An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Confey Community College
Leixlip, County Kildare
Roll number: 70691C
Date of inspection: 4 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Confey Community 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Confey Community College was established in 1986. The school offers English in the following programmes: Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), Transition Year (TY)) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Students are taught in a mixed ability setting in each year of the junior cycle and this is highly commended. The two Transition Year classes are also of mixed ability. A broad range of criteria determines access to higher-level English in the Leaving Certificate programme. In each of the two years of the Leaving Certificate, there are two higher-level classes, one class that is aspiring to take the higher level and one ordinary-level group. The school has high academic expectations of its students. Uptake of higher-level English is good in both the junior and senior cycles and exceeds national norms.
Five periods are allocated to the teaching of English in the junior cycle, and in the Leaving Certificate programme. There are four periods of English in Transition Year and in each year of the LCA programme. Eight out of nine periods each day are only of thirty-five minutes duration, which poses considerable challenges in relation to the structuring of individual lessons and to syllabus delivery in general. However, the allocation is managed well by the teaching team. Nonetheless, consideration could be given to finding an extra period for English, especially in sixth year.† Alternatively, the lesson periods could be extended to the more standard forty minutes.
A committed and enthusiastic team teaches the subject and there is a strong collaborative ethos. Teachers have engaged in a variety of continuous professional development (CPD) courses and are open to new ideas. In this context, a mechanism could be devised through which the department identifies the CPD needs of the teachers of English in order to facilitate ongoing professional development in line with departmental strategic planning.
Access to audiovisual equipment is good and management is responsive to requests from the English department. The teachers of English have access to a storeroom adjacent to the library and, more recently, additional storage space has been provided. Class sets of books are also available. Information and communications technology (ICT) resources are good. There are two computer rooms each with thirty computers and the rooms can be booked for class groups. There is also access to data projectors. In the staff workroom, there are three computers with broadband internet access and there is an additional outlet for teachersí laptops. LCA classes avail of the schoolís ICT resources through their programme and the TY groups will also be brought to the computer room to conduct research as part of their film study module. In general, students are encouraged to conduct research via the internet on an occasional basis.† This is commended. It is recommended that further ways be generated to integrate the use of ICT into the teaching and learning of English. (See Resource Materials for Teaching Language, and Guidelines for the Leaving Certificate Syllabus on ICT and the teaching of English).
Some class groups are brought to the schoolís library in first year and reading is generally encouraged although there is no concerted policy or strategy in this regard. Some teachers have boxes of books in their classrooms. Kildare County Library has recently built a modern facility in the vicinity of Confey College and the school has plans in train to liaise with the service. This may involve provision of boxes of books on loan, and the school is hoping to arrange for class groups to visit the facility. This interaction with the library service is highly commended.
A significant minority of students are in receipt of literacy support and the school has the approximate equivalent of a three-teacher allocation. Students with special needs are identified on entry through a variety of mechanisms. Two qualified teachers are involved in the area and they co-ordinate the delivery of resource teaching undertaken by other staff members. The learning support and language support teachers liaise both formally and informally with the English department and share information. The learning support teachers provide information on a need basis to the whole staff, and have a discrete meeting with first year teachers. Incoming first years in need of learning support receive particular care and attention. They are brought into the school in advance of other students in order to help them find their way around the school. Team teaching is also practised on an occasional basis. The school also has a small number of international students who are in receipt of language support and Confey College has an allocation of one teacher. The school has liaised with Integrate Ireland.
Extra- and co-curricular activities are encouraged and complement areas of English. Students are brought on theatre visits. There are visiting speakers, and a film workshop in Transition Year. Students participate in MS Readathon, an initiative designed to promote reading, and there are poetry and song-writing competitions. Led by their teacher and with the co-operation of a sixth year student, second years produce a very good school magazine. This project demands a great deal of commitment and collaboration from this young group of students and they are highly commended for their enthusiasm and entrepreneurship.
The school has availed of the guidance of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and has prioritised three elements, subject planning, the guidance plan and the special educational needs plan. In line with whole-school activity, the English department has engaged in departmental planning, has produced individual subject plans and is currently in the second year of its phase where the emphasis is on identifying key issues and devising action plans to address them. This is very constructive. To develop the subject plan further and to add to individual plans and schemes of work, the department should include an agreed timeframe for syllabus delivery and should outline clearly the English departmentís assessment policy. It is recommended that TY assessment be a model for the English departmentís subject plan. The assessment policy should be implemented in all yearly schemes. It would be useful to list all available resources. Other material worth including are syllabuses and guidelines, information from the State Exams Commission, Department of Education material including relevant circulars and inspection reports, information on continuous professional development courses and relevant extra- and co-curricular activities. In parallel with this, a shared electronic folder could be maintained containing similar material and, additionally, notes, exemplars, templates, PowerPoint presentations and slides, and other information to which members of the teaching team could contribute from time to time. This would form a useful database that would be accessible to all members of the team and be a useful support to new teachers and student teachers.
The department meets on a very regular basis, both formally and informally, and is commended for the dedication and commitment that this requires. Minutes of meetings are kept. There is a convenor in place for the last three years and this is very positive since it gives continuity, cohesion and leadership to the planning process.
Choice of texts is made jointly without compromising individual preference. First years have a core anthology; individual teachers choose a novel along with other material. In second and third years there is again a core anthology and a play and a novel are chosen for the two years. The department as a whole might consider reviewing the number of class texts in the junior cycle, in order to give students a wider experience of literature. Consideration could also be given to accessing the Primary School Curriculum and to gathering information from the feeder primary schools concerning the sixth class programme in English in order to inform future planning and text choice for incoming first years. Choice of texts is left to individual teachers in the Leaving Certificate programme. The Transition Year programme in English is dynamic and there is a specific emphasis on developing oral communication skills. This is highly commended.†
In view of the schoolís intention to liaise with the local library facility referred to above, this is now an opportune time for the department to engage in action planning to promote reading. A specific emphasis should be placed on reading for pleasure and this should be integrated into long-term schemes and individual lesson plans in all year groups.
Resources planned for individual lessons were, in general, apposite and in most cases, thoughtful and varied. Examples include handouts, notes, posters and pictures, materials and a film clip.
In most of the lessons visited, the learning objective was clear and the pace of the lesson was appropriate. Best practice was observed where a variety of activities was incorporated into lessons and where the transitions from one phase to another were well managed. †
Pre-reading activity was noted in one example and this is commended. Language development was emphasised in most lessons visited and there was also evidence of good teacher modelling. Key words were written on the board and wall-posters featuring specific critical terms were mounted in some classrooms. Listening skills were emphasised in lessons visited and this is commended.† In one lesson, imaginative engagement was encouraged through a visualisation exercise and this is good practice.
A variety of teaching strategies was used in the lessons visited. Students were taught analytical skills, for example to locate, highlight and use significant points or evidence to back up statements or arguments. Students were encouraged to link learning, identify connections, to compare and contrast, and this good practice is commended as it helps to develop higher order thinking skills. Group work was generally well organised and helped to engage the more diffident students. It worked best where there was a specific role for each member of the group and a clearly defined and achievable task was set within the limited timeframe of the lesson. More use could be made of differentiated worksheets for reinforcement in lessons.
Questions were both targeted at individuals and at the group as a whole; best practice was observed where there was a balance between the two. Closed and open questions were used to monitor learning and understanding and to develop higher order thinking. However, in general more time could be allowed for individual responses and discussion. Given the fact that lesson time is relatively short, this should be factored into planning.
Good practice was noted where different learning styles were accommodated, and where, for example, a range of visual stimuli, teaching aids and materials was deployed to clarify understanding. The board was used effectively to model well-organised answers, or to focus on synthesis and analysis. Wall-mounted resources were used to demonstrate concepts and to clarify understanding. An emphasis on drafting written work was noted in one instance, and this is commended since the craft of writing is taught by this strategy.††
In most cases, there was a good level of interest in lesson activities and students were focused and well organised. Students were familiar with the register of language necessary to engage in analysis, for example, in the area of media studies. They made effective, and frequently fluent contributions to lessons in most cases. In the best lessons, students were given an opportunity to formulate answers together and to tease out meaning through class discussion. Good practice was also noted where student responses were documented and structured on the board to become a rubric for a homework exercise. In general, however, it is advisable to allow sufficient time in the lesson for an immediate personal, aesthetic response to a text before teacher-directed exploration and analysis takes place. It is reported, however, that students are encouraged to keep a personal response journal.
Students with language and/or special educational needs are catered for in a sensitive manner and there were some examples of effective differentiation. The choice of resources was well judged and students received individual attention from teachers. Students with language needs were involved in group work with English-speaking peers to help develop communication skills. Lesson content was designed to incorporate a high visual content that would aid understanding.
Students were affirmed both verbally and in their written work and there was a very positive learning environment in the lessons visited. Achievement was celebrated. For example, in one instance students were rewarded for effort in their homework assignments with attractive stickers; in another example, students were asked to read out their work for the benefit of the class and this also was an acknowledgment of individual effort.
In Confey College, summative assessment occurs through the in-house examination process for all year groups, including TY. Students with special educational needs are facilitated. Common assessment for first year groups is planned for this academic year, starting with the Halloween tests, and it is recommended that further opportunities for common assessment be explored in all year groups and programmes.
Good assessment practice was noted in the course of the evaluation. Appropriate homework tasks were set in class and students were instructed to note these in their journals. In some of the copybook samples seen, helpful comments assisted in the learning process. One lesson was, in effect, a writing workshop, in which students evaluated their own work against given objective criteria and they also received valuable and constructive feedback.
Given the good level of collaboration that currently obtains in the English department, and building on existing practice, it is advisable to standardise assessment criteria, agree numbers of substantial homework assignments deemed appropriate to year group and level, determine standards of homework presentation and the maintenance of folders of notes and portfolios of work. The variety of assessment modes currently in use in the TY English programme is highly commended. Assessment in LCA English and Communications is determined by the syllabus (completion of modules, performance of student tasks and performance in terminal examinations) and currently the emphasis is on task preparation. There is a good level of †collaboration between the learning support teachers and LCA teachers in relation to project and task preparation.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
There is good access to resources and materials.
There are high expectations of student achievement.
There is a strong collaborative ethos in the English department.
A good start has been made on planning; individual schemes of work form the nucleus of the existing plan.
Teaching strategies are varied and appropriate in most cases.
Students are motivated and learn in a supportive environment.
Good assessment practices were observed.
The Transition Year programme is a particular strength of English teaching in the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The subject plan should be developed further.
Strategies for promoting reading should be agreed and implemented in all year groups
The use of ICT should be integrated into the teaching of English across all programmes and in all year groups.
A variety of assessment modes should be fully documented in the plan for English and should be implemented in all programmes and year groups. Assessment practices should be harmonised to ensure standardisation.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.