An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Bunclody Vocational College
Bunclody, Co. Wexford
Roll number: 71620H
Date of inspection: 6 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bunclody Vocational College. 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 conducted over one day 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 preparations. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and 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 mixed-ability groups. Students are then divided in second-year for Irish classes based on exams results and on the students’ own wishes.
It was reported during the inspection that the school had difficulty this year in recruiting a qualified teacher of Irish for classes not covered due to staff illness. The school management had not succeeded in covering all classes, however, and an untrained teacher and a teacher with little Irish are filling the gaps at present. The school’s problems in this regard are understood, however, it is recommended that every effort be made to rectify the situation for the coming year.
Eighteen of the one hundred and seventy two students in the school have an exemption from the study of Irish. Eight of those eighteen students are newcomer students. It was reported that there is a strict rule in the school that every student must study Irish except those with an exemption. Even those students with an exemption are required to study Irish in first year at least, excepting the newcomer students. It was reported, however, that a significant number of students (six of this year’s first-years for example) arrive at the school on a continuous basis saying they have not learnt Irish in primary school, but do not have an exemption. It is recommended that the school management consider the possibility of discussing this situation with the principals of the College’s feeder primary schools. As part of the College’s ongoing contact with the primary schools, it would be helpful to explain that every student must learn Irish at second level unless they are entitled to an exemption from Irish in accordance with circular M10/94.
It was reported that various events were organised during ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ last year. For example, table quizzes and poster competitions were held. Due to time-pressure and extra responsibilities for some staff this year, it is doubtful that there will be any events organised in 2007. It is recommended that this situation be discussed as soon as the full complement of teachers of Irish is back in the school and that an effort be made to organise an interesting programme of events for “Seachtain na Gaeilge” next year. It is recommended that, eventually, other events be organised throughout the year. It is important to give students experience of Irish as a living language outside the classroom.
Teachers do not have dedicated classrooms; the students remain in particular classrooms and the teachers move about from room to room. It is therefore difficult to create an Irish environment in the classrooms. Nevertheless, examples of students’ work as well as a few posters were on display on the classroom walls. These efforts are highly commended, however, it is important to use the material in Irish which is displayed. Pictures based on sport, for example, can be used when that topic is being covered in class, to ensure that students understand without resorting to translation to English.
It was reported that very few materials and resources are available for the teaching and learning of Irish, but that requests for new resources may be made to the school management. It is recommended that an inventory be made of the resources available in the school at present and that planning be undertaken for the acquisition and provision of extra resources over the next few years. These materials should be available at a central location in the school. A list of resources for teaching Irish is available on the web at www.cogg.ie.
The Vocational Education Committee provides four Gaeltacht scholarships each year for first year students. If there are some other students in the school who wish to go to the Gaeltacht and who would benefit from a visit there, the school helps to cover those students’ expenses. This approach is commended.
A co-ordinator for planning for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school has been nominated. The teachers had one half-day meeting this year for planning the teaching and learning of Irish. It was reported that they have other informal meetings among themselves during the year.
A certain amount of work has been done on preparing a plan for the teaching and learning of Irish. The teachers’ efforts in this area of planning are commended. During the inspection, however, it was evident that certain notable aspects of the plan were not being implemented in the classrooms. The following elements, for example were missing: the use of a wide range of interesting and attractive resources during lessons; work being undertaken on the use of Information and Communication Technology and an emphasis on cross-curricular work in the classes. The description outlined in the plan for the above-mentioned elements is impressive but it is recommended that the ideas be implemented now.
It is also recommended that the planning documents be written in Irish, with a summary in English if necessary. It is further suggested that teachers build on the planning work undertaken to date and that the plan for Irish should incorporate the following elements: a list of topics for the different year-groups and for the various levels, a detailed description of the materials and resources used to teach the language in class, and the range of teaching methodologies and strategies to be used in classes. It was reported that the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is generally emphasised, but that aim is not being implemented at present due to staffing problems. It is recommended that planning be undertaken for this vitally important aspect of teaching and that the plan for the use of ICT be widely implemented by teachers of Irish.
In general, good, careful planning had been done for the classes observed. In certain classes, a range of tasks had been planned for the students. Thanks to this variety and careful planning, there was a good pace to the lessons observed.
The use of Irish as the language of management, instruction and communication in the Irish classes observed was poor. It was noticed that teaching was being done almost exclusively through English and that all instructions in class were given in English. Even during roll-call, students replied in English. The teachers of Irish need to formulate and agree a strong policy on this area of teaching and learning. It is vitally important that the target language be consistently used in class. Teachers are advised to tackle this problem immediately. Continuous use was also made of translation from Irish to English in classes any time that Irish itself was used. As well as this, students were asked to translate every word of poems, reading-comprehension texts and articles, word for word. It is recommended that some discussion and consideration be devoted to devising other ways of ensuring that students understand the subject matter of the lesson besides total reliance on translation. It is also necessary to ensure that students are given opportunities to communicate and not just to concentrate on answering questions. Teachers are advised to discuss among themselves what strategies and plans they might use to create opportunities for communication. Various approaches can be used to coax reluctant, shy students to talk, methods such as games, role-play, pair-work and groupwork, depending, of course, on the class and on the ability of the students.
In a couple of classes observed, it was felt that communication between teacher and pupils was well managed. Discipline was good in the classes observed and, in general, the teachers succeeded in getting the students to apply themselves diligently to their work. In a couple of cases observed, the teacher moved about in the classroom, conversing with the students and ensuring that the work was being done. This is a good approach because it is important to maintain contact with students during class and to provide help and advice regularly, as needed. It is recommended that this strategy be applied in every class and also that all communication with students be through Irish. It is also recommended that students be continuously praised for their efforts in class. This gives them great encouragement, especially those who have difficulty in learning the language.
The strategy observed in one case, where flash-cards were used to make the class more interesting and more attractive to students, is commended. This worked well but, unfortunately, the cards themselves were too small and consequently difficult to read from the back of the room. The use of ‘charades’ as a strategy to get the students talking and asking questions in class is also praiseworthy. Where these methods were used, the students both enjoyed and benefited from the class and the work done beforehand in preparing material for the classes is commended. The preparation done for the various tasks ensured that there was a good pace to the class and that there was plenty of variety involved which kept students’ attention focused on the subject-matter in hand.
In one case observed, the teacher’s efforts to link the subject-matter of the class to the students’ own lives was commendable. The students were questioned about their own experience of various areas of contemporary life. This ensured that the class was interesting for the students, but unfortunately all the communication was in English, both the teacher’s questions and students’ answers.
More attention must be paid to phonetics. Students’ phonetics should be sensitively corrected, in order not to upset either their self-confidence or the rhythm of their speech. Teachers also need to watch their own phonetics and the accuracy of their Irish.
It is recommended that a wider range of materials and resources be used in the Irish classes, to make the learning of Irish more interesting and more attractive to the students. Teachers are advised, for example, to use the Irish language media regularly, especially TG4. This channel, TG4, is an invaluable aid and the showing of relevant extracts from the station’s programmes in class can be a great support to the learning and teaching of Irish. Musical extracts and pictures can also be used to improve and reinforce students’ understanding of lessons and of literary extracts.
Formal class exams are organised in the school twice a year, at Christmas and at Easter. It was reported that common exams were organised for first-year and third-year classes last year, but that was simply because those two classes had the same teacher, not because of negotiation or because of an agreed policy. It is recommended that teachers discuss this situation among themselves and that a policy be formulated concerning common assessments. The teachers of Irish set mini class-tests regularly throughout the year, at their own discretion, but there is no common practice in this regard. It was reported that oral assessment of students is done only in sixth year, where a ‘mock’ Leaving Certificate oral is conducted. It is recommended that communication skills be assessed from first year onwards and that this be part of the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the shool.
It was reported that the results of the state examinations are not assessed on an annual basis, but that such an assessment is done occasionally. It is recommended that the results of the state examinations be analysed every year, to get an overview of trends in student achievement.
Supervised study is provided in the school on four days each week and preference is given to students taking state examinations. This approach is commended.
A substantial amount of work had been done in the copybooks examined and it was evident that homework is regularly set and corrected. The enthusiasm of the teachers in this regard is noteworthy but attention is directed to the need for careful correction and ensuring that major errors are identified.
All students in second and third years are taking the Junior Certificate School Programme. Although it is understood that there were considerable changes in staff this year, it is recommended that teachers ensure that the appropriate profiles for Irish are filled out for each student engaged in this programme. It is also necessary to ensure that the students themselves are aware of the structure of the profiles and that they know when they have reached the various targets.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school practice of awarding Gaeltacht scholarships and helping to defray the costs incurred by students who are genuinely interested in spending some time in the Gaeltacht, but cannot afford it, is commended.
· The stand taken by the management in their firm policy regarding the study of Irish, except in the case of students who have exemptions, is commended.
· The work done to date on formulating a plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school is praiseworthy.
· The careful planning done for the classes observed was commendable in general and, in one instance, particularly good.
· Discipline was good in general in the classes observed.
· In one of the classes observed, the use of various methodologies and tasks was very effective.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The management of the school is advised to discuss the question of exemptions from Irish with the primary schools in the area again.
· It is recommended that planning be undertaken for the organisation of events and occasions during ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ next year.
· It is recommended that planning be undertaken for the acquisition and for the provision of a wider range of materials and resources for the teaching and learning of Irish, and that these be used on a regular basis in Irish classes.
· It is recommended that teachers build on planning-work already done, that they prepare a comprehensive plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school and implement every aspect of that plan in the school and in the classrooms. That plan should be written in Irish.
· It is necessary to devise and agree a definite policy for the use of the target language in the classroom.
· It is recommended that opportunities for communication be regularly provided for the students and that students’ oral skills be assessed from first year onwards.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The school has now 3 fully qualified teachers in the Irish Department.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Home School Community Liaison Officer will be visiting all primary schools of new students to establish the position with regard to students’ exemption from Irish as to Department of Education and Science requirements.