An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Good Counsel College
New Ross, County Wexford
Roll number: 63610I
Date of inspection: 31 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Good Counsel College, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for 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 provision of four class periods a week of English at junior cycle is adequate whereas the provision at senior cycle is good. This is because Transition Year class groups have four class periods a week of English and fifth-year and sixth-year class groups have five class periods a week. Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) class groups have five class periods a week of English and Communication in both years one and two of the programme.
Nine teachers provide English lessons to mainstream classes and students receive extra support in literacy as necessary from three other teachers. Students are placed into mixed-ability class groups for first year. The introduction of mixed-ability teaching is a relatively new departure in the school. Its introduction into junior cycle is commended as is the plan to continue with mixed-ability classes into second year and possibly third year in the school. At present, second and third-year students are set for English. Students are placed in mixed-ability class groups again in Transition Year (TY) and students are set for English in fifth and sixth year. Students choose levels in consultation with their subject teacher and, where necessary, the guidance counsellor. Class placement of students is based on teacher recommendations and student and parent consultation. This is appropriate practice. Teachers make recommendations on the basis of both in-house and state examinations. Teachers reported that a common poetry examination is set for certain fifth-year classes to confirm suitable placement of students. This is good practice. To facilitate students changing level, concurrent timetabling is in place for most fifth and sixth-year classes with the exception of the top class group of students in each year. It was reported that there is little movement of students between class groups but that teachers agree to teach common themes to facilitate any such movement. This is good practice.
Most teachers have their own base classrooms. However, first-year students are classroom based. There was evidence in most classrooms that students are surrounded by a print-rich environment. Samples of students’ work, relevant posters, projects and key words pertaining to English were displayed in these classrooms. It is suggested that key quotes from drama texts could also be displayed. Teachers generally retain the same class groups from second-year into third-year and from fifth-year into sixth-year in both the established Leaving Certificate and the LCA. The principal allocates the teaching of programmes and levels on a rotating basis according to agreed structures. This is good practice. There is good whole-school support for English in the college.
A range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is available for students including: the staging of drama productions in TY, visiting speakers, debating and public speaking and theatre and film visits. The college also stages a musical. It was reported that the students’ council is organising a book club in the college. The work of English teachers and students in organising these co-curricular activities is commended. Teachers are facilitated to attend relevant English inservice and have used the local education centre for this purpose.
At present there is no library in the college which is to be regretted. However, some teachers use the local library with their students. In addition, some English teachers are in the process of organising a room to be used as a small English library which is commendable work. The college has purchased sets of books over the years to be used with class groups and some teachers have ‘book boxes’ in their classrooms which contain a range of novels to encourage the reading habit among their students. This is good practice.
A range of audio-visual resources are used by English teachers. Tapes, videos and DVDs relevant to English have been obtained. It is recommended that all English teachers have ready access to these resources. To facilitate this, a centralised area for storage of these resources, possibly the small English library, is recommended. School management permits teachers to purchase resources that are useful to the teaching and learning of the subject. However, it was reported that in the future an annual budget will be allocated to each subject area. This is to be encouraged as it facilitates good planning.
Broadband has been installed in most classrooms and there is one computer room in the school. Some teachers have laptops for use with their classes. Consideration should be given to inviting students to make presentations using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on aspects of their course. English teachers and students have access to computers in the learning-support room especially for the completion of LCA key assignments. There was evidence that teachers frequently access relevant websites for notes for their students.
Formal subject meetings are facilitated at the start of the school year and it was reported that teachers meet frequently on an informal basis. Since the introduction of mixed-ability teaching it was reported that there has been a lot of collaborative planning and there was evidence that teachers recognise the need to engage more regularly in formal subject planning. For example teachers agree core textbooks for junior cycle students. While some teachers collaborate regularly and share resources and ideas there was evidence that there is a need for more collaboration among the entire English teaching team so that all English teachers can discuss texts, share resources and generally plan for their subject. For example, Of Mice and Men is a novel that is taught by some teachers in first year, by some in second year and by some at senior cycle. This means that some students will study the novel at both junior and senior cycle which is not good practice.
It is therefore recommended that English teachers commence the development of a formal subject plan for English. The plan should include learning outcomes or key skills for each year group and level to achieve and a list of suggested texts for each year group to cover, including the number of poems and essays. The plan should also include a list of all available English resources and an assessment policy for English. It is suggested that teachers should also include a list of workable methodologies in the plan. This is because a range of effective and varied methodologies was observed during the inspection. The development of the plan will encourage: dialogue among all English teachers; the sharing of best practice; and a clear outline of what is covered in every year. This is not to say that all flexibility as to choice of novels, plays and poems should disappear as there was evidence that teachers choose texts that they deem most suitable for their student cohort which is good practice, although as already stated duplication of texts is best avoided. However, there is a security for students in knowing that the outcomes of learning are similar across class groups. In order to realise the development of the common English plan and to facilitate discussion among all English teachers it is recommended that management make time available for subject planning and that a co-ordinator of English be appointed, possibly on an annual basis, to disseminate information and chair meetings. A record of key outcomes of such meetings should be taken and forwarded to management.
There is a Transition Year plan for English available which demonstrates that the TY English programme is varied and worthwhile. The plan includes an outline of suitable teaching methodologies for TY. For example, students are taught creative writing based on a tape of a guided tour of Alcatraz. The programme is designed around modules on drama, fiction, communications, creative writing and language. The programme is commended for its breadth and balance and for the fact that it bridges the gap between junior and senior cycle without an over-emphasis on Leaving Certificate material. It is suggested that an electronic version of this plan be developed so that any changes can be easily made without having to rewrite the entire plan. The English and Communication programme is also commended. Students cover a range of interesting and relevant material including the reading of novels.
Many teachers have built up a range of resources which they share with their students. In addition, teachers actively encourage the development of the reading habit among all students in the school. For example, first-year students study a novel and there is a requirement that students will engage in independent reading in both first and second year. This very good practice was observed, for example, where first-year students had independently read ten books, had written reviews of these books, many of which were on display, and were well able to discuss these books in class. As already stated the development of book boxes is good practice as is the requirement that TY students would study two novels and abridged versions of Shakespeare. It is recommended when studying a novel in class that instead of engaging in silent reading the students should read aloud so that all students are at the same place in the novel in order to facilitate discussion. Students study a novel and play in second year and the focus in third year is on consolidating the work in second year and examination preparation. It is recommended that a second novel or play be introduced in third year in order to give students a broader experience of English and to promote enjoyment of the subject.
Students with literacy-support needs are identified by teacher referral, initial incoming first-year assessment tests and regular ongoing assessment and information from parents and feeder primary schools. The same process is generally used to identify students with language-support needs.
Students with literacy and language-support needs are supported in a number of ways including small group withdrawal and occasionally one-to-one help. Paired reading has been organised between parents and students as one strategy used to help with literacy support. Transition Year students are also involved in paired reading with a primary school. Students are fortunate to receive literacy support to the end of sixth year. For example, ordinary-level sixth-year students receive short-term help on essay writing. This is commendable practice. There was evidence of good liaison between mainstream and learning-support teachers which is helped by the fact that many of the teachers involved in learning support are also English teachers.
All English lessons were well prepared and structured. A range of resources, including television and DVD, handouts, the overhead projector and books were used. Sets of newspapers are also used in English lessons. Teachers had sourced very good articles, extracts and other resources to consolidate work. Some teachers had individual plans and long-term schemes of work which is good practice and to be encouraged.
In all lessons good practice was observed in that the purpose of lessons was shared with the students and the content of all lessons was appropriate. A range of appropriate work has been covered with each year group. Lessons proceeded at a suitable pace and variety was introduced in all cases so that there was a good breaking up of tasks. For example, in the study of Media Studies students were first asked to comment on the heading of a newspaper article, they then had to read the article, discuss the content of each paragraph and finally answer questions on the article.
Students demonstrated clear evidence of learning in all cases. They were able to discuss the content of their courses in a confident manner and had learned a range of suitable vocabulary and literary terms to discuss their texts. For example, first-year students were familiar with many poetic and media studies terms and sixth-year students could identify aspects of style specific to the author they were studying. Students were encouraged to write in all genres and the use of correct grammar and punctuation was seamlessly integrated into their lessons. There was evidence of the integration of the teaching of language and literature in many classes. This is a good strategy as it ensures the simultaneous teaching and learning of more that one aspect of the English syllabus. For example, by being asked to write a letter to the author of a text they were studying students were practising the skill of letter writing while consolidating learning of the text. Examination skills and the skills of critical analysis were taught as appropriate and key themes were covered during revision classes. Students were encouraged to create links with other texts and real-life situations. Differentiation was used in classes as individual attention was given as appropriate and standards were kept high to cater for the better-able students.
A commendable feature of all lessons was the good student involvement. This was generally achieved through effective student questioning. Teachers asked specific, relevant and clear questions at a variety of levels and encouraged students to justify their answers to these questions to promote higher-order thinking. In addition, there was a balance between global and directed questioning which is good practice as it ensures that all students are on task. Opportunities for independent student learning were given during lessons. For example it was reported that students make presentations to their class on particular poems they have studied and the practice of students formally presenting their opinions on each other’s work to the rest of the class group was observed. This is good practice as it encourages students to take responsibility for their learning and develops verbal and listening skills. The use of pair and group work was sometimes observed when students were given specific tasks to discuss and complete. The use of pair or group work is a good strategy for cooperative learning. When pair work was used instructions given were specific and clear.
The blackboard and whiteboard were used effectively in all lessons to convey relevant information and to record key points made by students which they in turn were then encouraged to record. There was also good use of the overhead projector observed. In addition, the DVD was used to good effect in some lessons, for example to demonstrate advertising.
There was evidence of good relationships between teachers and students. The enthusiasm and commitment of English teachers ensured that students were not only learning but that lessons were enjoyable, students were motivated and that a good atmosphere prevailed. Discipline was well maintained in most classrooms.
The fact that high standards are expected by teachers of their students can be observed from the steady increase in the number of students sitting higher-level English in both Junior and Leaving Certificate state examinations in recent years. In addition, no student has ever sat foundation-level English in the school. It is recommended that the school undertake an analysis of English state examination results on an annual basis in order to recognise such trends.
Students sit formal end-of-term examinations at Christmas and summer. Parents receive reports on their son’s progress on the basis of these examinations. It is recommended that common English examinations be set at these times in order to ensure consistency and transparency. This is especially important for students studying English at the same level and to ensure correct class group placement of students. Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations. English class groups also sit regular class-based tests and there was evidence that some class groups sit formal Halloween tests in English the results of which are posted home. In addition, the good practice observed of students being engaged in self-review of their ‘mock’ examinations is commended. Teachers keep good records of students’ progress. It is recommended that sixth-year teachers use the discrete criteria of assessment when marking students’ work. The chief examiner’s report for Leaving Certificate English available on the State Examinations Commission website is a useful resource for teachers and students. Ordinary-level Leaving Certificate students do not study a third comparative text although it is prescribed on the English syllabus. This needs to be reviewed by the teachers.
Examination of students’ work showed that class work and homework were well corrected and that teachers gave good written advice to students on areas where they needed to improve in their work. Some teachers make use of peer assessment from time to time which is a good way of getting students to see each other’s mistakes. Copies also demonstrated that an appropriate range of work had been covered. Students are expected to have copies for different aspects of their coursework which is good practice and some class groups are expected to use hard-back copies which is also good practice as it ensures better maintenance of work. Some class groups also have English folders for storage of notes and key assignments. Students’ work was generally well maintained.
Examination of students’ homework journals showed inconsistent recording of homework in all subject areas. It is recommended that the college develop a policy around homework and that English teachers develop their own homework and assessment policy as part of their ongoing planning. This policy could include appropriate amounts of homework for each year group and level and appropriate types of homework. In addition, teachers should record all homework on the board for students to record.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
§ There is good whole school support and satisfactory provision of English in the college.
§ The introduction of mixed-ability teaching at junior cycle is commended.
§ A range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English are available for students.
§ The absence of a college library is to be regretted but strategies to promote reading put in place by English teachers are commended.
§ While some teachers collaborate regularly and share resources and ideas there is a need for more collaboration among the entire English teaching team.
§ The Transition Year English programme and the English and Communication programme are commended.
§ Students receive literacy support as required to the end of sixth year.
§ All English lessons were well prepared and structured. A range of appropriate work has been covered with each year group and a variety of teaching strategies were used.
§ Students demonstrated clear evidence of learning. Opportunities for independent student learning were given during lessons.
§ There was evidence of good relationships between teachers and students.
§ Teachers demonstrated commitment to their teaching and students.
§ There is an increasing trend towards uptake of higher-level English in the college. No student has ever sat foundation-level English in the school.
§ Ordinary-level Leaving Certificate students do not study a third comparative text although it is prescribed on the English syllabus.
§ Examination of students’ work showed that class work and homework were well corrected but examination of students’ homework journals showed inconsistent recording of homework in all subject areas.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
§ English teachers should commence the development of a formal subject plan for English. In order to facilitate this it is recommended that management make time available for subject planning and that a co-ordinator of English be appointed. Key outcomes of English meetings should be recorded.
§ The teaching of the same text at junior and senior cycle should be avoided and consideration should be given to the introduction of a second novel or play in third year.
§ A centralised area for storage of English resources should be organised.
§ Common formal English examinations should be set as appropriate.
§ Teachers should teach a third comparative text for ordinary-level Leaving Certificate students.
§ The school should undertake an analysis of English state examination results on an annual basis and the discrete criteria for marking should be used when marking sixth-year students’ work.
§ The college should develop a policy around homework and English teachers should develop their own homework and assessment policy. Teachers should record all homework on the board for students to record.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of English at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.