An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Whitehall, Dublin 9
Roll number: 70310K
Date of inspection: 26 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Plunket College. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy 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.
Plunket College is a school maintained by the City of Dublin VEC.† It caters for a large number of PLC students and adult learners availing of a range of initiatives including third-level access programmes.† It also has a small all-male junior cycle and a mixed senior cycle comprising students continuing from junior cycle, mature students returning to fulltime mainstream education and a sizeable repeat Leaving Certificate cohort.† The school was part of the Stay in School Retention Initiative and is now a DEIS school.† Five teachers are involved in the delivery of English in the school.† Most teach English in more than one programme, and this variety of experience is an asset to the subject as it creates a greater pool of expertise within the teaching team.
Timetabling of English is generally satisfactory in the number and distribution of lessons.† All junior cycle classes have five lessons per week.† However, in the case of one junior cycle class, English is timetabled over four days rather than the optimal five.† As far as possible, students should have one English lesson per day in order to provide regular opportunities for skills development and for reinforcement of skills learned and of material covered.† This is particularly relevant in the junior cycle.† At present there is one class group in each year of the junior cycle, all following the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP).† Timetabling and teacher deployment facilitates a team-teaching approach which was seen to work very effectively as a support for these students in first year.† Team teaching also takes place in second and third year.† In third year, support is offered through the creation of two groups, taught separately but concurrently.† It is good to see variety in the way support is offered to JCSP students, and an ongoing review of the effectiveness of the various methods is recommended.
In the senior cycle, mainstream fifth and sixth year have five lessons per week, timetabled over four days in fifth year and five days in sixth year.† Consideration could be given to timetabling a double lesson rather than two single lessons on the one day.† Leaving Certificate Applied, which is not offered every year and is currently being taken by a sixth year group only, is timetabled for three periods a week.† The optimal provision is four periods and the school may find it useful to consult the timetabling guidelines on the LCA web site (www.lca.ie).† The three repeat Leaving Certificate groups have six periods per week, including one double period.† The concurrent timetabling of English for senior cycle classes is noted and commended.† The varied intake into senior cycle including both returning and continuing students is taken into account in class formation.† The two fifth year classes are set now on the basis of age but next year they will be reassigned according to Leaving Certificate level.† The methods of class formation in fifth and sixth year should be regularly reviewed in the context of provision and planning for English, taking into account the varied needs of the mixed student cohort.
English is well resourced in Plunket College.† There is a library, and book boxes for individual classes in the junior cycle are used to promote reading for pleasure.† The department also has a range of films on DVD and video, a very good range of audio cassettes, and a good supply of audiovisual equipment.† It is recommended that the use of the classrooms as resources in themselves be developed further, as a visually-rich and print-rich room is of great benefit in creating a stimulating learning environment.† The opportunity to have their work published by means of classroom display can be a great encouragement to students, and other materials such as posters, photographs and key word charts can be a useful support and reference point for class discussion.
Particular and commendable support has been given to students with literacy difficulties.† There are two specialist learning support rooms and the special needs team meets every week.† The provision of the JCSP has been complemented by whole-school in-service in key areas including a whole-school approach to literacy development.† Staff development days in the last three years have focused on areas such as the formulation of a homework policy, catering for students with specific learning difficulties, and referral procedures for students with special needs.
School management and staff facilitate student participation in public speaking and debating.† The English teaching team provide opportunities for students to see plays and exhibitions, and organise visits to the school from invited speakers and travelling theatre groups.† The commitment to students shown in providing these co-curricular activities is warmly commended.
Plunket College has had a strong level of engagement with the school development planning process (SDP).† The senior management attends annual in-service, as does the SDP co-ordinator.† Subject planning is viewed as an important aspect of SDP and, in the case of English, is well documented.† At least three subject department meetings are timetabled annually.† Management is commended for the support shown to subject planning.†
The co-ordinator for English is a postholder with responsibility for chairing meetings and recording decisions made, maintaining planning documents, administering the department budget and liaising with the school management on matters relevant to the subject.† The integration into the subject plan of policies and practices to support literacy development is noted and commended, as is the fact that planning for English is based on fulfilling the aims of the various syllabuses and therefore emphasises the teaching and learning of skills.† In further developing the subject plan, it is suggested that specific links be made between the material being studied and the desired learning outcomes.† As an example, the reading of a short story could be linked with a skill such as character analysis or the ability to read between the lines and draw inferences.
Choice of textbooks and of novels in the junior cycle is based on suitability for the class group and the implementation of syllabus aims.† The emphasis on an encounter with a wide range of fiction and non-fiction is commendable, and the novels listed for the three years of the junior cycle are well chosen.† It is recommended that particular attention be paid to the area of drama in the junior cycle, and that all students have an opportunity to read an entire play, and to discuss the elements of drama at a suitable level.† In the senior cycle, text choice is managed to facilitate both higher and ordinary level courses.
In relation to individual planning, teachers follow the practice of drawing up schemes of work for the year which are specific in relation to content, assessment and time.† This commendable practice should be seen as complementary to the subject plan to ensure a continuum of skills development from year to year.† In the lessons observed, good materials had been prepared and the teaching methods employed had been well planned.
Planning for literacy support is well organised and involves a team of resource teachers as well as the learning support teachers.† Team teaching is successfully practised.† Additional support is offered on the basis of small group withdrawal for library sessions and one-to-one work where necessary.† There is good planning of resources for literacy support to ensure a stimulating range of materials for the students.† Student profiles have been created and these are accessed by the resource teachers to provide guidance on the needs and preferred learning methods of specific students.
Five lessons were observed during the course of the inspection.† They included junior and senior cycle classes but not LCA or PLC groups.† All were well planned and delivered competently, with a strong sense of structure evident in each case.† Most began with a brief statement of aims or an introduction that provided a context for the work of the lesson.† This practice creates a useful opportunity to state what students should be able to do or what they should have learned by the end of the lesson.† Lessons were nicely paced so that there was a good sense of progress but also time for discussion and reinforcement.
Resources were prepared carefully and used well.† They included a helpful sheet outlining with words and diagrams an approach to the unseen poem, questions for group work written on acetate, a pre-reading vocabulary sheet giving key words and templates for senior students to fill with their own scene summaries.† Resources which enable students to develop and structure their analysis of texts are especially to be welcomed, since they allow students to formulate their own views but give them a framework in which to do so.† The board was generally well used to record points made in class discussion and to note correct spellings and new words.† The use of a separate margin where vocabulary and spellings can be written is recommended so that the board remains easy to read and uncluttered.
Given the diversity of the student cohort in Plunket College, a range of different teaching methods and strategies is required.† There was good evidence that a range of approaches was employed and there was no dominant teaching method.† However, the emphasis throughout was on building studentsí skills and this is commendable.† Among the strategies observed were group and pair work, whole-class discussion, dictation to develop listening skills, and a range of questioning techniques.† Where students were working in groups, instructions were given and clarified before the work began, and this is essential.† It is suggested that tasks such as note-taking and reporting back on the groupís work be discussed so that students know the procedures, and that these tasks be used to ensure that all members of the group are involved.† Similarly, students should be made aware that some oral questions are simply checking recall of facts and can be answered quickly, while others are eliciting a more considered response and need more time.† It is felt that both these suggestions fit in with the strong emphasis in the school on empowering students by giving them the skills to articulate their own oral and written responses.
The level of student involvement was generally high, and this reflects a preference for active learning methods.† Junior cycle students working on language skills were enjoying the sense of accomplishment as they moved through different exercises.† They were also prepared to help each other and to ask for assistance where necessary.† In another junior cycle class, students worked diligently at a range of tasks including quite challenging dictation and text response questions.† Students were affirmed in their work and were willing to make the required effort.† Senior cycle students not unusually showed slightly less engagement, although their ability to express and support their views and to enter into debate with other students was noted in a number of instances.† The levels of experience and maturity of response of those students returning to full-time education were also striking and added great richness to class discussion.
Senior students, especially mature students and repeat students, require a balancing act on the part of teachers between on the one hand giving the necessary support and on the other hand fostering habits of independent thinking and learning.† It is recommended that, in considering appropriate methodologies, the teaching team work specifically on this area, considering practical ways in which they can strike the required balance.† One possible method is the development of writing frames, which offer students a scaffold in which to structure responses while requiring them to work on the content themselves.† Since the structuring of responses is frequently a difficulty for students, this strategy may help to build confidence and allow students to concentrate more on what they would like to say.
Good classroom management was evident, and was particularly noteworthy in junior cycle classes where students responded well to the firm yet friendly control exercised.† In all instances, a good rapport was evident between teachers and students and the classroom atmosphere was pleasant and conducive to productive work.
A roll call was taken at the beginning of each lesson and, as well as checking on attendance, it offered an opportunity to check on homework not submitted or work missed.† Attendance in some senior cycle classes was observed to be low, and this issue was discussed with teachers and with senior management at the end of the inspection.† The active steps being taken by the school through the home school community liaison co-ordinator, the class tutors and the policy of same day response to absences were outlined and the inspector commended these.† In addition the CDVEC psychologist spoke with senior cycle classes in September, and stressed the importance of regular attendance among other matters.† However, the issue is more complex than usual in the case of mature students, and the school should focus particularly on positive strategies to promote good attendance by this cohort.
Monitoring of studentsí level of engagement and understanding was evident in all lessons observed and was achieved principally through targeted questioning and observation of studentsí involvement in the class work set.† Teachers circulated as appropriate to check on studentsí progress and to provide assistance where necessary.† In general, students came to lessons with the necessary materials.† It is recommended that the need for students to be responsible for their preparedness for class be underlined in all subject areas and that there be a whole-school policy on this.
A general homework policy has been drawn up by the school and the English department has written the specific details of its homework policy into the plan for English.† This is commendable.† The practice of setting homework well in advance of the end of the lesson was observed and is recommended, since it gives students time to note down the work accurately and to clarify points where necessary.† Homework is set and checked regularly, and both oral and visual checking of short assignments in class and the taking up of longer assignments are part of the homework regime.† In relation to longer assignments, it is important that feedback be given to students to affirm the work they have done and to point out areas they can target to raise their standard.† The good practice of referring to the Assessment advice for students document (available on www.tess.ie ) relating to Leaving Certificate English was also observed.
Regular assessment of students takes place throughout the year.† The practice of holding common assessments where appropriate is being introduced and is recommended.† Formal reports issue to parents twice yearly and parent teacher meetings are held in November for senior students and in February for junior students.† The school is considering the issue of how best to support mature students in this regard.
The strategies observed during the inspection which assisted students to be actively involved in their own learning would be complemented by the Assessment for learning approach.† This approach was briefly discussed with the English teaching team and the principal.† The material and links on the NCCA web site (www.ncca.ie) will be of use.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
Timetabling of English is generally satisfactory in the number and distribution of lessons.
English is well resourced and commendable support has been given to students with literacy difficulties.
Good planning practices are well established in the school.
There is a commendable emphasis on building studentsí skills.
A good rapport was evident between teachers and students and the classroom atmosphere was pleasant and conducive to productive work.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Junior cycle students should have one lesson of English per day.
The use of the classrooms as resources in themselves should be further developed.
Methodologies that give students the necessary support while fostering independent thinking should be pursued.
The school should increase its focus on strategies to promote good attendance by mature students.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.