An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Coláiste Bríde Presentation Secondary School
New Road, Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Roll number: 60122D
Date of inspection: 16, 17 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Bríde, Clondalkin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English 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 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.
Coláiste Bríde, Clondalkin provides English in the Junior Certificate programme (JC), Transition Year programme (TY), Leaving Certificate programme (LC), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). Students in the LC and LCVP follow the same English syllabus.
Whole-school support is very good across a variety of areas. Timetabling allocation is good on the whole with five periods for second, third, fifth and sixth years, and four periods for first year, LCA and TY students. As an area for development, consideration should be given to allocating an additional English lesson in first year. Timetabling for LCA students should be reviewed to avoid clustering.
Access to level is determined to some extent before entrance. First-year students are assigned to higher and ordinary-level classes based on performance in entrance assessment tests, recommendations from their primary school teachers and known learning-support needs. This is a young age to assign students to level and therefore it is recommended that the practice be reviewed. Additional supports can be targeted at those who need them while keeping students in a mixed-ability setting. Class groups are banded in each year group and within bands, there is concurrent timetabling so that some degree of movement from one level to another can be facilitated. In the senior cycle, levels are decided based on a combination of Junior Certificate results and common assessment.
Uptake of higher-level English is very good on the whole with some aberrations from one year to another. This is a matter that both the school and the English department are keeping under constant review. Classes usually retain the same teacher from one year to another unless exceptional circumstances intervene and this encourages continuity of learning. A planned and integrated approach to the provision of additional supports in English over three years has resulted in significantly improved learning outcomes for students. This is highly commended.
The team of English teachers is highly effective, committed and enthusiastic. Learning support is organised along very professional lines and is informed by a caring ethos. An extra teacher has been deployed along bands in the junior cycle as an additional support. There is a very good language support team in place and the school is congratulated on its promotion of a multi-cultural ethos. The school’s job sharing arrangements in relation to English are well managed and every effort is made to meet the needs of students. There is very good liaison between those involved. However, a holistic delivery of the relevant English syllabuses is best achieved when one person is in charge of one class. The incremental development of skills learned through the integration of language and literature can best be taught in such a setting. Therefore the school should consider reviewing policy and practice in this regard in all future arrangements.
The quality of provision for students with special educational needs and those requiring additional supports is very good in all areas. The school has a significant minority of students with varying degrees of need. The learning-support department is well resourced with learning space, assessment materials and ICT packages. It is reported that in the short term, learning-support personnel will be receiving training on the use of Smart Board (inter-active whiteboard) as a tool to aid learning. This training will be accessed through Dublin City University (DCU). The English department includes guidelines on differentiation in its documentation. The staff has also benefited from in-service training in areas relevant to additional supports for students. Teachers are conscious of adapting methodologies to meet the needs of those with different learning styles. There is good liaison between the learning-support department, the language-support department and the English department. The learning-support team’s work impacts on all aspects of school life and the department arranges in-house training for staff.
In Coláiste Bríde there is a minority of students in need of additional language support. The school has a very inviting and attractive multicultural resource room equipped with a range of appropriate resources, audio books, software packages for English, teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) resources for various levels, test materials and support materials.
Continuous professional development (CPD) is encouraged in Coláiste Bríde. Teachers have participated in a variety of professional development courses both on their own initiative or provided centrally through either the school or the relevant support services. For example, they have taken part in in-service through the Second Level Support Services (SLSS) and the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and LCA support services. Teachers have also attended in-service provided by Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT).
Coláiste Bríde provides a good range of resources and facilities for the teaching and learning of English. In February 2006 the first phase of the new school building was occupied and students now benefit from very good accommodation. A new library space was provided but the school has been unable to access further funding. However, the school is pro-active in this regard and through a student initiative, a school library project has been established. Class sets of books are also available to the teachers of English. The department has ease of access to TVs, videos, DVDs, audiotapes, CDs including recordings of poets, a collection of films and class library books. A weekly newspaper is delivered to school for students to access free of charge. There is good access to information and communications technology (ICT) such as ICT laboratories, data projectors and digital cameras. Every classroom has a computer and internet access and each teacher has a printer and scanner. The school’s e-portal gives access to electronic folders that facilitate collaboration, communication and record keeping. In this regard, therefore, the department should focus on how best to integrate ICT into the teaching and learning of English. Upon the completion of the school building project, the board of management plans to provide an independent budget to each department. This is highly commended and the English department should now consider carrying out a needs analysis to target areas for future spending. It is commendable that reading initiatives exploit the JCSP resources.
In Coláiste Bríde a range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities is available to students and these support the teaching and learning of English and foster good relationships between staff and students. Debating is an important activity and students participate in internal and external events. There is a drama club for junior cycle students. Trips to the theatre, cinema and lectures are arranged. Students participate in poetry and creative writing competitions and are involved in the Year Book committee and they write articles for the school publication. Journalism workshops have been arranged with a local newspaper and through a mentoring system, student journalists write weekly articles for publication with a local newsgroup. To foster oral communication skills, students are encouraged to deliver messages over the intercom system and this develops their confidence. Staff dedication to students is highly commended.
Coláiste Bríde has a well-embedded planning culture and the English team has a very professional approach to strategic planning. Moreover, a reflective ethos has encouraged self-evaluation and enabled the team to embrace change in the best interests of students. There is a strong collaborative ethos in the English department. Co-ordination is efficient and effective and there is recognition of planning as a developmental process.
Minutes of meetings are kept. Some meetings have a specific focus and may therefore involve a target group within the teaching team. While it is reported that the entire team of teachers is made aware of all issues and of any decisions taken at such meetings, full consultation should take place in advance on all issues that could affect overall policy within the department and the opinions of all teachers of English should be sought and documented.
The department’s planning documents are comprehensive and contain long-term schemes of work devised by each teacher for each year group. A variety of other policy documents, information pages and procedures are also available. One of the yearly schemes in particular is a model of good practice as it not only outlines time scales, units of work, course work (with an emphasis on variety of writing genres), methodologies and resources but it also documents desired learning outcomes. Examination of some copybooks indicates that in a few instances, a narrow range of content has been covered in some junior cycle classes. In order to stimulate, challenge and engage students, it is recommended that students be encouraged to read and write in a variety of genres. The department plan should be revisited and reference should be made to the syllabus. The department should agree the specific number of substantial written exercises to be completed by each year group, differentiating for individual students with additional needs. Criteria regarding feedback should be agreed by the team to standardise practice. Planning for both learning support and language support is very good. The folder also contains a list of useful website addresses. The department can access the shared electronic folder (that contains all relevant English department documentation) through the school’s e-portal.
The TY plan for English is in line with the principles of the Transition Year programme. A modular approach is adopted and the course is designed to play to teacher’s individual strengths. The novel chosen for the fiction module engaged the interest of students while allowing scope for a range of activities and project work.
Texts chosen indicate a willingness to innovate and meet the interests of students. Choice of texts is decided jointly. However allowance is made for teacher preference. There are common texts in first year to facilitate movement and this is a function of the fact that the classes are streamed for English. Texts are chosen on the basis that they are accessible to all levels and to cater for the fact that students are drawn from a number of feeder schools. Consideration should be given to gathering specific information from the feeder primary schools concerning the texts studied in fifth and sixth classes. In addition, the department should access the primary curriculum available through www.curricuclumonline.ie. The range of texts to be studied by junior cycle students should be increased: the number should be specified in planning documentation and implemented consistently in all classes. Texts should be sufficiently challenging and special care should be taken in this regard for ordinary-level students.
Individual lessons in almost all cases showed evidence of good planning for content, methodologies and resources.
Seven lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation in Coláiste Bríde. Lesson content included poetry, fiction, writing, figurative language and communications. Choice of lesson content was appropriate and stimulating in most cases. The learning intention was usually general rather than specific, implicit rather than explicit. In a very few cases, there was little clarity about desired learning outcomes or their relationship to the syllabus. The sharing of lesson outcomes (expressed in “I can do” or “I will know” statements) at the start of the lesson is to be encouraged since it allows the teacher to evaluate the success of the lesson in the closing phase, and helps students to monitor their own progress. Good practice was noted in this regard in a few lessons where the objectives were written on the board. Best practice was noted where the lesson did not lose sight of the objectives but reinforced them throughout. This good practice should be replicated in all lessons. Homework assignments should be directly linked to the lesson. During lessons, teacher instructions were clear in almost all cases.
Resources such as the text, board, handouts and audio recordings were used. Some walls had visual resources and these were also used to support learning. The board was used as a focus for whole-class activity, for example, to record students’ contributions or to support language acquisition through the writing of new words on the board.
The development of a range of skills was a focus in lessons observed. In order to develop language receptivity and use, it is reported that some students keep notebooks in which they record descriptive phrases from the texts they use. This very good practice facilitates creative imitation and gives students exemplars of expressive, accurate writing. The activity can also be extended and students should be encouraged to record their direct personal responses to texts, for example poetry. Critical thinking is also nurtured. During interaction with the inspector it was noted that students in some classes had a good expressive vocabulary. It is commendable that a keyword notebook was used in one junior cycle class. Teachers regularly checked students understanding of vocabulary and drew attention to new words. The integration of language and literature was noted in some copybooks. Listening skills were developed through the use of audio material. Commendable practice was observed. Structured activity around listening was noted in lessons observed and students were directed in advance to pay attention to information since they would then be expected to provide feedback to the teacher. This focused students’ attention. In another lesson, the audio recording of a novel modelled expressive nuanced reading and reinforced correct pronunciation. The resource was well chosen since it is designed to help not only reluctant readers but also those with additional language needs. Students were encouraged to read aloud in class. Their own work was used as exemplars of good writing in a lesson observed and the writers were affirmed in their efforts. In some classes, writing frames have been found useful. Copybooks examined indicated helpful feedback in some cases. There was evidence of personal writing in some samples. During the course of the evaluation it was noted from copybooks that some students do not receive sufficient practice in writing across a variety of genres. This is a matter that should be addressed on an individual teacher level and in a whole-department context. In order to consolidate learning, it is essential to engage in meaningful writing exercises and therefore it is recommended that all students are provided with such opportunities. Students should learn to write accurately in English therefore syntactically correct sentences should be an expectation and should be learned through practice. Students should be given clear directions as to how their work can be improved as this motivates their efforts. In a few copies, a lively use of language was observed suggesting that students are encouraged to engage in an energetic, individual expression. This is highly commended. Folders and copybooks were for the most part well maintained. At the end of a lesson observed, students were instructed to enter their homework assignments into their journals. The routine systematic use of the journal is commended as it reinforces the school’s homework policy as well as developing organisational skills. This good practice should be common to all classes.
A good range of methodologies was deployed to aid teaching and learning. Questioning technique was varied and appropriate. Global questions that invited general contributions were used to stimulate participation and student answering was affirmed and encouraged. Supplementary questioning was used to draw responses out and encourage further critical thinking. Care should be taken to target individual students so that one dominant individual does not answer all questions. Open questions invited students to make evaluative judgements while closed questions were used to test comprehension and understanding. Teachers generally were careful to avoid leading questions that allowed only one outcome. Poetry and song were linked and this stimulated interest while encouraging lateral thinking regarding the nature of poetry. Opportunities to compare and contrast the nature of different genres could be extension activities. An understanding of figurative language was a focus for the teaching and learning of poetry in a lesson observed. However, literary terms should be taught in context as a tool to express a critical response; paramount should be the enjoyment of poetry and the nurturing of imaginative engagement with language. While reading, directed activities related to texts (DARTs) were used as an aid to concentration. An examination of folders indicated that students had completed project work related to their text.
Lessons generally encouraged active participation through reading, responding and questioning. In some lessons, more use could be made of active learning methodologies that would directly engage students in collaborative and independent learning. Pair work was used in some lessons. Students helped one another to complete the task before returning to a whole-class activity. Group work was time bound which encouraged concentration on the task. Further questioning encouraged group discussion. In one case, students were set a follow-on writing task that was linked, clearly defined, specific and achievable in the time allowed. This is a model of good practice. In only a very small minority of lessons was activity teacher led. Care should be taken in such cases to ensure that every student has speaking space (in some form) during class, and that all participate fully so that learning can take place.
Interactions between students and teachers were lively and students were willing to respond to questions asked. They were encouraged to draw on their own experiences and willingly expressed their views. In all cases students were affirmed and encouraged so that learning took place in a nurturing environment. Students were challenged and engaged in most classes.
The use of the classroom to create a stimulating learning environment was generally very good in Coláiste Bríde. Exemplary practice was noted in one instance where attractive and stimulating displays of books and other materials revealed a great deal of imagination and enthusiasm for the subject. Classes were well managed in almost all cases. Very good practice was noted where the school’s behaviour code was fully implemented when the need arose. In general high standards of work and behaviour are set and met in Coláiste Bríde. Teacher enthusiasm for the subject is commended and there is an appreciable level of warmth and respect between students and teachers in the school.
Assessment takes place through in-house examinations and class tests and continuous assessment. There are also mock examinations for the relevant classes. Examination outcomes are analysed in relation to national norms. The learning-support team carry out an analysis of examination outcomes and liaise with members of staff on any issues that might arise. There is a strong emphasis on record keeping in school policy. A variety of media are used to communicate with parents including an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group.
Coláiste Bríde has developed a homework policy. It is very commendable that the English department has written up a subject specific policy that outlines, amongst other areas, guidelines for the time to be devoted to English homework in each year group over a week. There is reference to the monitoring of homework and the role of parents with regard to the signing of journals. Records of attendance and homework are maintained.
There is a move towards common assessment relevant to specific level in the English department. There is scope for development in some areas of assessment policy and procedures. When setting homework tasks in individual lessons, it is advisable to share the criteria for assessment with students in order to direct them and help them understand what makes an acceptable response. At departmental level, it would be useful for assessment policy to include specific guidelines on the role of the teacher in regard to monitoring of homework. Assessment criteria appropriate to each age group across a range of skills would assist teachers and standardise practice. The team could pool their knowledge and resources in this regard and exemplars would be helpful. The assessment of oral or reading tasks could be highlighted in the document. All homework monitoring should be underpinned by assessment for learning. The policy should indicate how students’ skills are likely to gain through practice and stress the importance of linking homework activity to the learning outcomes of the day’s lesson and the objectives of the syllabus as a whole. Ways in which homework assignments could be differentiated according to student ability could be recorded. Examples of a range of homework tasks would be very helpful especially for new teachers and the list could be augmented electronically by team members. The correcting of homework is an integral part of learning therefore developmental feedback makes all homework meaningful.
Common testing is held in the first term to determine levels for fifth year students. The team is commended for the extra effort involved in ensuring that every student reaches her full potential. However care should be taken to ensure that tests used for selection purposes have shared assessment criteria, that the criteria are consistently implemented and that marking is moderated. Moreover, tests should range over the full complement of language areas required by the LC syllabus in order to get an accurate picture of the individual student. Clear review procedures should also be built into the system.
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 English 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 Board of Management are delighted to receive this report which highlights the excellent work being carried out by the English Department in Coláiste Bride.
The very positive report was based on a snapshot on those particular days. It does not reflect the extra hours that the English Department do when correcting, planning and preparing on a daily basis.
The Board of Management would like to congratulate all members of the English Department for their dedication and commitment. The Board also appreciates all of the great work being carried out by the Learning Support Team and the Multicultural Team who liaise with and support so many staff and students in our school.
A Factual Verification Form was sent by the English Department concerning certain statements made in the report. However, while the wording was changed the English Department believe the same meaning was implied.
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 English Department have met since the issue of the report and are building the following items into their plan.
· A focus on how best to integrate ICT into the teaching and learning of English
· An agreed amount of written work to be completed by each year
· Contact feeder schools concerning texts covered in fifth and sixth class to ensure no over lapping
· Aim to increase the range of texts covered at Junior Cycle
The English Department, as indicated in the report, are very committed to subject department and whole school development planning.
The timetabling of LCA English shall be reviewed by the personnel involved in timetabling as highlighted in the report.