An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Mount Carmel Secondary School
King’s Inns Street, Dublin 1
Roll number: 60853T
Date of inspection: 23 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mount Carmel Secondary School. 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written 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.
Mount Carmel Secondary School is located in Dublin city centre, in a fine building about sixty years old. While the school has a strong local identity and good links with various bodies in the community, its central location means that a number of students commute to the school from suburban Dublin. Mount Carmel has designated disadvantaged status, which has led to additional teacher allocation to support literacy and numeracy development, the availability of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), and the appointment of a home school community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. The school has a sizable number of international students, many of whom are eligible for language support. The presence of students from many different nationalities and language backgrounds has brought about change which the school views in a positive light. It was reported that many students are highly motivated, wishing to do well in state examinations and proceed to third level. The principal pointed out that Mount Carmel has had a relatively low turnover of staff, reflecting a commitment towards the school and a strong sense of esprit de corps. One of the newer members of staff is a former student of the school.
Provision for English in the number and distribution of periods of English on the timetable is very good in senior cycle with a lesson every day in fifth and sixth year, and four well-distributed lessons in both years for Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The provision in transition year of three lessons a week is also satisfactory. In junior cycle, provision for JCSP is good with a lesson every day, except in first year, and additional support provided where it is required. The situation in first year where two lessons fall on the same day should be avoided in future, as it is important that these students have very regular contact with the subject. For the classes not taking JCSP, provision is not as good with just four lessons a week, although these are well distributed. An additional period of English in first year next year is planned, in order to provide a designated library period. This is to be welcomed. It is recommended that serious consideration be given to increasing the provision of English throughout the junior cycle to allow time for the development of reading and writing skills which have a significant impact on students’ progress across the curriculum.
Eleven teachers are involved in the delivery of English in Mount Carmel, although one of these teaches English exclusively in the context of language support: that is, English as a second language (ESL). Of the other ten, four take a mainstream class for only one or two periods a week, and may also be giving literacy support. It is acknowledged that various forms of team teaching are established practice in the school and also that timetable clashes may cause difficulties. Nonetheless, situations where teachers have only a very marginal timetable commitment to the subject should be avoided where possible. The involvement of a very large number of teachers creates practical difficulties in the area of subject planning and a more consolidated delivery of the subject helps to promote consistency and continuity. However, it should also be said that a high level of commitment and co-operation was evident among the English teaching team.
Students are placed in either a regular Junior Certificate or a JCSP stream in first year, on the basis of pre-entry assessments, psychological reports and information from primary schools. Teachers are deployed so as to ensure that classes where students will benefit from more individual attention are smaller in size. At present there are two base classes in each year of the junior cycle, and smaller class groups are created within the JCSP stream and also for language support. It is likely that there will be three classes in first year next year and this will create further possibilities for class formation and student placement. Whatever criteria may be decided on, it is important that they balance the need to provide an appropriate level of support for each student with the need to provide an appropriate level of challenge so that students may be assisted to realise their potential.
In relation to the provision of language support, which is generally timetabled with Irish since most international students are exempt from Irish, difficulties have arisen where students with good language competence are in an ESL group because no other subject is offered at that time. The school management recognises that language support classes must focus on language acquisition, and its commitment to addressing this issue in next year’s timetable has been noted and is commended. It should be noted that ESL should be used in preference to TEFL in describing language support for these students.
English is well resourced in the school with class sets of novels, graded readers, computer software and a good provision of audiovisual equipment including a designated TV and DVD player for the English department. In October 2006 a specialist English room was established for the teaching of English as a second language and for extra English classes. There is also a store for resources and teaching materials. In December 2006, it was confirmed that the school is to be included in the JCSP Demonstration Library Project. In the coming months the existing library will be refurbished, the stock will be extended and renewed and a fulltime librarian will be installed. All the staff and students are delighted at the prospect and the school is wished every success with this venture. The contacts already made with other participating schools in order to learn from their experience and good practice are commendable and bode well for the success of the project in Mount Carmel.
Two initiatives complementing literacy support and language support deserve special mention and praise. In one instance, the HSCL co-ordinator is encouraging parents of first-year students to read with them and a selection of suitable books is made available on loan to each home. In the other, parents of international students are offered language support themselves through classes held both in the morning and evening.
The school makes very good provision for Higher Diploma students, including the facility to work closely with the master teacher, an induction programme (for new teachers as well as student teachers) which is the remit of a post holder, and the allocation of a certain amount of teaching but not the full timetable for a class group.
Mount Carmel offers students a wide range of co-curricular activities, including the production of a drama every year, a transition year magazine, visits from writers and theatre companies and participation in a variety of competitions and events including MS Readathon and the JCSP ‘Make a Book’ project. It takes full advantage of its centre-city location to bring students to the theatre and cinema, museums and galleries and places of historical and literary interest. Management and staff are commended for the commitment shown in providing these opportunities for their students.
School development planning is well established in Mount Carmel and the ongoing co-ordination of the school plan is the remit of an assistant principal. In addition to the development of a range of policies, subject department planning has formed a significant part of the school’s planning activity, and the amount of documented planning for English is impressive. Even more impressive is the sense that planning is a live process, involving constant forward planning, reflection on practice, and review.
The role of co-ordinator of English is at present carried out on a voluntary and informal basis by the most senior teacher. In a recent review of posts, it was agreed that the head of department role would not be among the posts of responsibility. There is much merit in keeping the subject co-ordinator role outside of the post structure, particularly where some system of rotation of the position is agreed so that all teachers of English have an opportunity to experience it.
The English teaching team is to be commended on the level of collaboration evident in the planning documents and the records of meetings. Formal meetings are held at the beginning of the school year and again in the second term. It is recommended that a further meeting be held in the third term for timely forward planning for the following year, and review of the current year. The teaching team is following best practice in ensuring that the subject plan is the focus of these formal meetings and is therefore a living document.
The plan for English includes details of the content to be covered, texts, resources and methods of assessment. Planning for transition year and LCA is in line with the aims and objectives of these programmes. In further developing the subject plan, the teaching team should place a particular emphasis on identifying desired learning outcomes. The more detailed these are, the more helpful and concrete the plan itself will be. Of particular importance is a focus on the incremental development of students’ writing skills from year to year. The incorporation of writing frames or templates into the subject plan as one of the strategies to be used is recommended, and their use is discussed further in the next section of the report.
Very good individual planning was also in evidence. Teachers document their work carefully and have assembled a wide range of resources to draw on in their teaching.
Planned programmes are in place for the delivery of literacy support to students. Individual learner plans have been drawn up following a template which has been modified to present the student’s requirements in a clear and accessible way. It was reported that liaison between the learning support department and other teachers is very good, and whole-school in-service on various forms of literacy difficulties has been provided. The meeting of all teachers of first year in December 2006 to discuss the progress of students receiving learning support represents good practice. In relation to the students receiving language support, the school is particularly commended on its efforts to ensure that those who arrive into the senior cycle are enabled to take the state examinations. It is recommended that contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) be maintained, and that the use of the language proficiency benchmarks be incorporated into the planning for language support.
Five lessons were observed in the course of the inspection, including one lesson where team teaching was employed. The lessons were generally well planned and in all cases very good materials had been prepared. Use of the overhead projector to display both verbal and visual texts was particularly good. In planning the use of these materials to further the aims of the lesson, teachers should ensure that they allocate sufficient time for students to absorb them and extract meaning from them. This is especially so where such materials are to act as a trigger for students’ writing. Lessons were well structured and all of them began by placing the topic of the lesson in the context of students’ prior learning. This is good practice and could be extended to ensure that the learning outcomes for the lesson are also stated at the outset.
In addition to use of the overhead projector, other resources including dictionaries, audiobooks and audiotapes of songs, video clips and computers were deployed effectively to develop specific skills. Commendable emphasis was placed on listening skills not only through the use of audiotape but also as a necessary part of class discussion and class reading. The importance of both visual and listening comprehension was demonstrated by an exercise in the reading of video clips in which LCA students acquitted themselves very well. A JCSP class working in the computer room displayed good keyboard skills and were learning how to use the computer for researching their “make a book” project on local writers. Dictionaries in the classroom were a particularly welcome sight, and the integration of their use into regular classroom activity is most commendable.
In all the lessons observed, a friendly and well-ordered atmosphere prevailed. Teachers exercised a calm control, enabling them to use teaching methods that encouraged students to participate actively in their own learning. For example, students were nominated to find new words in the dictionary and to read out the definition for the class who then recorded the words and meanings in their keyword books or copies. Classroom discussion was well managed so as to encourage all students, not only the most vocal ones, to take part. Students were clearly used to working in pairs or small groups, made the necessary moves quickly and got down to the assigned tasks readily. Active reading was encouraged through good pre-reading strategies including prediction of likely events and pre-discussion of important words or references. Team teaching was managed effectively to meet the needs of students who required a greater degree of individual attention.
Generally a good balance was struck between teacher talk and student talk, and students were praised for their contributions and efforts. Questioning was used effectively to elicit from students what they already knew about a topic, engaging their attention and establishing a good base for further learning and enquiry. Carefully directed questions also helped students to see connections between their own experiences and those described in the texts they were studying. In turn, students showed no hesitation in asking questions themselves, sometimes simply to seek clarification but also to speculate about matters such as the motive for or significance of a character’s actions. Since students show such willingness to respond and to give their views, it is suggested that teachers ensure that they ask a variety of questions ranging from straightforward information recall or retrieval questions to those that call on higher order skills of analysis and deduction. The latter kind will require considerable thinking time and students should be made aware of the need to take time before responding and to have considered how they will support their response.
All teachers were aware of the need to focus on writing skills. Where students were writing in class, the teacher circulated to check on work and to emphasise accuracy and legibility. In a lesson observed, preparation for writing a speech on a topical issue involved reviewing information, identifying points to be made and discussing how to support them, all very helpful steps. The board was used to note the various points. However, where students often experience most difficulty is in structuring their written work and the use of writing frames can be of great benefit in developing structuring skills. Writing frames typically emphasise paragraphs, give clear directions about openings and conclusions and provide useful phrases and connectives to assist in the flow of the argument or the narrative. It is suggested that the English teaching team devise a number of these frames for different kinds of writing and use them as a shared resource to reinforce for students the key aspects of well-constructed compositions. It is also suggested that short writing tasks emphasising good structure (for example, three clearly-connected sentences) be set very regularly for classwork as a means of reinforcing writing skills.
The teaching and learning of English in Mount Carmel is taking place in a warm and supportive environment. Teachers were encouraging and affirming in their interaction with students, while making it clear that they expected high standards in work and behaviour. Students were very co-operative and courteous towards both their teachers and the inspector, and showed a proper pride in themselves and their school.
A number of good practices in the area of assessment are in place in Mount Carmel. A homework policy has been drawn up and the school supports students in doing homework by running supervised study with the assistance of students from DIT Bolton Street and also providing a homework club three days a week with the help of students from the Law Society. To complement these praiseworthy initiatives, it might be useful to draw up an agreed homework timetable. Homework was set regularly and in many cases students were given helpful and encouraging comments and advice on how the work could be improved. This is very good practice as it validates students’ efforts and ensures that homework is an integral part of the learning process.
In the classroom, teachers used observation of students’ levels of participation and response to gauge their levels of understanding. Questioning was also used effectively to this end. In some cases, lessons began with a quick quiz-style question session to check retention of important information and, where drill-type homework had been given, for example in grammar or vocabulary, students called out their answers and the teacher circulated to look at their copies. This is an efficient way of checking such work, whereas more substantial assignments need to be taken up.
The English teaching team reported their satisfaction at the very good outcomes for their students in the state examinations. House examinations are held at the end of the first and final terms and are formally timetabled and run so that students gain useful experience to help them prepare for the state examinations. Reports are sent home and the school has taken a number of steps to ensure regular contact with parents, including easy-to-use notes in the students’ journals to assist two-way communication between home and school. Year heads and the HSCL co-ordinator, and individual subject teachers where necessary, also ensure that parents are informed and consulted about their daughters’ progress.
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 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
It has been agreed where possible to target resources at those international students exempt from Irish but not in need of ESL. This may however prove difficult based on our current teacher allocation.