An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Cappagh Road, Finglas
Roll number: 70180A
Date of inspection: 21 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Eoin. 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Coláiste Eoin, Finglas, is a City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC) maintained school. There is a good level of whole school support for English. A range of initiatives and programmes has been put in place to meet the needs of those of its students presenting with specific educational and social needs.
There are five periods of English per week for Junior Certificate students and six for those in the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP). This represents good provision. In the senior cycle, there are three periods for Transition Year English (designated Communications). Leaving Certificate students have five periods per week and those in the LCA programme have three. These are adequate to meet syllabus requirements.
Classes are streamed in Coláiste Eoin. A range of assessment instruments is used to determine first year students’ placement in class groups and determine access to levels. Timetabling concurrency for English lessons was introduced in the 2004-5 academic year in order to facilitate movement from one level to another. The procedure was reviewed and was not repeated in 2005-2006. Since concurrency allows for flexibility within the streaming model, the school is encouraged to reintroduce it. In tandem with this, it is advisable to draw up a set of criteria and procedures governing such movement. Transfer of students from one class to another should occur in consultation with parents, class teacher and year heads and/or management.
The teaching team has a wide range of experience and is well balanced. Most teachers have studied the subject to degree level. Where possible, staff members rotate the teaching of English in the senior cycle. The continuous professional development (CPD) needs of the school have been specifically targeted in the planning process and a CPD coordinator has recently been appointed. This development presents an ideal opportunity for the English team to assess its needs. Information Communications Technology (ICT) training has already been identified and it is recommended that this be prioritised. Staff members are facilitated to attend appropriate in-service courses. Some of the team members are members of the subject association.
While liaison between new teachers and existing staff occurs at an informal level, and a staff handbook is made available to new teachers, there is no formal induction procedure within the school. It is recommended that this area be reviewed by management and by the relevant subject departments to ensure the seamless transfer of teaching and other responsibilities to new and/or substitute teachers who take up teaching duties during the course of the school year.
Team teaching is a strategy that has been adopted in some lessons. This represents an innovative approach to provision for students in need of learning support or who present with challenging behaviour. It is recommended however, that the roles of those involved in team teaching be clarified in order to see how best to deploy key personnel. Consideration could also be given to the seating arrangements in such classes where groups rather than conventional rows might be more appropriate.
Teachers of English have access to a range of audio-visual resources. In the course of the evaluation it was noted that many classrooms had overhead projectors and screens. A good range of ICT facilities is available to teachers of English. There are two computer rooms, the second of which is newly equipped. Computers are also available in the staff room, library and learning support department. It is recommended that the English department make full use of the available facilities. The department does not have an allocated annual budget but teachers can request resources. The English department also has access to a range of materials produced by the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) of the CDVEC. In Coláiste Eoin, teachers are fortunate to have their own classrooms and this allows them to store materials, to create a print-rich environment and display students’ work.
Coláiste Eoin is a participating school in the JCSP Demonstration Library Project and this is an excellent resource. The school has an attractive and well-equipped library and has the services of a full time librarian. The library has comfortable seating and is large enough to accommodate class groups. It also has good ICT facilities. The book stock is chosen with the educational needs and interests of JCSP students in mind and a policy for the use of the library has been drafted. JCSP students have timetabled periods in the library and a range of activities is planned for them. The school librarian works in co-operation with teachers of English and other subject teachers. The library is open to all students at lunch time on Wednesday and Friday; on Tuesday, it hosts a range of activities specifically in connection with the lunch club. While JCSP students are prioritised, the library is available to students in other programmes and can be booked. Individual students can also use the library at the appropriate times. JCSP students have been involved in the “Make a Book” initiative. The library is open until five o’clock on weekdays.
A range of extra and co-curricular activities supports the teaching and learning of English. Drama is offered in first year and is run as a special initiative alongside other activities such as football, equine studies, art and music on Tuesday afternoons. Ideally, the school would like to extend this as the first-year cohort progresses through the school. The initiative has been set up with the help of sponsorship from outside agencies. Students are also taken on outings (for example, theatre and film). Visitors have been asked to the school, for example, theatre groups. Students are also involved in a pen-pal initiative with students from Belfast. This represents a good level of support.
Coláiste Eoin students presenting with special educational needs have access to a variety of supports. There is a designated learning support room with a range of ICT (including 13 computers and a wide range of software) and other resources. The library is also a resource. Two teachers are involved and have received training in this area. A third teacher, who has also received training, is also involved to a lesser extent. The school also has two special needs assistants (SNAs). The care team (consisting of the guidance counsellor, psychologist, home-school-community-liaison officer, education support worker, learning support and/or resource teacher, school completion co-coordinator, principal and/or deputy principal) meets on a weekly basis and there is also a good level of informal interaction. A combination of withdrawal and team teaching is used and the learning support team favours the latter. Withdrawal is used only where necessary. Individual education plans (IEPs) are in the course of being prepared for some of the students. The learning support team liaises with the teachers of English and this is good practice. Since the students presenting with special educational needs and/or disadvantage are currently being catered for, it is recommended that strategies for challenging students in the upper range of ability be a focus in the next phase of departmental planning.
Coláiste Eoin is fully engaged in the school development planning (SDP) process and a number of policies are in place. The process has been facilitated by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The current focus of SDP planning activity is the setting up of subject departments. Two half-days have been devoted to subject department planning. This is a very positive development. Time has also been allocated for collaborative long-term planning from weekly scheduled meetings in order to further the activity. There is, in addition, a good deal of planning at an informal level. The teaching team is highly commended for its professionalism and dedication in this regard. Given the level of work involved in the setting-up phase, consideration could be given to some further timetabled meetings to progress departmental planning and complete the work. It will be necessary to allow time for review on an ongoing basis.
There is no official departmental co-ordinator and consideration should be given to appointing a team member in order to give cohesion to the subject team and to drive the process. If necessary, co-ordination can be rotated. There is evidence of very good collaborative long term planning for English and this is underpinned by the school’s mission statement. Noted, too, is the team’s reflective approach. Individual yearly schemes are also very good. Particularly commended is the emphasis on oral communication in some plans. This could be extended across all programmes. Specific strategies to implement ICT should also be specified. Some schemes also included a revision plan and this is also commended.
The Transition Year programme in English (designated Communications) is good with obvious links to the LCA programme. There is also some overlap with the Junior Certificate programme. Consideration should be given to revising the English programme and the plan should be informed by the principles of Transition Year. Given that this is designated a communications programme, there should be a clear emphasis on oral and aural skills as well as on writing skills.
Decisions on texts are made jointly at Junior Certificate level. At Leaving Certificate level, the choice of texts is left to the teacher’s discretion, taking due cognisance of programme, level, and syllabus requirements.
The department has identified a need to review the existing literacy policy. There is a draft policy with regard to use of the library. This is a whole-school issue and is best done in the larger context of the school plan. Coláiste Eoin has already put in place a range of strategies to promote literacy through the library project and there is also evidence of this in individual planning documentation. It only remains for the school to complete the whole-school literacy policy, for the English department to integrate this policy into long term subject planning, and for the teachers of English to implement these strategies in their yearly schemes and short term plans. Liaison with the librarian and learning support team is advisable. The English department should consider liaison with the school librarian to this end. Independent learning and research projects could be encouraged and the students could be required to present their work to an audience, where appropriate, in order to develop their oral skills. ICT is a useful tool and students engaged in self-directed learning should be encouraged to make full use of it. The possibility of a book club, the involvement of good readers in initiatives such as paired reading, and peer tutoring are also worth examining.
Teaching and Learning
A range of stimulating and syllabus appropriate activities, such as drama, poetry and film study, was underway in the lessons visited. Given the proximity of the mock examinations, good revision strategies were also taught. The structure and pace of most lessons showed evidence of thoughtful preparation. Noted in some cases, was the good practice of incorporating a short revision session into the lesson before introducing new material. This could be extended to all lessons where relevant. Students previously absent particularly benefit from such a review. In some cases, the theme of the lesson was written on the board and this represents good practice. It is recommended that the lesson objective and expected outcomes be made explicit to students at the start of all lessons so that both teacher and students can evaluate learning at the end of the lesson. Best practice was observed where closure was brought to the lesson by revisiting the key points outlined at the start of the lesson. Resources had been prepared (handouts, acetate, video footage) in advance in some lessons and this indicates good lesson planning. The textbook was the most commonly used resource in the lessons visited, with handouts also used.
A range of methodologies was evident in the lessons visited. However, these could be extended further and active learning methodologies should be prioritised, for example, drama techniques, pair and group work. Particularly commendable are those lessons that were divided into discrete units and in which there was a balance between teacher and student activity. Where a writing task was assigned, teachers were able to circulate among students in order to support and monitor individuals. This was handled well in almost all cases. However, the writing task should have a specific and limited timeframe and students should be quite clear as to the purpose of the task before they commence.
In general, lessons were not too text dependent. Most frequently, students were asked to read and then points raised by the reading were teased out through short question and answer sessions. This clarified learning. Closed questions were the most frequent type used and these were designed to test observation, knowledge and understanding. In most cases, students had a good knowledge of the material in hand. Open questions were less commonly used but were noted for example to relate to students’ own experience. The students’ responses indicated that their interest was engaged. Least common were questions leading to higher order thinking but these were also observed and students’ answers showed a good understanding of key concepts and evidence necessary for comparative analysis. It is recommended that questioning be structured to lead students gradually into more challenging thinking modes relevant to the level and programme being taught.
Consideration should be given to playing audiotaped versions of plays in order to help those who are slow readers follow the written text and understand the drift of the plot. Where a pre-reading activity was used, it helped to create empathy. This good practice should be extended to all lessons where new material is being introduced. A thematic approach to the text and cross-curricular links were noted and this is laudable. Further opportunities of this kind should be sought.
It is recommended that more emphasis be placed on the integration of language and literature. In general, there was less evidence of personal or imaginative writing (either in lessons or in the homework samples) than of other genres. Where imaginative writing and/or activity was noted, outcomes were very good. Attention is drawn to the relevant syllabuses in this regard. Where new words are introduced, it is advisable to write these on the board for reinforcement.
A print-rich environment was noted in most of the classrooms visited. In some cases, key words were clearly displayed and this is helpful to students. Displays of students’ work are particularly commendable as these give students a sense of ownership of their work. To build on this, displays of attractive books could be mounted and advice could be sought from the school librarian.
Order was established and insisted upon in most classes and classroom management was generally good. There was a good level of interaction between the students and teachers in most cases. Lessons were conducted in a positive atmosphere and a caring team supported students in their learning.
In many classes there was evidence of homework being regularly assigned and corrected. It is recommended that the good practice of setting and monitoring written assignments be extended to all class groups. It is advisable to integrate a policy on homework into English departmental planning. The roles of both students and teachers should be specified. Clear rules on the maintenance of folders of notes and copybooks should also be included. Evidence from homework samples and notes indicated that a good deal of work had already been done. Best practice was observed where homework copybooks were clearly expected by the teacher and where the students were given time to write down their homework before the end of the lesson. Particularly commendable is the use of formative assessment where useful comments helped students identify areas for improvement. Profiling was is in evidence in some individual long-term plans and this is highly commended.
A parent-teacher meeting, to include all year groups, is held once a year. Parents book in advance to meet teachers and they are accompanied by the students. The school journal is central to the school’s code of behaviour and it must be kept on the desk at all times. Students are charged twenty euro for its loss as a deterrent. Self-assessment on the part of students is encouraged and the class teacher discusses issues with individuals before signing off on the journal. This is good practice. Student test and examination outcomes are monitored in the junior cycle and these are taken into consideration for determining levels in the Leaving Certificate English programme. Given contextual factors, student outcomes in state examinations are satisfactory. However, the school has identified a tendency for some to underachieve. This could be addressed in a whole school context. It is recommended that the English department use the outcomes of the state examinations to identify areas for improvement and to devise strategies to achieve this.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school support for the teaching and learning of English.
· The school is a participant in the JCSP Demonstration Library project and the library is central to the school’s literacy strategy.
· There is evidence of comprehensive long-term planning for the subject. Individual schemes of work were of a high order.
· A variety of strategies is used in the teaching and learning of English.
· Classroom management was good in most lessons and students are taught in a caring environment.
· A print-rich environment has been created in most classrooms.
· Assessment is good in most cases and students are encouraged to achieve their potential.
· The learning support team has access to a good range of supports and resources.
· There is good liaison between the learning support team and the English department.
· Team teaching is in use but roles are unclear.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Consideration should be given to reintroducing concurrency of timetabling, given that classes are streamed.
· The roles of those involved in team teaching require clarification.
· The Transition Year English and Communications programme and literacy policy should be reviewed.
· Strategies to challenge students in the upper range of ability should be drawn up.
· Personal writing and the integration of language and literature need more emphasis.
· More active learning methodologies should be introduced.
· More ICT should be integrated into the teaching and learning of English. Training should be accessed in the context of continuous professional development.
· The good practice of regular, monitored homework assignments noted in most cases should be extended to all and the department should routinely evaluate student outcomes in the state examinations.
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.