An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Coláiste Na Toirbhirte
Árd Aoibhinn, Bandon,
Roll number: 62061T
Date of inspection: 19 April 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 Coláiste Na Toirbhirte. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Coláiste Na Toirbhirte is an all-girls’ school. First-year classes have four English lessons per week. This is adequate provision. Second-year and third-year classes have five English lessons per week and this is good provision. Transition Year (TY) classes have four English lessons per week. This is good provision. In one instance these lessons are divided between two teachers, with one teacher taking the class three times per week and one teacher taking the class once per week. While resource and timetabling constrictions are recognised, this situation should be avoided in the future due to the disruption in class contact which may arise from such an arrangement. Classes in fifth year and in sixth year are provided with six English lessons per week and this is good provision. Classes studying English and Communications as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme have three English lessons per week and this is adequate. In the case of LCA classes, a wider spread of English lessons across the week, in order to maximise class contact with the subject, should be pursued, within timetabling constraints. English lessons for all other class groups are spread evenly across the week, which is good practice.
Generally, levels and cycles are rotated between teachers. This is positive, ensuring the maintenance of a wide skills base across the English department. English classes retain their teacher from second year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year. This is good practice. English teachers are assigned base rooms where possible. This is very worthwhile.
Classes in first year are of mixed ability. Classes in second year and in third year are set. Students are assigned to classes in second year on the basis of teacher assessments and their performance in first-year examinations. An ordinary level class was created in second year in December of this academic year. Students have opted for this ordinary level class on the basis of teachers’ advice, discussion with parents and their own choice. If a student seeks to change level a note is sent to their parents to be signed and the guidance counsellor, class tutor and subject teacher are also involved in the decision-making process. Students are selected for literacy support on the basis of an entrance assessment. Information from their primary schools, their parents and progress in their first-year studies further influence this process. A diagnostic test may also be administered following some students’ arrival in the school. Classes in TY are of mixed ability. In fifth year and in sixth year classes are set. Students are facilitated in attempting the higher level course if they so wish and are assigned to classes based on their results in the Junior Certificate examination, their performance during TY and teacher advice.
The school has a well-stocked library. The school is to be complimented on its maintenance of this extremely valuable resource. A post-holder has responsibility for co-ordinating library services. The library is available to students before class and at break times. Teachers may also book the library for a class group. An induction process for first-year students into the library is organised at the start of the school year. At the beginning of the school year, prior to the library being open to students, teachers use book boxes as a means of ensuring the maintenance of library services. A number of teachers also maintain their own collections of books for their students. A notable feature of the library is the staff section which contains professional development material for teachers. This is highly commendable, allowing for modelling of library usage by staff. It is suggested that, as part of the subject plan, the English department could create a library policy setting out how the facility is used to support teaching and learning in the subject. This would serve to consolidate the already good practice in this area.
English teachers have very good access to audio-visual equipment and also to information and communication technology (ICT), which is positive. The English team has created a common English folder on the school network, which is available to all members of the English department. This incorporates a facility whereby teachers may access areas of the internet directly from the folder itself. ICT facilities are also available for students in receipt of literacy support. While there is limited access to ICT for mainstream English classes at present, the school is seeking to expand ICT facilities by providing a computer per classroom in the next academic year. In view of this development it is recommended that the English department continue to expand its use of ICT in the future as an important element in the subject-planning process.
Student teachers and new teachers are mentored by a member of staff who meets them on a weekly basis. In addition, members of the English department support student teachers and new teachers of English with regard to course content, methodologies and the delivery of the syllabuses. The English subject plan is used as an element in this induction process and teaching resources are made available. All of this is most praiseworthy. A possible addition to the induction process could be the inclusion of classroom observation on the part of both the new teacher and experienced colleagues. A further positive feature of the school’s arrangements is the attendance of student teachers at departmental meetings. This too is to be praised.
The school is supportive of English teachers’ continuing professional development. Teachers’ membership of their subject association is funded by the school. Teachers have shown a commitment to their own professional development and maintain strong links with the Cork Teachers of English. In addition to this, a number of English teachers have been involved in state examinations work. All of this is laudable.
A subject co-ordinator is appointed on a rotational basis. This is good practice. A formal meeting of the English team is held once per month, as well as informal meetings at other times during the year. Meetings of teachers regarding year groups in which they have particular involvement are also organised. Agendas are set for meetings of English teachers and minutes are recorded and kept in the subject folder. Some of the areas explored at recent meetings include possible texts to be used in senior cycle, the role of the subject co-ordinator, the preparation of common examinations for specific year groups and research regarding the adoption of a first-year textbook. The commitment of English teachers with regard to the organisation of departmental meetings is to be commended. A further commendable feature of English departmental planning is the maintenance of sets of English resources in a section of the staffroom.
A very well-developed subject plan has been prepared. This includes common plans for each year group. Teachers have worked diligently in creating the plan. It is of a high standard and is viewed as a continually developing working document. The English department is to be complimented on its good work in this area. Work is currently underway on creating a homework policy for English and a draft policy has almost been completed. The assessment section of the plan currently incorporates some elements of an assessment for learning approach in English. This is to be strongly praised. Potential areas for further development in the subject plan include the linking of the current common plans to a time scale and the investigation of further assessment for learning strategies to inform the homework policy and assessment section of the plan. Material on the latter area can be accessed on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie. As mentioned previously in this report, the increased use of ICT as a support to the teaching and learning of English should form a particular focus, with periods of formal departmental meetings devoted to the exploration, sharing and setting down of new ideas in this area.
English teachers are involved in organising a range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Among these are included a wide variety of visiting speakers, public speaking, debating, drama and outings to films and theatrical productions. The efforts of teachers in these areas are to be roundly applauded.
The English department has agreed that students will read at least one novel in each year of the junior cycle and this has been set down in the subject plan, along with the aim of collating a poetry anthology to be studied in junior cycle. Text choice is varied at senior cycle from year to year. Text choice has also been varied in junior cycle, although to a lesser extent. The department is encouraged towards enhancing this practice in junior cycle as this will further assist teachers’ ability to suit texts to class context and interest, while also providing a significant opportunity for continuing professional development for English teachers. The school is encouraged to support these endeavours on the part of the department. The study of three comparative texts is not undertaken by all classes studying the Leaving Certificate course. It is recommended that the study of three comparative texts be undertaken in all classes studying for the Leaving Certificate examination and that this should be set down in the subject plan.
A small number of students are in receipt of language support. The school has made contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) in the past and it is encouraged to further explore this link in the future. This should be facilitated by the IILT website at www.iilt.ie. A further useful resource which might be examined is the recent IILT publication A Resource Book for Language Support in Post-Primary Schools.
Students in receipt of literacy support form a separate, small class group for English in the junior cycle years. Further support is afforded to students in need of literacy support if they are in receipt of an exemption from the study of Irish. There are good informal links between the English department and the learning-support department. An English teacher is also a member of the learning-support department. The school is encouraged to continue to review and develop policy and practice with regard to students in receipt of literacy support and other students with special educational needs.
A very good standard of teaching and learning was observed during the inspection. Objectives were clear in all lessons, and this was especially the case where teachers explicitly stated these objectives at the beginning of lessons. Evidence of planning was presented in all lessons and frequently included records of student achievement which were kept diligently by teachers.
Teachers used a wide variety of resources in lessons. Among these were the blackboard, the whiteboard, television and DVD, photocopies, photographs, a compact-disc player, overhead projector and a pomegranate. The use of a thesaurus and dictionary was observed in a number of English classes. The wider adoption of this strategy is encouraged on the part of the English department. The English department is to be complimented on its successful adoption of a wide range of resources as an aid to the teaching and learning process.
Active methodologies, pair and group work were used in a majority of English lessons. This was most positive, encouraging engagement by students with the texts being studied. The use of group work, in particular, served to aid differentiation between students in a number of instances. Examples of good practice included the assigning of different tasks while students prepared an interview in a senior cycle class and the analysis of characters in a novel through the use of Drama in Education strategies. In the former instance, the impact of the lesson would have been further enhanced by the consolidation of the work done through use of the blackboard leading to student notetaking. In the latter instance, students adopted the persona of the character in question and then answered questions from their peers regarding their actions and thoughts as that character. In the limited number of classes where group or pair work were not employed, shifts to such activities would have been of benefit as a means of varying the mode of presentation or the pacing of lessons. Where active methodologies were employed, teachers were adept in facilitating students in their engagement with the tasks at hand.
There were numerous examples of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in teachers’ classroom practice. The linking of the study of a Yeats poem with the language of persuasion and students’ written work was one, very good, example of this. This awareness of the need to integrate language and literature was also evident in the exercises which had been assigned for students’ homework. The importance of adopting such an approach was also acknowledged in the subject plan. The English department is encouraged to continue with this strategy, utilising as wide and varied a range of genres as possible in connection with texts being studied. Teachers are to be complimented as a group on the imagination and good practice exemplified through their use of this strategy.
There was a good relationship between teachers and students in all classes. In all cases teachers were affirming to students and classroom management was good.
Students worked diligently during lessons. Their enthusiasm for their work was particularly evident during group or pair-work sessions. In one lesson, students’ personal engagement with a text was demonstrated through their capturing of particular characters’ voices, while using quotes from their encounters with these characters during their studies. This was impressive and served very well as an imaginative method of revision. During questioning by both teachers and the inspector, students’ knowledge of the texts they were studying and of a variety of literary terms and techniques was clearly evident. Teachers’ questions were answered readily and with facility. In a number of lessons students took notes spontaneously. In classes where students maintained folders, these were kept carefully and were organised neatly.
A print-rich environment had been developed in a number of rooms and this was most positive. In particular, the display of students’ written work, utilising ICT was worthwhile. Students’ work in English is also, on occasion, displayed in public areas of the school. The English department is encouraged to continue to expand and develop a print-rich environment in English classrooms. This should be achievable, particularly in English teachers’ base rooms, and the display of students’ work will serve to enhance students’ sense of audience and the drafting and redrafting process. It is recommended that the creation and maintenance of a print-rich environment should also be set down as a key aspiration in the English subject plan.
The English department is in the process of creating a draft homework policy and it is anticipated that this will be completed in the very near future. The department is encouraged to continue with this worthwhile work. Appropriate amounts of homework were assigned in classes and regular correction was also in evidence. The potential for the occasional publication of some senior cycle students’ work as a means of further enhancing their appreciation of the concept of audience was highlighted in one class, while the possibility of occasionally adopting the use of A4 copies for ‘high status’ written exercises was pointed out in a junior cycle class. In another junior cycle class, the imaginative linking of a poetry lesson to students’ local environment through a written assignment worked well and appealed to students’ imaginations.
The use of formative, comment-based assessment was evident in teachers’ correction of students’ homework. The adoption of the criteria for assessment utilised by the State Examinations Commission was also an element of teachers’ practice. All of this is very good practice and teachers are to be complimented on their commitment to the appropriate correction of students’ work.
Formal examinations are held at Christmas and summer for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students. Mock examinations are organised for third-year and sixth-year students prior to the midterm break in February of each year. TY students do not have formal examinations, but instead assessment is carried out through project work, in-class examinations and informal assessment by teachers. Common examinations, or components of examinations, are organised for all year groups, apart from TY. This is positive, allowing for the comparison of students’ performances across a year cohort, while also avoiding the needless duplication of work by teachers. Students in receipt of literacy support are assessed based on their work in class, correction of work and formal examinations for their year groups. A worthwhile strategy which should be adopted for literacy-support students is the periodic assessment of their progress with regard to the specific literacy programme which has been set out for them during the year.
There is one parent-teacher meeting per year for each of first year, second year, third year, fifth year and sixth year. There is no parent-teacher meeting for TY students. Reports regarding students’ progress are sent to parents at Christmas and summer.
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.