An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Patrician Secondary School
Newbridge, County Kildare
Roll number: 61681V
Date of inspection: 19 - 21 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Patrician Secondary School, Newbridge, Co. Kildare. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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; a response was not received from the board.
Patrician Secondary School, Newbridge provides English in the Junior Certificate programme (JC), Transition Year programme (TY), Leaving Certificate programme (LC), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). Students in the LC and LCVP follow the same English syllabus.
Timetabling allocation is good on the whole: five lessons are provided for JC students in first and third year while four periods are provided in second year. The school acknowledges that second-year provision is not ideal. The school should investigate ways of providing a fifth period for all junior cycle classes in the context of future curricular planning. Transition Year students have four English lessons per week. In addition, programme areas such as film studies complement English provision. Five lessons in the LC programme and four in the LCA are adequate to meet syllabus requirements. In most cases the lessons are distributed evenly over the week and this ensures continuity of contact with the subject.
Uptake of higher-level English is good on the whole and is very good in the case of the third-year JC class. Students are assigned to mixed-ability classes in first year in Patrician Secondary School and this is commended. In second year, students are set in designated higher and ordinary-level classes within bands. Access to level in the junior cycle is determined by a range of criteria such as in-house exams, class tests, continuous assessment, standardised tests and teacher observation. Second and third-year English lessons are timetabled concurrently and this facilitates movement from one level to another.
In fifth year, LC students are assigned to designated higher and ordinary-level classes and lessons are taught concurrently. The English department has invested a great deal of thought and effort into ensuring that students are given every opportunity to access higher-level English. The Junior Certificate examination results and teacher recommendation are amongst the criteria. In addition, to ensure fairness and transparency, the English department sets a common examination at the end of September and a common marking scheme is applied. The results of this assessment are used to confirm student placement in the designated higher and ordinary-level class groups. However, this internal examination has the potential to be disruptive since some students may be reassigned to different groups just a month after the start of the academic year. Moreover, the examination assesses a limited range of skills. Therefore, consideration should be given to discounting the results of the September in-house exam as a method of determining access to higher and ordinary-level English. However, the assessment instrument could be retained, if deemed desirable, as a measure of student progress, as a means of motivating students and as a device to ensure synchronicity of syllabus delivery. While the uptake of higher level is generally satisfactory in both the junior and senior cycles, the English department should monitor this on an ongoing basis.
In 2007/08, there is only one LCA class, a sixth-year group of ten students. It is reported that there was insufficient interest in the programme in fifth year and consequently it was not possible to provide the programme. Since the LCA is designed to meet the needs of a particular cohort of students, and is acknowledged to be very beneficial to students, management should consider carrying out a formal review of programme implementation to identify the reasons why it failed to attract a sufficient number of students in the current academic year. Areas such as communication with parents, planning and provision of resources and supports could be examined. It is understood that the school does not intend to drop the programme entirely and this represents the schoolís commitment to those of its students who are in particular need of additional educational provision and supports.
Classes usually retain the same teacher throughout cycles except in exceptional circumstances. Teachers teach all groups and rotate the teaching of higher and ordinary-level English. Examination outcomes achieved are very satisfactory and students are facilitated to reach their full potential.
There is a policy and extensive planning in place for learning support. A good range of assessment procedures is implemented. Those in need of learning support are identified at entry through diagnostic testing and contact with feeder primary schools and some already have psychological assessments. Students requiring additional supports are taught in classes, work in small groups or can be withdrawn from lessons on an individual basis. Team teaching is also used. There is good liaison with the teachers of English. The learning-support department has implemented initiatives such as paired reading, writing and homework club. The homework club is also provided for newcomer students. These clubs are staffed on a voluntary basis by teachers and they deserve high commendation for their commitment and dedication. The school is fortunate in having a professional and committed learning-support team. Learning support is co-ordinated by a qualified and experienced learning-support teacher. The team also benefits from a resource teacher who is a Special Education Support Services (SESS) tutor. In addition, the school is developing other personnel in the area of learning support. The learning-support co-ordinator has an opportunity to brief all teaching staff members in the area of special needs. There are two special needs assistants (SNAs) and they are fully integrated into the learning-support team.
The school has a small minority of newcomer students in need of language support and just under one whole-time equivalent post has been allocated to the school. Those involved in the teaching of students whose mother tongue is not English have liaised with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT). There is a language co-ordinator in place and a team of three teachers delivers support to those in need of additional English language lessons. Those involved are qualified in the area of teaching English to speakers of other languages. Students are withdrawn from classes, usually Irish. A range of assessment tests is used. The school has a copy of the Intercultural Guidelines. A small number of events have been organised to highlight the schoolís cultural diversity. Where there may be communication difficulties with parents, an interpreter is sought.
The board of management promotes continuous professional development (CPD) and makes funding available to teachers who wish to develop their qualifications. A committed and experienced team of teachers currently delivers English in the school. Staff members have participated in in-service training either provided by the support services or internally or have taken CPD initiatives themselves. One of the teaching team has developed expertise in the area of information and communications technology (ICT). Student teachers are monitored by a cooperating teacher, a subject teacher, a mentor and the subject co-ordinator
Patrician Secondary School provides a good range of resources and facilities for the teaching and learning of English. There is ease of access to audio-visual equipment and books. The school has a multi-media room. The former library is a useful learning space and is used, for example, by the TY English class for drama. The school is supportive of the English department and requests for resources are met as far as possible. The department promotes reading through World Book Day. Boxes of books can be accessed in the classrooms. First-year classes are taken to the local library that is not far from the school. Management plans to develop a new library as a modern interactive learning centre at some point in the future and this should be of great benefit to Patrician Secondary School students. The learning-support department is well resourced and the designated learning-support area provides well-organised, appropriate and attractive learning spaces. The school has a computer room that can be booked. There is broadband internet access in most classrooms. Teachers have access to digital projectors. Many teachers access the internet for research purposes. The LCA class has timetabled lessons in the computer room and consideration should be given to increasing the number of periods as appropriate to the module of the course being covered. Apart from the area of learning support and language support, it is reported that there is no subject specific software for English available and this is an area that requires development. A needs analysis should be carried out as part of a planning review.
Students have the opportunity to participate in a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and these enrich studentsí experience of English outside the classroom. They participate in drama classes, a musical, trips to the library and public speaking. They have also worked on a school magazine. Supervised study is available after school
Subject planning is embedded in the planning process in Patrician Secondary School and the English department is well organised and co-ordinated. Departmental meetings could be used for the dissemination of good practice by taking advantage of existing expertise within the department. There is a good plan in place. The TY plan for English outlines an appropriate and stimulating programme that deserves particular commendation. The English department has integrated a draft plan for cultural diversity into planning for English and this is highly commended.
There is general collaboration in the choice of texts. In the junior cycle, it is recommended that students be exposed to a greater range of texts in a variety of genres. Of particular importance is the choice of texts for ordinary-level students and these should be sufficiently challenging and in sufficient number to ensure that the aims and objectives of all English syllabuses are fully met. Care should be taken to ensure that choice of texts in the junior cycle does not negatively impact on choice of prescribed texts in the senior cycle.
All teachers presented individual lesson plans during classroom visits and this is commended. However, occasionally, lesson plans were overambitious for the length of time allocated. While the learning intention was implicit, there was a lack of clarity about the specific learning outcome or skill that was expected by the end of the lesson. In general it is recommended that clear, simple and achievable learning outcomes be stated in plans and be shared with students at the start of the lesson. Planning for the lessonís closure should allow for sufficient reinforcement. Best practice was noted where homework assignments were directly linked to the lesson. Planning for resources indicated an inventive approach and excellent practice was noted in some instances. Interesting and innovative ICT resources, audio recordings, props and other resources were prepared. Text resources (books and photocopied material) were available and central to many lessons or students had their own texts. Useful support notes were also prepared. In one instance, notes were written on the board in advance of a lesson.
At the time of the evaluation, poetry, drama, and media studies formed the subject matter of the lessons. Choice of content was challenging and stimulating in many lessons. Planning for resources and a variety of teaching strategies ensured that student engagement was of a high order. Of particular note was the variety of treatments given to a similar lesson theme. All English lessons observed were purposeful and in almost all, the time was efficiently used. Exemplary practice was noted in a few instances. In a minority of cases, the pace of lessons was too rapid for some students. Care should be taken to ensure that all students are on task and that sufficient time is allowed for more diffident or less able students to formulate their answers both orally and in writing.
In most lessons, instructions were clear and explicit and the approach to delivery was well organised and purposeful. High expectations of both behaviour and work were communicated to† students implicitly or explicitly at the start of lessons in almost all cases. However, in a very small minority of lessons, there was some lack of clarity. Studentsí attention should be fully engaged before issuing instructions so that all students clearly understand what is expected of them and so that all can commence learning in a purposeful manner. While engaged in one set task, care should be taken to avoid unnecessary or unplanned teacher interventions that cause students to be confused or frustrated and that interrupt natural flow of the lesson.
There was a good emphasis on skills in the lessons observed. Homework was returned to students and a whole-class activity took place in which basic common mechanical errors were identified and corrected so that students could learn from assessment. In some cases, students read out their work. This provided models of good practice. Students also learned to listen to each other respectfully. Good practice was noted where there were direct links between an appreciation of language and student use of language. There was a strong emphasis on studentís receptive language competence where the lyrical beauty of dramatic language was highlighted. Where the learning intention is to develop studentsí expressive vocabulary, new words should be written down on the board and students should be encouraged to write these and use them in a related activity. A variety of approaches was taken to fully explore the use of language in poetry. To capitalise on the level of enthusiasm generated, opportunities should be sought to allow students to create their own language patterns through creative writing.
Studentsí listening skills were developed through the use of audio recordings. The promotion of higher-order thinking skills through the exploration of character development in the course of a drama and through the comparison of two poems with a similar theme was noted in junior cycle classes. Lessons also focused on the development of reading skills. Students were involved in lessons through individuals reading from their texts. Where studentsí reading is less than fluid some assessment should take place with a view to ensuring improvement. Directed activities related to texts (DARTs) involved conventional question and answer sessions to establish meaning. A variation was a web-based resource involving a cloze test on a poem. Students engaged in the activity in a whole-class setting and they were very interested and enthusiastic. Evaluative skills were developed through this exercise. Since the exercise generated lively debate, sufficient time should be allocated in order to fully explore this very worthwhile activity. Where content sufficiently engages student interest to provoke discussion, time should be allocated with the overall goal of promoting oral communication competence. To ensure that all skills are fully learned and embedded, lessons and follow up homework tasks should provide opportunities for students to independently use the skill and to demonstrate transfer of the skill to real life situations where relevant.
A range of teaching strategies was used to develop learning. Teacher use of analogy helped students to understand the layering of poetic language. Questioning strategy was varied and designed to ensure students fully understood material being studied and was also used to diagnose learning. There was a strong emphasis on active learning and a student-centred approach informed the majority of lessons. A variety of dramatic techniques was deployed in one instance. Students were encouraged to read and to answer or volunteer examples or views. Group work was observed. Lively question and answer sessions in lessons kept students on task in many lessons.
In most cases the quality of student interactions was good. Responses were lively and learning was evident through studentsí ability to recall information. Students were provided with an opportunity to work independently for a defined period and they were fully engaged by this exercise; in a follow-on whole-class activity, their contributions were written on the board for all students to consider and evaluate. In interaction with the inspector, good language awareness was noted and students also demonstrated skill transference. Knowledge of texts was very good in some instances. Students demonstrated a secure knowledge of character exposition in the areas of texts they had already studied. Students in the weaker range of ability may need further opportunities to understand sequence of events in a narrative and further reinforcement may be necessary in the case of students who find learning challenging. The level of engagement and interest was of a very high order in a few cases.
In many classrooms there was a good atmosphere for learning. In general, the classroom was underutilised as an additional resource and more use could be made of the wall space. However, the evaluation took place early in the school year and this matter may be remedied as the academic year progresses. Some teachers do not have a designated classroom and in such cases, designated space could be made available in the learning spaces that are used. Wherever possible, efforts should be made to create a print-rich environment for the teaching and learning of English. In a few cases, good practice was observed.
There was a good rapport between students and teachers. The vast majority of students were co-operative and respectful in classes, and high expectations of both behaviour and effort were met. In a very small minority of cases, students failed to meet appropriate standards of behaviour. In such instances, the schoolís agreed code of behaviour should be fully implemented, lesson planning should be reassessed and classroom management strategies should be reviewed. In cases where specific individuals or groups are identified as requiring behavioural management, the school as a whole should ensure that sufficient practical supports are in place. However, in most classrooms visited, students were challenged and motivated. The level of engagement was excellent in many.
First-year students are monitored through continuous assessment and undertake their first formal examination in summer. Literacy tests are regularly carried out to assess progress. All other groups have in-house examinations twice a year. There are mock examinations for the examination classes. The English co-ordinator has briefed the team on the discrete assessment criteria that are applied in the Leaving Certificate examination.
The LCA programme has its own integral assessment. Folders of work are kept by the teacher. It would be particularly useful if the LCA class had access to a designated classroom so that such material could be more easily stored.
The use of common assessment is, as a general principle, commendable and this is conducted in a very professional manner by the English department. Common papers are set for first-year students and, as indicated in section one of this report, a special examination is set for all fifth-year students, usually at the end of September. However, care should be taken in all cases when using common assessment as a method of selection.
The school has a homework policy. Homework is set regularly and assessed conscientiously. When assigning tasks, the purpose of assessment should be kept in mind and should be linked with desired learning outcomes. Records of homework and assessment are kept. Student journals are used to record homework. In line with school policy the English department is conscious of the need to affirm good work in the student journals.
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.