An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Synge Street CBS
Synge Street, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60470D
Date of inspection: 12 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 Synge Street CBS. 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 subject teachers, deputy principal and principal. 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 three English class groups in each of first, second and third year. In each year of junior cycle, two of these class groups are mainstream, mixed-ability Junior Certificate classes where students are prepared for ordinary-level and higher-level English and one class group contains students who are doing the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Most JCSP students have special educational needs (SEN) but teachers prepare these students for ordinary level and, in some cases, higher-level English in the Junior Certificate examination. Students, teachers and parents all consult regarding the level that students will take in state examinations. This is very good practice.
There are three English class groups in fifth year and two in sixth year. One of these fifth-year class groups is made up entirely of newcomer students, some of whom have only been in the country a short while. Students are generally set for English according to ability in fifth and sixth year, which is appropriate. In fifth year, there is one class containing students studying either higher-level or ordinary-level English and two ordinary-level class groups. Classes are concurrently timetabled in fifth and sixth year to allow for movement of students and to allow for whole year activities, such as the joint screening of films.
Students remain in mixed-ability class settings in fifth year until the results of the Junior Certificate examination are released. At this point class groups are re-formed. It is recommended that English teachers agree on specific work to cover with their class groups until such time as classes are finalised.
Management are aware of the benefits of evenly distributing lesson periods across the week in all subject areas. However, it was reported that the change in the timetable this year, to provide for a twenty-eight hour class contact week, was the reason for the fact that English lessons are not spread evenly across the week in some instances.
The number of English lessons provided is very good across all years. All junior cycle class groups have five English lessons each week and additional literacy classes are provided for JCSP students. The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) year one group has four English and Communication lessons each week and the year two group has three lessons weekly. Drama is also timetabled for LCA students. Class groups in fifth and sixth year have six lessons a week.
In the past, a tradition was established in the school of teachers teaching either junior or senior cycle only. Although this practice has somewhat changed in recent years, which is to be welcomed, there are still some teachers who have not yet had the opportunity of teaching senior cycle and some others who do not teach junior cycle. In addition, the teaching of JCSP and LCA is voluntary in the school and, as a result, some teachers have a large proportion of their timetabled lessons with these groups. It is desirable that all teachers would have opportunities to teach all programmes. It is strongly recommended that a policy be developed whereby all English teachers rotate the teaching of cycles, programmes and levels so that all teachers gain expertise in all areas. In addition, more teachers would have the opportunity to learn valuable and diverse teaching methodologies provided at LCA and JCSP in-service if they were involved in teaching these programmes which would enhance their general teaching methodologies. There was evidence that teachers are facilitated in attending in-service. Management tries to ensure that English classes retain the same teacher from year to year within cycles. This is good practice.
The first-year JCSP class receive extra literacy classes where they follow a structured reading programme. A reading room has been developed for this purpose. Students are encouraged to read and review their books in a relaxed atmosphere and they were very enthusiastic about these reading periods. In addition, a paired reading programme is organised between third-year JCSP students and students from the local feeder primary school which reportedly is of benefit to both groups of students and is highly commended. JCSP students also take part in the Make a Book, Word Millionaire and Readalong initiatives. This focus on improving literacy among JCSP class groups is highly commended. It is recommended that this focus on reading be extended beyond JCSP to all first-year class groups. There is a library in the school which is not fully functioning at present. However, the school has applied for a full-time librarian under the JCSP initiative. The fact that the school has applied for different initiatives is commended.
There is a dedicated audio-visual room in the school which contains a television and video player. Past pupils have donated generously to the school and have provided funds to purchase interactive whiteboards and to refurbish the audio-visual room. It is planned to install an interactive whiteboard and a data projector in this room. Each room is connected to the internet and computers are available in most classrooms. The school has plans to have access to a number of laptop computers in the future through its partnership with Dublin Inner-City Schools Computerisation project (DISC). The use of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance teaching and learning is to be encouraged and future plans should ensure that this is a possibility for teachers and students. LCA students are brought to the computer room to type up their projects and there was evidence that teachers use websites to access notes for their students.
The school provides a range of co-curricular activities for its students. Activities pertaining to English include: a joint reading of “The Plough and the Stars” which was staged in conjunction with the local girls’ secondary school; involvement in JCSP initiatives; links with the Abbey Access programme, and bringing students to frequent theatrical performances. Such opportunities for students are highly commended.
The ethos of the Christian Brothers strongly promotes caring for students with SEN. The school has a resource allocation of 2.66 teachers. The organisation of SEN support to students in the school is commended as there is a mixed model of support to suit the needs of individuals and class groups. Team teaching is operated for some class groups, particularly JCSP and LCA classes and was seen to be highly effective. Students from other class groups are also supported through some individual or group withdrawal, and this support is continued into senior cycle which is commended. As part of the School Completion Programme (SCP) the school operates a Homework Club which is open to all year groups. It was reported that this has proven to be very effective in assisting students with SEN.
There are three language support teaching posts as there are many newcomer students in the school. There was evidence that these students are served extremely well by the school. Students who enter the school with no English are given a partial immersion programme in English for a number of weeks and all eligible newcomer students receive language support. There was evidence that these students are very well integrated into school life. For example, a multicultural week is organised annually by the school. The school is complimented for its excellent work in this area. There was evidence that many of these students are high achievers and are highly motivated.
School management conducts an annual analysis of examination results which is presented to the staff. This is very good practice as it raises awareness of trends in relation to uptake. Management also has a policy of encouraging students to attempt their highest achievable level in state examinations. Overall, there is very good whole school provision and support for English in the school.
It was reported that school development planning only commenced in the past couple of years. Management has made provision for subject planning meetings although it was reported that there has been resistance to these among some members of staff. Subject planning meetings take place, usually about twice a year. It was reported that the teachers of both junior and senior cycle also meet informally but not as a full English group. The teachers of junior cycle have developed a subject department curriculum plan which outlines class work, suitable homework and assessment modes for each year group of junior cycle.
Although English teachers were all very well prepared on an individual basis and had developed excellent individual plans, there is a need for more collaboration as a team. It is recommended that the English teachers meet together as one cohesive group on a regular basis with one teacher acting as co-ordinator of this group. The formation of such a group would facilitate the sharing of good practice and the dissemination of resources and relevant materials. The meetings should be minuted and key decisions and recommendations passed on to management. In addition, the English teachers should develop a long-term plan for students, which would document the range of skills and knowledge that students should acquire from first year through to sixth year or year two of LCA. The plan should be stored electronically to ensure easy revision from year to year and should include learning outcomes for each year group, effective teaching methodologies, an inventory of available resources to support the teaching of English and an assessment/homework plan for English. This would facilitate the sharing of information among established teachers and with those who are new to the school or to the department.
All year groups, regardless of the programme they were studying, had covered a range of material and were exposed to a range of genre. This is highly commended. Excellent practice was seen in that JCSP classes often study three novels over the course of junior cycle. Some individual plans indicated that a wide range of poetry is taught and that this poetry is often taught thematically which is also good practice as it creates links between texts. There was a very good range of work covered by LCA English and Communication students. It is recommended that the texts taught at senior cycle be kept under review to ensure that they suit the tastes and abilities of the particular student cohort. It is also recommended that all students from first year should have a dictionary in class. This good practice was observed in some senior cycle classes. Overall, the focus on high standards and appropriately challenging work is highly commended.
JCSP students are profiled and they fill in their own learning statements after achieving each learning outcome. This is highly commended. The school has a draft SEN policy and a learning-support department plan, both of which are highly commended. The school has also developed a literacy policy. There was clear evidence that individual education plans were drawn up for each SEN student and that this was done in close collaboration with subject teachers. This, too, is highly commended. A language support policy is also being prepared which should now be further developed and formalised.
The purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the start. Best practice was seen when this purpose was written on the board along with a brief outline of the way the lesson would progress so that students were partners in the learning process. This is highly commended. Resources such as the overhead projector and the board were, in most cases, used effectively to display questions and to record key points made by students. Teachers had also prepared good resources to assist students’ learning. Resources downloaded from the Internet were also well used. For example, students were given a handout displaying images from different war scenes and were set the task of matching these with the images and lines from their poems on the theme of war. This strategy is highly commended.
The pace of all lessons was appropriate for the class group. In addition, teachers gave clear instructions to their students. This was especially important, as most class groups contained newcomer students. Good explanations of texts were also in evidence. Best practice was seen when the teacher paused frequently during the reading of texts to explain difficult concepts or to ask questions to ensure that all students understood these concepts. When the teachers read for a portion of the lesson this reading was often done dramatically and created student interest in their text.
Good pre-reading strategies were in evidence; for example, before moving on with the next chapter of the students’ novel, students were made aware of what had occurred in the novel up to that point, again through effective explanations and questioning. Another effective pre-reading strategy was observed when the students had to speculate about the theme of a poem from its title, prior to reading it.
There was a very good example of team teaching observed. In this example, students were set the task of tracing the development of a relationship from the beginning to the end of a poem. The teachers moved around the room helping the students and listening to their points. This also ensured good differentiation as students were working at a pace most appropriate to them. It is recommended that all teachers circulate the classroom during each lesson to ensure that all students are on task.
Effective questioning led to very good student participation in many lessons. These questions often ranged from lower-order to more higher-order questions; for example, asking students how different characters in a novel felt at different points. Good practice was also seen in that most teachers asked questions of all students to keep them involved, which generally led to good maintenance of discipline.
Pair work was effectively used in some lessons which allowed students to work together for a portion of the lesson, to take responsibility for their own learning and to learn from each other. When such work was assigned or when students were working individually the teachers gave very good individual attention to students. There was further evidence of good practice when, in preparing students for pair work, teachers provided students with a framework which helped them to structure their points.
There was good integration of the acquisition of writing and reading skills. For example, in studying a novel, the importance of using paragraphs was pointed out to students so that they were made aware of how each paragraph has a different purpose. In addition, students worked together to examine how the author developed his theme. Good integration of language and literature was also observed in students’ copy work. For example, students had to write diary entries or letters from the point of view of characters from their studied text. This is very good practice as it encourages students to see English as an integrated whole as opposed to a series of genres studied in isolation.
Links were established between texts, which is good practice. However, there was one example where too much information in relation to a lot of texts was presented, which had the potential to cause some confusion. In addition, rather than teaching a different aspect of the English course each day, it is suggested that it would be better if longer texts were taught in blocks with other language work integrated with these texts rather than students doing a number of different texts together. This will also ensure that texts are completed in one school year.
New vocabulary was clearly explained during the lessons and there was very good emphasis placed on language acquisition. One very effective example of this was observed where students, together with their teacher, had developed a ‘word web’ of key images and words from their Shakespearean text. Students had to find examples of certain key words in each scene, paraphrase the sentences where these words occurred, and explain them. This led to the students, who were mainly newcomers, becoming aware of the importance of these words and images and developing a clear understanding of their meaning.
Some classrooms were stimulating learning environments with key words, key quotes, project work, samples of students’ work and relevant posters on display. This is in keeping with best practice. There was evidence in some cases that these displays are regularly changed to reflect the different work of students. Good practice was seen in one classroom where a ‘quote of the week’ was displayed.
In many classes, students were given one piece of longer writing each month as well as other written work in between. This work often took the form of summarising texts. It is recommended that students be given longer pieces of writing on a more regular basis. In addition, it is important that students are set writing tasks in a range of genres, for different purposes and audiences.
Very good teacher-student relationships often led to highly motivated students. Most students in most class groups worked hard and were learning in a secure and comfortable learning environment. All teachers were encouraging of their students. The range of effective and often lively teaching strategies observed ensured that students’ different learning styles were catered for. A feature of all lessons observed was that students were actively involved in their learning.
It was heartening to see what teachers could achieve with such a diversity of students. As already noted, there is a strong emphasis in the school on students being encouraged to achieve to their highest possible potential and to take at least ordinary level in English in the state examinations.
Incoming first-year students are assessed in the February preceding their entry to the school to identify those who may need learning support. The close liaison with feeder primary schools also ensures that these students are recognised. These students are re-tested on entry to the school to determine their particular needs. This is good practice. In addition, students may be referred for learning support by parents or subject teachers. Newcomer students’ language proficiency is tested through interview and by using the language proficiency benchmarks provided by Integrate Ireland Language and Training. This is very good practice.
Students sit class-based Christmas examinations and formal summer examinations. Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations. It is at the discretion of the teacher if these are corrected internally or externally. There is a strong emphasis on the use of the school journal in communicating with the home, and letters home are translated into the appropriate language for parents of newcomer students. This is highly commended. Parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group annually. Common papers are not set for in-house examinations. The setting of common papers would ultimately help in the planning process and ensure that the same learning outcomes are achieved. This is recommended for mixed-ability class groups.
There was evidence that students are well profiled by their teachers. Teachers give regular class-based tests during the year. An examination of students’ copies suggested that, when correcting work, some teachers only give a grade on this work. It is recommended that more constructive written feedback be given to students so that they can see where they need to improve. In addition, teachers should share the criteria of assessment with students at junior and senior cycle.
When two teachers are sharing a class, it is suggested that students have different copies for each teacher or else divide the copy in two in order to facilitate the correction of work by the relevant teacher. This suggestion is made as there was evidence, in one case, that some of this work is not regularly corrected.
The very good practice of students having folders to store their resources was observed in some classes. There was one example where students had separate folders for different aspects of their
course and maintained these with pride. In addition, some teachers expect students to have hardback copies for their work which were also well maintained. On the whole, students presented their work to a good standard. There was also good practice in that allocated homework was written on the board. There is no homework policy at present. It is recommended that such a policy be developed by the school.
JCSP Christmas and summer celebrations are held annually and a student award night is held every summer.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good whole school support and provision for English.
· There are very good literacy strategies in place for JCSP students and these students are well profiled.
· The school provides a range of co-curricular activities for its students.
· SEN is well organised and supported within the school.
· Newcomer students are well integrated and well served by the school.
· School management has a policy of encouraging students to aim to achieve to their highest achievable potential.
· English teachers were all very well prepared for their lessons.
· All year groups, regardless of the programme they were studying covered a range of material and were exposed to a range of genre. The focus on high standards and appropriately challenging work is highly commendable.
· The purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the start. The pace of all lessons was appropriate for the class group. Teachers gave clear instructions to their students.
· A range of effective teaching and learning strategies was observed which led to active learning and good student involvement.
· There was good integration of the acquisition of writing skills and reading skills. New vocabulary was clearly explained during the lessons and there was very good emphasis on language acquisition.
· Some classrooms were stimulating learning environments.
· Very good teacher-student relationships often led to highly motivated students. Most students in most class groups worked hard and were learning in a secure and comfortable learning environment.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A policy should be developed whereby all English teachers rotate the teaching of cycles, programmes and levels.
· In relation to planning, it is recommended that the English teachers meet together as one cohesive group on a regular basis with one teacher acting as co-ordinator of this group. A record of each meeting should be kept. An electronic long-term English plan should be developed which should include learning outcomes that each year group should achieve, an inventory of available resources to support the teaching of English and an assessment/homework plan for English. English teachers should agree on specific work to cover with their fifth-year class groups until such time as class groups are finalised. The language support policy should be further developed and formalised.
· The texts taught at senior cycle should be kept under review to ensure that they suit the tastes and abilities of the particular student cohort. It is also recommended that all students from first year should have a dictionary in class. The strong focus on reading should be extended beyond JCSP to all first-year class groups.
· Students should be given long pieces of writing on a more regular basis in a range of genres, for different purposes and audiences.
· The setting of common papers is recommended for mixed-ability class groups. It is recommended that a homework policy be developed by the school.
· Teachers should give constructive written feedback on students’ work and share the criteria of assessment with students.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.