An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Paul’s Secondary School
Monasterevin, County Kildare
Roll number: 61702D
Date of inspection: 29 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Paul’s Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was carried out in the course of one day, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the students and with the teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school-planning documentation and teachers’ written preparations. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy principal and to the 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.
There are two classes at each year-level of the junior cycle and these classes are streamed. It was reported that this is the first year in which students in the school were allocated to first year classes according to their ability. It is recommended that this arrangement be monitored, and that management re-consider the benefits students might derive from being in mixed-ability classes, for the first year of the cycle at least. The Transition Year programme (TY) was reintroduced to the school’s curriculum this year and one class group is participating in the programme. The management is commended for providing this option for students, as they enter the senior cycle. There is only one class group in fifth year also and two class groups in sixth year. Irish classes are arranged on the timetable so that they are taught simultaneously to year groups which have more than one class group. This allows a certain flexibility in allowing students the opportunity of moving between classes if necessary.
The amount of time allocated to Irish in senior cycle is satisfactory. The allocation at junior cycle, however, is low and the management should increase the number of class periods for the year groups in this cycle. The allocation for every class consists of a single class per day, as recommended, and a sixth Irish class per week is provided for sixth-year students taking higher level.
There are two teachers of Irish in the school and both have long experience of teaching the language. Both had attended workshops run by the Second Level Support Service for Irish and the teachers and management are commended for utilising this opportunity for professional development. The teachers of Irish have a dedicated classroom and a good supply of aids and resources is available for teaching the subject. Aids and resources for the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the school have been developed and upgraded recently. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish utilise these resources in teaching and learning. The management is commended for the provision of aids and resources that are available for the teaching and learning of the language.
It was reported that a reasonably high percentage of the students in the school are exempt from Irish in accordance with the provisions of circular M10/94. The vast majority of these students are in the junior cycle. It is recommended that the school management monitor this trend closely. Learning support or resource lessons are organised for students who are entitled to them, as far as possible, while Irish classes are being taught. The management is commended for this arrangement because of the importance of providing an appropriate programme of study for every student while (s)he is at school.
A number of events are organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge. It is recommended that these events be developed and that it be kept in mind that they need not be restricted to occasions of national celebration only. There were posters in Irish and some examples of students’ work on display on classroom walls. It is recommended that teachers continue with creating a supportive environment for the language and that material on display be regularly updated.
The school is at the initial stages of the school development planning process, but it is evident that specific objectives have been set for developing the process and that the school is in contact with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The management is commended for the steps taken to date to expedite the process in the school. The practice heretofore was to convene a single meeting of teachers at the start of the school year, to plan for the subject. Besides that, they meet one another regularly during the school year. They discuss issues and share responsibilities among them and it was obvious that there is good co-operation among the teachers of Irish. It is recommended that the work of putting the department of Irish on a formal basis be developed, that agendas be set for the formal meetings and that minutes be kept, procedures which teachers reported as already planned.
A start has been made on developing a plan for Irish and a draft of aims and objectives for Irish as part of the school curriculum has been prepared. It is suggested that these be further developed to illustrate how the needs of pupils in the school would be served. It is also recommended that the part of the plan dealing with cross-curricular matters be further developed, especially for the Transition Year programme. It is further recommended that the teaching and learning methodologies and strategies to be used to implement the aims and objectives be developed and that this work would include the use of ICT. Regarding the planning for curriculum content, it is suggested that the learning outcomes expected at various stages and levels be set out, that a gradual development be evident in these, that they be based on the language functions mentioned in the syllabuses and that they incorporate the various language skills and their integrated development. The listed topics could then be used as a means for the students to practice the language functions and skills.
Good planning and preparation had been done, on the whole, for the classes observed. Illustrations from the media, worksheets and transparencies were among the materials prepared by the teachers. Teachers’ individual plans were also made available and they are commended for the development of these. It is suggested that they apply the recommendations made above to these plans also.
Irish was the language of instruction and communication in all the classes observed, as recommended. It is very important to continue using Irish as the medium of instruction and to ensure that it is the general language of communication in class in order that students receive as much input as possible in the language.
The subject-matter of the lessons were in line with syllabus requirements and accorded with the planning documents made available. In the vast majority of cases, the lesson content was shared with the students at the beginning of the classes. This is good practice. As a further development of this practice, and in accordance with the recommendations made regarding planning for the subject, it is recommended that the expected learning outcomes also be shared with the students at the outset of class. It would also be worth letting students know what tasks or activities they would have to undertake during class and it would even be worth writing these on the black/white board.
In the majority of classes observed, the teaching was focused on the class as a single group. In a small number of cases, the students were given writing tasks to undertake and the teacher moved about, helping individual students. Students undertook these tasks individually. It is recommended that, when planning tasks, teachers try to devise tasks to be undertaken in pairs, or in groups. It is necessary to ensure that the tasks contain an information gap, that the students are clear about their role and that they understand the instructions clearly and have the language necessary to undertake the work. In a certain case the students were made aware of a time-limit for the task: this is good practice. These methods help to differentiate the material being presented to the students. Where students are being prepared for oral exams, for example, it is recommended that they be empowered to frame questions as well as to answer them. This would help them to play a more active part and to become more independent learners. It is also recommended that emphasis be placed on the integration of the development of language skills and the various elements of the courses.
Clever use was made, in a particular case, of pictures from the print media, to help students to revise vocabulary and to check homework. Such an approach is commended and it is recommended that teachers utilise the opportunities provided by such pictures to enhance students’ vocabulary and the answers they give, according to their ability. It is also recommended that other authentic texts from the broadcast and print media be used, including the internet, in the teaching and learning of Irish. Such material would help to present the language to the students as a living modern language and link the material to their own experience.
The aids and resources prepared were effectively used in the majority of cases. The language was accurate in most of the material presented to the students and it is necessary to ensure that this is always the case. It would also benefit the students if the answers they give in their work were recorded on the black/white board, as was done in one particular case.
There was a pleasant co-operative atmosphere in most of the classes. Questioning was used in every class to ensure student participation. The case in which it was used to further challenge students, according to their ability, is particularly praiseworthy. The case where a very positive view of the language had been nurtured among the students who, as a result, showed good ability in Irish and a strong desire to participate actively in class is highly commended.
Homework based on the material covered in class was set and the students were asked to note it in their homework diaries. This is good practice.
A test in Irish is included as part of the school-transfer examination taken by students when they are in sixth class in primary school. This is a written examination, set in order to provide information to teachers about students’ ability in Irish. Students’ work is continuously assessed and the classes not taking state examinations before the end of the school year undertake formal house-examinations. ‘Mock’ state examinations are taken by third-year and sixth-year classes soon after Christmas. Two reports are sent home during the school year and parent-teacher meetings are convened twice a year for third-year and sixth-year classes, and once a year for the other year-groups. It was evident that the teachers keep a record of all the tests taken by the students. The teachers are commended for their continuous assessment and for the records they keep. They must now consider how best to use this information to inform planning and for teaching and learning in the classroom.
The examinations are based mainly on listening-comprehension, reading-comprehension, and writing skills, and on literature where appropriate. It was reported that oral skills are taken into account in results for first, second, fifth and sixth years. The teachers are highly commended in cases where all the language skills are included in examination results. It is recommended that this practice be extended because it accords with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses in the two cycles.
It was evident from the copybooks inspected during the visit that, in some cases, the students’ work was being regularly corrected. It is recommended that this practice be extended. Notes of praise were written on the work in some cases. It is suggested that, when correcting students’ work, the corrections should be helpful, so that students get recognition for work correctly or well done, as well as advice on ways of improving their work. The school has no written homework policy at present, but it is recommended that, when a policy is being developed, the teachers of Irish take the needs of the subject into account in the discussion and that they agree an approach to homework correction based on assessment for learning (AfL/McF).
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 Irish and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008