An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Beneavin De La Salle College
Finglas, Dublin 11
Roll number: 60511O
Date of inspection: 1, 2 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Beneavin De La Salle College. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
In Beneavin De La Salle College, English enjoys a good level of whole-school support. Timetabling allocation is good: five periods are provided for each year group in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes. Leaving Certificate Applied students are allocated five lessons per week and this represents very good provision. Additional lessons are provided for all students in need of literacy and numeracy support and this is commended. In the majority of classes, lessons are evenly distributed over the week. Two of the third-year groups are timetabled concurrently and this allows students to move from one level to another.
It is commendable that students are taught in a mixed-ability setting in first and second year. In third year, access to higher and ordinary levels is determined by a combination of in-house examination results and teacher assessment. In view of the fact that examinations play a role in determining access to levels in the third year of the junior cycle, it is recommended that common examinations papers be set. In the senior cycle, access to levels is determined by performance in the Junior Certificate examination. In both the junior and senior cycle, there is consultation with students and their parents. Every effort is made to ensure that as many students as possible have access to higher-level English and the school is commended in this regard.
A good range of audio-visual resources is available to the department. In addition almost all teachers are classroom based. This is useful for storing materials and it also facilitates the use of the wall space as an additional learning resource. The school is in the middle of an ambitious building programme and phase one has already been completed with phase two scheduled for completion during the final term of the academic year 2007/08. The second phase will provide a new library that will include information and communications technology (ICT) resources. Through the parentsí association funding has been provided for books and the school augmented its stock in recent times. Due to the current building programme, the old library has been closed and the book stock is now in storage. The new library promises to be a very good resource for the school as a whole and for the English department in particular and should provide not only a space in which students can read for pleasure and conduct research, but should also be a focal point for events such as book readings, book clubs and the showcasing of studentsí own writing. Liaison with local library services could be of benefit. In addition, useful information is available at www.library.ie (the portal site for Irelandís libraries). Other useful sources are the School Library Association in the Republic of Ireland (SLARI), and the School Library Association of Britain (www.sla.org.uk/). The learning-support department has some useful resources for the teaching and learning of English. However, there is no designated learning-support room and general classrooms are used for the purpose. In line with best practice, a designated learning-support room should be made available, complete with ICT facilities and a range of software and text resources.
The school has two computer rooms and there is a booking system in operation. Some classrooms also have computers. The school is planning to raise funds for additional ICT resources and it is reported that efforts will be made to ring-fence equipment such as a data projector and computer for the department. In general there was little evidence of the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of English other than on an occasional basis for the LCA group. This is a matter that should be addressed. While there is no designated budget for English, applications for materials and resources are made to the principal.
The English teaching team is well balanced in terms of gender and can draw on a rich and diverse range of experience. It is commendable that each member of the teaching team has the opportunity to teach English in all programmes and at all levels as this allows the team to develop teaching expertise. School management is willing to support continuous professional development (CPD) and funding is available to assist teachers. Teachers are also released for all appropriate in-service training. In addition, the school is proactive in identifying the CPD needs of the staff as a whole. For example, in-service is currently being planned in the areas of classroom management and health. In order to optimise the benefits of mixed-ability teaching, further training in differentiation could be sought either by individual English teachers or could be provided in the context of the schoolís whole-staff training programme. Information is available through the Second Level Support Services (SLSS) website.
Through its own information gathering and assessment procedures, the school has identified a number of students in each year group who require additional literacy support. A smaller number have psychological assessments. The school has a teaching allocation of just over three posts or approximately seventy-three hours for learning-support and special educational needs. Learning support is delivered to individuals, to small groups who are withdrawn from lessons for that purpose and to small class units. Due to staff changes, the school does not have a qualified learning-support teacher at present. One of the English teaching team is planning to apply for training in the area next year. A number of other teachers across a variety of subject areas provide learning support to students. In view of this, the school could consider providing whole-staff training in this area in the context of its CPD planning. There is good informal liaison and strong collaboration between the learning-support department and the English teachers at an individual level. Teachers of English are deployed in the teaching of groups that have literacy needs. In addition, the school has added the Leaving Certificate Applied programme to its range of programmes in order to meet the needs of students. As the school is a participant in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme, it is hoped that Beneavin College may be able to access the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) at some time in the future in addition to those supports the school is receiving already. Individual education plans have been prepared for some students through the schoolís care team. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process are a useful resource in this regard. The publication is available through www.ncse.ie.
The school does not have a significant intake of international students with language needs and does not at present have a language allocation. Students whose mother tongue is not English come from the feeder primary schools in the majority of cases and have already achieved sufficient competency in English to access the full curriculum.
Some extra-curricular and co-curricular activities support the teaching and learning of English, for example, students go on outings to the theatre and cinema.
At present, Beneavin de La Salle College does not have a formal subject department structure with a co-ordinator and regular minuted meetings. Designated meetings of the English teaching team take place once or twice a year to deal with administrative issues such as class formation and book choices. The teaching team is characterised by a collaborative ethos. Individual teachers of English meet informally on a regular basis and exchange ideas and resources. All members of the teaching staff have designated meeting time on Wednesdays to discuss themes in groups and they report back to the principal. In addition, members of the general teaching staff meet on a voluntary basis after school to discuss pedagogical themes. Such initiative and professional dedication is highly commended. It is recommended that the teaching team institute a formal structure and that a member of the team undertakes the role of co-ordinator. Formal meetings should take place at least three times a year and records of decisions taken, issues discussed and strategies planned should be maintained. The role of co-ordinator should be clearly defined and agreed by the team. If desired, the role could be undertaken annually on a rotating basis. This would give all members of the teaching team experience of a leadership role while at the same time ensuring that responsibility was equitably distributed.
There is no department plan and consequently no coherent, coordinated and holistic approach to the delivery of the subject throughout the school. The absence of planning for the subject was highlighted in a previous report. It is understood that the school has concentrated its attention on other areas of whole-school planning and on its building programme. The school now intends to visit the area of subject planning across the curriculum. It is strongly recommended that the English teaching team engage in planning for the subject. Information is available through the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) website at www.sdpi.ie. The plan for English should reflect the syllabus aims and objectives of all programmes currently being provided in the school. In line with findings in the report, Looking at English, and to ensure best practice in the area of planning, it is recommended that a strong emphasis be placed on desired learning outcomes and skills for each year group and that these are linked to choice of texts.
The plan for English should show evidence of an integrated approach to language and literature by explicitly stating the links between reading and writing. The school should refer to Looking at English for further information helpful in the formulation of a plan for the subject. In the context of developing a plan for English, the department should develop a reading policy and this should be consistently implemented in all classes throughout the school.†
The English plan should also document assessment policy and practice: procedures agreed in relation to assessment of learning should be documented in the plan. There should be a strong emphasis on assessment for learning. For advice on assessment, consult www.ncca.ie. The chief examinersí reports with exemplar materials might prove to be a useful resource and both are available at www.examinatons.ie.†
Given that the English teaching team has access to ICT and that this is likely to increase further in the context of development of resources, it is recommended that ICT be integrated into the planning and delivery of English in all classes throughout the school and that team members seek training, if necessary.
The school is conscious of the need to develop planning in the area of learning support. There is no formal written policy or plan in the area at present. This is a matter that should be addressed as a matter of urgency. The school does have effective procedures in the area of assessment and provision of support, and there are good practices such as paired reading. However strategic planning is necessary. Assessment procedures whether initial or ongoing should be fully documented in the plan. In the context of forward planning the English department should examine practices and procedures in the area of language teaching to students whose first language is not English. Liaison with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) would be very helpful in this regard and information is available at www.iilt.ie.††
There is some degree of collaboration on the choice of texts in the junior cycle, with a common approach to the selection of an anthology. The novel (Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor) is common to all second and third years. Individual teachers may include additional material. Teachers decide, or informally collaborate, on the drama (Our Day Out or The Merchant of Venice). Individual teachers may introduce additional material. The study of one novel and one play over second and third year is limited. At least one appropriately challenging novel should be read in each year of the junior cycle. In planning for texts, reference should be made to the syllabus and care should be taken to ensure that ordinary-level students in particular experience the breadth of English literature. All materials chosen should be sufficiently stimulating and challenging across all programmes including the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. In planning for subject delivery in first year, the teaching team would find it useful to consult the primary school curriculum that is available on line at www.ncca.ie. In the course of liaison with feeder primary schools, information could be gathered on the kinds of texts being read, particularly by the fifth and sixth classes. At senior level, choice of texts is determined by the syllabus and individual teachers make their own selections. It is recommended that choice of texts be reviewed on an on-going basis to avoid staleness.†
In the wider context of whole-school planning, a whole-school literacy policy should be formulated and planning should build on the existing good practices and procedures within the school.
Lessons were well prepared and there was evidence of thoughtful lesson planning. There is a culture of planning at an individual level. All teachers had schemes of work and individual lesson plans. It is recommended that lesson plans document desired learning outcomes and that these are realistic and achievable in the time allocated. Learning outcomes should be shared with students at the start of the lesson. Lesson planning should provide for differentiated teaching strategies and assessment. While on the whole, lesson planning and pace of delivery were effective, in a very small number of cases, the lesson plan should be reviewed to ensure that there is a clear line of development, that the lesson flow is not interrupted by unnecessary interventions on the part of students or the teacher, and that content is stimulating and tailored to the needs and ability of the learners.
The entry phase of most lessons involved housekeeping tasks such as recording attendance before the lesson itself commenced. In all lessons, content was appropriate to the syllabus: areas such as drama, writing skills, generic writing, poetry and stories were covered. The text (either in book form or photocopied from books) was the most frequently used resource. In one lesson, a video clip had been prepared and this reinforced lesson content. Such practice is commended. In a couple of lessons, imaginative props (drama) and visual/tactile stimuli (poetry) were used and considerable imagination was invested in the preparation and use of these. These resources helped students to either visualise scenes or to enter into the imaginative world of the poem. This represents very good practice and could be a model for all lessons. The board was used effectively to record homework tasks, to outline notes or aspects of the lesson content, or to act as a focus and support for whole-class activity. In general, the board could be used more frequently to document lesson outcomes, to record studentsí contributions or answers and to reinforce key words and new words. Care should be taken not to overcrowd the board with information. The wall space was used imaginatively in many classrooms visited and useful learning aids were noted in a few cases. There will be further scope for development of the wall space in all classrooms where English is taught after phase two of the building project is complete.
Explanations and instructions were clear for the most part and excellent in their directness and simplicity in a few cases. In a few lessons, however, students were uncertain about the nature of the task set, especially those who were particularly anxious or whose concentration level was low. It is advisable to write instructions clearly on the board or have a prepared acetate (or slide if ICT is being used) so that all students are on task.
Students were actively engaged in some classes visited where a scene from a play was read by students playing roles. In another the reconfigured seating arrangements stimulated student interaction. Such good practices are commended. There was little evidence of group work or collaborative learning in the lessons visited and this is an area that could be developed both to encourage greater participation, and to promote social and leadership skills. It is recommended that active-learning methodologies be integrated into lesson delivery whenever possible in order to secure the engagement of all students and to accommodate a range of learning styles.
Careful questioning was used to monitor understanding. In the best examples, questioning was structured and a variety of question types were used, both lower and higher order. Questioning sessions were lively in some lessons and teachers moved around the classroom to ensure that all learners were on task. This represents very good practice. Some very good strategies were used to ensure learnerís attention and understanding: examples noted were teacher demonstration and the relation of anecdotes and stories, sometimes humorous in nature. It was clear that the students both enjoyed and learned through the use of such strategies.
Students responded with enthusiasm in most lessons. Through interaction it was clear that students had a good knowledge of the work they had covered. They asked questions for clarification or, in some cases, showed a good level of engagement by volunteering information drawing on their own experience. Particularly commended is the sensitive manner in which many queries were dealt with, the reassurance given to students and the affirmation many students received both orally and in written feedback.
There was an emphasis on the development of studentsí oral skills, both formally and informally. A debating topic was introduced in one lesson and students were asked to prepare arguments on the side of both the proposition and opposition. The concept of team effort was also reinforced. It is reported that students participate in internal debating competitions: this is an excellent way of developing studentsí oral skills and this focus is to be commended. Students were asked to read aloud and this was a useful strategy to encourage participation and increase confidence in oral proficiency. To maximise the benefits of this exercise, efforts should be made to assess the individual studentís reading skills with a view to improving competency in cases where reading is less that fluid. It might also prove useful to set reading tasks for advance preparation.
An emphasis on the development of listening skills was observed in some lessons observed. Most students listened attentively while others read either from their own work or from the text. In a few instances, students disengaged. To develop listening skills, tasks should be set to encourage feedback and ensure the concentration of all students. In addition, consideration should be given to exposing students to a range of audio readings of prose, drama and poetry. Expressive reading by the teacher enhanced enjoyment in a lesson observed. Students learn from this modelling and care should be taken to ensure that all students are given an opportunity to practise their own skills.
The mechanics of writing were a focus in one lesson and this was conduced in a lively and engaging manner. Reinforcement of basic skills such as punctuation is highly commended. In a couple of instances a written task was assigned and this afforded teachers an opportunity to circulate and monitor progress. Most lessons ended with the assignment of written homework tasks. In many samples of homework seen, short answers to questions based on poems or extracts from an anthology were frequent. Where these occur, students should be encouraged to flesh out their answers and should also be encouraged to write full sentences and to develop their presentation skills. It may be necessary to provide samples so that students are clear regarding expectations. There were some samples of creative and personal writing and these are commended. In general, personal and creative writing should receive greater emphasis. Opportunities to develop a sense of audience could be generated through public readings, a magazine or the development of an English website. Consideration could also be given to contacting the Writers in Residence scheme sponsored by Poetry Ireland: information on this and on the development of an English website can be accessed through the SLSS.
Where possible, language and literature should be integrated and opportunities to write in a variety of genres should be generated through the study of texts. A collaborative project, where students worked together to write a play is highly commended and could become a model for other writing projects. In all cases, homework, whether written or oral, should be directly linked to expected learning outcomes. While there was some evidence of direct personal responses being encouraged, there should be far more emphases on the expression of studentsí views, whether orally or in writing. Ideally, personal response diaries should be maintained.
Given the schoolís context, a minority of students presented with challenging behaviour: students were however managed very effectively in the vast majority of cases. All students learn in a caring and supportive environment consistent with the schoolís ethos, and all are encouraged to reach their full potential.
The school plans to develop a homework policy as a matter of priority. In tandem with this, the English team should integrate the policy into planning for English and customise the policy as appropriate to the subject. The number of substantial written homework assignments required for each year group could be included in the plan. In general, a wider range of assessment modes should be consistently used in all year groups, for example, continuous assessment through projects and portfolios of work.
Written homework is set regularly, is appropriate to syllabus requirements and is generally corrected conscientiously. It is good practice to date homework corrections so that students and teachers can track progress more accurately.
In the best examples of homework assessment seen, students are advised on strategies for improvement. In a lesson observed, formative assessment was used effectively in a whole-class context: the teacher identified common punctuation errors in written homework and corrected these in a whole-class activity using the board and questioning for reinforcement. This is good practice, arising as it does out of immediate experience and in an appropriate context. In a set of samples seen, students were encouraged to express their personal views and to evaluate texts they had read in class. The standard of answering was, in many cases, of a high order and teacher annotation focused on positive feedback and on formative dialogue designed to encourage students to interrogate their own responses. This good practice should be extended to all groups.
Assessment of learning takes place through class testing and in-house examinations that are held twice a year (Christmas and summer). Mock examinations are held for third and sixth years and these are set and corrected by external examiners.
Formal reports are sent home after in-house examinations. During the course of the academic year, a parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group. Communication is also maintained through the studentís journal and through direct phone contact where necessary.
At present, examination outcomes (whether in-house or state) are not analysed by way of comparison to national norms. This is an area for development since such an analysis can be used to modify teaching and learning practices and to set targets for individual and departmental planning. The school is very satisfied with the results achieved by its students in the national examinations.†
In general common in-house examinations are not set. The use of results for access to levels has already been referred to in the opening section of this report. The setting of common papers for discrete levels should be considered for all class groups since this reflects a consistent and co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the subject.
Records of attendance and assessment are kept. It is advisable to ensure that full details of assignments are maintained in order to enable teachers to provide accurate advice on programmes and levels for students, parents and other concerned professionals where applicable.
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.