An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Religious Education
in the Junior Cycle
Loreto College, Cavan
Roll number: 61070P
Date of inspection: 8 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Religious Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Religious Education for junior cycle classes 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 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.
Loreto College Cavan is a Catholic all girls secondary school with an enrolment of 689 students. The school was established in Cavan in 1930 and its mission statement outlines the school’s commitment to “provide a balanced education, academic, pastoral and physical for all students, affording space for reflection and for learning through experience”. While a programme of religious education is offered to students in all year groups, this evaluation is concerned only with the preparation of students for Junior Certificate examinations in the subject, following study of the religious education syllabus prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). This syllabus for junior cycle was introduced by the NCCA in 2000 and the first Junior Certificate examination in the subject was held in June 2003. The course seeks to promote an understanding and appreciation of why people believe, as well as tolerance and respect for the beliefs and values of all. The course is inclusive of students from all faith backgrounds and from none.
Religious Education is a core subject on the school’s curriculum and all but a small minority of junior cycle students are being prepared for certificate examinations in the subject. Those students not taking the course are supervised in class during the religious education lesson. Mixed-ability class groups are formed. The allocation of three classes per week in each of the three years is in keeping with NCCA recommendations. Responsibility for delivering the course is given to a team of teachers, all of whom have a specialist qualification in the subject. Teachers are classroom based and they have created stimulating and supportive visual displays which celebrate students’ own work. It is suggested that the opportunity to use displays to illustrate key concepts being learned should also be taken.
Support for the subject in the school is very good. Resources available to teachers and students include a dedicated religious education classroom, equipped with a computer and storage cupboards, a prayer room and two notice boards for the subject. The school’s computer room is also reserved for the use of individual class groups and there is scope to make better use of this facility to support students’ research for the journal work required for the Junior Certificate examination in Religious Education. The school allocates a budget on an annual basis to the religious education department for the purchase of new resources. Teachers have built up a good ‘library’ of reference and textbooks to support them in their planning and delivery of the syllabus.
School management is committed to encouraging and facilitating the continuing professional development of the religious education teaching team. Teachers have benefited from school visits from the Religious Education Support Service and attendance at cluster meetings, where they have had the opportunity to share resources and ideas with teachers of Religious Education in other schools.
The school reported that learning has been a key focus of all school development planning since 2003. As a result, subject department planning is very well established in Loreto College. The work of the religious education department is co-ordinated by a senior member of the teaching team and a convenor of department meetings is appointed on a rotating basis. Eight formal meetings are held each year and minutes for these meetings, pre-dating 2003, were available at the time of this evaluation. The teachers are highly commended for their commitment to the subject, which sees them meeting regularly on an informal basis in addition to these meetings.
There is ample evidence of a strong collaborative culture among the religious education team which facilitates the sharing of expertise and subject knowledge to the benefit of students. As a result, a comprehensive plan for the organisation of teaching and learning in Religious Education has been developed. This outlines a linear approach to teaching the subject which allows for a systematic presentation of the content of the programme as the syllabus presents it. It clearly indicates the work to be completed by the teacher in each year of the programme. It is recommended that, as the ongoing review of the plan continues, the template used by the teachers should be redesigned so as to keep a focus on learner outcomes to the fore as the programme unfolds. Consideration might also be given to including a developmental focus for each year of the programme.
The lessons observed were well planned and delivered. The purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset so that all students were aware of what was happening throughout the lesson. This practice of sharing the learning objective with students at the beginning is very good, as it can stimulate their interest and focus their attention. One of the lessons observed, for example, began with a review of homework, thus situating new learning in a familiar context. In a second lesson, an initial review of a class test allowed the teacher to re-teach concepts which had been insufficiently understood. This helped focus students before moving into the new material. The pacing of each lesson was well managed and included opportunities to recap the key ideas as each lesson drew to a close. This is very good practice as it allows students an opportunity to consolidate the learning they had achieved during class time.
Student interest and attention was stimulated by the teaching and learning activities planned for the lessons observed. In many classes, self-directed learning was enabled by the teachers. Students worked in small groups in one lesson on a challenging concept, for example. Their task in each group was carefully defined and supported by the visual aids distributed. In another lesson, students worked individually on a series of statements before engaging with the textbook to explore images of God. In both cases, students were encouraged to pause and ask questions to clarify their understanding of concepts as they were being formed. The lessons ended with students taking notes in their copies to record what they had learned and this was best done when the teacher used the students’ own contributions in class to frame the notes.
Teachers used questioning and discussion to engage student interest and promote learning. It is recommended that care should be taken to achieve a good balance between open questions to the whole class and direct questions to individual students so as to avoid dominance by any one student in the class and in order to cater for the needs of students with different levels of ability. This was achieved in some classes visited and contributed to good student involvement in the lessons. Student answers were affirmed and integrated into the lessons as appropriate and teachers gave students ample time to consider their responses. It is suggested that more encouragement could be given students to develop their ideas and support their arguments.
Teachers set a broad range of writing exercises as homework tasks in order to check achievement of understanding and provide students with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. Short answer work dominates in some classes. A better balance has been achieved between these and extended writing tasks, for example, comprehension and essay type questions in others. It is recommended that there should be more frequent setting of questions which facilitate reflection and developed thought. The work done by students is of a good standard, with the better students being able to articulate their understanding of the course content and their response to the ideas explored. A minority of students are not, however, achieving at the same level and there is a need to explore how to differentiate the way the course is both taught and assessed so that these students can achieve appropriately. The school has arranged for in-service training for the whole staff on differentiation and this will be provided in Spring 2008.
Students keep both notes folders and homework copies and an examination of these indicated high expectations of work and standards from teachers. They are also set regular in-class assessments during the year to monitor their progress. Generally, students were well organised and presented their work neatly and there was good evidence of progression in the quality of the work completed by students.
In accordance with the school’s homework policy, currently under review as part of the school development planning process, homework is regularly set in religious education classes. It is carefully corrected and appropriate records of students’ results are maintained. In a minority of the copies examined, teachers provided students with detailed, developmental, feedback which both identified areas for development and affirmed the work done. Generally, however, ‘tick’ marking was used to acknowledge completion of work. It is recommended that more frequent use should be made of comment-marking as it allows the teacher to give the student clear information about her progress in Religious Education. The school’s own plan to explore assessment for learning practices later this term and the information available on the NCCA website will be helpful in this regard, www.ncca.afl.ie.
Students sit formal Christmas and end-of-year tests and are also set two in-class assessments during the year to monitor their progress. In addition to parent-teacher meetings which are held annually, parents are kept informed of students’ progress through reports which issue three times during the year.
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 Religious Education 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 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The second recommendation in the inspector’s report states that,
Students should be encouraged to develop their understanding and their critical skills by the setting of written work which facilitates reflection and developed thought.
The inference that written work which facilitates reflection and developed thought is not set is incorrect and misleading.
It is standard practice for teachers of Religious Education in the Junior Cycle to set age appropriate written exercises which facilitate reflection and developed thought. Such exercises take the form of essays, long questions, projects, assignments and journal work. Some examples would be written exercises requiring students to:
Evidence of these written exercises is available for inspection in the school at any time.
It is also standard practice for teachers of Religious Education in the Junior Cycle to set age appropriate oral and other exercises such as role plays in the above and other topics, which facilitate reflection and developed thought. Discussion, debates, presentations of project work to the class followed by question and answer session, effective lower and higher order questioning are all used to probe and challenge students to engage critically with the material. Written work based on the oral and other exercises often follows.
It is appreciated that a one-day subject inspection facilitates only a very basic engagement with the activity of a subject department. A more comprehensive engagement would have clearly established that students are provided with regular written work which facilitates reflection and developed thought.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection