An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Carnew, Co. Wicklow
Roll number: 70790E
Date of inspection: 13 March, 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 Coláiste Bhríde, Carnew. 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, 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.
All junior cycle students have four English lessons each week. This is deemed satisfactory provision. However given that that most lessons are just thirty-five minutes in duration it is not generous provision. Provision improves significantly in senior cycle, as fifth and sixth-year students have six English lessons each week and Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) classes have four English or English and Communication lessons each week. It is suggested that consideration be given to increasing the number of lesson periods for English in junior cycle to five periods each week, at least in first year.
Classes are banded for English from first year to third year. Students are placed in these classes based on their ability which is determined by students’ initial assessment on entering the school and on discussion with feeder primary schools. There are five class groups in first year. The better able students are placed in the top two class groups, the next band, consisting of one class group, is mainly higher level, and the last two class groups are made up of students of lower ability. These generally will do ordinary level. It was reported that there are three meetings held in first year to check correct placement of students in class groups and that students sit common examinations to ensure correct placement. This is good practice. However, it is recommended that English teachers and management review the manner of placement of students into class groups in first year and that consideration be given to introducing mixed ability for English into first year. This is because there is evidence that such placement leads to improved progress in literacy and numeracy and can give students more confidence as learners
The one TY class group in the school is mixed ability and students are set for English in fifth year. This is appropriate. Their placement in class groups in fifth year is determined by Junior Certificate examination results, student progress and discussion between teacher and students.
English classes are concurrently timetabled from first year with the exception of the top fifth-year class group. This concurrency is commended as it facilitates students in changing level if necessary and there is also recognition that it is useful for whole-year group activities. There is a good distribution of English lessons across the week with the exception of fifth-year class groups who have English three times on one day, and LCA Year Two students who have a double English and Communication lesson on one day of the week. In these cases it means that students lose contact with English on one day of the week.
Seven teachers currently teach English in the school. All are qualified to teach English to the highest level. It was reported that English classes retain the same teacher from year to year and that management has introduced the rotational allocation of teachers to class groups and programmes. These are good practices. English teachers are facilitated to attend inservice and some teachers are members of the English Teachers Association. This is commendable.
Students have access to a wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English. These include participation in national public speaking and debating competitions, guest speakers, writers in residence, theatre and cinema visits, artists in residence programmes, the M.S. Readathon, reading challenges for students of lower ability, the school musical and creative writing competitions. TY students are involved in producing and performing on local radio and in local drama productions. The fact that this work is done in conjunction with a local ‘Home First’ project which looks after older people in the community is an excellent example of partnership with the community and of a good learning experience for the TY students. The range of activities available to students in the school is commended.
The school library is being currently developed and is open to students at lunchtime three days a week. The school pays for a part-time librarian to run the library in conjunction with a library council comprising students, and this is highly commended. Teachers can also bring students to the library if it is not being used as a classroom. All students have a library card and the work done in this area is commended as competitions have been organised to raise the profile of the library and to encourage reading. It is recommended, in order to develop this good work further, that junior cycle and TY classes be provided with appropriate reading lists and be encouraged to write book reviews.
Most teachers have their own designated subject classroom. Teachers have access to televisions, DVDs and videos. Interactive whiteboards and data projectors are also available to support English. Staff training in the use of the interactive whiteboard was being organised at the time of the inspection and this is commended. While audio-visual equipment is available to all teachers in the school, it would be useful if English teachers had a dedicated DVD and television for the subject. It was reported that there is limited access to the computer rooms due to constant demands for their use. However, some examples of very good use of information and communication technology (ICT) in classrooms were observed. There are separate budgets for English and for the library. A book rental scheme is on offer to all students in the school. Overall, there is good whole school support for English in the school.
Students with literacy support needs are identified through contact with primary schools, from the incoming first-years’ assessment test, from teacher observation and from psychological testing. Management facilitates weekly meetings of the core SEN team and the larger team meets once a term. It was reported that English teachers liaise regularly with literacy and resource teachers through formal and informal meetings. Students with needs are generally supported through the creation of small classes, team teaching in English and some withdrawal. Good practice takes place in that students are retested to ascertain improvements. This variety of strategies to support students is commended and, in particular, teachers are commended for introducing team teaching which provides individual attention for students and allows teachers to share teaching strategies. Students benefit from extra support right up to the end of sixth year. The commitment of the core special educational needs (SEN) team in the school is commended. A large number of teachers are involved in the delivery of learning support and resource teaching which makes this area difficult to coordinate. It is recommended that a smaller team be involved in the delivery of learning support/resource teaching.
There are good and successful strategies in place to help students in need of literacy support. Paired reading between LCA students, as part of their Vocational Special task, and first-year students has proven particularly successful with clear improvements in the reading ages of first years identified as a result. Reading challenges also support students with literacy needs. Students’ progress is assessed through re-testing and records of achievement. Talented students participate in residential courses in Dublin City University having being successful in the Scholastic Aptitude Test. SEN and literacy provision in the school is highly commended.
The quality of planning at a subject department level and individually is very good. Subject planning is well established in the school and a lot of work has been done in the area of planning for English. There was evidence of good collaboration between teachers. There is a co-ordinator of English who is appointed on a rotational basis. This is good practice as it allows all teachers to take responsibility for the organisation of the subject. Management provides three formal subject planning meetings each year and teachers also meet together formally on a monthly basis during a free class period. This is indicative of the commitment of the English teachers. Minutes of formal meetings are taken. Teachers also meet informally to discuss matters pertaining to English as they arise on a daily basis.
The English plan for each year group includes coursework and concepts to be taught. The plan specifies learning outcomes that each year group should achieve, class work, homework and assessment. Some suggested teaching methodologies are included in the class work sections of the plans. To develop further this very good planning, it is recommended that teachers make a combined list of their teaching methodologies, in order to share the excellent teaching strategies observed during the evaluation. Teachers should also create a list of suggested course content for each year group so that if students have a change of teacher there will be no overlap of texts or poems taught. It was reported that English teachers share resources which is in keeping with best practice.
Decisions on core and some other texts are often made jointly but teachers also choose literary texts to suit the ability level of their class groups, especially at junior cycle, which is appropriate. Teachers are commended for their willingness to teach different texts on an annual basis rather than using the same ones each year. All first-year students study at least one novel as well as a range of short stories which is good practice. There is a focus on creative writing in first year and students are encouraged to write their own poetry. Another novel and play are introduced in second year. A lot of revision work is done as is necessary in third year. However, it is recommended that a third literary text, be it novel or play, be introduced in third year, at least to some bands or class groups, to introduce more variety for students, to further develop literacy skills and to ensure that third year is not all about revision. It is acknowledged that there is a good range of short stories taught across all years in junior cycle. The top band in each year of junior cycle studies a Shakespearean drama. It is recommended that the next band or class, which contains some higher-level students, also have some exposure to Shakespeare be it through a film or abridged version of a play. Fifth and sixth-year students across class groups study the same comparative texts if there is a possibility of them doing higher level, which is commended. Good practice was also seen in that the bulk of Leaving Certificate coursework in English is covered in fifth year. There is an appropriate and praiseworthy emphasis on students’ having reflective journals to record personal responses to texts which is in keeping with best practice. In addition, a strong focus on developing cross-curricular links was observed.
In addition to subject planning, a range of other planning committees is in operation in the school. A number of teachers are on the library development committee and great progress has been made in this area. A number of teachers sit on the subject planning and development committee which is looking at strategies to raise student attainment in the current school year and will look at assessment for learning in the coming school year. This level of strategic planning is indicative of a dedicated team of teachers and management who are constantly moving forward.
There is a TY plan for English which outlines course content, class work, homework and assessment. Evidence from the inspection demonstrated that students in the college are benefiting from a broad TY English programme which covers a range of genres including oral presentations, poetry writing, novel, drama, short stories, radio and film studies and media studies. Students were preparing for the airing of a radio programme at the time of the inspection. The English TY programme is highly commended as an example of good practice. It is suggested that LCA English and Communication teachers document a joint programme for their subject to share the very good practice and lesson content observed. These students have opportunities to participate in a range of outings including theatre visits. English and Communication students study an extract from a novel. Consideration should be given to these students studying an appropriate novel in its entirety.
The English department has agreed a number of aims for the subject including bringing results in line with national averages, developing cross-curricular links with other subjects, developing ICT in teaching and learning and developing the school library. There was clear evidence that the department is making good progress in the realisation of all these aims. The English department is commended for its reflection and self evaluation.
The quality of planning for students with special education needs and learning support needs is also very good. The college benefits from support in this area from Co. Wicklow Vocational Education Committee (VEC). Co. Wicklow VEC has organised a learning support network for teachers working within its schools which, among other things, aims for teachers to exchange ideas, share resources and collaborate to achieve best practice in the areas of learning support and special educational needs. This is commendable. The VEC in conjunction with this network has developed a laudable learning support and special educational needs policy. The college is currently developing its own special educational needs policy. This comprehensive and commendable policy includes a policy on exceptionally able students and those whose first language is not English.
Students are withdrawn for support in literacy from their English lessons. As a result a high level of co-operation between the support teachers and mainstream English teachers is required to ensure that there is continuity in the learning experiences of these students. There was evidence that such continuity exists and that there is good liaison between the SEN and learning support teachers and English teachers. Students also receive extra support in English if they have exemptions from Irish.
The quality of teaching and learning was very good in lessons inspected. All teachers were well prepared and there was a clear purpose to all lessons which was communicated to the students at the beginning of each lesson.
A range of effective teaching and learning methodologies was used in lessons observed and many teachers were very creative in their teaching styles. Such methodologies included pair and group work, use of role play, discussion, prediction of endings and writing alternative endings, students critiquing each other’s work, looking for students’ personal responses, reading for meaning and reading aloud, and poetry writing. Such methodologies ensured that students not only participated in their learning but that verbal and listening skills were also being developed in tandem with reading and writing skills. A very good structure to all lessons was observed so that clear links were apparent between different stages of the lesson.
There was evidence of progression in learning. Links were created with previous learning and it was clear that lesson content would be developed further in future lessons. For example, in one lesson observed students role-played different interview situations, which developed interview techniques. It was planned that this would lead on to student discussion on how to prepare for a good interview, the next day. Links were also created between texts and contemporary film or other topics and good use was made by some teachers of anecdote to put texts and stories in context.
Very good use was made of resources such as the board, worksheets, the overhead projector, time-lines of events in texts, laptops, textbooks, newspapers, audio-version of texts and key words which made lessons varied and enhanced learning. The effective use of ICT during lessons is highly commended. Key points and terminology were written on the board for students to record.
These effective methodologies and use of resources led to students being actively involved in their learning as opposed to being passive participants. Teachers constantly encouraged student participation and the good variety of tasks observed led to enjoyable lessons. Teachers made very good points to their students to ensure understanding of texts and it was clear that students were well briefed about key aspects and moments from their texts. There was a very good lesson observed where students worked in pairs to read a poem to discern meaning which was followed by different students reading the poem according to their own interpretation. The next step in the lesson involved the students listening to an audio version of the poet reading the poem, followed by the students in groups discussing what images came to mind when listening to the reading.
Good student participation was also achieved through good use of questioning. Teachers asked both closed and open-ended questions as appropriate and often challenged students to think more closely about their course by the questions asked. Students were also encouraged to back up their answers and to give examples to elaborate on meaning. Teachers often asked questions by name, thus ensuring that all were involved as opposed to only those with their hands up.
Teachers showed good awareness of the range of abilities in their class groups and of their reading ages and, in most cases, differentiated their teaching effectively as a result. This was mainly achieved through giving individual help to students discreetly when this was appropriate and by writing class and homework on the board for all students to record. There was an excellent example of this in one lesson observed as all instructions and key words pertaining to the lesson were clearly written on the board in order to improve students’ literacy.
Good strategies for the teaching of writing were in use. As already stated, there was a strong focus on eliciting students’ personal responses both verbally and in written form, reflective diaries were used and there was very good integration of language and literature. For example, students had to write a letter from the point of view of a poet they were studying or write a diary entry from the point of view of a character in a text. Very good practice was seen in that students were invited to comment on each other’s work and this was done in a constructive manner. This also led to the development of good listening skills as students were therefore obliged to listen to each other’s work and critique it. In addition, the acquisition of new vocabulary was seamlessly built into lessons. Students also wrote alternative endings to texts they had studied and designed covers for texts they were studying and some classes had completed projects or book reviews on their novels. There was an appropriate focus on students supporting their answers by using evidence from the text.
Teacher planning documentation suggests that some teachers teach the course in blocks, so that for example, a number of weeks are spent on media studies, followed by a number of weeks on drama etc. It is recommended that creative writing and essay writing be taught throughout the year rather than in one block and that, in junior cycle, teachers link aspects of the course thematically so that students see English as an integrated whole rather than a series of unrelated genres.
In all lessons, there was a very good student-teacher relationship in evidence. Students were always well behaved and showed clear evidence of learning. Most class groups clearly enjoyed their English lessons which led to very good learning. Students were surrounded in all lessons by a stimulating learning environment. Many classrooms had posters pertaining to English, newspapers and students’ poetry work, creative writing and book reviews on display. There was one excellent example of a timeline created on the classroom wall of scenes from a Shakespearean text.
Examination results in English indicate that although the uptake of levels varies from year to year, there was evidence of a gradual increase in the uptake of higher level in Leaving Certificate in particular. Few students take foundation level English in the Junior Certificate examination as students are encouraged to aim for a higher level. In general, students achieve well in their chosen level. The introduction of mixed ability for English class groups would result in students delaying their choice of level in the Junior Certificate examination and should result in an increased uptake of higher level. This would be in keeping with efforts made by the school to introduce strategies to raise student attainment in the current school year. Students achieve well in English and Communication. In all cases students had covered a wide range of work, and examination classes were very well prepared for state examinations.
Students, including LCA and TY students, sit formal Christmas and summer examinations. Generally common papers are set for students of similar ability which is commended. Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations which are internally corrected, which is good practice. As well as sitting end of term examinations, the TY students have a folder where all their key assignments for all subjects are stored. The overall rating on TY end of year certificates is based partly on the quality of these folders. There was evidence of very good and creative work being stored in these folders in keeping with TY principles of best practice.
Parents receive reports of their child’s progress twice a year and parent-teacher meetings are held once a year for all year groups with the exception of sixth years. In sixth year there are two parent-teacher meetings held. Examination students attend these meetings with their parents. Examination students also receive seminars on study skills and examination techniques and first-year students attend study skills seminars. All of this is very good practice.
The school has an agreed and comprehensive homework policy which gives guidelines and advice to teachers, parents and students on appropriate homework and is commended. Evening study is offered for all year groups in the school. The English department also has a homework policy with guidelines on appropriate homework, which is excellent practice.
The school, in conjunction with Co. Wicklow VEC, undertakes an analysis of examination results on an annual basis and compares results against national averages. This is excellent practice. It is suggested that the school should also compare uptake of levels against national averages. There was evidence that all teachers keep very good records of students’ results in English and very good records of what they cover with each class group. This is excellent practice. Teachers use these records to review students’ progress within bands on a regular basis. Students were very aware of the discrete criteria of assessment in Leaving Certificate English and stressed these with their students. This is excellent practice. Teachers were very aware of state examination marking schemes.
Students’ copies and folders were generally well maintained, especially where students had hardback folders which stored a range of notes and work and were divided between sections of the course. Best practice was seen in LCA classes when students had folders which contained their draft assignments and a range of other work covered in all genres. Teachers consolidate students’ work with notes but there was no over reliance on such notes. In most cases there was good correction of students’ work with students receiving formative comments in keeping with best practice. Where this did not happen it is recommended that it should. Some teachers give a comment only, as opposed to a grade, when marking homework initially. This is good practice.
Awards ceremonies are held annually to celebrate achievements of individuals, classes and teams. Overall the quality of assessment of students’ work is highly commended.
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 and the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.