An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Templeogue Road, Dublin 6W
Roll number: 60570H
Date of inspection: 10 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Terenure 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 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.
There is good whole school provision for English in first and third year as class groups have five lessons a week. Second-year class groups have four English lessons each week which is satisfactory provision. Provision for senior cycle English is very good as Transition Year (TY) class groups have five lessons each week and fifth-year and sixth-year class groups have six lessons each week. TY students may also opt to study Media Studies, where they produce a radio show. This option complements English. Generally, there is an even distribution of English lesson periods across the week with the sole exception of first years, who have English twice on one day.
Students are placed in mixed-ability class groups in first year for English, which is good practice. They are then placed in ability groupings for English from the beginning of second year, on the basis of their first-year Christmas and summer examinations. It is recommended that consideration be given to continuing with mixed-ability English class groups until at least the end of second year. Alternatively, consideration could be given to banding students from second year. As it stands, the final decision about which level students will take in their Junior Certificate English examination is not made until third year, so delaying the final placement of students into higher-level and ordinary-level class groups could be beneficial in this regard as well as raising the self-esteem and expectations of students in lower-ability class groups.
A small class group is formed for English in first, second and third year for students with special educational needs (SEN). Even if the English department decide to move to mixed ability in second year, it may still be appropriate to form one standalone class of students with SEN, especially in second and third year. Students may move out of these SEN classes if it is deemed appropriate by teachers.
TY students are banded for English. It is recommended that TY students be placed in mixed-ability class groups for English as such placement is more in keeping with the spirit and philosophy of Transition Year. The fact that students are placed in ability groupings for English from the beginning of fifth year is appropriate at this stage of their time in school. These students are set into their class groups on the basis of their performance in the Junior Certificate state examination in English and on their performance in TY.
Class groups are concurrently timetabled from first year through to sixth year which allows for movement of students and for whole year activities to take place. Such timetabling is highly commended.
Eleven teachers currently teach English in Terenure College as well as two teachers who are studying for a Post Graduate Diploma in Education. Good practice occurs in that class groups retain the same English teacher from second year into third year and from fifth year into sixth year. Management ensures that all teachers have the opportunity to teach all programmes and levels, as appropriate.
Students are provided with a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English. They have many opportunities to perform in or be involved in the organisation of drama productions in both junior and senior cycle; a play is produced by first and second years, TY students stage a drama production for a national competition, and, in fifth and sixth year, a play, generally from the Junior or Leaving Certificate English course, is produced in conjunction with the local girls’ secondary school. Teachers arrange for visiting drama groups to perform in the school and teachers also bring students to the theatre to view performances of texts on their course and other productions. Students participate in in-class and external debating and public speaking competitions. There is a debating society in operation in the school and member teams compete against each other culminating in a junior and senior chamber final. Students also participate in a range of national competitions including the Concern Debates, Toastmasters and the Model United Nations. Students are also given opportunities to attend lectures on aspects of their English course and have been brought on various field trips related to literature. This range of activities for students of English is highly commended.
There is a strong awareness of the importance of information and communication technology (ICT) among teachers of English who use ICT in downloading teaching resources, for teaching and learning, and for encouraging students’ project work. The English department has developed a policy on teaching English through ICT which emphasises that ICT should be used widely in classroom practice and for students to draft and redraft their work. The policy also gives practical examples of how ICT can be applied to English and includes a list of useful websites. The recognition among members of the English department of the usefulness of ICT and its importance in the twenty-first century is highly commended. Students have base classrooms in Terenure College. Two of these rooms are equipped with data projectors and the fact that more data projectors are soon to be installed in classrooms is to be welcomed as it will allow more teacher access to ICT as a teaching tool. A television and DVD player is available in each year group area and each English teacher has a CD player. Good practice takes place in that teachers use these to play material such as recordings of poems to enhance the learning experiences of their students. There is a lecture hall in the school which is used by English teachers for screening films on the course.
There is good whole school support for English in the school. Teachers have access to a range of resources and it was reported that finances for resources are provided on request if deemed appropriate. In addition, there is very good practice in that English teachers have a resource area for the storage of books, DVDs and videos. They also have a shared drive on the school network where they store useful notes and resources on various aspects of the English course. This is excellent practice as it allows all teachers to access these notes and avoids duplication of work.
There is a library in the college which is quite well stocked with a range of novels and other useful resources. The library is open during morning break and is operated by a post-holder and library prefects. English teachers are commended for their efforts to encourage the reading habit among their students. They distribute book lists to all first-year and TY students. Students are encouraged to participate in the Readathon and TY students must all participate in the ‘Read a Book’ scheme which involves students reading at least seven books of their own choice over the course of the year.
A small number of students are in receipt of resource hours for SEN or English language support. Students with literacy support needs are identified on the basis of psychological reports, the incoming first-years’ assessment examination, internal assessments and through ongoing liaison with subject teachers. Students’ English language support needs are identified through an oral interview and through liaison with the English teachers. Students with SEN are supported through the creation of smaller classes and through individual and small group withdrawal and they may receive support until the end of sixth year. This flexibility of approach to meet the needs of these students is commended. Students in need of English language support receive such support at the time Irish is timetabled. It is commended that students with SEN are retested at the end of each year to ascertain improvements. The school is also commended for promoting a gifted students’ programme which encourages students to undertake additional research projects, many of which are linked to English.
Good practice takes place in that all teachers are aware of the SEN of their students and there was evidence of very good liaison between the SEN department and the English teachers.
There was evidence of very good collegiality and very good sharing of resources and ideas among members of the English department. English teachers arrange monthly meetings at lunch time to discuss matters pertaining to English and to share effective teaching strategies. This is indicative of their commitment to their subject and their students and their desire to constantly improve. Management also provides meeting time for subject department meetings four times each year. Minutes of these meetings are recorded and are evidence of good reflection and discussion on a range of issues. The co-ordination of English is highly effective as seen from the English department plan and the minutes of meetings. The plan is a working document that is used by all teachers. The learning outcomes that each year group should achieve are outlined in the plan as well as the course content for each year group as is best practice. It is highly commended that the plan stipulates the frequency of longer pieces of work for each year group. This means that students get regular writing practice. In addition, the plan is an excellent document for English teachers who are new to the school as it not only gives a clear outline of expected work for each year group, but it also outlines key policies in relation to English.
English teachers agree literary texts to teach from first year through to sixth year which ensures consistency and is important for students who may change level. First-year students study a novel, drama, short stories and a range of poetry and have frequent practice in writing. A first-year scrapbook, devised by each student, contains examples of poetic devices and figures of speech and is an example of the sharing of very good practice among all teachers. Second-year students cover a variety of appropriate work in a range of genres, including a number of essays, poems, two novels, film and radio studies, debating and oratory. The second-year English programme allows students to continue to develop the key skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening and is highly commended. Good practice also takes place in that poetry is taught thematically and grammar and the mechanics of language are taught in an integrated way throughout the year. Again, the third-year course is highly appropriate with a wide range of poetry, short stories and a drama being taught. In addition, students are given an essay every two weeks.
Students’ progress is checked at Christmas of second year and a common examination is held for all fifth-year English classes in October; in both cases to ensure correct placement. This is very good practice. In order to facilitate any further movement between class groups, all fifth-year teachers follow the same English programme until Christmas. Such collaboration is commended.
It was clear from the TY plan that solid work is covered in this year in a range of genre including a novel, play, film, poetry and writing. Some of the chosen literary texts and poetry in TY are also likely to appear on the Leaving Certificate English course. While it is good practice that TY is used to teach some of the skills that students will need for their Leaving Certificate, they should have a broader experience of English in this year and therefore, it is recommended that teachers choose other texts that do not appear on the Leaving Certificate and that any texts that may appear should be taught in a significantly different manner. The TY guidelines should be referred to in this regard. The good practice of some class groups doing a project on Irish writers is acknowledged. The ‘Read a Book’ scheme is also highly commended. The completed log filled by students after reading each book is used as part of the requirements to fulfil the Gaisce awards. It was reported that teachers encourage their students to make oral presentations on books they have read. In addition, students are given many opportunities to write in a range of genre throughout the year.
The English department has outlined its aims and objectives for the teaching of various aspects of the English course. Overall, there was clear evidence of students experiencing an incremental approach to learning from first year through to sixth year with the focus, as evidenced from the English plan and from observation of teaching and learning, being on building skills from year to year.
A gold medal essay competition is held for each year group in the school and these are presented at the annual summer prize giving. Good practice takes place in that winning entries are published in the college annual and there are plans to publish them on the college website.
The English teachers in Terenure College presented as being committed to their students and effective classroom practitioners. Lesson content was appropriately challenging and a range of work had been covered by students. The quality of teaching and learning was generally very good and all teachers were well prepared for their lessons. There was a clear purpose established to each lesson observed. In many cases, this purpose was explicitly stated and written on the board. As a result of this very good practice the lessons were clearly structured. Good links were established with previous learning and students proved to be very good at creating links between texts on their course. In addition, a number of links with other subjects were created by teachers to put students’ learning in context.
Generally, there was very good student participation in lessons. Teachers frequently asked questions to ensure understanding, to encourage discussion and to challenge students to think more deeply about their texts. The fact that the teachers gave students time to think prior to answering led them to come up with good ideas. Questioning was best when the teachers asked questions by naming students as this ensured that all students were challenged to contribute.
Teachers sought students’ initial reactions when introducing a new topic which is good practice as it encourages students to take responsibility for their learning. Other successful teaching strategies included prediction, mind mapping, use of pair work, use of visuals including ICT to reinforce learning and encouragement of class discussion. The use of pair and group work to discuss a particular text or aspect of a text should be further employed by all teachers as it generates discussion between individuals and allows students to learn from each other.
There were some samples of students’ work on display in some classrooms and it is recommended that more teachers display samples of students’ work and key words and quotations in the classrooms.
Very good practice took place in that when work was set for a portion of the lesson the teacher gave individual attention to students. In addition, a range of resources was used by teachers to supplement their teaching and support learning. A differentiated curriculum is used by some teachers as appropriate.
There was widespread use of students’ own work as examples of good practice and this is commended; so too is the focus on students’ personal response that was observed. Students displayed a good knowledge of literary devices and the technicalities of language. Their vocabulary was also seen to be well developed through techniques such as ‘word of the week’, teaching homophones and checking the meaning of words. Very good points were made by teachers in relation to state examinations and teachers ensured that examination classes worked on improving any areas of difficulty.
There was clear evidence that the English department’s policy of giving regular longer pieces of writing was being implemented. Students from first year through to sixth year receive regular practice in writing in a range of genre. Good practice occurred in that most teachers wrote homework on the board and the board was also well used to record main points made during the course of the lesson. Assigned work generally complemented the work done in class.
All teachers integrated the teaching of language and literature so that students learned that English is more than a series of genre taught in isolation. Effective examples of this included students having to write a detective story using a variety of styles of writing; students comparing two poems, one being a parody of the other, and the other a piece of writing on a similar theme; students writing a travel brochure based on places described by a particular poet and students writing a letter to a poet on their course. Students were also encouraged to describe how they would direct specific scenes from a play.
Teachers were respectful of their students and were affirming, inclusive and supportive in all their interactions. They encouraged all students and the standard of learning was good in all lessons. In addition, there was evidence of clear progression in learning. Students were generally very interested and engaged and worked hard in their lessons. However, in some lessons, when given the opportunity for discussion and to answer questions, the interactions between students were disrespectful as some students tended to jeer others who were answering. In addition, some students showed lack of respect to their teachers. Such behaviour makes it difficult for the teacher to engage students in activities such as class discussion or pair and group work. In addition, it makes it difficult for the more reticent student to venture an opinion. Such behaviour should not be tolerated by any teacher. The current whole school review of the school’s Code of Discipline and Anti-Bullying policy is to be welcome as it provides opportunities for teachers to address such issues.
The state examination results reflect the very good teaching observed. There is a good uptake of higher-level English in state examinations and an analysis of those results in English indicate that students in both Junior and Leaving Certificate achieve very well in their chosen level. There is a high ‘A’ rate at higher-level and ordinary-level Junior Certificate English. The latter indicates that some of the ordinary-level students might have been able for higher level in the state examination.
The English department conducts a review of results on an annual basis and compares them to previous years, which is very good practice. Teachers also review formal examination results to ensure that they are consistent with their students’ ability.
All students sit examinations at Christmas and all students, with the exception of third and sixth years, also sit summer exams. Reports are sent home based on these exams. Third and sixth years receive reports based on Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. TY students also sit an Easter examination. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for all year groups in the school. Very good practice takes place in that teachers set a common paper for all first years in English as a determinant of their placement in second year. Common papers are set for class groups of similar ability in second, third, fourth and fifth year with commonly agreed marking scheme. All of this is commended. Very good practice also takes place in that teachers correct their own ‘mock’ examinations and ensure that students are aware of where they need to improve as a result of these examinations. Good practice also takes place in that students who qualify for reasonable accommodation in the state examinations are allocated such accommodation in formal school examinations.
Teachers keep good profiles of their students and there was evidence of regular tests and work being set. Third-year and TY students receive credits for completion of homework as a motivation to work consistently. First-year and fifth-year students receive a report each term based on the amount of homework completed. As part of the English plan, the amount of appropriate homework for each year group is stipulated which is very good practice. There were some very good instances observed in correction of this homework where constructive feedback on longer pieces of work was given to students. It is recommended that this become the practice of all teachers so that students know the areas where they need to improve. The good practice of using the discrete criteria of assessment when correcting Leaving Certificate students’ work was also noted. Peer assessment is also used as a means of initially correcting work, which is good practice.
Generally, students’ work was well maintained. Some class groups keep their work in folders and some excellent folders were observed. In some classes, students organised their copies or folders into different sections of the English course or had separate copies for different aspects of course and it is recommended that this practice be encouraged by all teachers. Many class groups had folders which contained a range of useful notes given by the teachers to supplement learning.
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.
Published October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Staff and Management of Terenure College welcome the Subject Inspection of English and the subsequent report.
In particular we welcome and appreciate the recognition and commendation given to:
We have reflected upon the report’s key recommendations and make the following observations: