Subject Inspection of Irish
Sandford Park School
Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Roll number: 60640C
Date of inspection: 16 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report was written following a subject inspection at Sandford Park School. It sets out the findings of the assessment of the quality of the teaching and learning of Irish and makes recommendations for the development of teaching in this subject in the school. This assessment was conducted over the course of one day in which the inspector visited classrooms and in which the teaching and learning was observed. The inspector interacted with the students and the teachers, the studentsí work was examined and discussions held with the teachers. The inspector reviewed the school planning documents and the teachersí written preparations. Following the assessment visit, the inspector gave verbal feedback regarding the results of the assessment to the 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.
First year classes in the school are of mixed ability. Irish students are divided at the end of first year between higher level and ordinary level classes. The Irish teachers themselves arrange these classes and there is said to be good flexibility in the division of the classes. Every help and encouragement is given to students who wish to take the higher level. Approximately half of the students take higher level paper for the Junior Certificate and the school succeeds in maintaining the same numbers for the Leaving Certificate. The teachers are commended for stimulating and encouraging the students to take the higher level.††
There are 51 students in the school who have exemptions from the study of Irish. Alternative arrangements are made for these students during the Irish classes. Learning support classes are provided for them or they are given permission to study in the library. A small number of students choose to attend the Irish classes although they have an exemption from Irish.
The Irish teachers have made useful efforts to broaden and develop the studentsí experience of Irish as a living language. Certain students from the school participate in the Gael Linn debates and they are quite successful. Many conversation classes are arranged after school hours for students from the various classes. The teachers are commended for their diligence concerning these classes. In so far as the emphasis is on speech and communication during most of these periods it is recommended that one of the Irish language youth organisations be contacted in order to register an Irish Club with them.† It would help to give focus to the conversation classes and would give the students an opportunity to make contact with other students through social occasions and personal contacts.†
Students and parents are given information on Gaeltacht colleges and the majority of students go to the Gaeltacht at least once.
The school does not have a history of playing Gaelic games. The Irish teachers have made great efforts to promote these games in the school. The school now has a football team and attempts are underway to form a hurling team also. Although playing the games has no direct association with learning the language it is felt by the Irish teachers that support for the games helps to foster respect for Irish and for the Irish culture in general.† Planning documentation observed shows that the teachers, some of the students and some past pupils are involved in a campaign to revive Irish in the locality. These efforts are recognised and commended.
The Irish teachers have their own rooms, which is very helpful in developing a pleasant learning environment. Although there is a certain amount of material on display in the classrooms, including some artwork, increasing the quantity and variety of material on display in the rooms is recommended.††
Each year, teachers in the various subjects are invited to submit an application to the Principal for the purchase of teaching aids and resources. It is recommended that the Irish teachers immediately list and record all the aids and resources available in the school for the teaching of Irish. Planning should then be made for the provision of a broad range of aids and resources for the teaching of Irish and they should be available in a central area in the school where teachers can easily access them.
One of the teachers is nominated as the co-ordinator of planning for the teaching and learning of Irish. Teachers are given an opportunity to meet once a week to conduct planning. School management are commended for providing the teachers with this opportunity for meetings. This weekly meeting derives from the School Development Planning process that was recently put into operation in the school. A plan has been compiled by the teachers, for the teaching and learning of Irish, and they are highly commended for their enthusiasm and efforts in this regard. Other Irish department planning documentation such as documentation on the Departmentís philosophy and another concerning the work underway on encouraging Gaelic games in the school was observed.† It is clear that the staff if the Irish department is fully engaged in the work and revival of the Irish language and they are commended for their enthusiasm and interest in this work.†
It is recommended that the work done to date and the plan for Irish be further developed Ė taking account of planning for the use of a broader range of aids and resources in the classrooms. It is also recommended that opportunities for communication and the use of Irish in the classes be part of this planning process. It is further recommended that the possibilities associated with planning for the use of information and communication technology be investigated.† It is recognised that come students use computers in certain aspects of their work but this is not enough. Help and advice could be sought in this regard.†
The Irish teachers report that they work well together and that there is excellent co-operation between them. Their mutual respect and co-operation was evident, which is of considerable benefit in the matters of planning and continuity between classes and levels.
The teachers swap the various levels among themselves every second year so that they have an equal opportunity to teach at higher and at ordinary levels. However, it is recommended that planning for the teaching of all the classes and levels should be conducted collaboratively by all the teachers. In this way, in the interest of ensuring continuity from year to year, there would be a precise understanding of what the students cover in the various classes.
The Transition Year plan is set out with clarity and precision. The course is shared among the teachers based on the skills and interests of the different teachers.† Although the teachersí work in setting out a clear plan is commended it is recommended that a more integrated approach be put in place and that the students have an opportunity to experience Irish as a living language. For example, there is much emphasis on communications and on the development of spoken Irish in one module. The Irish language communications media and other interesting aspects of learning Irish are also mentioned in that module. In the other module, much emphasis is placed on grammar and on academic aspects of learning the language. A greater balance between the two modules is recommended so that enjoyable aspects of learning Irish would be ongoing throughout the year.† The cross-curricular aspect involved in the designing of the dictionaries during the Transition Year course is recognised. It is recommended however, that the cross-curricular aspect of the Transition Year work be broadened and developed and that other elements other than dictionary development be looked at.†
The classes observed had been well planned. In some classes notes were prepared for distribution to the students.
The use of Irish as a language of management, teaching, and communication was reasonably good in the classes observed. However, it is recommended that the use of the Irish to English translation be avoided as much as possible. It is recommended that the Irish teachers jointly discuss strategies for the use of Irish in the classes. For example, there should be a continuous effort by students to question teachers through Irish, commensurate with their age and ability in the language. However, it is of course necessary to provide them with the appropriate tools in first year so that the students would be capable of normal communications with the teachers in Irish in class.†
The teachers were energetic and enthusiastic in conducting the classes. They succeeded in getting all the students to work hard and discipline was excellent. The layout of one of the classrooms that is used for Irish classes is highly commended. The layout ensured ease of communication between the teacher and the students and there was a pleasant atmosphere in the classroom as a result.††
The way in which the studentsí contemporary lifestyle was linked to the lesson material, in one case that was observed, is commended. The students were consistently asked questions relating to their own lives and were consistently praised for their efforts. This approach is highly commended and it ought to be put into practice as often as possible in every Irish class.†
In the classes, much emphasis was placed on teaching grammar and the students are clearly experienced in using the grammatical terminology in Irish and it was perceived they had a good knowledge of Irish grammar. The teachersí work in this regard is commended. It is very important when teaching any language that the students have a good command of that languageís grammar. The use made of vocabulary drills to ensure the students were able to recall for example, the days of the week, months of the year etc. is also commended. It is recommended however, that studentsí ability to use these words in simple sentences in various contexts should be ensured. It is necessary to ensure that students are able to make practical use of vocabulary they learn by heart.
The manner in which all the language skills were integrated, in a couple of cases that were observed, is commended. The students were given opportunities to practice the four language skills between reading, writing, speaking and listening.† In other cases however, it was felt that excessive emphasis was placed on listening and writing and that the students were not given any opportunity to practice the other language skills, in particular †oral skills. It is strongly recommended that the amount of time given to students to speak the language be reconsidered. It was felt that some of the students had difficulty with simple communications. One would expect that students would be able to manage to conduct some communication in the language Ė the level of communication would of course depend on the age and level of the students. It is recommended that the teacher should not do all the talking. It is recognised that much emphasis is placed on communications in the after school classes. It is recommended however that opportunities for communication should form part of every Irish class. In cases where studentsí abilities in Irish are not so well developed, ideas such as games, paired work and role-play could be used. Opportunities for free communication in the class should be used as often as possible.††††
In some cases observed students were translating sentences from English to Irish with the† emphasis in the lesson on developing the studentsí knowledge of the genitive case. Although there are some advantages associated with this type of work a whole class should not be based on this activity only. It is recommended that there should be variety and broader diversity involved in each class.
The manner in which corrections were made and in which particular attention was paid to correcting phonetic errors and grammatical errors is commended.
In-house examinations are organised twice in the year at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are sent home following these examinations and also on three other occasions in the year. Reports, based on continuous assessment, are sent home at midterm break in October, February and at Easter.
There are different practices in use among the Irish teachers in regard to setting minor class tests for the students. It is recommended that they discuss and debate this among themselves and reach consensus on a common approach.† It was reported that weekly exams are arranged in some classes. Although the work that this involves for the teacher is recognised it is recommended that it be ensured that too much time is not spent on weekly exams when the same exams could be set each fortnight.†††
It was reported that the schoolís students participate in every aspect of the Junior Certificate Irish examination. The teachersí efforts in this regard are commended especially as the importance of emphasising communications skills at this level of studentsí academic life is recognised. It was reported however, that no formal assessments are conducted on Irish oral skills in first or in second years. It is recommended that the teachers discuss this among themselves and with the school management and look at ways to conduct this assessment.†
The following are the main strengths and the areas for development which were identified in the assessment:
∑ Effective efforts are made to attract and encourage a high proportion of students to undertake the higher level for the Junior Certificate and for the Leaving Certificate.†
∑ Good effort is made to broaden the studentsí experience of Irish as a living language outside the classroom through after school classes and debating courses for some students.
∑ The Irish teachers are given the opportunity to meet once each week to engage in planning for Irish. This is good practice.
∑ Considerable work has been carried out on developing planning documentation for Irish.
∑ There is excellent co-operation between the Irish teachers and it is evident that they work very well together.
∑ The use of Irish as a language of management, teaching and communication was reasonably good in the classes observed.
∑ The teachers succeeded in getting the students to work hard in the classes observed.
∑ It is evident that the students have a good knowledge of grammar and of the use of grammatical terminology. The vocabulary drills that were being practiced in one case observed are commended.††
∑ In a couple of cases observed a good integration of all the language skills was achieved.
∑ The manner in which phonetic errors and grammatical errors were identified and corrected is commended.
†The following recommendations are made in order to build on these strengths and to identify areas for development.
∑ It is recommended that the teachersí work in relation to the after school Irish classes be further developed by establishing an Irish club in the school, and registering it with one of the Irish language youth organisations.
∑ Increasing the quantity and diversity of material on display in the classrooms to create an Irish atmosphere is recommended.
∑ It is recommended that the plan for Irish be further developed Ė taking the provision of aids and resources and the use of information and communication technology into account. †
∑ It is recommended that a balance be struck between the two Transition Year modules with a view to spreading the enjoyable, stimulating aspects of learning Irish across the year.
∑ It is recommended that the studentsí ability to communicate be focused on in the classes and a strategy adopted from first year upward to ensure students have ample opportunities for communication.
∑ It is recommended that a broad range of learning activities and teaching methods be used in every Irish class.
∑ It is recommended that conducting assessment of oral skills from first year upward be looked into and that balance be ensured between assessment practices for every class.
Post-assessment meetings were arranged with the Irish teachers and with the Principal at which the draft conclusions and the recommendations were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection. †††††
A meeting between the Principal and the Teachers in the Irish Department in the school was held to review the report and address its recommendations. We have worked through each of the recommendations as presented by the report. The following actions have been undertaken and/or planned over the next academic year:
∑ Teachers attended the in-service on teaching methods for poetry and literature as suggested by the Inspector.
∑ The Irish Teachers have applied to register with the organisation, Feachtas.
∑ In one classroom, we have put up two display boards where the studentsí work is now displayed.
∑ Teachers will work on this during their scheduled weekly Irish meeting and draw up a plan for the integration of IT into the teaching of Irish. Staff feel they need subject specific support in this area. The school will facilitate the attendance at any such courses.
∑ A film/drama module is in the process of being introduced to Transition Year following the in-service. The teachers believe there is enormous value in maintaining the academic aspect of the module.
∑ The target language is being used in Form I and all other classes. Transition Year students are compiling a class phrasebook for the school. With the proposed changes in the Irish curriculum, assessment at the end of Form I will include an oral presentation from each student and this will account for 20% of the summer exam. There will be an oral exam for all other years.
∑ The teachers will continue to endeavour to broaden the range of learning activities teaching methods but would welcome further in-service in this area from the Dept. of Education or the Second Level School Support Service.
∑ We have equipped both classrooms with televisions and DVD players. The Board of Governors and the P.T.A. are providing I.T. facilities for each classroom on a phased basis.
∑ Additional materials (books, newspapers, journals, DVDís for the library) are being sourced. The teachers are aware that there is funding in the school to build up such resources.