An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of English

REPORT

 

Hamilton High School

Bandon, County Cork

Roll number: 62050O

 

Date of inspection: 30 September 2009

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Hamilton High 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Hamilton High School is an all-boys school. Classes in first year, second year and third year are provided with four lessons of English per week. This is adequate provision. The Department of Education and Science Inspectorate report Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools noted that, of seventy-five schools evaluated, a minority of schools was found to provide only four lessons of English per week in all three years of junior cycle. During the evaluation it was stated that the current timetabling arrangements, whereby there are eight lessons in the school day, meant that the provision of an increased number of English lessons per week was difficult to achieve. The school has, however, been moving towards a revision of its timetabling system. This move is strongly endorsed and is, indeed, a very necessary adjustment. Once this revision has been completed, the expansion of the number of English lessons provided in junior cycle is urged. Timetabled provision for English in all other year groups is good. In sixth year, one double lesson takes place on a Thursday while there is no English lesson on Monday for Leaving Certificate students. It should be noted that a contact point with the subject on every day of the week is considered good practice.

 

All classes in junior cycle are of mixed ability. Students decide which levels they will participate in for the Junior Certificate examinations following Christmas of their third year. Students choose their levels on the basis of advice from their English teacher, their parents, their year head and the guidance counsellor. All of this is appropriate. Students with difficulties in literacy development in first-year classes are identified on the basis of referrals from mainstream subject teachers, contacts with students’ primary schools and contacts with students’ parents. In addition, standardized tests are administered to students in late September of first year. Notwithstanding the very good nature of these arrangements, it is suggested that the possibility of administering these tests prior to students’ arrival in the school should be investigated. This will allow for the hastening of any preparations which are necessary, based on the identification of particular difficulties students may be experiencing. Mixed-ability classes are also organised in the Transition Year (TY) programme and this is in keeping with the spirit and aims of the TY programme. Classes in fifth year are also of mixed ability, with set classes being organised in sixth year. Teachers reported that these arrangements work well. Senior cycle students are encouraged to discuss their choice of level with the guidance counsellor prior to making a decision regarding which level they will attempt in the certificate examinations. A ‘change of subject level’ form is also utilised in this process. English lessons in all year groups apart from first year are timetabled concurrently. This is positive, as this facilitates student movement between levels and cycles where necessary. Teachers are assigned to levels and cycles on a rotational basis and to ensure continuity for classes as they move between particular year groups. This is good practice.

 

There is an audio-visual room and a resource room for English, where teachers may access audio-visual equipment. This is very worthwhile and the school is encouraged to expand the provision of audio-visual equipment in classrooms as far as is practicable, within the constraints of available resources. This is important in the context of the teaching and learning of English, given the centrality of film and visual literacy to the Leaving Certificate syllabus. Beyond this, the development of students’ visual literacy, along with the value of audio-visual resources cannot be discounted in junior cycle classes. As well as audio-visual equipment, the English resource room incorporates a print-rich environment and affords space where English resources can be stored. The provision of this facility in support of the work of the English department is strongly commended.

 

There is an information and communication technology (ICT) room. In addition, a mobile data projector is available to all staff. On occasion, this has been used by the English department for PowerPoint displays and for the projection of relevant images. ICT has also been used in conjunction with the writing of the TY magazine. However, overall, there is limited use of ICT on the part of the English department. The English department is encouraged to expand its use of ICT, within the limits of available resources. Ideas in this area could include the use of webquests in connection with students’ development of English projects, along with the expanded use by students, where appropriate, of word-processing packages which will serve to focus them on the drafting and redrafting process. This approach could be achieved both through students’ engagement with ICT in school, as well as their use of ICT for written exercises at home from time to time.

 

The school is seeking to redevelop the library at present. In anticipation of this redevelopment books are being collected and these are available through a classroom library lending system. Students are encouraged to use the local library as an additional resource. DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time is provided in first-year classes. The school is also involved with a discount book club. The efforts of the English department in this area are commended and it is suggested that current good practice in encouraging reading for pleasure among the student body should be consolidated in a brief reading policy as part of the subject plan. Further possibilities which could be explored with regard to the continuing development of library facilities include the purchase of readalong texts and graphic novels and the adoption of reading initiatives such as wordmillionaire and reading challenge. Details of these and other strategies which may be worth exploring can be found in an evaluation report of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Demonstration Library Project on the website www.jcspliteracy.ie. Further ideas with regard to text choice for young adults can be found on the websites www.childrensbooksireland.com and www.literacytrust.org.uk. The website of the School Library Association in the Republic of Ireland (SLARI) may also offer ideas with regard to the redevelopment of the library. The school is urged to continue to support this latter aim as much as possible.

 

There is a good, collaborative atmosphere within the English department. There are informal induction procedures for new teachers and student teachers who are participating in the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). New teachers and student teachers are provided with access to staff meetings and in-service education and the subject department also plays a mentoring role. They are also introduced to the subject planning and subject file procedures in the English department. These arrangements are positive and it is suggested that they should be consolidated through the inclusion of a brief, formal induction policy in the subject plan. A worthwhile area for exploration in the future could include classroom observation as an element in the induction process for student teachers or new colleagues.

 

The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD). Teachers have engaged in a number of whole-staff in-service education sessions over the last number of years. The school has indicated a willingness to assist the English department with the membership fees for the relevant subject association. This is commendable and English teachers are encouraged to pursue links with the subject association. A resource which may be of interest in this regard is the website of the Irish National Organisation of Teachers of English (INOTE) which may be located at www.inote.ie.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

A team approach is utilised to co-ordinate English. It is reported that, due to the size of the school, this works well. While this is accepted, it is advised that the relevance and usefulness of developing a rotating co-ordinator’s position within the English department should be considered. There are three formal meetings and numerous informal meetings of the English department each year. Minutes of formal meetings are recorded. This is worthwhile and it is suggested that, in the future, ICT should be used to facilitate storage of these records. Recent meetings of the English department have focused on the development of common schemes of work, extra-curricular activities, the school library and the organising of theatre visits. A recent focus on discussing new methodologies as part of the school’s engagement with assessment for learning is a very positive development. This move towards placing teaching and learning as a key element in subject planning meetings is strongly endorsed. It is recommended that the English department incorporate a formal teaching-and-learning element as part of subject departmental meetings. The opportunity for teachers to exchange ideas, to adapt methodologies and to imaginatively explore possibilities in the context of their own classrooms should then be grasped and shared with colleagues through the subject-planning process. In the case of assessment for learning, over time, the English department should appreciate which assessment-for-learning strategies work best in the context of Hamilton High School and, ultimately, this could lead to the creation of a comprehensive assessment-for-learning policy for English which consolidates the good work which has been achieved. A new teaching-and-learning focus could then be chosen, on a whole-school basis or from a purely English perspective.

 

A comprehensive subject plan has been developed, which includes common termly plans for each year group. This is commendable. It is recommended that the current subject plan should be further developed to incorporate explicit learning goals to be achieved by students as part of the common termly plans. These learning goals should be linked to specific skills required of students in the Junior Certificate syllabus. Such an approach will be especially useful in informing the common assessments organised by English teachers at Christmas and summer. In addition, the use of an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabuses should be explicitly set out as part of each of the common plans. A useful resource in this endeavour could be the Draft Rebalanced English Syllabus for junior cycle which is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie. As well as common plans, the subject folder includes minutes of formal English meetings, official documents relevant to the teaching of English and significant research material related to teaching. The previously mentioned Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools is also included.

 

English teachers are involved in organising a range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities. These include debating, public speaking, World Book Day, various writing competitions and trips to the theatre. All of this is commendable.

 

The English department varies the texts studied in junior cycle and in senior cycle, within syllabus confines. This is positive and this practice should continue, while taking into account practical constraints. The department is particularly encouraged to experiment with recently published texts in junior cycle. Support in text choice can be accessed through the English resources area of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website at www.slss.ie or through one of the previously mentioned book-choice websites. At present the department does not pursue the study of a specific Shakespearean text in junior cycle, although this has been undertaken in the past. The department focuses instead on excerpts of Shakespearean plays, alongside the study of a modern drama. It is recommended that students should pursue the study of a specific Shakespearean play during the junior cycle. This should be done to facilitate students’ movement to senior cycle and to expose them to the study of Shakespearean language and characters in a more holistic manner.

 

There is a subject-specific TY programme for English and the school has accessed training with regard to TY. As with the other common plans, the TY programme should be reviewed and adjusted to incorporate clear learning goals for the year. Support in this endeavour may be accessed at www.ncca.ie, which contains TY units that may serve as a useful model. Other suggestions, with regard to the assessment element of the TY programme, can be found later in this report.

 

There are good links between the English department and the special educational needs department. There is a special educational needs section in the English subject plan which includes the special educational needs policy, relevant information for supporting students with special educational needs and subject-specific resources for English in this area. English teachers are involved in identifying students who may be experiencing difficulties in literacy development through their examination of homework and classroom observation. Individual education plans (IEPs) have begun to be developed. All of this is positive. The possibility of exploring the use of team-teaching in an English context might usefully be initiated in the future, although the physical constraints of some classrooms must be taken into account in making this suggestion.

 

A whole-school literacy policy has recently been developed. A range of strategies is included in the policy, including the promotion of reading, the use of ICT and debating. The school is particularly encouraged to investigate the use of DARTS (Directed Activities Related to Texts) in this context as a series of strategies which will promote literacy, not only in English-related contexts, but also across the curriculum. The website www.jcspliteracy.ie contains useful ideas regarding whole-school-literacy strategies. Further useful resources may be garnered in the co-operative learning area of the SLSS website. Another item worthy of exploration is the use of peer-tutoring between TY students and first-year students with difficulties in literacy development. A useful resource for such an initiative is Reading Pairs: Teacher’s Manual and Resource Pack by Aideen Cassidy, which is available from the JCSP support service.

 

The school has a number of students with English as an Additional Language (EAL). A member of staff has attended in-service education sessions dealing with EAL, provided by the SLSS. The information garnered at these sessions was then fed back to the wider staff body. Relevant resources have been stored in an EAL folder. The website www.elsp.ie contains a wide range of resources which should prove useful to English and, indeed, all mainstream teachers in planning for the needs of EAL students. A further useful resource with regard to bilingual students is Learning in 2+ Languages which can be accessed through the website www.ltscotland.org.uk. It is suggested that the creation of an EAL plan could usefully be advanced in the near future incorporating assessment practices and an outline of work to be undertaken with students to fully support their accessing the curriculum. The school is also encouraged to join the English Language Support Teachers’ Association (ELSTA), the website of which may be found at www.elsta.ie.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

A good standard of teaching and learning was observed during the evaluation. Planning was evident in all lessons and termly plans were presented. In a majority of lessons the learning intention was set out clearly at the beginning. This is good practice as it serves to focus students on what they are to achieve during the lesson and can aid assessment of their success in this regard, both on the part of students and of their teacher. Teachers variously took the roll at the start of the lesson, had students read their homework to their peers or recapitulated areas previously studied in order to make a link with, and set strong foundations for, the new knowledge students were set to acquire. In one instance, where homework was read aloud, the points made by students were consolidated on the whiteboard, which is good practice.

 

A range of resources was used in English lessons to support teaching and learning. These included various texts, the whiteboard and photocopied resources. It is suggested that greater use of visual resources should be considered in the future, as a support for students who may be less engaged by purely verbal or written presentations. Such an approach will also serve to contextualise ideas in English in more concrete terms for some students. Students had access to dictionaries in a number of lessons and a thesaurus was available for use in one lesson. This is good practice, as familiarity with the use of such texts will heighten students’ awareness of the imaginative potential of language, as well as the importance of precision in written and oral contexts. This good practice should be set down as departmental policy in the English subject plan.

 

Questioning was used frequently in lessons as a means of assessing and advancing students’ learning. In one lesson, particularly effective practice was observed with the teacher developing notes based on contributions provided by students through a process of careful questioning. In particular, the teacher focused on facilitating students in producing answers independently. Beyond this, higher-order questions featured prominently in the lesson, with students being encouraged to examine why the use of particular pieces of language on the part of a poet was effective.

 

Pair work and group work were used in a majority of lessons observed. In one lesson, a photocopied sheet comprising a number of different headings was distributed to students. This sheet acted as a scaffold for group work, with each group taking one of the headings and using it as a catalyst for a brainstorming activity. This was good practice and it is suggested that strategies such as placemat, snowball or jigsaw could further focus students’ work on the development of skills in the four areas of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Where one group was set a task dealing with the plot of a novel the class had not yet completed reading, it is suggested that a prediction exercise could have been utilised as a focus for discussion and debate throughout the class group. These suggestions are made in the context of a good lesson, and the space constraints and consequent classroom management challenges must also be acknowledged with regard to some of the methodologies mentioned. In another lesson, students were placed in pairs to answer a number of questions set out on the whiteboard. Roles were assigned to the students, with one being instructed to record the answers they planned to offer when called upon by the teacher. A further expansion of this approach is advocated, with both recorder and reporter roles potentially being assigned. Good practice was observed in this lesson where students were exhorted by the teacher to provide evidence to support any answers they offered. Further material dealing with co-operative-learning strategies can be accessed at www.slss.ie and at www.co-operation.org.

 

Analysis of the use of language by different writers was a frequent feature of English lessons. In one lesson there was a strong focus on the different aspects of a writer’s style, while in another lesson the use of imagery in a novel was highlighted for students. Here an expanded discussion of why the images worked well could have been worth pursuing. In this lesson, where student reading took place, it was interspersed with questions regarding the novel, an effective practice. Where a teacher’s reading of a novel took place in another instance, an occasional pause to consider particular passages from the perspective of the effective use of language could be considered. This was addressed later in the lesson with students being asked to note particular features of a character’s speech as part of a set exercise. This was worthwhile and teachers are encouraged to use such exercises as a further impetus towards students using elements of the texts in question as models for further written exercises. The linking of a novel and a poem in one lesson was very good practice, with the teacher reading the poem twice, highlighting features of the poem and then moving towards a more in-depth study of the piece. This was a strategy which encouraged students in developing a personal response to both texts and it is suggested that this successful approach could have been added to still more through a longer period being spent on exploring students’ personal responses.

 

A very good relationship between teachers and students was evident in lessons observed during the evaluation. Classroom management was good. In one lesson, the use of humour as a management tool was worthwhile. The linking of a text to students’ own experiences and to the news of the day was another example of good practice. Teachers were affirming to students. Students were engaged by their work in all lessons. They offered answers readily when questioned and took notes diligently where relevant. In one lesson a class displayed facility, when questioned; regarding the use of language in a text they had studied. Knowledge of a text and the ideas it explored was also evident in another lesson.

 

A print-rich environment has been developed in the English resource room. This is positive. In other classrooms there was limited development of a print-rich environment. It is recommended that the English department highlight the development of a print-rich environment as a key policy and practice in the subject plan. This will link well with the aspiration to create such an environment which is outlined in the recently developed whole-school literacy policy. A range of strategies should be utilised which will aid learning in English for students with difficulties in literacy development, EAL students and, indeed, all members of the student body. These strategies could include the creation and display of events charts connected to particular texts, keywords, key quotes, character diagrams and the display of genre exercises developed by students. In the latter case, this strategy will highlight the importance of drafting and redrafting for students, as well as focusing them on the idea of audience when undertaking written work. The use of character diagrams, incorporating relevant illustrations, will be most useful in the case of texts which contain challenging ideas and portraits of complex individuals, in all year groups.

 

 

Assessment

 

There is a whole-school homework policy. The homework policy outlines some types of homework which can be set by subject departments. The English department should investigate other possibilities in this area to enhance its ability to differentiate for students’ different interests and levels of academic ability. As has been previously mentioned, an area which the department is encouraged to explore, in the context both of developing students’ literacy and of differentiating exercises within classes, is the use of DARTS (Directed Activities Related to Texts) as an element in students’ exercises. The use of graphic organisers to aid engagement and understanding for some students could also be expanded. Useful material on this area may be accessed in the SLSS website. Homework was regularly assigned and monitored in all lessons observed.

 

The development of a TY magazine was a worthwhile focus for TY classes. In addition, it is suggested that a portfolio specific to English should form a key element in assessment practices in TY. This would link well with genre exercises which had already been developed by TY students. The portfolio could work as a ‘centre of excellence’ for students’ written work, comprising a number of genre exercises which had gone through a drafting process, with input from students’ English teachers. The portfolio could then form an important part of students’ overall mark for the year. A further area to investigate in relation to TY assessment is the addition of an oral element to students’ assessments. This could, for example, include participation in the Poetry Aloud competition, details of which can be accessed at www.poetryireland.ie.

 

There was evidence of comment-based, formative assessment in almost all cases. In one instance it is suggested that this could focus on one or two ‘reshaping’ comments for students with regard to their written work in the future. The use of comment-based formative assessment as a means of providing students with feedback on their written work is strongly endorsed. In addition, it is suggested that the English department should investigate the wider adoption of peer-assessment and self-assessment strategies in English lessons. It is positive to note that the introduction of peer assessment in first-year classes is reported as being advanced. Useful resources in this area can be found on both the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie and on the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) at www.slss.ie.

 

There was some evidence of an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabuses being utilised in students’ homework. The English department is urged to continue to develop and expand this aspect of teachers’ practice. A wide range of different genres could be used to explore writing techniques while also being linked to the characters and events of the literary texts being examined. A ‘genre sheet’ could be developed by the department, setting out genres which are relevant to the syllabuses and these could be explored in combination with particular texts. Beyond this, where literary techniques are being highlighted for students, these should then feature as a part of their written exercises that evening, where they could be expected to develop their own versions of these techniques in the context of particular exercises. Alternatively, the use of these techniques as elements in oral presentations and discussions would also be worthwhile.

 

Formal house examinations are organised for all year groups at Christmas. In addition, those students who will be participating in the certificate examinations are provided with mock examinations in the spring. Formal house examinations are organised for students in all other year groups at the end of the academic year. The English department sets common examinations, where practicable, for classes in the same year group. Students’ performance in the certificate examinations is analysed in comparison with national norms and this has served to inform the development of the subject over the last number of years, particularly with regard to students’ uptake of levels. This focus should be maintained. If school resources allow, students with Reasonable Accommodations in the Certificate Examinations (RACE) are facilitated in house examinations. This arrangement is laudable.

 

A parent-teacher meeting is organised once per year for each year group. Where a parent cannot attend a meeting, a progress report may be prepared regarding a student’s progress, if requested. In addition, parents are informed of students’ progress through the student journal and formal reports. These arrangements are worthwhile.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • A good standard of teaching and learning was observed.
  • There was a very good relationship between teachers and students.
  • The school has been moving towards a revision of its timetabling system and this move is strongly endorsed.
  • There are good links between the English department and the special educational needs department.
  • A member of staff has attended in-service education for EAL.
  • The English department is seeking to redevelop the school library at present. The efforts of the English department are commended and the school is strongly encouraged to continue to pursue the redevelopment of the library.
  • There is an English resource room.
  • The English department varies the texts studied in junior cycle and in senior cycle.
  • A comprehensive subject plan has been developed which includes common termly plans.
  • Learning objectives were outlined at the beginning of the lesson in most cases.
  • There was some evidence of an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabuses.
  • Pair and group work were used in the majority of classes.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • The English department should ensure students study a Shakespearean play as part of their junior cycle course.
  • A formal teaching-and-learning element should be included as part of subject departmental meetings.
  • The further development of the English subject plan should highlight the use of an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabuses. Clear learning goals should also be incorporated as part of each yearly plan.
  • The development of a print-rich environment in students’ classrooms should be included as a key policy and practice in the English subject plan.

 

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, January 2010

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

   

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report  

 

  • School Management commend the English Department for their continued dedication to high standards of teaching and learning. The commitment to a strong, voluntary extra curricular programme is very much appreciated and worthy of further recognition.
  • Students in Hamilton High School study a cross section of Shakespearean and modern drama texts throughout the Junior cycle. Students choose to study a modern drama as their single text for the Junior Certificate, but are also exposed to a number of Shakespearean texts, as required. 

 

 

 Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

  • Additional noticeboards have been placed in classrooms to further encourage a print rich environment, thereby further advancing policy and practice in the English Department.
  • The English Department will further explore methods of highlighting ‘an integrated approach’ to the language and literature elements of the syllabus.
  • At English subject Department meetings, if required, one specific ‘formal’ teaching and learning element will be noted on the agenda.