An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of English

REPORT

 

Drogheda Grammar School

Mornington Road, Drogheda

County Louth

Roll number: 63870L

 

Date of inspection: 19 September 2006

Date of issue of report:  22 February 2007

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Drogheda Grammar 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 the 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Drogheda Grammar School is one of the oldest secondary schools in Ireland, having been founded in 1669.  Originally a boys’ boarding school, the school now has an enrolment of 230 boys and girls and it prepares both boarders and day students for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations.  Students also complete the Transition Year Programme.

 

English classes are provided five times each week for all year groups in junior and senior cycles and this meets the requirements of the syllabus.  Provision is particularly generous in the Transition Year Programme (TYP), where additional modules in Drama and in Media Studies complement the three English classes offered.

 

Students are placed in mixed ability class groups for junior cycle and, based on a broad range of criteria, including teachers’ professional judgements and students’ and parents’ wishes, in higher or ordinary level classes for senior cycle.  Throughout the school, English classes are timetabled concurrently and this is used to facilitate students’ mobility across the levels.  It is suggested that there is also scope to make greater use of this facility for inter-class activities, particularly in junior cycle.  Students are encouraged to take the higher-level course as appropriate and participation at this level is very good, particularly in senior cycle.

 

General resource provision for English is very good.  Teachers are allocated their own classrooms and this has facilitated the development of one well-resourced English room.  This is a bright and attractive space, where book shelves, a data projector and screen, resource storage and colourful posters create a vibrant learning atmosphere.  In all classrooms visited, the teachers had created a motivational, print-rich, environment with displays of subject-specific terminology, and other visual learning aids.   Resourcing of a second English room is on-going and the school is commended for the commitment to the subject which this indicates.

 

A small library is available for students’ use in the school.  This is located at the back of a study centre and provides a range of books for borrowing.  Students have access to this resource during some lunch times and the school has instituted a reading period to encourage the habit of reading. Plans are in place to further develop the library as the school develops and it is hoped that, as a proposed building project develops, its capacity to act as a key resource to all subjects in the school will expand.  In the meantime, the teachers of English encourage reading through the inclusion of a number of novels in their plans for junior cycle and through bringing class groups to the library.  It is suggested that they build on the established reading period, particularly in junior cycle.  This might be done through including a time for reading in their plans for the subject, perhaps on a six-weekly basis.  Class library boxes, containing a range of age and ability-appropriate texts, are an effective way to bring books to the students.   They can be encouraged to choose reading material from the library box or to bring their own choices from home for the reading period.  This will help to generate interest in reading for pleasure, for information and for improvement of language skills. 

 

Students in Drogheda Grammar School are provided with a very good range of co-curricular activities which build on and reinforce learning in the classroom.  These include visits to the theatre to see professional productions of plays being studied, opportunities to develop and practice public speaking and debating skills and to produce their own magazines and radio programmes.  The English teachers are commended for the work they have done to provide students with such valuable learning experiences.

 

Planning and preparation

 

The size of the school means that only one of the three teachers of the subject has contact with all year groups and she acts as co-ordinator of the department.  The teachers of English work well together. They meet regularly, though informally, to plan for the delivery of English in the school. Their collaboration has resulted in a common approach to the assessment of junior cycle classes, for example.  They are commended for the collegial approach they take to supporting each other, evident in the way they defer to each other’s particular subject expertise in planning for the subject.

 

The teachers’ commitment to appropriate planning was evident in the school.  Significant progress has been made in developing a department plan for English.  The substantial documentation available for inspection included a statement of the broad aims of the programme in the school and copies of teachers’ individual yearly plans, together with a list of the resources available to the teachers.   Written plans for Transition Year English and each of the two related modules, Drama and Media Studies, were also available.  The programmes outlined represent a very good introduction to senior cycle English and the inclusion of the study of film makes very good use of the audio-visual facilities available in the English classroom.   

 

It is recommended that the team develop their planning documentation further to function as a guide to classroom practice.  This could be done on an incremental basis, for example, by focussing on first and fifth years initially.  The revised plan might include more specific, achievable, learning objectives and include a clear statement about how students’ progress towards achieving these will be assessed.  A clear indication of the agreed content to be covered on a monthly or termly basis would be a helpful addition and provide very clear direction to the teacher in the classroom.  Such planning would provide an effective guide for the work of individual teachers and promote steady progression in the students’ learning.

 

Nineteen students whose first language is not English presently attend Drogheda Grammar School and the Department of Education and Science has allocated an additional 22 teaching hours for their support.  One of the English teachers has particular responsibility for the delivery of that support.   Tuition in English as a Second Language is offered to small groups when their peers are at Irish class.  Support and direction has been received in the school from Integrate Ireland Language and Training and this has influenced the programme provided. The focus is maintained on the acquisition of language in the first instance and then on supporting the students’ work in their other subjects.  This is commended as good practice.  It is suggested that a whole school approach to supporting the language needs of these students should be developed to build on the good practice already established.

 

There is a very good level of liaison between the English department and the learning support function in the school.  The department plans made it clear that all teachers of English are aware of the learning needs of students with special educational needs (SEN) and there is regular communication between the learning support teacher (LST) and all members of staff.  Students are identified as needing learning support following reports from the primary school and a group assessment in first year.  Teachers may also refer a child in difficulty to the LST who is timetabled to work with groups of first, second and third years during one of the English classes. This model of support delivery was intended to facilitate team teaching arrangements but these have not been fully implemented.  It is recommended that the school review this model to ensure that students whose learning needs include a need for support with literacy and English are not disadvantaged by withdrawal from English class.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Excellent lesson planning documentation had been prepared for each lesson visited.  The objectives of each were clear and resources had been carefully chosen and prepared to support students’ achievement of the learning targets.  It is suggested that sharing the objectives with students at the start of the lesson can be a good support to the well-ordered learning environments created in the classrooms visited.  Care was taken to establish links between the new material presented and the prior knowledge of students and the pacing of the lessons was appropriate in all cases.

 

A strength of the teaching observed in Drogheda Grammar School was the emphasis on students’ participation in class.  In all lessons visited, opportunities for students to engage in discovery and self-directed learning were facilitated.  In one junior cycle class, for example, students worked in pairs to identify the structure of media reports.  Their conclusions were used to complete a generic media report template on the whiteboard.  Careful questioning by the teacher ensured that, in this mixed ability setting, all students were able to participate in the brief class discussion.  In a senior cycle class, groups of students were asked to read through different stanzas of a poem to discover the narrative which underpinned it.  Again, the range of ability in this class, together with the fact that not all students were equally fluent in English, posed challenges which were well met by the teacher.  The composition of the groups and the distribution of a simple, accessible, task sheet supported students through the task.

 

Teachers made very good use of a variety of resources to engage attention and promote understanding and retention of new concepts and information.  Excellent use was made of the whiteboard throughout.  In some classes, the teacher had prepared the whiteboard in advance of class, thus ensuring that students were immediately aware of the learning task and ready to focus on their work.  Involving students in completing cloze-type exercises on the board is a strategy which works well in junior cycle classes, as was evident from the enthusiastic volunteering of students in the class where this was done.   The teaching of film texts in senior cycle was supported by the showing of short clips in another class observed.  The attention of students was directed to particular aspects and the stance they were encouraged to adopt was that of ‘critical viewer’.  This is very good practice and one worth extending across all the genres.   It was clear that this higher-level group had acquired the critical literacy needed to engage with the two films discussed and that they could comfortably approach other text types in the same way.

 

In all the lessons visited, students were purposeful and positively motivated.  Their interactions with their teachers and with the inspector indicated that they are making good progress through their courses.  Where weaknesses were observed, these related to written work in students’ copies.  In a minority of cases, better able students were careless in regard to spelling, paragraphing and presentation.  Less able students, whilst confident and able to discuss in class the texts being studied, struggled with expressing clearly in writing the understanding they had achieved.  To address this, it is recommended that a deliberate focus on the teaching of writing skills should be adopted.   Suggestions on the teaching/learning strategies which are helpful in this regard can be found on the Teaching English website, on www.slss.ie.

 

Classes were well-managed throughout and the respect between teachers and students was evident.  A good learning atmosphere was created in all classes.

 

Assessment

 

While there is no formal policy in the school at the moment, homework is regularly set and carefully marked.  Comment based marking is used and this style of correction is particularly helpful in identifying students’ strengths and areas for improvement.   Given the emphasis on participative learning which is established in the English lessons visited, it is suggested that the teachers of English should engage students more regularly in self- and peer-assessment.  This can be done by collaborative setting of assessment criteria for specific homework tasks, for example.  

 

Students’ progress is assessed at four points in the year.  In-class assessments are conducted during the first and second terms and formal examinations are held at the end of Christmas and summer terms.  The teachers of English collaborate to set common in-house examination papers for English for junior cycle classes.  These are marked to an agreed scheme.  This is very good practice, allowing for the comparison within the year groups and, as a result, careful planning to meet the students’ needs. Given the fact that there are only two class groups in senior cycle and each is following a different course, teachers set their own papers for these classes.

 

Parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group annually.  Reports issue to parents four times each year and this level of communication with parents is commended.  Parents are also kept informed of their children’s progress through the student journal, where teachers may record comments about achievements or areas of difficulty.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • English is very well resourced in Drogheda Grammar School.  The provision of two dedicated subject rooms has facilitated the creation of a motivational learning environment and the provision of up-to-date communications resources to the department.
  • The emphasis on encouraging reading in the school is commendable as is the very good range of co-curricular activities which build on and reinforce learning in the classroom.
  • Significant progress has been made in developing a department plan for English. It is evident that there is very good liaison between the teachers of English and the Learning Support department so that the needs of all students across the ability range are well met in the school.  However, there is scope to improve the arrangements made to deliver support to students as required.
  • Excellent lesson planning documentation had been prepared for each lesson visited and teachers made very good use of a variety of resources to engage attention and promote understanding and retention of new concepts and information. 
  • A strength of the teaching observed in Drogheda Grammar School was the emphasis on students’ participation in class.  In all the lessons visited, students were purposeful and positively motivated and making good progress through their courses.  Where weaknesses were observed, these related to written work in students’ copies. 
  • Homework is regularly set and comment-based marking is used to identify students’ strengths and areas for improvement.   The teachers of English collaborate to set common in-house examination papers for English for junior cycle classes.  These are marked to an agreed scheme.
  • Parents are kept informed of their children’s progress through four reports home and an annual parent-teacher meeting.

 

 

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

 

  • In order to ensure that students whose learning needs include a need for support with literacy and English are not disadvantaged by withdrawal from English class, the school should review the present arrangements for delivering support.
  • In planning for and delivering the English courses in the school, a deliberate focus on the teaching of writing skills should be adopted.

 

 

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.