An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Ard Scoil Chiarain Naofa
Clara, Co Offaly
Roll No: 72530L
Date of inspection: 8 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa, Clara, Co. Offaly. 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.
Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa, Clara, Co. Offaly is a VEC maintained school. Whole-school support for the teaching and learning of English is good. Five periods per week are allocated for the teaching of English in the second and third years of the junior cycle. While the first-year provision of four periods is adequate, five would be preferable to give students better exposure to English. Transition Year students have three periods per week. Students in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme have three periods per week in fifth year. This is increased to four periods in sixth year, which represents good provision. Five periods are allocated in years one and two. There is one class group in fifth year and one in sixth year, therefore ordinary and higher-level English students are taught together and this poses challenges for the teaching of the syllabus in relation to poetry in particular and to differentiation in general. In Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa, class periods are shorter than the norm, ranging from thirty-four to thirty-eight minutes in duration. Given the challenges posed by teaching two levels in one class group within a shorter than average lesson period, consideration could be given to reviewing timetabling allocation for English in the Leaving Certificate programme.
Class groups are set for English. Incoming first years are assigned to their groups based on assessment tests administered in March of the year preceding entry. There is frequent review of student attainment thereafter. Concurrency of timetabling allows for movement between levels and this is positive.
There are three teachers of mainstream English in Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa. The team is gender balanced and has a wide range of experience. There is also a learning support teacher (currently on career break) and two special needs assistants. In the past, teachers rotated the teaching of senior English but declining enrolment has reduced staff numbers and the current needs of the school are factored into assignment of personnel to class groups. Where possible, classes retain the same teacher from year to year and this ensures consistency and continuity. Staff members have availed of a variety of in-service courses and some are members of the subject association. The team is innovative and open to new approaches to the subject and this is highly commended.
The teachers of English have access to a good range of audio-visual equipment and are keen to build up a bank of film resources. The Irish Film Institute at www.irishfilm.ie is a useful website and has an education link. While there is no specific budget allocated to English, management endeavours to fulfil all requests. Teachers of English have their own designated classrooms and this allows for the display and/or storage of resources such as books and films. There is no library in Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa but there is access to class sets of books in the learning-support room and these are selected with the interests and ability range of students in mind. The school operates a book rental scheme and it is reported that this is working effectively. A class set of dictionaries (one on each student’s desk) was noted in a lesson visited and this represents good practice.
The school has a computer room with twenty-four computers and classrooms are currently being networked. The school also has a digital camera, scanner and printers, a laptop computer and two data projectors. LCA students use the computer room for key assignments and there is collaboration between the teacher of computers and the LCA teacher. At present, the Transition Year students are involved in the production of a newsletter in a co-operative project between the two areas and this is very commendable. Apart from this, the school’s information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are not fully exploited by the English department and this is a matter that should be reviewed. The use of computers is particularly beneficial to the teaching of the writing process and is also helpful for research projects. If necessary, staff could seek training in this area.
Students with special education needs are assessed at the start of the year in order to make appropriate provision. Those in receipt of learning support are withdrawn from Irish lessons (if they have exemptions from the subject) and from French lessons. Withdrawal from other subjects also occurs on an occasional basis. A planning folder and students’ files were presented during the course of the evaluation. Students have individual education plans and profiles are maintained. Apart from additional lessons, games and social skills are incorporated into the plan for students with special educational needs and/or students who require additional supports because of challenging behaviour. The school entitles the programme, “Special Tuitions”. This is an innovative approach. However, care should be taken to establish a clear link between activities and desired learning outcomes and these should be documented in the plan. Several teachers from various disciplines are involved in Special Tuitions and they have individual schemes for the students. It is recommended that all of those involved in learning and educational supports hold formal, documented meetings to review and co-ordinate practice and to track the progress of individual students.
Extra- and co-curricular activities such as theatre visits support the teaching and learning of English. Visitors are invited to the school, for example Humourfit Theatre Company. The school has worked with the Offaly County Council Arts Programme.
There is a strong collaborative ethos in the English department and long-term planning is well developed. The plan incorporates policies on assessment and record keeping, includes the syllabus and guidelines for the relevant programmes, a record of the school’s examination outcomes, records of planning meetings and texts used. A reflective approach is evidenced in the department’s diagnostic window indicating a need to review the development plan and the need to catalogue resources. This represents a proactive approach to planning. One of the English teachers acts as the co-ordinator. There are three timetabled subject department meetings per year and minutes are kept. There is also regular, informal interaction between the teachers. Decisions on texts are made jointly and reviewed regularly and choice is dictated by syllabus requirements and the needs and ability range of the student cohort. An interesting range of texts is chosen for comparative study in the Leaving Certificate programme. Individual plans and schemes of work were good.
Since functional writing areas of the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses overlap, consideration could be given to an electronic departmental folder containing templates for documents such as letters and reports and these could be regularly updated. A cross-curricular approach might be taken in this regard. The team should integrate a policy on reading into the plan. A lesson period dedicated to independent reading for pleasure should be an essential strand in the policy. At senior level, this could involve independent reading of the comparative texts. Advice and information on resources are available at the websites of the various publishing companies, for example www.penguinreaders.com, and through the Second Level Support Services at www.slss.ie which links to a designated English site. Another resource that may be worth investigating is the Offaly County Library Service at email@example.com.
A variety of stimulating topics appropriate to the relevant programmes, syllabuses and levels was underway in the six lessons visited. Planning of resources to support lessons was very good and an imaginative range of materials and stimuli was used. The overhead projector, props for drama, a tape-recorder, texts, dictionaries for reference and interesting photocopied material were also to hand. Where the text was used, it did not dominate lessons. Best practice was noted where the learning intention was clear and links were made with earlier work covered. It is advisable to have one clear focus in order not to overload students and so that the learning intention is not diluted. Lessons had a clear purpose and an appropriate pace in most cases, and good practice was particularly noted where there was clear evidence of closure.
Oral instructions were clear so that students understood what was expected of them. Pre-reading activities engaged students by encouraging them to relate to their own experience. Individual students were asked to read. An inclusive approach was noted in relation to students with special educational needs and this is highly commended. Teachers modelled good practice in the expressive reading of poetry or in role-play to demonstrate a point. Questioning strategies were designed to engage interest and empathy, to test learning and to diagnose difficulties. While questions targeted individual students in some cases, there was a tendency to favour questions aimed at the group as a whole. It is advisable to ensure that all students are on task at all times through the regular targeting of named individuals. Copybooks indicated a good range of work covered, with an emphasis on summary writing and on comprehension exercises designed to build knowledge and understanding of material covered. Of particular note in some instances was the emphasis on the drafting and redrafting process and this is very good practice. Where possible, it is recommended that language and literature be integrated and that more emphasis be placed on personal and imaginative writing. Strategies (both oral and written) should be adopted to develop students’ higher order thinking skills and to challenge those in the upper-range of ability. Language development featured in the lessons visited: key words were written on the board; students were encouraged to look up words in the dictionary and teachers constantly checked to ensure that words were understood. The board was also used for graphic organisers. It is reported that debating and public speaking take place in the classroom and this is very helpful in developing students’ oral skills. A focus on this area of learning should be a priority.
Students were encouraged and a notable feature of teaching in Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa was the positive affirmation of the students. Examples were given to clarify understanding and students were also encouraged to demonstrate learning by giving examples or by finding evidence for a point made. Students responded very positively and showed evidence of understanding. In a very few instances, student enthusiasm was such that some spoke out of turn. More emphasis may need to be placed on listening skills in relation to their peers and on clear rules in relation to procedure and classroom courtesy. A print-rich environment was noted in classrooms and students’ work was also displayed. There was a very good rapport between students and teachers and the atmosphere in the classrooms visited was supportive. When students were involved in group work or writing activities, teachers circulated and students were able to ask for assistance on an individual basis. This is laudable.
Active learning methodologies are practised in Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa and this is highly commended. Students dramatised a scene from a play and were equipped with relevant props. Those not directly involved were assigned specific roles such as director, producer so that all students were included in the activity. This represents very good practice and indicates a high level of teacher organisation. It was evident that students derived a great deal of enjoyment from this activity. Building on this, students could be assigned roles in advance of the lesson to ensure that each had his or her role well prepared. Follow up writing activities could be designed around the individual role. Students also participated in group work and this was effective. However, it is advisable to keep the numbers in each group to fewer than four and to assign very clearly defined roles. Students were enthusiastic and fully engaged in the activities and the teaching team is highly commended for an experimental and innovative approach to the teaching and learning of English.
In Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa, there is a policy on homework and the roles of students and teachers are outlined. There is also a homework timetable. Assignments are set regularly and records of attendance and achievement are well maintained in most cases. In the best examples, there was evidence of assessment for learning and exercises were annotated with useful advice. Consideration could be give to the setting of common in-house examination papers for first year. A range of instruments is used to communicate student achievement to parents, including parent-teacher meetings, reports, the school journal, and interim progress reports. Examinations outcomes are reviewed not only to help determine access to levels in the senior cycle, in the case of the Junior Certificate examination, but also to evaluate performance in order to devise appropriate strategies to address this.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
Planning is well developed for the subject.
A very good range of teaching strategies is used.
Classroom atmosphere is warm, inclusive and supportive.
Students responded enthusiastically and showed good levels of engagement.
There is good whole-school support for the subject.
Homework is regularly assigned and there is evidence of formative assessment both in written work and in classroom activity.
Good records are kept for students in receipt of learning support.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
Consideration could be given to reviewing timetabling allocation for Leaving Certificate English.
The use of ICT should be fully integrated into the teaching and learning of English.
There should be regular meetings of all those involved in the delivery of learning support and the plan should be fully reviewed.
There could be more emphasis on creative and personal writing and on the development of higher order thinking skills.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the 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.