An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Holy Family Community School
Rathcoole, County Dublin
Roll number: 91301D
Date of inspection: 27 – 28 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Family Community School, Rathcoole. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in French 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.
Holy Family Community School is a co-educational school with 649 students. Classes are banded. The top band is divided into mixed ability groupings, while classes in the lower band are streamed with concurrent timetabling to allow for movement within groupings. The study of a modern European language, either French or German, is mandatory for students in the top band. French is offered as an option for students in the lower band. However, all students are encouraged to take the subject and are made aware of the implications of not choosing a modern European language to Leaving Certificate. School management is to be commended for promoting the study of a modern European language.
There is good provision for French in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling. Where French is an option against a subject requiring double periods, school management has organised the blocking of the subject in such a way as to facilitate single periods for French. School management is to be commended for its innovative approach ensuring optimum timetabling for French.
There are six teachers of French in the school, all of whom are established in their careers. School management facilitates attendance at in-service for all teachers and pays the group membership of the subject associations. The school also supports teachers wishing to pursue post-graduate studies. School management is to be commended for its support of continued professional development for teachers.
Classrooms in Holy Family Community School are student based. There were posters and samples of students work on the walls of some classrooms. There was one instance where students showed good enthusiasm in volunteering to prepare a new poster for the wall. It is recommended that in classrooms where it does not presently occur, consideration be given to the creation of a French corner, whereby, the display of maps, grammar and vocabulary charts, posters and samples of student work could provide a linguistic and culturally enriching environment for the students.
A good range of equipment comprising CD, VCR and DVD players is available in the school to support the teaching and learning of French and any necessary resources are made available on request to school management. There is also a new audio-visual room which is accessed on a booking system. Teachers reported that class sizes and heavy demand on the computer rooms made it difficult to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a teaching tool in lessons. As a result ICT is used primarily to download resources for use in lessons. Teachers also recommend relevant websites to students who can access ICT for their own work in the school library each evening and on Wednesday afternoons. Teachers also reported the desire for some in-service on the use of ICT as a teaching tool in the classroom. It is recommended that the relevant Support Services be contacted in this regard.
Holy Family Community School has been involved in an annual language and cultural visit to a school in France. While the visit is organised each year under the auspices of the twinning programme between Rathcoole and the French town of Ecole Valentin, it is actively supported by the school. This is to be commended as the programme provides students with opportunities to learn French in France while at the same time supporting community initiatives which will benefit them both during their time in school and in later life. Teachers also foster interest in French through their organisation of co-curricular activities such as French theatre for schools, French films and French meals. This is to be commended. It is suggested that consideration be given to extending co-curricular activities to include activities devised and organised by Transition Year students for junior classes. This would benefit all students linguistically and also further promote language learning as an enjoyable experience.
This year the school has benefited from the provision of a French language assistant to support the teaching and learning of the language. This is currently proving to be a positive experience for all members of the school community.
Holy Family Community School has been actively engaged in the school development planning process with the current emphasis on subject department planning. A school development planning day has been organised for the current academic year. Subject departments meet formally at the beginning of the school year and in the final term. Structures have also been put in place to facilitate the release of teachers for further planning meetings. School management is to be commended for its efforts to support teacher engagement in the subject planning process. The French department has a co-ordinator. This is a voluntary post which is rotated. An agenda is drawn up and minutes taken at meetings are submitted to the principal. This is commendable practice.
Subject department plans presented on the day of the inspection indicate that teachers in Holy Family Community School are well advanced in the subject planning process. The subject planning document for the teaching and learning of French was clearly presented, comprising the context of the school, the aims and objectives for the teaching of French, the time allocation and resources available and curriculum planning set out in terms of topic and grammar to be studied. Teachers are to be commended for the work achieved to date in the area of collaborative subject planning. As part of this ongoing planning process it is recommended that, over time, teachers build on the good work achieved to date by integrating the curriculum content and grammar into a series of desired learning outcomes, documenting what the students should be able to do as a result of their learning for each year group and the proposed methodologies to achieve them. This will facilitate teacher evaluation of the teaching and learning of the subject and in time support the process of self-evaluation.
In relation to subject planning for Transition Year (TY), teachers are encouraged to consider some new approaches to the teaching and learning of French in accordance with the principles underpinning the TY programme. One example would be the introduction of some aspects of learner autonomy.
There was evidence of good preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of relevant documents and audio-visual equipment.
Inspection activities included the observation of six lessons, three at junior cycle, one TY and two at senior level. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
The lesson content observed was appropriate to the age and abilities of the students. Most lessons observed were well structured and appropriately paced. In some instances the lesson plan was written up on the side of the board. This is good practice and to be commended as it makes students aware of the content and purpose of the lesson form the outset. It is suggested that this practice be extended to all lessons and that the plan be written in terms of the desired learning outcomes for the lesson thus implicating active participation from the students. There were some instances where there was a need to be more mindful of time management to avoid spending a disproportionate amount of time on the correction of homework or on the completion of a single activity.
There was good use of the target language by teachers in most of the lessons observed. Student use of French as part of classroom language was also observed in some instances. This is to be commended. However, there was also evidence of significant use of translation as a means of giving instructions, explaining or testing comprehension in some of the lessons observed. It is suggested that the good practice of teacher student interaction in the target language be extended and expanded in all class groups by giving students the linguistic strategies to ask their own questions, express their difficulties or make requests in French. Where possible, these key expressions could be displayed on the classroom walls or stuck onto the front of their copybooks for ease of referral. Greater use of the target language in the classroom would enable a teacher explain first in French and then check whether or not students understood, rather than automatically translating into English. It would also engage the students in more active learning and contribute to improving their listening, oral and communication skills.
There was good attention to the alphabet, to spelling and pronunciation of French in some of the lessons observed. This good practice should be extended to all lessons through the use of pronunciation drills and the correction of errors in French spelling and pronunciation.
A thematic approach, as evidenced in most of the lessons observed facilitated the integration of the different language skills. Question and answer sessions were effectively used to integrate and consolidate previous learning and, in some instances, to incorporate cultural awareness into the body of the lesson. The promotion of cultural awareness is to be commended as knowledge of the life and culture of the country enriches the language learning experience.
Pair or group work was observed in some of the classes inspected. This is to be commended in accordance with best practice which promotes a variety of short focused activities actively engaging all of the students. It is recommended that greater use of group and /or pair work be used in all lessons. When preparing pair or group tasks it is important, however, to remain mindful of the purpose of the task which is to encourage students in active communication in the target language.
There was evidence of a positive learning environment and good classroom management throughout. Teachers were affirming and students were well behaved at all times.
Interaction with the students showed evidence of learning and potential. They engaged well with the work being done in the lesson and applied themselves to the tasks given. Student interaction with the inspector indicated that most students had a good understanding of the work being done in the lesson and good recall of previous learning.
A variety of techniques is used to monitor student progress. They include questioning in class, homework assignments and corrections, class tests and formal school examinations. Holy Family Community School has a homework policy and an examination of students’ copies showed that homework had been assigned and corrected with the inclusion of a mark or comment in many cases. Written comments, either affirming the students’ efforts or identifying areas for improvement is good practice and to be commended. Many of the homework exercises were also completed in the students’ textbooks. It is recommended that, prior to the correction of homework answered in the textbooks, teachers ensure that the assignments have been completed by the students, as there was evidence of some students filling in the answers as the teacher corrected homework orally from the textbook during the course of the inspection.
In-school class tests, which also include a component of continuous assessment, are held at Christmas and there are formal tests in the summer for all students not sitting the certificate examinations. Certificate examination students sit mock examinations. Common tests are administered where possible and all tests include an aural component. This is good practice. Leaving certificate examination students also sit a mock oral. Teachers are allocated time to give a formal mock oral examination and they normally swap around classes to provide students with the experience of different examiners. This is to be commended.
Contact with parents is maintained through the organisation of general meetings for all parents during the school year and the annual parent-teacher meetings which are held for each year group. The school journal is also used to maintain home school links. Reports are issued to parents at Christmas and in the summer. Teachers spoke of their ongoing efforts to raise student expectations and of their vigilance in ensuring that the uptake of levels in the certificate examinations is commensurate with the students’ potential. This is to be 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 French and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.