An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Kilmuckridge Vocational College
Kilmuckridge, Gorey, County Wexford
Roll number: 71650Q
Date of inspection: 7 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kilmuckridge Vocational 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 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 deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Kilmuckridge Vocational College was established in 1932 to serve the needs of the local community. The college offers Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) as well as mainstream second-level courses and is currently awaiting the commencement of a major building project to upgrade facilities and provide new classrooms.
Students are placed in mixed-ability class groupings in first and second year. They are then set, at the beginning of third year, into one class which contains a mixture of higher and ordinary-level students and one class which contains a mixture of ordinary and foundation-level students. Students are placed in classes on the basis of information from primary schools, assessment tests and teacher input. English teachers are considering continuing mixed-ability class settings into third year for the present cohort of second-year students which is a strategy to be encouraged as it may be effective in raising standards in both class groups of students. In addition, the English teachers teach different novels and do not agree on when to teach certain aspects of the course and therefore students would be at a disadvantage if they were to change class groups at the end of second year even though the facility of concurrent timetabling of English classes is provided on the timetable.
At the beginning of fourth year, students are placed into one class group which contains a mixture of higher and ordinary-level students and one class group which contains ordinary-level students only. Given the nature of the Leaving Certificate English course and the need to maintain high standards for higher-level students it is recommended that the school consider introducing one standalone higher-level class grouping at senior cycle and one ordinary-level class grouping. This is because students attempting higher level can be then encouraged to reach their full potential. It may be the case that numbers attempting higher level will not warrant a standalone class but it is recommended that the school review and evaluate the way that students are placed in English classes on an annual basis in order to raise standards and serve the needs of higher as well as ordinary-level students.
While there is good provision of English lessons on the timetable for fifth and sixth-year students there is just adequate provision of lessons for junior cycle students. This is because students have only four English lessons each week and these lessons are only thirty-five minutes long. It is recommended that management review the college timetable with a view to ensuring that students are getting appropriate instruction time each week in the school in accordance with Circular M29/95, Time in School.
Some English classes have been brought to the theatre to see productions relevant to their course and a Writers in Residence course was organised for first-year students. This is good practice. Teachers are facilitated by management to go on inservice. Generally teachers agree among themselves which class group they will take. It is suggested that the teaching of levels should be allocated by management on a rotating basis between the English teachers according to agreed structures. Classrooms are designated to teachers based on seniority so one English teacher has a designated classroom while the other moves from room to room. It is recommended that samples of students’ work and key word and quotation posters be displayed in classrooms so that students are working in a stimulating learning environment. English teachers have access to audio-visual equipment and there are some laptops and a data projector available in the school. Opportunities to use this Information and Communications Technology (ICT) equipment should be exploited. For example, teachers or students could give PowerPoint presentations from time to time on chosen relevant topics to enhance the delivery of the English curriculum.
There is no library in the school but first-year students borrow books from a mobile library which visits the schools once a fortnight. It is hoped that a school library will form part of the new building. In an effort to continue promoting reading in the school consideration should be given to assembling book boxes for all year groups so that students may have access to a range of appropriate reading material in each year. In addition, students should be encouraged to write book reviews on a regular basis. There is a book loan scheme available from which most students benefit.
Management facilitates formal subject meetings at the beginning of the school year. The school is currently involved in subject planning as part of the school development planning process and English teachers have commenced developing a long-term plan for their subject. The most senior English teacher is the ‘de facto’ head of English in the school and there was evidence that teachers generally work co-operatively and meet informally to discuss and plan their work. In order to further develop the English plan it is recommended that the syllabus be consulted when writing up the aims and objectives of the subject plan and that the plan contain key skills or learning outcomes for each year group to achieve so that all students have learned the same key concepts and skills in each year. In addition, teachers should agree the appropriate number of essays, poems and other relevant material that each class group should cover.
English teachers make joint decisions on core texts and then have the flexibility to choose other texts to suit their particular cohort of students. The fact that teachers are willing to experiment with different novels and dramas is commended. Also all aspects of the syllabus are taught in each year of the course which is good practice. The fact that first-year students study a novel and an abridged version of a Shakespearean text is also commended. It is recommended that teachers give the top third-year class some exposure to Shakespeare, by watching a Shakespearean film or by reading an act from a Shakespearean play, in order for them to be better prepared for Shakespeare when studying higher-level Leaving Certificate English. Teachers generally use third year to consolidate learning already achieved in first and second year. Given the reported lack of motivation of some students, consolidation of work is necessary but some additional new material introduced in third year would also add variety to the course and expand students’ exposure to the written word.
Texts chosen for senior cycle students are generally appropriate. However, two single texts were taught to the present top fifth-year class group to facilitate the mixture of higher and ordinary- level students in the class. It is suggested that it would have been more appropriate to teach one single text which suited both higher and ordinary-level students in the class. Alternatively a single text could have been taught which could have been used for the comparative study with ordinary-level students and one of the three comparative texts could have been used as a single text for ordinary-level students. In this way four instead of five texts would have been covered.
Students with literacy support needs are identified by information from primary schools, by psychological reports and by school assessment tests. Twenty-five students are currently in receipt of literacy support in the school and the school has 1.2 whole-time equivalents resource posts. Students are generally supported on a one-to-one or small group basis. Students’ improvements are assessed through retesting and end-of-term examinations. There is good liaison between mainstream and learning-support teachers and the fact that one of the English teachers is also a learning-support teacher in the school allows for sharing of good practice and ease of dissemination of information. Students in receipt of literacy support are well profiled and education plans are available for these students.
The purpose of all lessons was shared with students from the beginning and lessons were well structured. Time was generally efficiently used and there were smooth transitions from one stage of the lessons to the next. A feature of all lessons was the good variety of tasks so that students were generally kept motivated and alert.
The acquisition of vocabulary was seamlessly built into all lessons. Students had been taught many key terms including appropriate language for discussion of literature such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, plot, character, key moment, turning point. The use of the ‘poet’s sound kit’ to describe techniques used by some poets was an effective example of the way such key terms were introduced. A feature of many lessons was the encouragement of students’ personal response to literature which was especially observed in classes where students were studying a novel. This was particularly effective when students were encouraged to develop their opinions and when challenged by the teacher to think further about their text.
A feature of all lessons was the good balance between teacher and student input so that students were actively involved in their learning generally through discussion or completion of assignments. When given written work to complete for a part of the lesson students were most involved and interested when they were set specific, short-term tasks often in pairs or groups. For example, students were put in pairs to identify examples of alliteration and onomatopoeia.
Teacher-led learning was effective in generating discussion and in challenging students to think deeper about a topic. For example, in studying a novel on the theme of racism, students’ attention was held by using examples from contemporary film and life to set certain themes and issues in context. This led to interesting lessons from the students’ point of view and generated discussion around themes. Students were also involved in their lessons by being asked to predict the ending of their novel for example or by being challenged to look for references in their texts to particular themes.
Students were generally given good instructions for examination preparation. When teaching the comparative texts, students could be asked to prepare a grid of key common themes and modes across each comparative text and to reference key moments. The whiteboard was well used to record key points and to introduce key words.
While teachers employed the strategy of questioning in all lessons, there were times, especially during the observation of examination classes, that students should have been encouraged to develop their answers and justify their opinions thus promoting higher-order thinking skills. This was the case in some but not all lessons. In addition, best practice was seen when teachers asked questions of individual students as well as asking global questions to ensure that all students were on task.
Good practice was observed when the teaching of language and literature was integrated. For example, there was evidence of students being asked to write a newspaper article based on an event in a novel they were studying.
There were no classroom management issues in any lessons observed and there was evidence of good student-teacher rapport. Students were, in general, purposeful in their work. When work was apportioned for part of the lesson the teacher moved around the classroom giving individual attention and encouragement to students. However, there was a need to motivate some students more in some lessons observed.
Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations which are internally corrected. In addition, students sit formal Christmas and summer tests. Tests are set individually by teachers. It is recommended that common tests be set especially in mixed-ability class groups so that standardisation and accountability are achieved. Parents receive reports on their children’s progress at the end of term and during parent-teacher meetings.
There is an agreed homework policy in the school which outlines guidelines for the length of time to be spent on homework for each year group among other things. However, there was evidence that many students do not submit homework and there was a sense of frustration among English teachers because of this and an inclination, as a result, not to set homework. Those copies that were examined demonstrated a range of standards. Some students are assigned and submit frequent homework while other students’ copies were poorly-maintained and contained little work. It is strongly recommended that students are given regular written homework and that high expectations about standards of work are communicated to all students by management and by all teachers. In addition, the homework policy should be fully implemented. Students should be required to have a separate class work and homework copy as a minimum requirement for English. At senior cycle in particular they would be best advised to have hardback copies which are used for different aspects of the course. Students should also be required to have folders for storage of notes. In addition, regular class-based tests should be introduced to keep students motivated.
There was evidence of formative assessment with good written feedback on areas where students should improve in students’ copies in some classes but not in the copies of the examination classes observed. Such written feedback is necessary and should be standard practice among all teachers. In addition, the use of the criteria for assessment should be used when marking Leaving Certificate students’ work.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· While there is good provision of English lessons for fifth and sixth-year students there is only adequate provision for junior cycle students.
· The consideration currently given by English teachers to continuing mixed-ability class settings into third year is to be encouraged as it may be effective in raising standards in both class groups of students.
· First-year students are encouraged and facilitated to borrow books from the mobile library which visits the school fortnightly. In an effort to continue promoting reading in the school consideration should be given to assembling book boxes with appropriate reading material for all year groups, and students should be encouraged to write book reviews.
· English teachers have commenced developing a long-term plan for their subject. They work co-operatively and meet regularly to discuss and plan their work.
· English teachers are willing to experiment with different novels and dramas. The choice of texts at senior cycle level must be carefully made to suit ordinary and higher-level students and consideration should be given to giving the top third-year class some exposure to Shakespeare.
· Students in receipt of literacy support are well profiled and education plans are available for these students.
· A feature of all lessons was the good variety of tasks so that students were generally kept motivated.
· There was good balance between teacher and student input so that students were actively involved in their learning.
· There were no classroom management issues in any lessons observed and there was evidence of good student-teacher rapport. However, there was a need to motivate some students more in some lessons observed.
· Best practice in questioning students was observed when students were encouraged to develop their answers and when teachers asked questions of individual students as well as asking global questions to ensure that all students were on task.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· The school should review and evaluate the way that students are placed in English classes on an annual basis in order to raise standards and serve the needs of higher as well as ordinary-level students.
· Management should review the timetable in order to ensure compliance with Circular M29/95, Time in School.
· Management should allocate the teaching of levels on a rotating basis between the English teachers.
· Students should be surrounded by a print-rich and stimulating learning environment in their classrooms.
· Opportunities to use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) equipment should be exploited.
· The English plan should be developed to include common learning outcomes for each year group to achieve and the appropriate amount of material that each class group should cover.
· Common end-of-term English tests should be set especially in mixed-ability class groups.
· Students should be given regular written homework; high expectations about standards of work should be communicated to all students and the homework policy should be fully implemented. In addition, regular class-based tests should be introduced to keep students motivated. Regular written feedback should be given by all teachers to students on their work and the criteria for assessment should be used when marking Leaving Certificate students’ work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the deputy 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.