An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English and of Communications
in Senior Cycle
Dundalk, County Louth
Roll number: 71770D
Date of inspection: 16 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English and in Communications in senior cycle
This report has been written following a subject inspection in O’Fiaich College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English in senior cycle classes 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 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 board of management 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.
O’Fiaich College offers a very full range of courses to meet the needs of students currently enrolled. This report focuses on English in the senior cycle in this school where four programmes are offered. These are an optional Transition Year (TY) programme, the Leaving Certificate Vocational programme, the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA) and the established Leaving Certificate. The school also provides an extensive range of post-Leaving Certificate courses (PLCs) accredited by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). An earlier report, published in December 2007, deals with provision for the subject in junior cycle.
The college caters for students from a catchment area including Dundalk town and outlying areas. It has a significant population of disadvantaged students and students with special educational needs (SEN). This establishes the context within which the organisation and delivery of the senior cycle courses in the school are evaluated in this report.
The school operates a school completion programme and the numbers proceeding from junior cycle into the senior cycle are good. A single TY class is formed each year and the programme followed by these students is written in the school. Three class groups are formed in fifth and sixth years and in each of the two years, two class groups cater for students taking the LCA programme. These students study English and Communications and those in the third senior cycle class group study the relevant Leaving Certificate English syllabuses. Lessons are timetabled concurrently for all three class groups in fifth and sixth years to facilitate students who may wish to change programmes.
The eighteen post-Leaving Certificate courses (PLCs) available in the college cater for the further education of 409 students. The Communications module G20001 is a required component of each of these FETAC accredited courses.
Timetabled provision for English is generous in senior cycle, where students have English for six periods a week and the allocation of an additional teacher to the sixth year group has allowed for the formation of smaller class groups. The school is commended for the provision of this level of support to students. Resource provision to support the teaching and learning of English is very good, with teachers having access to audio-visual equipment and, in some cases, information and communication technology (ICT) is available in the classrooms also. The college library is open at lunchtime under the supervision of the librarian so that students have access to a good range of quality reading material.
The teachers are commended for the variety of co-curricular activities available to students. Opportunities are provided for students to participate in debating and expeditions to the theatre occur regularly. Visiting speakers are invited to the college to address the LCA students and give them a sense of the world of work.
The curriculum has been the focus of school development planning in O’Fiaich College and time has been allocated to subject departments to facilitate meetings. This is excellent practice. Minutes of English department meetings have been maintained and were available for inspection. These provided a record of teachers’ planning and review activities, which have resulted in a comprehensive subject department plan. Teachers of English also meet regularly to support each other’s work. This indicates their enthusiasm for developing the department and working co-operatively.
The programme planned for senior cycle English is very good. The document presented for evaluation outlined the content to be taught each term and proposed key emphases for teaching and learning as this occurs. These took into account the levels of ability of the students and the requirements of the examinations. The teachers are commended for their action on a key recommendation made in an earlier subject inspection report, resulting in their inclusion of details of the assessment modes to be used at each stage of the programme in the subject plan. In order to enhance the very thorough planning evident in the school, the list of concepts to be explored each term should be further developed to include learning outcomes expressed in terms of knowledge and skills. This might be done on an incremental basis, beginning with fifth year, as the plan is reviewed.
The plan for English in TY is very content oriented and is insufficiently targeted at the students electing to take this course. Given the learning needs of the students in TY, there is a need to re-focus their English course so as to make it more relevant to their needs and to provide students with opportunities to acquire and practise skills. The four elements of an English programme, reading, writing, speaking and listening, can provide a framework for planning and the identification of the specific skills to be acquired during TY will provide a context for choice of texts and teaching methodologies. It is recommended that the English teaching team prioritises this programme in its planning activities and works collaboratively to develop it as a bridging programme. In this way, the students in TY can benefit from the considerable expertise and experience available in the school. In addition, a review of the effectiveness of the English plan in terms of students’ progress should be conducted at the end of the year, so as to inform planning for the future.
Planning for delivery of the Communications module is excellent. While FETAC’s Communications module descriptor G20001 outlines the standards to be achieved by learners, expressed principally in terms of specific learning outcomes, course providers are responsible for the design of the Communications module. Tutors in O’Fiaich College have developed a subject plan for PLC Communications and this provides a helpful guide to the organisation and management of the module. It is suggested that consideration should be given to the inclusion of the assignment calendar in this document. There is a clear and commendable linkage between the programmes planned for the module and the course descriptors published by FETAC. Tutors plan their schemes of work independently and variations in the schemes reflect the variety of courses which provide the context for the module and the modes of delivery. These schemes ensure that the programme taught will enable learners to reach the standard as described in the Communications module descriptor.
The provision of a range of learning supports, introduced in junior cycle, continues into senior cycle and the PLCs. This is very good practice and contributes to the progress of students in the subject. Support classes are generally timetabled against Irish, where students have an exemption, or an option subject. Students in senior cycle are also provided with English language support as needed. Similar support is offered at lunch time once a week to PLC students who do not have English as their first language and the class is taught by a qualified language teacher.
Generally, planning for individual lessons was good with appropriate learning targets clearly identifiable in almost all classrooms visited. Individual teachers had detailed notes available which described the work planned for each class group and the resources used had been well chosen to suit the needs of students. Lessons were well structured and presented in a highly competent manner. It is particularly helpful for students when the learning target or lesson purpose is explained. This helps them situate new information, focuses their attention and contributes to a sense of purposefulness in the classroom. This was evident in a senior cycle lesson on the relationship between characters in a text. The lesson outline presented as the class began ensured all students were aware of what was expected of them and the teacher managed the pace of the lesson to ensure that the work planned was completed.
In the same lesson, a number of tasks had been planned, including reading from the text, class discussion and a written exercise. By circulating while students were writing, the teacher was well placed to address any difficulties and to offer support to students challenged by the task. The activities planned matched the range of abilities in the class and engaged students’ interest. In another lesson observed, however, insufficient planning of the lesson meant that this was not the case. While students worked independently and the teacher circulated to offer help and advice, the task set was not appropriately differentiated to reflect the needs of all the students.
Throughout the lessons observed, teacher instruction was very clear and accurate and great effort was invested in ensuring that learners understood the concepts and principles of the lessons through the use of concrete examples, questioning and practical application. In a senior cycle lesson, the teacher used prompt cards to help students revise what they knew about Macbeth. Careful checking ensured all students were familiar with the concept of soliloquy; particular attention was paid to new vocabulary as it was encountered and a well-planned sequence of questions moved students comfortably through the text. As a result, they were able to move beyond comprehension to interpretation of the scene and made very good use of relevant quotation to support their positions.
Students are making very good progress in O’Fiaich College. Work in their copies and notebooks is generally well organised and presented. It was clear that they had been assigned writing tasks across the range of genres and were given frequent opportunities to express, explain and defend their own opinions. The quality of students’ work is good, with better able students presenting well developed and supported answers to questions set. It was evident that these students had an awareness of the audience for their writing and their work was purposeful and well-expressed. Where students are not referencing texts to support their arguments, they are achieving less well. Attention should be paid to their handwriting by some sixth year students, however, to improve the legibility of their work.
A minority of students are reported not to have sufficient receptive skills in the English language to be benefiting from the senior cycle English curriculum and their slow progress was evident in some of the copies seen. Other students experiencing difficulty with the subject present written work with repeated syntactical and spelling errors and insufficient development of ideas or arguments. It is suggested that greater use should be made of writing models and directed activities related to texts, such as text re-structuring, cloze exercises and pre-reading and post-reading exercises, in ordinary level classes to support the work already being done in the school to address these difficulties.
Tutors on the PLC Communications course used a number of teaching strategies well to engage the learners with the subject. In some classes, for example, group or pair work was used and this allowed learners to tackle a task independently of the tutor. In one class, a handout and audiotape had been prepared by the tutor to focus attention on listening skills. This was followed by an opportunity for learners, working in small groups, to practise practical communication skills. The structure of the lesson ensured that all were aware of the task requirements and in the plenary session at the close of the lesson, it was evident that all had developed an awareness of the communicative value of gesture and facial expression and were comfortable discussing the relative merits of direct communication.
The quality of instructions, explanations, questioning and interaction between tutors and learners was good. In a lesson examining good interview technique, learners were actively engaged in identifying appropriate interview behaviour and responses to possible questions. They were supported in this by a handout supplied by the tutor and by working in small groups. In this multi-cultural class group, the humourous handout facilitated different perspectives on appropriate behaviour and the class discussion which ensued was notable for the frequent constructive feedback from the tutor to the group.
Students’ progress through senior cycle English is carefully monitored by the teaching team. In addition to in-class questioning and written work, assignments are set on the completion of each topic or section in the course. These are based on certificate examination questions to ensure that students develop familiarity with the requirements of those examinations from an early point in their studies. Homework is regularly set and marked and teachers maintain a record of work completed. In the copies examined, the quality of feedback available to students was very good. Teachers are very affirming of the work done by students and comments identify both the strengths and areas for development in students’ work. This is excellent practice, encouraging less motivated writers and focussing the attention of students on what they can do to achieve success. In developing the department plan, teachers should consider how they might achieve a consistency of approach to homework so as to extend the good practice evident in many classes across all senior cycle classes from TY into fifth and sixth years.
Formal examinations are held for all students at the end of the first term and all non-examination year groups also have summer examinations. Examination students sit ‘mock’ examinations early in the second term.
Assessment is regarded as an integral part of the learning process in all FETAC courses. Learners are expected to produce a number of documents, including letters and short reports, which are presented in a portfolio. This is assessed locally at the end of the year and is accorded up to 50% of the marks available. Participants are also required to demonstrate mastery of a range of specified practical, organisational and inter-personal skills, for which the balance of the marks is awarded. In O’Fiaich College, very thorough planning for assessment has meant that a calendar of assignments is provided to learners at the beginning of each course. Assignment briefs are well prepared and give detailed information to learners about the required task and the evaluation criteria to be applied. The teaching team actively plans for the integration of assignments across modules to ensure that the assignment load is manageable.
Peer and self-evaluation promotes a key aim of FETAC courses, that is, that learners become independent and self-directed in their learning. One tutor visited has invited learners to review and evaluate the effectiveness of the course in meeting their needs. This led to their identification of their own needs and allowed the tutor to plan an appropriate response. This is excellent practice and it is suggested that the benefits of this form of assessment are valid for all groups. To enhance the already good practice in the college, tutors should review their practice to identify where such evaluation activities are possible and appropriate.
Learners were clearly making very good progress through the Communications module. Work in their folders was of a very good standard and there were some examples of excellent presentation of work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· O’Fiaich College offers a very full range of courses to meet the needs of students currently enrolled, including eighteen post-Leaving Certificate courses.
· School management is supportive of the English department and resource provision to support the teaching and learning of English is very good.
· The programme planned for senior cycle English is very good and teachers are commended for their action on a key recommendation made in an earlier subject inspection report regarding assessment.
· Planning for delivery of the Communications module is excellent.
· The provision of a range of learning supports, introduced in junior cycle, continues into senior cycle and PLC.
· Preparation for teaching was very good. Instruction was very clear and accurate and great effort was invested in ensuring that learners understood the concepts and principles of the subject.
· Students are making very good progress in O’Fiaich College. Their work in senior cycle English is carefully monitored and the quality of feedback available to students was very good.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The teachers of English should collaborate to re-focus the TY English course so as to make it more relevant to students’ needs and to provide them with opportunities to acquire and practise skills.
· In developing the department plan, teachers should consider how they might achieve a consistency of approach to homework so as to extend the good practice evident in many classes across all senior cycle classes from TY into fifth and sixth years.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The teachers of English to senior cycle students and communications to further education students are extremely pleased with the very positive and affirmative inspection report. Plans are being made at department meetings to implement its recommendations.
Much work has been done by the English and Communications department to prioritise planning and preparation. This was commended as one of our strengths. The teaching team will continue to support each other by meeting regularly and sharing experience and resources.
Senior cycle English teachers will include a list of concepts and learning outcomes in the subject plan. The Post-Leaving Certificate teachers appreciate the excellent comments concerning the planning of the communications module and will continue to strive for the same excellent results in future.
The needs and educational welfare of students are at the centre of all planning and delivery of educational programmes in O’Fiaich College. The inspector recognised this and the teachers involved appreciate the courteous and professional manner in which this evaluation was conducted.
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 transition year plan has been revised to create a more practical and accessible programme, thus affording students greater opportunity to acquire and practise skills. Attention is being paid to improving the consistency of the homework policy across the senior cycle classes.