An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Castlecomer Road, Kilkenny
Roll number: 61570M
Date of inspection: 10 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kilkenny 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, deputy 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.
Kilkenny College is a co-educational college that caters for boarders and day pupils. There is very good whole school provision for English in the college. All junior cycle class groups have five periods of English each week. As the school operates a fortnightly timetable, Transition Year (TY) class groups have four periods of English on week one and five periods of English on week two. Fifth-year class groups have five periods of English each week and sixth-year class groups have six periods of English each week. First-year students also study a module on Drama. Most year groups have one double period of English in either week one or week two of the fortnightly timetable with the rest of the lessons being evenly distributed throughout the week. This is good practice.
Students are placed in mixed-ability classes until Christmas of first year and they are then set for English from Christmas onwards. In general, in junior cycle, there are five higher-level English class groups, one class containing higher and ordinary-level students and one ordinary-level class group. Students are placed in classes on the basis of continuous assessment and end-of-term Christmas tests. Each teacher individually sets their own examinations at this time and during the period of continuous assessment, which may lead to a lack of standardisation when it comes to placing students in class groups. It is strongly recommended that a common examination be introduced with a commonly agreed marking scheme at this time, to ensure that students are correctly placed and to ensure consistency and transparency in the process of placing students in class groups.
Students are facilitated to change level if they are considered to be in an inappropriate class group. This is possible as all year groups are concurrently timetabled for English, which is highly commended. However, there was evidence that teachers of particular year groups need to coordinate their choice of texts more, as well as the timing of teaching of aspects of the English course, in order to facilitate students who may wish to change levels. This is the practice among some teachers already, who agree at individual level what texts to teach.
It was noted during the evaluation that there was a predominance of girls in the top classes. If students’ placement was delayed and mixed-ability class groups continued until at least the end of first year, there is a strong possibility that boys might achieve better. It is recommended that consideration be given to delaying the placement of students into set class groups for English at least until the end of first year to ensure that students are correctly placed in a class group commensurate with their abilities. Senior cycle students are set for English from TY through to sixth year. Generally, there are five higher-level English class groups and two ordinary-level class groups in sixth year. It is recommended that TY students be placed in mixed-ability class groups for English, as this would be more in keeping with the spirit of the programme and would avoid the possibility of TY becoming the beginning of a three year Leaving Certificate course.
English teachers agree among themselves who will teach different levels and class groups. It was reported that all teachers have the experience of teaching all levels of ability. This is good practice. However, to ensure true transparency, a policy about the rotation of teaching programmes and levels should be drawn up, with management being the ultimate arbitrator of such decisions. There was evidence that efforts are made to keep classes of lower ability small in size which is commended. In general, teachers retain the same class group from first year through to sixth year. It is suggested that this practice be reviewed as it may benefit students and teachers alike to have a different teacher from junior to senior cycle.
A range of commendable co-curricular activities are provided for students in the college. Such activities include debating and public speaking, participation in plays and visits to the theatre to see performances of texts on the English course. The English department has its own poetry publication “The Quill”, which is published twice a year. Students contribute to this publication by participating in a poetry writing club. TY students also produce a newspaper “The Swift Review”. The frequent opportunities that students have to enter writing competitions are commended as are the opportunities that students have to visit the theatre on a regular basis while in TY. TY students complete modules in Journalism and Drama as part of their fourth-year programme.
There is very good whole school support for English in the college. There is a staff development policy in place and teachers are facilitated to attend inservice. Some teachers are commended for doing a range of useful courses in their own time in the local education centre. English teachers are reminded, if they are seeking specific inservice on English, that the website English@slss.ie, which is part of the Second-Level Support Service, gives information on the supports provided for English teachers.
Most English teachers have their own base classrooms. Resources available to support the teaching of English include televisions, DVDs, videos and data projectors. English teachers have access to the computer rooms and to the media room. There is provision for updating and maintaining this equipment through an annual budget for English. There was evidence that English teachers consult each other and are consulted by management about their resource needs. They are currently examining the possibility of accessing more information and communication technology (ICT) equipment. English teachers should collaboratively budget for English to ensure that they access the most relevant and needed resources for their students.
There is a school library with open access for students and where many teachers bring their students. The use of this library is encouraged by staff and management and all students are inducted as a matter of routine into the library. It is suggested that suitable reading lists could be made available to students for each year group in order to further develop an interest in reading among students.
Students are tested prior to entry into the school and again on entry in September to determine if they have literacy or other needs. Students are withdrawn for extra support in English in small groups.
There is a co-ordinator of English who is chosen on the basis of seniority. It is recommended that the position of coordinator be rotated among all English teachers in order for all teachers to gain experience in coordinating the subject and to broaden the remit of planning meetings. Two formal subject planning meetings are facilitated each year by school management. These meetings generally deal with setting classes and reviewing student progress in class groups, and with selecting common core text books for some year groups. It was reported that English teachers also have informal meetings. There was evidence that a brief record of such meetings is kept, which is good practice.
There was little evidence of formal collaborative planning or of a subject department structure to develop English in the school. The majority of English teachers work in isolation, or else collaborate on an informal basis individually as opposed to working as a team. However, the majority of English teachers were very keen to collaborate more. It was reported that the English teachers have requested the formal timetabling of planning meetings. The possibility of such formal meetings being timetabled is to be encouraged or else English teachers should informally agree a time to meet on a weekly or fortnightly basis within the time available to them.
It is strongly recommended that subject planning commence and that English teachers agree certain key principles, such as their overall objectives for the teaching of the subject, the learning outcomes that each year group should achieve, suggested methodologies for achieving these outcomes and suggested suitable course content. In addition, where there is the likelihood that students might move classes, there is a need for agreement among relevant teachers of when to teach key texts and what texts to teach. Finally, in the absence of an overall homework policy, teachers should agree a homework and assessment policy for English which should outline the frequency of giving long pieces of written work, the use of formative assessment and the introduction of common examinations. The benefits of a formal subject department structure and regular meetings would be significant for English teachers as it would facilitate sharing resources and facilitate discussion around good practice, allow for students to be taught common skills or learning outcomes in each year and lead to the establishment of a supportive and collegiate environment. The Inspectorate’s publication ‘Looking at English’ outlines the features of effective English departments and should be consulted in this regard.
Some teachers have developed or accessed good resources. It is suggested that an inventory be made of common resources and that this is shared among English teachers so that all are aware of what resources for English are available in the school.
All teachers submitted individual planning documentation for each class group, which broadly outlined what they planned to cover for each term. English teachers agree on a core textbook for first and second-year class groups and English teachers then have the flexibility to choose texts of their own. There was evidence that teachers cover all aspects of the syllabus appropriately. It is suggested that all higher-level classes study a Shakespearean text at junior cycle or at least an extract from a Shakespearean play. This is presently the case for some but not all higher-level classes. First-year students study just one novel in first and second year. This should be reviewed, as first year ought to be a year for developing certain skills including reading, which should be developed further in second year. Therefore it is recommended that students are given frequent opportunities to read, and to write book reviews in their own time, in junior cycle and TY. Good practice was seen in that the majority of the course work is covered by students in fifth year and consolidated in sixth year.
All TY teachers have the freedom to choose their own texts and design their own course. However, there is no Transition Year plan for English available in the school. English teachers are obliged to devise a written programme of study for TY students as outlined in the Department and Education and Science’s publication (DES) “Transition Year Guidelines for Schools”. In addition, it is strongly recommended that Transition Year English in the school is not so Leaving Certificate oriented. While it is recommended in the TY Guidelines that the study of Leaving Certificate material is not precluded if taught in a ‘significantly different’ way to other years, it is also clearly outlined that TY should not be the beginning of a three year Leaving Certificate programme. There was evidence to suggest that for some class groups the TY English courses are heavily biased in favour of Leaving Certificate. For example, the Shakespearean text on the Leaving Certificate course is covered in TY. English teachers could teach students the skills to prepare them for their Leaving Certificate English course without teaching the specific texts, in order to broaden students’ experiences of English. It is acknowledged that this happens in some TY classes. There was also evidence of some overlap between texts taught in some junior and TY classes. This should be avoided. Notwithstanding the above, the TY teachers are commended for the amount of work that is covered in this year. Students benefit from a year of serious work and activity.
There was evidence that the resource department communicates to mainstream teachers, useful resources and strategies for teaching students with special educational needs (SEN). However, as there are no formal subject meetings, this communication has to be done on an individual basis, which is a duplication of work for the SEN teachers. There was also evidence that a list of students with SEN is given to teachers and that a detailed report of these students is available. SEN teachers should attend future English meetings so that teachers can be briefed on strategies for dealing with SEN students and so that supporting students with literacy or special educational needs is seen as the responsibility of all teachers and not just SEN teachers. Good practice was seen in that students get support in literacy from first year through to sixth year. Access to the resource room was not always available as it was scheduled for other purposes. The fact that there is no dedicated resource or learning support room is a disadvantage that should be rectified as soon as is possible.
Eleven teachers teach English in the school. Ten of these were visited during the course of the evaluation. The quality of teaching was good in lessons observed although in two out of the ten lessons visited it was not possible to evaluate teaching due to the nature of the activities in these classes. These activities included giving students a test and then organising an end-of-term class drama production, and students answering examination questions in class in preparation for state examinations.
Best practice was seen when the teachers shared the purpose of the lesson with the students. In this way it was clear what the learning outcome for students would be. Where this did not happen, it was not always clear what the purpose of the lesson was.
There was a clear structure to most lessons. In these lessons, there was good variety, good progression in students’ learning and good links created with previous learning. There was a very good example observed of a link being created between the studied poet and contemporary times, which put the poet in context for students and therefore made learning more accessible. As a result the poem and poet were brought to life for the students and, in addition, the lesson was enjoyable for the students. A number of examples of very good structure to lessons were observed. These included students studying a text for a portion of a lesson, students then discussing the text and students spending a portion of the lesson on a related writing activity, with the teacher giving individual attention to students at this time.
There was very good student participation in many lessons. This was often affected through good use of questioning, which led to lively discussion. For example, students in one lesson were shown a television advertisement and their comments were invited on the advert. The effective questioning strategies employed, ranging from closed to open questions, ensured that all students participated and that students had a good understanding of the techniques of advertising by the end of the lesson. Teachers are commended for naming students in their questioning, as well as asking global questions and ensuring that all students in the classroom were asked questions. Good practice was seen in that students were encouraged to support their answers to questions. Best practice was observed when the teachers asked questions that challenged and pushed students to think more deeply about their texts. An example of this was seen when the teacher encouraged students to closely examine the language used by a poet to portray his meaning. This led to students having a clear understanding of the poem by the end of the lesson. There were times when the lessons were teacher led and opportunities for students’ participation were not availed of through pair work, group work or discussion. In such lessons, the teachers were inclined to tell students answers as opposed to inviting comments and asking them to identify techniques. Where there is good discussion, students will learn from each other as well as from their teachers and there will be less teacher talk in class.
Good use of pair and group work was observed in a couple of lessons. In such lessons students were very engaged and participated very well in their lessons. In addition, the students’ discussion together in groups encouraged the development of oral skills and listening skills, as students were invited to comment on each other’s work.
Clear instructions were given in all cases. There was also evidence that examination classes were well prepared for examinations. Students in all lessons were familiar with the techniques of language and were equipped with suitable language to discuss their texts. This was often achieved through the excellent use of language by the teachers.
There was evidence of a range of resources in use in lessons. These included handouts, textbook, television and DVD. In addition, it was reported that ICT is used by students for typing up of work. It is recommended that opportunities for use of ICT be explored for teaching and learning purposes also. It was reported during the course of the evaluation that students listen to audio versions of texts. This is good practice. Good use was also made of the board in many lessons to record key points.
When students were assigned work for a portion of the lesson, the teacher moved around the class to give help to individuals, which is very good practice. A good emphasis on seeking students’ personal response, an important syllabus objective, was observed in some lessons. This focus on personal response is very important and should be adopted by all teachers. There was evidence of very good integration of language and literature in many lessons. For example, students had to write newspaper articles based on texts they had read and write diary entries and letters from the point of view of characters in a text. In addition, there was an example of where the study of a poem led to students writing in different genres on a related theme. These exercises are enjoyable for students and show them that English is an integrated whole as opposed to a series of genres taught in isolation. There was an appropriate expectation that students would learn quotes from poems and drama texts.
There was a good student-teacher relationship in most lessons. In all lessons, it was clear that students had learned a lot during the course of the year and were knowledgeable about their texts. In some classes, students, as a matter of course, recorded points made during the lesson, which is very good practice and demonstrates a confidence in their teachers. There were no classroom management issues observed in any lessons and students presented as being friendly and pleasant.
The most established teachers have their own classrooms while newer teachers are peripatetic. In some teacher-based classrooms, there was evidence of efforts made to create a stimulating learning environment. Samples of students’ poetry work and project work were displayed, for example. This is good practice and one which should be extended to all English classrooms.
An examination of state examination results shows that the uptake of higher-level English in Junior and Leaving Certificate is high and that students achieve very well in their chosen level. Of particular note is the fact that there have been no failures in English in the last few years and that student attainment at higher level is very good.
Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations, and end-of-term tests are formal. Parents receive reports of their child’s progress twice a year and there is an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group. There is no homework policy in the school. As already stated, it is strongly recommended that first-year teachers set common examinations, as this will lead to more openness and transparency and ensure consistency of approach. There should be a common marking scheme for these tests. It is also recommended that consideration be given to setting common tests for students taking the same level in other years as well.
Students had folders in all classes which were divided into sections of their course. These folders were well maintained and were kept by students from year to year. In general, there was evidence that students had covered an appropriate amount of work. In many cases, teachers supplemented their teaching with good notes for their students. Some class groups also used hard back copies as response journals or for homework, which is commended.
In most cases, students’ work was very well corrected and best practice was seen when teachers annotated students’ work with commentary on where they could improve. Where this was not the case, it is recommended that formative assessment be adopted by teachers in order that students do not just receive a summative mark, but learn where they need to improve. It was reported that some teachers share the discrete criteria for assessment with their students in sixth year. This is to be encouraged as students should be aware of the marking scheme for state examinations and where they will gain or lose marks.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good whole school provision and support provided by management for English in the school.
· A range of commendable co-curricular activities are provided for students in the college.
· There was evidence that English teachers cover all aspects of the relevant syllabuses appropriately.
· The resource department communicates useful resources and strategies for supporting students with special educational needs (SEN) to mainstream teachers.
· The quality of teaching was good in lessons observed. There was good variety, good progression in students’ learning and good links created with previous learning in most lessons observed.
· There was very good student participation in many lessons.
· Very good use of questioning was in evidence in most lessons.
· There was evidence of very good integration of language and literature in many lessons.
· There was a good student-teacher relationship in most lessons.
· In all lessons, students were knowledgeable about their texts.
· The uptake of higher-level English in Junior and Leaving Certificate is high and students achieve very well in their chosen level.
· Students’ folders were well maintained. In general, there was evidence that students had covered an appropriate amount of work.
· In most cases, students’ work was very well corrected and best practice was seen when teachers annotated students’ work with commentary on where they could improve.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that consideration be given to delaying the placement of students into set class groups for English at least until the end of first year. It is strongly recommended that a common first-year examination be introduced at Christmas and in the summer, with a commonly agreed marking scheme. It is also recommended that TY students be placed in mixed-ability class groups for English.
· It is recommended that the position of coordinator of the English department be rotated among all English teachers. It is strongly recommended that subject planning commence and that English teachers agree certain key principles outlined in the body of this report. The Inspectorate’s publication ‘Looking at English’ should be consulted in this regard. Some teachers of particular year groups need to coordinate their choice of texts more with their colleagues, as well as the timing of teaching of aspects of the English course.
· It is essential that English teachers collaboratively devise a programme of study for TY students as outlined in the Department and Education and Science’s publication (DES) “Transition Year Guidelines for Schools”. In addition, it is strongly recommended that the TY in the school is not so Leaving Certificate oriented.
· SEN teachers should attend all future English meetings. The sometimes limited access to the resource or learning support room should be rectified as soon as is possible.
· Opportunities for students to participate in their classes could be exploited more through more pair and group work and discussion in some lessons.
· A policy about the rotation of teaching of programmes and levels should be drawn up. It is suggested that the practice of teachers retaining the same class group from junior into senior cycle be reviewed.
· English teachers should collaboratively budget for English. It is suggested that an inventory be made of common resources and that this is shared.
· It is suggested that suitable reading lists be made available to students for each year group and that students are given frequent opportunities to read, and to write book reviews, in their own time in junior cycle and TY. It is suggested that all higher-level classes study a Shakespearean text at junior cycle or at least an extract from a play and that a separate novel should be studied by students in first and second year.
· Students should be surrounded by a stimulating print-rich environment in all English classrooms.
· It is recommended that formative assessment be adopted by all teachers. The discrete criteria of assessment should also be used in marking students’ work as appropriate.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal and deputy 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 Board of Management of Kilkenny College is very pleased to acknowledge receipt of the English Inspection Report. The Board acknowledges the very professional manner in which the inspection was carried out and we have benefited significantly from having what we do here in Kilkenny College objectively evaluated. We have been re-assured by the many strengths in our English Department and have also been left with many thought provoking ideas which we intend to evaluate during the course of this academic year.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Management has already adopted several of the recommendations in the report e.g.
1. One class a fortnight has been set aside for an English Department planning meeting.
2. A resource room has been provided.
3. It is intended that the Head of our Special Needs Department will attend the English Department meetings.
The English Department is meeting regularly and is giving careful consideration to the
various other recommendations in the report.