An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Saint Mogue’s College
Bawnboy, Belturbet, County Cavan
Roll number: 70360C
Date of inspection: 15 May 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 St Mogue’s College. 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 deputy 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.
The 140 students attending St Mogue's College, Bawnboy, come from both rural and small urban communities representing a broad social and economic spectrum. The school benefits from participation in the school support programme under the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan for educational inclusion. It has initiated a number of strategies to meet the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These include the establishment of a homework club and participation in a School Completion Project with one other post-primary and four primary schools.
Most recently, the appointment of a teacher in the school as the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator for the project and the allocation of additional support hours to the school have had an impact on the deployment of teachers of English. Adjustments had been made to the composition of class groups and some of the teachers met during the inspection visit had only been working with their class groups for a short time. Until recently, students enrolling in the school were placed in one of two class groups formed, one of which catered for the needs of all students identified as needing learning support. Both class groups were approximately of equal size and students with special educational needs (SEN) were withdrawn for additional tuition as required. Just before the evaluation, however, a change to this arrangement had been made. Two bands have been formed in each year of junior cycle. The top band is now sub-divided into two class groups and English is concurrently timetabled for these classes. The second band is much smaller and comprises a single class group which is targeted for learning support. This new arrangement allows the formation of a dedicated higher-level class for English and is part of a strategy adopted in the school to support students at both ends of the ability range. The numbers of students who take the higher level course is satisfactory and they achieve well in examinations.
General resource provision for the teaching of English is very good. One classroom has been designated as an English room and an excellent learning environment has been created to support the teaching of English in this space. Posters, wall charts and other learning aids were displayed, as were examples of students’ own work. This is very good practice. In addition to providing a stimulating setting for learning, the learning of key vocabulary and quotations can be reinforced by wall displays. There are two computer rooms available in the school and the English room is also networked for access to the internet. There was evidence that students make good use of this facility to research and present work.
Students in St Mogue’s are expected to read across the genres and a small library is available to them in the English room. Time is made available to them to browse the selection offered and they are actively encouraged to borrow books on a regular basis. The school is commended for the variety of co-curricular activities available to students, including drama, public speaking and workshops. Trips to places of literary and cultural interest and visits to the theatre to see productions of plays being studied are also organised. Teachers facilitate a number of activities. The work done by teachers to facilitate experiences which extend and reinforce the skills learned in English class is commended as evidence of their commitment and enthusiasm for the subject.
There are four teachers for the subject in the school, all of whom have a qualification in English. Two teachers recently joined the team on a part-time, temporary, basis to facilitate the re-organisation of class groups. The two permanent teachers of English have been meeting regularly both on an informal basis and as a subject department. They generally plan their work independently and there was good individual planning documentation available for inspection. These schemes of work, comprising an outline of work to be covered with classes and details of the textbooks being used, are a good basis for planning at department level. It is recommended that they should be collated and developed at that level to include a statement of the aims and general objectives of the English programme in the school, a description of content to be covered each year and an outline of work to be done each term. Including aims and objectives for each year group will facilitate careful planning for effective assessment of students’ progress. Planning at this level ensures that there is a formal, structured approach to planning in English and it can facilitate continuity of work for a class should their teacher be absent for any period of time. The School Development Planning Initiative’s website, www.sdpi.ie, may be a helpful resource as this work progresses. Teachers should consult the syllabus documentation when reviewing the planned programmes.
There was good planning for learning support. This begins with screening all incoming first years for learning difficulties, using standardised, norm-referenced tests of achievement. In addition, the school liaises closely with the feeder primary schools and parents to identify students who may have literacy and language deficits. Teachers may also refer a child in difficulty to the learning support team. Students identified as having SEN or literacy and numeracy support needs are placed in small class groups for these subjects and may also be withdrawn from other classes, often Irish, as necessary for support. Their progress is carefully monitored through the programme of support.
There is a small population of students in the school who do not have English as their first language. These students are offered extra tuition in English language by two teachers. Support classes are timetabled against Irish as these students are exempt from the language under Circular M10/94 thus allowing students who do not have English as their first language to be taught in small groups. This is good practice as it ensures that there are opportunities for them to practice the language in a natural way and to converse with one another. It was unclear whether the school has yet made contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT), the relevant support service for schools. The teachers may find the teaching and other support materials, available from www.iilt.ie, helpful when planning the language teaching programme.
There was evidence of effective planning for learning in the classrooms visited. Lessons were well structured and presented in a highly competent manner. The purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. Teachers had prepared suitable resource material to spark student discussion and provide a focus for the lesson. The emphasis on revision work was appropriate at this time of the year and it was clear that students were familiar with the concepts and skills required and had a good knowledge of the texts studied.
Teachers encouraged students to formulate their own responses to texts in the classes visited. An example of this was observed during a film studies lesson. The teacher briefly introduced a ten minute segment of the film using an observation schema which was clearly familiar to the students. In this way, their attention was directed to elements in film which might communicate the setting for the story. The classroom discussion which ensued engaged students actively in the learning process and their enjoyment and eagerness to get to grips with the task was particularly striking. In another classroom, the teacher gave students clear guidance while requiring them to work independently on a writing task. A ten minute brainstorm at the beginning allowed students to create a pool of ideas on which to draw during the writing phase of the lesson. During the plenary section, students read their stories aloud, much to the enjoyment of their peers. The pacing of this particular lesson was exemplary, in that it facilitated completion of the task and included opportunities for students to experience success.
The teachers were not over-reliant on the textbook and supplementary resources were used to good effect. In one lesson observed, the teacher had prepared a handout which asked a series of questions to help students organise their learning. This was a very helpful strategy in a mixed ability setting, as it directed learning and it allowed students to work at their own pace in the revision lesson observed. The questions formed the framework of a writing assignment, thus providing further support to students unsure of how to tackle questions on texts, for example. The use of such strategies is commended for helping students to overcome their reluctance to write and to acquire confidence in their ability to respond to questions set.
Teachers used questions to check student learning during the lessons observed and to move the lesson from one phase to another. However, the purpose and style of questions asked was insufficiently thought out in some of the classrooms visited. In some instances, questions were directed to the whole class, so that a small group of vocal students dominated. In others, questions remained at the level of basic comprehension and recall and did not encourage students to think through the issue for themselves. Too often, teachers were overly supportive of students by developing and expanding their answers for them. It is recommended that teachers should review their questioning strategies to ensure that they ask challenging questions, match them to students’ ability and encourage detailed and reflective answers.
The copies examined during inspection indicate that a range of writing tasks is tackled in class and students are given the opportunity to practise these as homework. Exercises set included a good balance between short-answer questions, summary and personal writing, for example. The relative abilities of students in the subject were evident in their oral and written work. Able students responded well when questioned, often making insightful comments and their writing was purposeful and fluent. However, in a minority of cases, while it was clear that students had a good knowledge of the texts studied, they were less comfortable with analysis and evaluation tasks. Short, undeveloped answers were generally offered by this cohort. Written exercises indicated some weaknesses in expression and repeated syntactical and spelling errors. Nevertheless, sufficient attention has been paid to efficiency and accuracy of language use that their work is readable and accurately reflects their ability in the subject. In general, students are competent in using the concepts and skills necessary to complete their courses and are making appropriate progress according to their level of ability and aptitude for the subject.
A draft homework policy is being developed in the school. Teachers of English regularly set work for completion at home and a review of students’ work indicated that they have acquired practice across the full range of writing skills. Work is marked promptly and in many instances teachers used positive comments to encourage student effort. These included suggested points for further exploration or alternative phrasing and this practice is particularly helpful in indicating how a student might improve. Teachers maintain good records of students’ achievements.
Formal examinations are held for all students at the end of the first term and all non-examination year groups also have summer examinations. Third and fifth years are assessed by pre-certificate examinations in early spring. Teachers generally set their own papers. It is recommended that the teachers of English should collaborate on including a common element in formal assessments, which would allow for the analysis of student performance in comparison with the entire spectrum of their year group. Annual parent-teacher meetings are held and, together with reports which issue twice a year for all year groups, these ensure that they are kept well-informed about their children’s progress.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· General resource provision for the teaching of English is very good. An excellent learning environment has been created in the English classroom.
· A variety of co-curricular activities is available to students to extend and reinforce the skills learned in English class.
· Good individual planning documentation was available for inspection.
· Support is provided to students with literacy and numeracy difficulties and additional tuition in English is offered to students who do not have English as their first language.
· Lessons were well structured and presented in a highly competent manner. Teachers gave students clear guidance and supplementary resources were used to good effect.
· Homework is regularly set and marked and teachers keep good records of students’ progress.
· Students are familiar with their coursework and are making appropriate progress according to their level of ability and aptitude for the subject. Parents are provided with timely reports.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Work should begin on the development of a subject department plan for English
· Teachers should review their questioning strategies to ensure that they ask challenging questions, match them to students’ ability and encourage detailed and reflective answers.
· Teachers of English should collaborate on including a common element in formal assessments
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.