on oral and written presentations, which is very good practice. For example, students make oral presentations on their projects. It is recommended that all TY English teachers teach a chosen novel or drama during the course of the year. TY students also follow a Media Studies programme which includes students making a film or radio programme. This is excellent practice. The fact that students also do a module on debating is commended.
The choice of single and comparative texts is appropriate in fifth and sixth year and there was evidence that fifth-year students have already covered an appropriate amount of material for the time of year.
As well as having their own resources which are shared among English teachers, there are a number of common resources centrally located in one classroom and an inventory of such material is available. This is good practice.
There is a subject convenor and a subject coordinator of English. The role of coordinator is clearly defined and rotated on an annual basis among English teachers, which is very good practice. It includes preparing agendas and chairing the three formal department meetings provided by management each year, dealing with correspondence, managing the English budget and, overall, facilitating department planning. The role of subject convenor involves developing the English plan and this plan, as already stated, is highly commended.
There is good practice in that minutes of English meetings are recorded: a practice that has been in place for almost ten years. In addition, an agenda is set for each meeting. The minutes reflect true collaboration and good discussion on a range of issues including planning, student placement, choice of texts, resources, agreement on what to teach in fifth year until students are remixed after the Junior Certificate results and common tests. The level of planning and discussion at these meetings is highly commended. The English department plans to facilitate the reporting back from teachers who have attended inservice.
English teachers have been involved in collaborative planning for a number of years and there was evidence that they are reflective practitioners. Planning documentation examined from over the years is evidence that teachers have identified a number of issues that need improvement and have worked on these for the betterment of their students and teaching. This is highly commended.
Teachers were well prepared for their lessons. All lessons had a clear purpose which was shared with the students from the outset. In addition, the structure of lessons was, in most cases, good with a range of activities introduced. Instructions and explanations were clear and purposeful.
Teachers ensured that students had many opportunities to participate in their lessons mainly through the use of excellent questioning techniques. They named students in their questions, thus ensuring that all students were included. In addition, some excellent use of higher-order questions led to students developing better understanding of what they were studying. It was clear that students were used to participation in lessons, their contributions were valued, and they were urged to develop their answers.
As already stated, the English plan outlines effective teaching methodologies which include whole class teaching, group assignments, structured discussion, practical activities, participation in competitions, theatre trips, the use of visual media and oral presentations. These are commended and there was evidence of many of these strategies in use in the course of the inspection. When work was apportioned for some of the lesson, best practice was seen when this work was first discussed in group or plenary session. Strategies to encourage student discussion included brainstorming, effective questioning techniques and very effective group work. In addition, it was reported that other teaching strategies, including students illustrating poems and using audio versions of texts, are used in the classroom from time to time. It is recommended that English teachers document the broad range of teaching strategies in use by different teachers as this sharing of methodologies would further enhance their teaching. As well as the creation of smaller classes and withdrawal, the SEN team are aware of the benefits of team teaching for students who qualify for resource hours. It is recommended that serious consideration be given to introducing team teaching into the school as not only does it benefit students, it also assists in classroom management and sharing of teaching strategies.
Many English teachers had prepared or accessed excellent resources to supplement their teaching. Teachers are commended for ensuring that students understood their texts and were able to see the writer’s point of view. ICT is used in the teaching and learning of TY as was observed during the evaluation when students used the computer room to research and type up projects. This is highly commended and to be encouraged.
Where teachers had a base classroom there was evidence, in some cases, of students being surrounded by a stimulating learning environment which included posters, projects and samples of students’ work. However, there was an absence of a print-rich environment in some of the classrooms which were teacher based and it is recommended that efforts be made to surround students with a more stimulating learning environment in these cases.
Examination classes were doing revision appropriate to the time of year and there was evidence that the students were well prepared for state examinations. There was also evidence of good differentiation to cater for individual needs of students. Individual attention was given as appropriate. Students were well able to identify literary terms, techniques of language and key moments from their texts. In addition, it was commendable how teachers brought texts to life for their students and ensured that students learned to empathise with writers and characters from texts, often by focusing on point of view. There was one case where students had moved on to view a film version of the novel before completing reading the novel which is not good practice.
There was evidence of very good integration of vocabulary acquisition with the teaching of comprehension and literature. Teachers’ use of language was an example of good practice to be modelled by the students. Brainstorming was used to record students’ points and elicit responses. The board was well used in all lessons. There was clear evidence of learning in lessons visited.
There was evidence of interesting and appropriate pieces of written work being given to students in the vast majority of classes. Examples included the integration of language and literature, where students wrote a diary entry from the point of view of a character in a text or wrote a talk based on a quote from a studied piece of writing. This technique could be further developed in some classes in order to link functional writing with literature and therefore enhance students’ functional writing skills, an area for development identified by teachers. Such exercises are also more enjoyable for students than having to write summaries at the end of each chapter. In addition, it is suggested that teachers, particularly in junior cycle, sometimes teach topics thematically so that students are aware that English is an integrated subject. The focus observed in some senior cycle lessons on developing students’ personal responses and on keeping response journals is highly commended.
In keeping with the aims of the school, students are encouraged to take the level appropriate to their ability and are encouraged to take higher level where possible, which is good practice. There was evidence that efforts are made to encourage students to take higher level, if appropriate, as the uptake of higher level at Junior Certificate is consistently high and the uptake is increasing at Leaving Certificate. English teachers should analyse uptake of levels against national averages each year to examine trends and also compare grades achieved at each level against national averages. There was much evidence that students achieve extremely well within their chosen level at both Junior and Leaving Certificate and in particular the latter.
English teachers presented, in the main, as being committed to their teaching and to their students. A warm, friendly and caring atmosphere was prevalent in most lessons visited. Where there was clear evidence of learning and of solid work being done in class, as was the case in the majority of lessons, there was an atmosphere of mutual respect. The dedication of the teachers and the often very lively teaching in evidence was responded to with equal enthusiasm and commitment by the students. In addition, English teachers have gone out of their way to encourage organisational skills in their students. For example, many teachers have purchased folders and manuscript copies for students to store their notes and record their work. Students were motivated by their teachers in classrooms and were involved in their lessons, and good classroom management skills were in evidence. For example, the inclusion of all students in the lesson through questioning, especially named questions, brought all students, even the most potentially challenging, on track in most lessons observed. Students presented as being well mannered, confident and articulate and accustomed to discussion.
There is a homework policy in the school. Students sit house examinations at Christmas and in the summer, while examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations. Reports are sent home based on the outcomes of these examinations. A parent-teacher meeting takes place for each year group in the school on an annual basis. TY students are assessed through project work and portfolio work which is good practice.
There was clear evidence of careful monitoring of students’ homework and of teachers recording students’ marks or comments on this homework in the majority of lessons. Some senior cycle class groups were familiar with the discrete criteria for assessment, which is good practice. Very good practice was seen with students having hardback or manuscript copies for storage of their essay writing and longer pieces of work. The quality of work and the standard of maintenance in many of these folders were exemplary. The use of reflective journals was also in evidence. Some students also kept folders for storage of notes. The excellent practice of some teachers awarding a portion of marks in end-of-term examinations for maintenance of copies and folders is to be commended. These excellent practices should be developed into a homework and assessment policy for English. Teachers could also agree on the frequency of setting longer pieces of written work for homework.
Students’ work was, in general, very well corrected with encouraging comments and formative assessment techniques in use so that students received good advice on areas where they needed to improve. Best practice was seen when the teacher wrote homework on the board and when a few minutes were spent at the end of the lesson ensuring students’ understanding of homework. There was evidence that students had completed a good amount of work during the course of the year in the majority of lessons and that students’ work was progressing well.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the report and has commended the teachers of English on the very many positive observations within the Report. It welcomes especially the commendations in relation to
1. The manner in which students are placed in class groups.
2. The provision of support for students with learning needs or special educational needs.
3. The extra-curricular activities associated with the English department.
4. The dedication, spirit of collegiality and cooperation among members of the teaching team and the warm friendly atmosphere in classes.
5. The quality of school planning and the quality of the Transition Year programme in English.
6. The quality of teaching and learning.
7. The good manners and participation of students in all the classes.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board of Management has requested that the teachers of English consider the recommendations as part of School Development Planning. The principal will be requesting that an initiative in team teaching take place during the year. A homework and assessment policy for English will be agreed. As the rooms in the new extension come available, more teachers will be given a home-room and further rooms will be designated for learning support and resource teaching.