An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Charleville, County Cork
Roll number: 71080B
Date of inspection: 12 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mannix 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 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 and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Mannix College is a co-educational school. The school participates in the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) scheme and is to adopt the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) in the near future. This is positive. The first-year class has five English lessons per week. This is good provision. There are three English class groups in second year. Two of these classes are provided with five English lessons per week. A third English class has been formed in order to cater for students with additional needs and students in the class participate in a limited timetable with fewer English lessons. The principal states that other subjects being studied by these students also focus on the development of their literacy skills. This is commendable. Nevertheless, the number of English lessons provided for these students should be increased as the current allocation is inadequate. The optimal provision of at least five lessons per week should be pursued. Third-year and sixth-year class groups are provided with five English lessons per week. This is good provision. The fifth-year class has six English lessons per week. This is very good provision. Two of the three class groups in second year are timetabled concurrently, as are the two class groups in sixth year. This is positive, allowing for ease of student movement between levels, where necessary.
All classes are of mixed ability, apart from the one class in second year, which has been formed for students in need of additional support, and the two classes in sixth year which consist of a higher level and an ordinary level group. Students are assigned to levels in junior cycle and in senior cycle based on their performance in standardised tests, assessments, performance in class and teacher observation. Consultation between the school, students and parents is also factored into these decisions. Students in need of additional literacy support are identified on the basis of entrance assessments, studentsí psychological reports (where applicable), along with referrals by mainstream teachers and parentsí or studentsí own requests. In addition, the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator consults with the feeder primary schools in order to ensure continuity for students with literacy difficulties. This is worthwhile. English classes retain their teachers from second year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year as far as this is possible and subject to staffing considerations. Levels and cycles are rotated between members of the English department.
Teachers are provided with baserooms. This is positive as such provision can aid in the storage of teaching materials, along with the creation of an environment conducive to studentsí learning. Teachers share resources and it is suggested that, as a further aid to collaboration in the department, a common subject folder should be created, along with a resource locker. This would also serve to ensure that teachers are aware of what is available as an aid to their own professional development.
The school has a library. There are four computers with access to the internet in the library. This is very positive. Students may be brought to the library by their subject teacher. Alternatively, the library is open for student access at lunchtime on Wednesdays. The library is generally free for use by classes. New books were purchased in the last number of years and these included a number of high-interest / low-reading-ability books. This is commendable and it is suggested that the purchase of sets of Ďreadalongí texts would also be of benefit in encouraging reluctant readers. Book boxes have also been used by members of the English department to promote student reading. The English department is encouraged to avail of the library as a support for studentsí literacy development, particularly in junior cycle, where appropriate. The potential for use of the ICT facilities in the library with small groups of students should be examined, while the appropriate use of DEAR (ĎDrop Everything and Readí) time could be another worthwhile addition. A programme of supported reading between senior students and first-year students experiencing difficulties in literacy development is a further possible area to be explored. The current literacy initiative organised on the part of the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator in co-operation with studentsí parents is a very positive development in this area. The English department is encouraged to develop an English reading policy to consolidate and expand its practice with regard to the library. Support in this endeavour can be harnessed through an evaluation report of the JCSP Demonstration Library Project. This report has been published on the website, www.jcspliteracy.ie, and sets out good practice in using the library as a support for studentsí literacy development.
Audio-visual equipment is available for English teachersí use. Televisions and DVD players are moved from room to room using a trolley system. This provision is worthwhile and it is recommended that it should be extended on an incremental basis so that a television and DVD player is located in all English baserooms. This is important given the central role of film in the current Leaving Certificate syllabus. Beyond this, the impact of the appropriate use of audio-visual resources in junior cycle classes, to facilitate differentiation and to appeal to studentsí interests, cannot be discounted.
There is a computer in the staffroom for teachersí use. English classes may access the computer room. It is recommended that the potential for information and communications technology (ICT) to be used as a support for studentsí literacy development should form a strong focus for the English department. In particular, it is recommended that access to ICT facilities for students with difficulties in literacy development be maximised. As has been mentioned, the potential for the ICT facilities in the library to be used in this regard should be explored, providing as they do, the opportunity for differentiated support of student writing. Thus, for example, some students in a mixed-ability class could be set writing tasks on an independent basis, while other students could undertake semi-supported written work with the aid of ICT. The incorporation of pre-prepared writing frames as part of such an approach would be a further possible development. Ideas regarding the incorporation of ICT into supporting studentsí literacy development can be accessed through the website www.laptopsinitiative.ie.
The school is supportive of English teachersí continuing professional development. This is positive and some in-service training has been accessed by English teachers in the past. It is important that continuing professional development should be harnessed by members of the English department. In particular, it is important that opportunities for professional development and support through the auspices of teaching colleagues and of senior management should be utilised as a means of ensuring the delivery of high quality educational experiences for students in the subject. The planned in-service training to be provided by the JCSP for staff is a most positive development. It is recommended that whole-school approaches to literacy should form a key element to be examined by the school community, supported by this professional development opportunity.
There is a subject co-ordinator for English. This is positive. A subject plan is being developed. This work is commended and should be further consolidated through the storage of the plan using ICT. Such an approach will not only ensure that the plan is more easily accessible, it will also facilitate the revision of the plan if and when this proves to be necessary. As previously mentioned, the plan should be kept in a subject folder which would also house key documents related to the teaching and learning of English. These documents should include the relevant syllabuses, along with current, relevant, Department of Education and Science circulars. Another useful publication which should be included in the subject folder is the recent Department of Education and Science (DES) Inspectorate publication Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools. The English department highlighted its awareness and use of this document as a resource in the planning process.
The English subject plan should continue to be developed. The English department should initially focus on the development of common yearly plans which are focused on skills-based, syllabus-based, learning goals. This element of the plan should ensure that there is consistency with regard to what areas of the course are covered in each year group and at each level. The planning of work for each year group should be done on an incremental basis with, potentially, first-year and second-year work forming the basis for development this year. The development of the subject plan should be viewed as a key opportunity for the sharing of professional knowledge and expertise between all members of the English department in a mutually supportive manner. Further areas for investigation and shared development by the English department are JCSP literacy strategies and co-operative learning, both of which would serve to aid teachersí appreciation of strategies which will be of benefit to all students. In addition, the analysis of state examination results versus national norms should form part of an annual review of the work of the English department.
English teachers have been involved in organising visit to plays, workshops and seminars. There has also been some involvement in public-speaking competitions. This advancement of co-curricular opportunities in English is to be commended.
There is some variation of texts by English teachers in senior cycle. The English department is encouraged to investigate possibilities for the expansion of the range of texts studied in junior and senior cycle, within syllabus guidelines, as an aid in suiting text choice to class context. The English area of the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) at www.slss.ie should be of service in this regard. The English area of the website contains a list of texts which could be suitable for study by junior cycle class groups. Another resource for text choice in junior cycle can be found at www.childrensbooksireland.com. A full Shakespearean text is not always studied as part of the junior cycle. While recognising that this approach is not outside the syllabus guidelines, it is suggested that teachers should seek to expose students to a full Shakespearean text during the junior cycle as a means of aiding their transition to senior cycle. In the case of mixed-ability classes, this could involve the study of simplified versions of the play in question by students who may encounter significant difficulties with the language of the text. Teachers are conscious of the need to synchronise the study of the higher and ordinary level poems on the senior cycle course. This is positive.
There is a qualified learning-support teacher who provides literacy support for some students with difficulties in literacy development. There is a learning-support room with some access to ICT. It is suggested that provision of ICT in the learning-support room should be expanded. Students are retested for their progress in literacy support twice per year. This is worthwhile.
There is a special educational needs policy. This is positive. Currently literacy support is provided through a combination of small group tuition, one-to-one tuition and the creation of small class groups. The special educational needs policy should be revised with the aid of the recent Department of Education and Science publication, Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines. The model of provision should, where practicable, be further extended to incorporate additional models of provision for students, alongside other areas for development which can be adopted from these guidelines. Work on the special educational needs policy should be undertaken by the special educational needs co-ordinator and a number of mainstream teachers. The development of the policy should be seen as part of a longer-term strategy to develop a core special educational needs team in the school which would be made up of teachers with an interest in the area of special educational needs, and which is limited in number. Such an approach would serve to bolster a consistent approach towards students with literacy-support needs, a vital concern in this area. The creation of planning sheets as a means of linking work in special educational needs with the work in mainstream classes is a very positive development and should be harnessed by all teachers as an aid for students.
English teachers maintain links with the learning-support co-ordinator and information regarding the particular learning needs of students in their classes is available to them. There has been training provided for staff in the area of special educational needs from the Special Education Support Service (SESS). County Cork VEC has also provided a course on special educational needs and ICT which has been availed of by the deputy principal and the special educational needs co-ordinator. It is recommended that the school continue to promote opportunities for staff development in the area of special educational needs and literacy support. The availability of short, online courses from the SESS is highlighted for mainstream English teachers. These courses can be accessed through the website of the SESS at www.sess.ie.
The school has made contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training. This is positive and the use of material from IILT in planning to support these students is to be strongly encouraged. A very worthwhile recent publication from IILT is A resource book for language support in post-primary schools (2007), which sets out good practice in the area of language support, such as the need for regular daily sessions to be organised for students wherever possible. Further material which will serve these studentsí needs includes the English Language Proficiency Benchmarks for Post-Primary Learners and the European Language Portfolio . The school should maintain a keen awareness of the need to place language-support students in class groups appropriate to their age and ability whenever this is at all practicable.
There was evidence of planning in a majority of lessons. In one instance, a well-planned lesson was further reinforced through studentsí careful maintenance of previously supplied resources from the teacher involved. The teacherís diligence was further demonstrated by carefully maintained records of studentsí achievement. In another instance, a clear objective was set out at the beginning of the lesson, alongside a number of keywords which were delineated on the whiteboard. In this instance, the possibility of utilising fewer keywords might be considered in the future in order to more fully highlight the most important points for students. This was also a well-planned lesson. Where limited planning was in evidence, this deficiency should be addressed. Preparation with regard to objectives and activities to be pursued during the course of the lesson is key to ensuring student learning and achievement. This is particularly important, given the mixed-ability nature of some classes, where clearly thought-out strategies regarding differentiation and learning goals are needed. Support in this area can be accessed through colleagues and senior management, if necessary. Beyond this, inputs from the SLSS on the topic of co-operative learning may be of benefit.
A range of resources was used in English lessons, including photocopies, texts and the whiteboard. English teachers are encouraged to further develop the range of resources utilised in English lessons. In particular, the use of visual resources and ICT to further aid motivation among students for whom written and verbal instruction are less accessible, should be considered. In one lesson, where students were to study particular texts, the adoption of a textbook, rather than loose sheets of paper, should be strongly considered. This would serve as a means of aiding students in retaining texts which will be necessary for revision throughout the course of their junior cycle studies.
Reading and writing featured in English lessons in a number of different ways. In one lesson a pre-reading discussion focused students on key parts of a comprehension piece which they were examining. Students then highlighted relevant information from the article in question and their efforts were consolidated through whiteboard work. The lesson focused students strongly on the use of language in the piece and worked very well due to the structured and well-thought-out manner of the teacherís presentation. In another lesson, keywords were used as a focus for studentsí revision of a novel and this was further reinforced through the use of a cloze exercise. Dictionary work featured in this latter part of the lesson and students were affirmed in their efforts through the use of the whiteboard to note words which they had utilised. The focus on developing studentsí word-attack skills in this context worked particularly well. In another, junior cycle, lesson students read a poem silently. This exercise would have been significantly enhanced through the utilisation of a pre-reading exercise. In particular, the use of pair work as an aid to differentiation should have been considered in order to allow for a shift of pacing during the lesson and as a move away from a purely teacher-driven presentation. In addition, a greater focus could have been brought to bear on the consolidation of the work being covered during the course of the lesson. This might have been achieved through exhortations for students to take notes from work set out on the whiteboard. In another lesson, where a Shakespearean play was being explored, a more structured approach towards the examination of a particular theme in the play would have been of benefit in adding greater clarity to the exercises undertaken. This could have been achieved through the clear setting out of the theme in question on the whiteboard, followed by a general brainstorming activity with students around different points in the play where the theme gained prominence. There was some use of pair work observed during the inspection. English teachers are encouraged to further expand their use of pair work, group work and other differentiated methodologies wherever practicable. This would have been of particular value in those lessons where pacing could have been more varied and engaging.
Student learning was displayed in a number of ways. In some classes students took notes from the whiteboard diligently. In one lesson, students pointed out language devices utilised by a writer throughout the lesson, while in another instance, students worked diligently and responded to teachersí questions. In one lesson, there was a need for students to be focused on note-taking at particular stages of the lesson in order to highlight points being made and to, potentially, consolidate learning. Beyond this, a more structured approach towards classwork in a mixed-ability setting was needed in order to ensure that both higher level and ordinary level students were profitably engaged in learning throughout the lesson. This should be done, not only as a means of advancing studentsí knowledge and engagement with the subject, but also as a key element in classroom management. It should be emphasised, however, that classes behaved well in all lessons observed during the inspection. Indeed, in a majority of instances, there was very good classroom management, with teachers maintaining a good working environment, alongside a good classroom presence.
There was some evidence of the development of a print-rich environment. In one instance this was of a high quality with posters which delineated different areas of language use as well as recent drama productions and displays of studentsí written work which had been developed through the use of writing frames. This was very positive and these strategies should be extended as much as possible to other English baserooms as a means of engaging students through an enhanced sense of audience and self-esteem. Other areas to be examined with regard to the development of a print-rich environment in English baserooms might include the display of keywords associated with the subject, character diagrams and displays of examples of studentsí work in a range of different written genres.
There is a homework policy and this includes a guide for parents on aiding studentsí study habits. This is worthwhile. There was evidence in some classes of the regular assigning of homework and this was most effective where it was supported by regular correction on the part of the teachers involved. In one instance, this latter practice incorporated the use of formative, comment-based assessment. which is good practice. This approach was further supported by the teacherís use of the marking system employed in the state examinations. This aided studentsí appreciation of the skills necessary in the written tasks which had been set out for them to complete. A further development of this approach would have been the adoption of some use of peer correction in order to further aid studentsí understanding of what was expected of them. In addition, the adoption of the JCSP subject statements for English, which are available on the website www.jcspliteracy.ie, should be strongly considered in the case of those students who are experiencing difficulties in literacy development. In some instances, there was limited evidence of correction of studentsí work and here both the amount of written homework assigned and feedback to students regarding their work should be increased. Students could be further motivated in these instances through the use of A4 copybooks in order to place greater emphasis on the need for more lengthy and sustained written pieces.
There was evidence of an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabus in a number of instances. It is recommended that this strategy be further extended in studentsí homework, to incorporate writing in a wide range of different genres. This, in turn, could serve as a further motivation and focus for studentsí writing. In the case of students in need of greater support in the development of their writing and general literacy, it is suggested that the use of writing frames, cloze exercises, genre transfers and other scaffolded approaches should be adopted and highlighted in the English subject plan. The aforementioned www.jcspliteracy.ie could serve as a further means of accessing these literacy strategies. The use of time at the end of another lesson to facilitate students in beginning their written homework was positive and a further support for these students might include the development of a folder system where they could store all their work and notes in one place. The folder could then be kept for these students by their teacher in the school.
There are formal house examinations at Christmas for all students and formal examinations at the end of the academic year for those students who are not participating in the state examinations. Mock examinations are organised for third-year and sixth-year students. Examination papers for the mock examinations are sourced externally and studentsí work in these examinations is also marked externally. Teachers monitor the marking of the mock examinations when the studentsí papers are returned to the school. This is important and should be formally included in the subject plan as an element of the English departmentís assessment policy. Teachers generally set and mark their own examinations in the case of other year groups. This is appropriate, given the current size of the student cohort.
There is one parent/teacher meeting organised for each year group per year. On occasion, a second parent/teacher meeting is organised for those classes that are to participate in the state examinations. Communication between parents and the school is further facilitated through the use of the student journal, reports to parents on studentsí progress and meetings with the year head, principal or deputy principal, where necessary. All of this is positive. Further contacts between the school and the home, utilising some of the strategies encouraged through the JCSP, should also be explored once the programme is fully integrated into the curriculum of the school.
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.
Published, June 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
∑ The subject inspection was carried out in accordance with the inspection guidelines in a very professional and thorough manner.
∑ Cognisance was taken of individual teaching styles and methodologies
∑ A whole-school inservice has been provided on Thursday 31st January 2008 facilitated by J.C.S.P and SDPI personnel on:
- School-planning for D.E.I.S
- Junior Certificate School Programme
∑ A programme Co-ordinator will be appointed for J.S.C.P.
∑ An additional member of staff will study for the Post-Graduate Diploma in Special Education Needs during the academic year 2008/2009.
∑ The Special Education Needs Policy will be revised in line with D.E.S. guidelines