An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Ratoath, County Meath
Roll number: 76088T
Date of inspection: 12 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ratoath 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 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Ratoath College is a co-educational school catering for students in the parishes of Curragha and Ratoath. Established in 2005, the school moved to a new building in 2007 and currently has an enrolment of 311 first, second and third year students.
All students are placed in mixed ability class groups for English and there is a range of student ability evident in all classes. Team teaching is used to provide support for students as needed. The school is commended for ensuring in this way that all students have access to all levels of the subject. Students are encouraged as appropriate to attempt higher level English and uptake of this course is particularly good.
There is good whole school support for English in this school. Timetabled provision for the subject is in line with syllabus guidelines. It was noted, however, that one class group have their lessons scheduled over only three days of the week. It is recommended that this should be avoided so that students have contact with the subject on four of the five days available. Teachers of English have been assigned their own rooms and an excellent learning environment has been created in these classrooms. Posters, wall charts and other learning aids were displayed, as were examples of students’ own work. This is very good practice and the stimulating learning environment, thus created for students, is a valuable support.
The school building is new and it is very well equipped with a range of resources to support teaching and learning. Access to audio-visual and information and communication technology (ICT) is excellent and it was evident that these resources were being well used to deliver the English syllabus. A school library had opened just prior to the inspection visit and the appointment of a post-holder as librarian indicates the commitment of the school to promoting and developing this valuable resource in the school. The teachers of English and the librarian are highly commended for their emphasis on the promotion of good reading habits, evident in the programmes planned for junior cycle, which included a scheduled library class, a ‘drop everything and read’ programme and participation in the MS Readathon. In developing the library, the website of the School Library Association of Ireland may be helpful (www.libraryassociation.ie).
Students are provided with opportunities for a range of co-curricular activities in English and this speaks well of the commitment of their teachers to their subject. Through participation in the debating and media clubs, students have opportunities to make use of the skills learned in class in very practical ways, for example, the production of the school magazine. Ratoath College also operates a very full programme of visiting speakers and students have met a wide range of people from the sporting, political and cultural worlds.
The team of five English teachers work well together and are committed to planning and reviewing their work collaboratively. Co-ordination of the department is assigned among the team on a rota basis and each teacher also takes responsibility for a particular aspect of the department’s work, for example, the media club. This is very good practice as the department benefits from the varied interests and expertise of all the subject teachers. The school is commended for facilitating this through the allocation of time for four formal meetings annually. As a result, a department plan has been written and it is updated annually. It provided a very clear description of how the teaching and learning of English is organised in the school and was a very good guide to practice in the subject. The teachers are to be complimented on their work on it. The organising principle for the programme planned is the format of the certificate examinations, rather than the domains of language, (reading, writing, listening and speaking) outlined in the syllabus. In reviewing the plan, it is recommended that this should be changed to ensure a stronger focus on the range of skills to be acquired by students across each of the four domains. In this way, the broad experience of social, personal and cultural literacy planned for in the department plan can be facilitated. Work has already begun on this in some teachers’ individual planning for particular classes and this is commended.
As work progresses on the plan, it is suggested that the section dealing with the senior cycle should be developed in a similar way, so that there is a similar focus on student learning outcomes at that level. A brief statement on how school ICT facilities are used to facilitate teaching and learning in English should also be included.
The English department plan is particularly commended for its acknowledgement of the key role the teachers of English play in supporting students with literacy and language needs. Teachers are encouraged to use differentiated teaching strategies to ensure that all students make progress in the subject. Ratoath College is committed to the inclusion of all students and the mixed-ability class arrangements support the achievement of this aim. The level of consultation and co-operation between the teachers of English and the learning support department is very good and is designed to ensure that all students, regardless of their ability levels, are enabled to achieve their potential in the subject. The principle mode for delivering support is co-operative teaching, though there is some withdrawal of students where it is felt that the specific needs of a student can be more effectively addressed in the small group setting. This is entirely in keeping with best practice, as recommended in Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs – Post-Primary Guidelines.
Lessons observed were well organised and effective. Teachers’ short-term planning was very good and ensured that all relevant resources and support materials were to hand when needed. In one lesson, the learning intention was explicitly stated and in another, an outline of the lesson plan was shared with the class. As a result, students’ attention was appropriately focussed from the outset. All lessons opened with a reference to previous lessons and a summary of the key learning achieved through homework and in-class exercises. This helped students to set new information in context and was very helpful.
The pace and content of each class was generally appropriate to the class group with time being efficiently used. In some classes, teachers included a number of tasks in a lesson in order to maintain students’ interest. It is recommended that, before changing task, teachers should reinforce the learning achieved, perhaps by brief note-taking which summarises the key points covered.
The teaching and learning strategies used were appropriate to the students’ varying abilities, needs and interests and lessons were structured to support students as they worked through the tasks set. A media studies lesson, for example, began with whole-class work which focussed on checking that students could read a sample advertisement and could describe the relationship between the copy and the visual content. This was followed by a group work task to deepen their understanding of the relevant concepts. Most commendably, handouts distributed to support this work had been differentiated for each level of ability in the class, such that all students could experience success. In other lessons, careful teacher management of the classroom, where seating plans were utilised and teachers moved through the room to offer individual support, had a similar effect.
In all classes, the language used by the teachers was appropriate to the class group being taught so that the lessons were communicated in a way that was understood by all students. Key concepts and skills were clearly explained to the students and repeated adequately. The whiteboard was often used by the teachers to reinforce these key concepts and to record students’ input in classes. Students were encouraged to approach the board in one lesson observed, to complete a diagram charting the personality traits of two characters in a play they had studied. A very safe and respectful atmosphere in the classroom ensured that they were confident in doing this and their enjoyment of this activity was apparent. The use of ‘traffic lighting’ allowed students to indicate clearly whether they understood the tasks set for them, so that teachers only proceeded when all students showed a green card. This is particularly useful in a mixed-ability setting, as it directs teaching, indicating when further explanation or re-teaching is needed. The teachers of English are commended for their commitment to working with students as autonomous and responsible learners. In all the lessons observed, students asked questions and sought clarifications without inhibition and their contributions to class were always affirmed. However, the bulk of interactions were between the individual student and the teacher. It is recommended that teachers of English build on the very good practice evident in the school by encouraging students to engage more with each other during whole-class discussion.
It was evident in students’ notebooks that some teachers integrate language and literature to motivate and support learning, for example, they set intervention exercises in which students write a media article based on an event in a studied text or adopt the persona of a character to write a letter. These exercises deepen students’ understanding and enjoyment of the texts while providing opportunities to experiment with language and genre. In other copies examined, questions had been set to focus attention on characters or themes in the chapters or scenes read so as to encourage students to move beyond writing simple summaries.
Teachers have high but realistic expectations and help students to meet the challenges through well-defined tasks. The quality of prepared worksheets was very good and these served to organise learning or to focus student attention on particular aspects of the text being studied. Teachers have encouraged students to develop important study skills, for example, the generation of mind-maps to summarise information and the creation of story plot flow-maps. Students’ folders were generally well organised and maintained and good standards for the presentation of their work have been established.
Students in Ratoath College are making very good progress through the Junior Certificate courses. Their contributions in class indicated that they had a very good grasp of the concepts being explored and were confident in discussing their studied texts. Generally, few students had difficulties applying the knowledge gained in the lessons observed. The interactive approach adopted by teachers ensured that students had frequent opportunities to express and defend their ideas and they were generally quite confident in this regard. The standards achieved in their written work reflected the differing ability levels in class groups. More able students wrote tightly focussed and well-structured pieces and demonstrated the ability to use the appropriate vocabulary accurately in critical analysis. Where difficulties were evident, they related to the redundant repetition of words or phrases and some carelessness in structuring their work. A small minority of students struggled with developing their ideas and they had weak analysis skills, relying too heavily on summary. The programme planned by the teachers of English and the strategies employed in the classroom will address these difficulties over time.
Teachers regularly assess students’ progress during lessons through the use of questions. In addition, homework is regularly set to provide opportunities to practise the skills learned in class. All teachers in Ratoath College recently had in-service training on assessment for learning practices and whole-school homework procedures are being developed. Very good use is made of the student Dialann to provide feedback to students. Teachers frequently commend the efforts made by students in this way, as well as alerting parents when there is a difficulty. Students are given good feedback on their homework, either in the form of brief written comments or through the allocation of marks. The comments were very helpful, identifying both the strengths of a student’s work and the difficulties. Where marks are allocated, it is suggested that teachers of English should consider developing and sharing marking schemes for particular homework tasks so that students are aware of why they have achieved the marks awarded.
Formal examinations are held for all students at the end of the first term and all year groups not taking the certificate examinations also have summer examinations. Certificate examination students sit ‘mock’ examinations early in the second term. The use of common assessments for year groups as appropriate is very good practice. Teachers of English maintain good records of students’ work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Lessons observed were well organised and effective and the teaching and learning strategies used were appropriate to the students’ varying abilities, needs and interests.
· A very safe and respectful atmosphere has been created in all classrooms.
· Students had a very good grasp of the concepts taught and the studied texts. Generally, few students had difficulties applying the knowledge gained in the lessons observed.
· Students’ progress in English is assessed regularly and very good use is made of the student Dialann to communicate this to parents.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was 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.
Published October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Ratoath College are delighted with the outstanding report, which outlines the high standard of teaching and learning that is currently taking place within the school.
The Board wishes to thank all members of the English Subject Team who have worked diligently over the past three years to build the English Department. The report itself commends the teachers for their well organised and effective lessons. Ratoath College prides itself on its progressive and modern approach to teaching and learning. This approach was given due recognition in this report.
The report commended the school on the particularly good uptake in higher level English. 84% of the Junior Certificate students successfully sat the examination at higher level in 2008 – a percentage significantly greater than the national average.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection