An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Saint Mel’s College
Longford, County Longford
Roll number: 63750B
Date of inspection: 23 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Saint Mel’s College, Longford. 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 assessment was carried out over two days, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the 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, to the deputy principal and to the subject-teachers. The board of management of the school 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.
Saint Mel’s College is a post-primary school for boys and a Whole School Evaluation (WSE) was conducted in the school in 2005.
Very good support is given to Irish in the school and good provision is made for it. There are seven teachers of Irish in the school in the current school year and all but one has Irish at degree level. The majority of those teaching Irish have long experience of teaching the language. At the time of this inspection visit, there were two substitute teachers teaching Irish, who had no teaching qualification and had very little teaching experience. The teachers of Irish and the principal provided support and guidance for these teachers; this is commended.
Students are allocated to mixed-ability classes in the junior cycle. This practice is highly commended. The Irish classes are set in senior cycle and students are assigned to higher-level or ordinary-level classes. Students are afforded opportunities of changing to a class which suits them better, if necessary. These arrangements indicate that the management and teachers give priority to students’ needs when assigning them to classes and this procedure is praiseworthy indeed. At the time of this inspection visit, the management had decided to offer students a Transition Year programme (TY), from the start of the school-year 2008/09. This programme will create an opportunity to offer students a broader Irish language learning experience. This decision also indicates that the management is prepared to review the curriculum provision in the school and it accords with recommendations made in the WSE report regarding TY.
The amount of time allocated to Irish in the senior cycle is satisfactory. First-year and second-year classes in the junior cycle have four periods per week and third years are allocated an additional fifth. It is recommended that it be ensured that the allocation of time for Irish at this level is not reduced, and that every effort is made to increase it. The timetable indicates that all of this year’s Irish classes for sixth years are scheduled for the afternoon. It is recommended that, in future, when classes are being timetabled, a repeat of this allocation be avoided. Each class group has a single daily Irish class, as recommended, apart from the repeat Leaving Certificate class which has an allocation of six class periods per week.
The teachers have their own classrooms, and these are well-equipped. A good provision of aids and resources is available for the teaching of Irish, including overhead projectors, television sets, CD- and DVD-players, as well as laptop computers and a data-projector. It is also worth mentioning that the school library has a good stock of novels and other reading materials in Irish, as well as reference books. The ongoing development being undertaken in this area is praiseworthy as it enhances the range of reading experience available to the students. It was reported that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is not used in the teaching of Irish. As previously recommended in the WSE report, it is again recommended that the teachers and management include the skills that must be developed in this area as part of their ongoing professional development. It is further recommended that the teachers be supported in availing themselves of professional development opportunities provided to enhance the teaching and learning of Irish, among them, workshops organised by the Second Level Support Service for Irish. Further information on these workshops and on aids for the teaching and learning of Irish is available on the website www.slss.ie.
It is reported that 55 students (10.5% of the total enrolment) are exempt from the study of Irish. Where possible, learning-support and resource classes, together with classes in English as an additional language, are provided for these students while Irish classes are being taught. Students who are not entitled to this extra provision either stay in the Irish classes with their fellow students, or go to the study hall. The management are commended for their efforts to provide suitable programmes of study for students who are exempt, while Irish classes are in progress. It was reported that some students who are exempt opt to learn Irish and both teachers and management are commended for offering these students encouragement and support. They are also commended for directing parents’ attention in the school’s enrolment policy to the need to provide appropriate evidence where an exemption from Irish is being sought.
Worthwhile efforts are made to organise a variety of events, to afford the students opportunities to practise speaking the language and to experience Irish culture outside Irish-language classes. Among these are events organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week), participation in debating competitions, a table quiz competition in the Feachtas series, and the Leaving Certificate classes are brought to theatre productions, including An Triail where possible. It was reported that it was customary also for students to attend a Spleodar Club which operated in the school once a week.
While it was among the recommendations made in the WSE report that formal subject departments be set up and plans developed for individual subjects, its implementation in the case of Irish was not initiated until this inspection visit took place. One of the teachers agreed to assume the role of co-ordinator and it is recommended that team members rotate this role in order that each will have the opportunity of assuming the responsibility and develop their skills in this area. Teachers are reminded that everyone involved in teaching the language has a role in the planning work to be undertaken for Irish.
Teachers currently plan for the teaching of the subject on an individual basis. Outline schemes of work were made available in a few cases and although this development is commendable, all teachers must develop short-term plans for their classes. It is strongly recommended that work on the plan for Irish be expedited and that the template and guidance available from the School Development Planning Initiative (www.sdpi.ie) be utilised in the process. In order to progress this work, the teachers should meet regularly throughout the school year. As part of this work, it is recommended that the teachers agree aims and objectives for Irish as part of the school curriculum and that they collaborate in developing long-term and short-term plans for the various year groups and levels. As a starting point for the plans, it is recommended that a framework of expected learning outcomes at the different stages and levels be set out. This work should take account of the development of the different language skills and should be based on the language functions outlined in the syllabuses. It is also recommended that the plan contains an account of the teaching and learning methodologies and strategies to be used to achieve the expected learning outcomes, including the use of ICT, and details of the assessment methods to be employed. Additionally, it is recommended that the plan includes an account of the events organised to support students in learning Irish; a list of the aids and resources available in the school for the teaching and learning of Irish; and copies of the agendas and minutes of the meetings held by the department of Irish. The plan should be adopted for a particular period and should state the relevant dates together with evidence of any monitoring and review to be undertaken on the plan.
Good planning and preparation had been undertaken for the majority of the classes observed. The needs of all students in any class must be taken into account when planning and preparing for a class, as was done in the majority of cases.
There were clear aims and a good structure in the majority of classes observed. It should always be ensured that new learning takes place in each class, as occurred in most instances. In certain cases, the roll was called and answered in Irish at the start of class. This is good practice. Commendable also are the cases where a general or topical conversation was conducted at the outset. It is suggested that these good practices be more widely used. In certain cases, the aim of the lesson was shared with the students. It is recommended that this be developed and that the teachers also share the expected learning outcomes with the students at the start of class. It would also be worthwhile to provide an opportunity for students, at the end of class, to reflect on their learning.
In most cases, students had to undertake a variety of tasks. Such an approach is praiseworthy because the tasks catered for the development of different language skills. It is recommended that this be further developed in order that the tasks would be based on a common theme. This would provide opportunities for the students to practise and consolidate new learning. It would also help in integrating the development of the different language skills and various aspects of the courses, as well as catering for different learning styles. Opportunities should also be provided which would allow for real communication among the students themselves through the medium of Irish and would encourage co-operation in their learning, using, for example, tasks based on group work and pair work.
It was evident in some cases that students were empowered to take an active part in the classes, through the medium of Irish. It is recommended that this praiseworthy approach be more widely used. In the cases concerned, the students questioned the teachers confidently about the content of the class and displayed an ability to handle a wide range of language structures and discuss a variety of topics.
Grammar was attended to in most of the classes and this is commendable. It is recommended, however, that this work be graded from year to year, an arrangement which should be worked out in the planning to be undertaken. As part of the development of students’ language awareness, it is recommended that attention be drawn to the accuracy of their pronunciation, especially in the early years of the junior cycle.
In the majority of the classes, homework was checked. In certain cases, answers to homework, or to listening-comprehension tasks set for students during class, were recorded on the whiteboard. This practice should be more widely used. The approach to correction of an essay, and the focus on common mistakes, as observed in a certain case, is praiseworthy. When questions are asked of students, it is recommended that they be allowed time to answer, as was done in some cases. Although the majority of classes observed were mixed-ability groups, it was evident that differentiation of lesson content was attempted mainly in classes preparing for the state examinations. It is recommended that this approach be used in other classes also and that the range of methodologies used be broadened to support its implementation.
There was a positive atmosphere in all the classes; the students were co-operative and showed enthusiasm to undertake the work. Teachers praised the students for their efforts in class and for work well done. In certain classrooms, the environment was very supportive of the teaching and learning of Irish. It is recommended that such environments be more widely created, especially through displaying examples of students’ work and printed materials in Irish, and keeping the displays updated.
In some of the classes, Irish only was being used as a medium of instruction and communication. This practice is highly commended and it is recommended that it be more widely used. In certain cases, there was an overemphasis on translation to English to explain words or phrases to the students. It is recommended that, instead of translation, other strategies be used which would be more effective in helping students with comprehension and language acquisition. It is also recommended that oral or written Irish used with the students be accurate, as it was in the majority of cases.
Students’ ability in Irish is assessed by written examination before they enrol in the school, to get an overview of the standard they have achieved. Their progress is assessed through their participation in class, homework, class tests and house examinations. The material in the copybooks inspected during the visit accorded with the requirements of the syllabuses. It was evident that, in the majority of cases, the work was being regularly monitored and corrected. There were notes of praise, grades, or marks on the work in all cases and this is praiseworthy. In a small number of cases, students were given guidance on ways to improve their work and this is highly commended. It is recommended that this practice be extended and that the teachers of Irish agree an approach to correcting students’ work that would give recognition to work well or correctly done, as well as giving students guidance on ways of improving their efforts. In this context, it is recommended that the teachers explore how they might use Assessment for Learning (AfL/McF). Further information on AfL is available at www.ncca.ie.
In the case of senior cycle classes, all the language skills are taken into account in house examinations and in the ‘mock’ examinations. This is good practice, which accords closely with the aims and objectives of the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses and therefore it is recommended that the practice be extended to the junior classes also. It is also recommended that the requirements of the various language skills that must be developed be taken into account when homework is being set and that they be included also in the school’s homework and assessment policies.
House examinations are held twice a year. Students preparing for the certificate examinations sit ‘mock’ examinations in the second term. Reports on students’ achievements in the house examinations and in the ‘mocks’ are sent home to the parents. A parent-teacher meeting is convened once a year for each year group. Use is also made of the students’ school journals to keep parents informed of students’ progress. The practice of analysing students’ achievements in Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations has been initiated; this development is commendable.
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, with the vice-principal and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.