An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Ballinteer, Dublin 16
Roll number: 61010U
Date of inspection: 12 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Wesley 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
There is good provision of English lessons for students in Wesley College. First-year and third-year class groups have five English lessons a week. Second-year class groups have four English lessons each week, as well as one timetabled Drama lesson. This is often taught by the same teacher. Transition Year (TY) class groups have three English lessons a week as well as a module on Drama, while fifth-year and sixth-year class groups have five English lessons each week. All English lessons in each year are timetabled concurrently, with the exception of TY, where some lessons run concurrently. Concurrency facilitates whole-year activities as well as allowing for students to move between levels where appropriate. It also allows some teachers to rotate the teaching of modules in TY. Junior cycle class groups, however, do not have an even spread of English across the week as each year group has English twice on one day, with the consequence that there is no English lesson on another day. A more even distribution of English lessons across the week is desirable.
The manner of student placement in class groups is appropriate. All English class groups are mixed ability in junior cycle, with the exception of one group of ordinary-level students who are placed in a newly formed class at the beginning of third year. Management provides an extra English teacher to teach this group. In fifth year, there is one standalone top class formed, and the remaining students are placed into three bands of similar ability to form six class groups. Very good practice takes place in that fifth-year students sit a test within the first half term to ensure correct class placement, and all third-year students sit a common test in September to finally determine the composition of the ordinary-level class group.
English teachers rotate the teaching of levels which is good practice. In addition, management endeavours to retain teachers with class groups within cycles. The majority of English teachers work within the same area of the campus which facilitates sharing of resources and collaboration. Teachers are members of the Association of Teachers of English and have attended relevant in-service.
There is a generous budget available for English and management gives very good support to the subject. The facilities available to support the teaching of English are very good. Most teachers have their own base classrooms. These are equipped with computers, televisions, videos, DVDs and, in some cases, a data projector. It is suggested that data projectors be installed in all English classrooms, to further enhance the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into everyday teaching and learning. English teachers also have access to the computer room for English lessons. Many students e-mail their assignments to their teachers.
Students are fortunate to have a wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English available to them. Activities take place during Drama Week, Speak Week, Book Week and Debating Week. Students are entered for debating and public speaking competitions as well as a range of writing competitions throughout the year. In-class debating is also encouraged. Students are brought on visits to the theatre and cinema and many visiting writers have come to the school to run workshops. Students are well briefed on the work of each writer prior to these visits. This is very good practice. The school runs the annual ‘Poetry Aloud’ competition which involves students from all year groups reciting poetry to an audience. The school is also famed for its ‘Lifelines’ publication. Many drama and musical productions have been staged by students and teachers in the school. Students publish their own official newspaper ‘Full Stop’ which provides them with opportunities to write formally. The many opportunities for students to write, speak and generally gain exposure to literature and the Arts through these activities is highly commended.
The excellent library is central to the life of the school and it is very well organised by three staff working there. First-year class groups are inducted into the use of the library on entry to the college. Teachers take their class groups to the library every six weeks to view and borrow books. A wide range of activities to promote an interest in reading and in the library is organised. Activities include allowing students to read books for ten minutes each day during Book Week, and a Murder Mystery treasure hunt based on books in the library.
Incoming first-year students sit a reading and comprehension test to ascertain literacy levels. Information is also gathered from feeder primary schools about students with special educational needs (SEN). Students in need of support receive such support if necessary from first year through to sixth year which is commended.
The quality of planning in the English department in Wesley College is excellent. The department is very enthusiastically supported and organised through the work of the subject co-ordinator. It was evident that the English department develops in students a love and interest in literature. Teachers also share responsibility for co-ordinating and organising activities in different year groups. The English department has acquired a wide range of resources and these are stored in a common resource area. The department meets on a weekly basis at a time suitable to the majority of English teachers. Such attendance is indicative of their enthusiasm and dedication. Management also provides six formal subject planning meetings each year, which is also commended.
Teachers collaborate closely around text choice and when to teach different aspects of the English course. In addition, teachers share teaching approaches and new ideas. Excellent strategies have been developed by the department to promote reading; for example, reading lists are given to all year groups, including lists for the reluctant readers. First-year students study three novels over the course of the year; the third novel being studied independently. A book report forms part of the overall Christmas test mark in first and second year and other year groups are also required to submit book reports. All first-year students also attend a week of Drama events. The plan for each year indicates that students study a range of texts in a range of genre as well as participating in debates, drama and other activities. Planning in English allows for students to learn in an incremental way and for them to gain a continuum of skills as they progress from first year through to sixth year.
It was evident that the department is self-evaluative and is therefore constantly reviewing its practices to ensure the best for its students. The long-term plan of the department is exemplary, written as it is in terms of curriculum content, learning outcomes, methodologies, assessment practices and useful advice for teachers and students. There was clear evidence of differentiation in the subject plan; for example, ordinary-level students are not expected to memorise whole poems. The college website displays the curriculum for each year group so that parents are made aware of what their students are studying in each year. This is excellent practice.
The TY English programme is organised around four eleven-week modules: Communication and English; English Skills; English and Film, and Drama. Students are expected to produce a range of work in a variety of genres that develop speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. Students complete an evaluation of each module, which is highly commended. The TY English programme is given to students at the beginning of the year and emphasis is placed by teachers on the value of the year. However, it is suggested that the written programme also contain the aims of the year so that all students are fully aware of the purpose and value that TY will be to them. The wide range of texts and activities that TY students are exposed to are commended as they prepare students for the challenges of Leaving Certificate (although it is laudable that students do not study any Leaving Certificate texts) and for life.
There is a comprehensive SEN policy in the school and there was evidence of good liaison between English teachers and the SEN team. The SEN co-ordinator attends some English department meetings and SEN teachers follow the English department plan. Information is communicated by the SEN department to the whole staff at staff meetings, via e-mail and at subject department meetings regarding students with SEN and key strategies that can be implemented to support learning for these students. Individual Education Plans are organised for students with SEN. A good range of learning-support resources has been accumulated. In addition, SEN teachers contribute to the examinations set by the English department to ensure that they are accessible to SEN students. Such strategies are highly commended.
The purpose of all lessons was clearly established from the outset and was often written on the board, which is very good practice. There was evidence of good progression in learning from one lesson to the next. Links were created between texts, and between texts and contemporary life. Teachers often used interesting methods to gain students’ attention from the outset; for example by getting students to interpret the meaning of a painting or by showing students a piece of embroidery. The purpose of using these props was quickly explained to students. Students’ interest was also stimulated through thought-provoking and challenging questions. The direct outcome of such challenging questioning was that students read their texts closely and carefully and ultimately gained a deeper understanding of the lesson content. Best practice was seen in questioning when teachers asked both named and general questions and when the teacher asked a range of lower-order and higher-order questions.
Lessons were generally lively and there was always a good relationship between students and teachers. Teachers’ explanations were unambiguous and texts were often brought to life in the classroom by the teachers’ dramatic reading of them. Students are also commended for their confident and dramatic reading of texts and for their good participation and discussion. The worthy emphasis among all teachers on students taking responsibility for their own learning and on encouraging independent study is commended. It was evident that students are used to participating in discussion and have many opportunities for speaking. The open square layout of some classrooms facilitated this in many cases.
Good practice was seen in that students memorised poems and key quotes. It is recommended that some of these key quotes as well as key words be displayed on more English classroom walls for students to absorb. Good use was made of the board to record points. Effective use of mind mapping was in evidence, as was pair and group work.
In most lessons, there was commendable evidence of differentiation in terms of students being given individual attention when work was assigned in class, differentiated tests and assignments. However, care should be taken to pre-teach some challenging words when introducing new poems or other texts to ensure that all students are on task.
There was evidence of the integration of language and literature; for example, students wrote newspaper articles and created newspapers based on studied texts, they wrote letters and diary entries from the point of view of characters studied, and wrote interviews with characters from novels. Students also drew illustrations from texts and made collages of poems and these, along with other relevant posters and students’ work, were frequently displayed in classrooms which, as a result, presented as stimulating learning environments. Technology is frequently used by English teachers to enhance their teaching, which is also commended. In this regard, good use was made of the laptop and data projector to play different interpretations of the same song so that students could see the power of visual imagery and sound and its influence on tone and mood.
There is currently an agreed homework policy for first-year English class groups, which is good practice. Most teachers assign written homework on a regular basis as is good practice. However, it is suggested that students should be assigned longer pieces of work in a range of genres on a more frequent basis. It is recommended that the English department agree a homework policy for all year groups which places an emphasis on regular longer pieces of writing in a variety of genres.
Common house examinations in English with an agreed marking scheme are set for all class groups. This is very good practice. These examinations are commended for their length and content and are devised in a format similar to State Examination Commission papers. It was evident that the criteria of assessment were shared with students and that examinations were well corrected. Class groups in first, second and fifth year sit formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. TY students have to submit ten assignments throughout the year and are awarded a continuous assessment mark based on these. Third and sixth years sit mid-term class tests in October after which reports are sent home. Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations which are marked internally. Parents of fifth-year students receive four reports annually. All other parents receive three reports annually. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for all year groups except for TY and there is frequent communication between parents and the school. The school has a commendable homework policy for both junior and senior cycle.
The English department conducts an analysis of state examination results in English and also conducts analyses of in-house examinations to ensure that students are achieving according to their ability. This is excellent practice. The results in state examinations in English demonstrate a very high uptake of higher level and a high level of success for students at both higher and ordinary level.
Students are awarded prizes at end-of-year ceremonies. Sixth-year students are assessed during the first term on the basis of an extended assignment on Shakespeare and the ‘Shakespeare Prize’ is awarded on the basis of this work.
Students were well profiled and, in general, good use of formative assessment was in evidence in correcting homework so that students were given clear instructions on where they needed to improve their work. Students’ folders and copies were generally maintained to a good standard.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good provision of English lessons for students in Wesley College. The facilities available to the English department are very good and there is very good whole school support for the subject from management.
· Students have many opportunities to write, speak and generally gain exposure to literature and the Arts through the range of co-curricular activities available.
· There is an excellent library in the school and a wide range of activities to promote an interest in reading is organised.
· The quality of planning in the English department in Wesley College is excellent and the department is very well co-ordinated and is self-evaluative. The long-term plan of the department is exemplary.
· The department meets on a weekly basis and there is close collaboration and sharing of ideas and teaching approaches among its members.
· Students study a range of texts in a range of genre in each year and gain a continuum of skills as they progress from first year through to sixth year.
· Students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning.
· There is good liaison between English teachers and the SEN team.
· The quality of teaching and learning was very good in lessons visited. The purpose of all lessons was clearly established, there was good progression in learning, there was excellent use of questioning, lessons were generally lively and there was always a good relationship between students and teachers.
· It was evident that students are used to participating in discussion and have many opportunities for speaking.
· Common tests with a commonly agreed marking scheme are set for all class groups.
· The English department conducts an analysis of state examination results in English and also conducts analyses of in-house examinations.
· Results in state examinations in English demonstrate a very high uptake of higher level and a high level of success for students at both higher and ordinary level.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the English department agree a homework policy for each year group which places an emphasis on regular longer pieces of writing in a range of genres.
· The aims of TY English should be written into the programme.
· Key word and key quote posters should be displayed in more classrooms.
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 June 2008