An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Terenure, Dublin 6W
Roll number: 76092K
Date of inspection: 5 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 college. 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. The inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and deputy principal and the subject teachers.
As first-year students study a wide range of subjects they have just three class periods of English each week which is barely adequate provision. Second-year students have four class periods of English each week which is adequate provision. There is good provision of English lessons on the timetable for third, fifth and sixth-year students who have five class periods each week and for Transition Years who have four class periods each week.
Management in the college is committed to mixed-ability teaching and has researched the benefits of this type of student placement. Students are placed in mixed-ability classes from first to third year and again in TY. While mixed-ability classes at junior cycle level for English can be very good practice, there was evidence that some teachers are teaching less challenging drama texts to their class groups because of the wide range of abilities present in their classes. Mixed-ability classes should not be a reason for expectations to lower and, although there will inevitably be a range of abilities present in such classes, teachers should still aim to meet the ability needs of all students and differentiate the course, as necessary, while still teaching appropriately challenging texts.
Fifth-year students are set into two higher-level class groups and one-ordinary level class group while in sixth year there are three higher-level class groups and one ordinary-level class group. Students are placed in these higher-level classes on a mixed-ability basis so that there is a range of abilities in each higher-level class. Students opt for higher or ordinary level based on teachers’ advice and subsequently on examination results. English is concurrently timetabled in fifth and sixth year to facilitate movement of students between higher and ordinary level. However, there are a number of students who opt for ordinary level but remain in the higher-level class groups in sixth year. It is recommended that the method of placing students in class groups for English in fifth and sixth year be re-examined. Consideration should be given to placing students in fifth-year English classes based on their abilities. In this way, the top two higher-level groups will be likely to remain the same while the third higher-level teacher and teacher of the ordinary-level class can liaise closely around choice of texts and times to teach texts in order to ensure that movement of students is facilitated and that all teachers are teaching at a level and pace appropriate to their students.
There was evidence that some teachers found teaching mixed-ability classes quite challenging, although inservice has been provided in this area. It is therefore suggested that further inservice on mixed-ability teaching be provided, possibly by the Special Education Support Service.
There were four permanent and two pro-rata English teachers teaching English at the time of the subject inspection. In addition, one higher diploma English student teaches a first-year English class. This teacher has responsibility for teaching the class group and so the class has no teacher for much of the month of May when the teacher is doing examinations. This is not good practice. There were some timetabling anomalies in evidence at the time of the evaluation. For example, a first-year class group is shared between the higher diploma student and another teacher which was not reflected on the timetable and the timetable suggests that a Transition Year class is shared between two teachers when in fact this does not happen in reality. The timetable should reflect what is accurately happening on the ground in the college.
Most teachers are fully qualified to teach English to the highest level. Generally it was reported that English classes retain the same teacher from year to year within cycles. While management allocates year groups to English teachers, teachers agree among themselves who will teach which class group and level at senior cycle. It is recommended that management, in consultation with English teachers, allocate the class groups and levels so that all teachers who have English to degree level have the opportunity to teach all levels.
Students in the college have the opportunity to partake in debating and public speaking competitions, many students participate in writing competitions and teachers bring students on outings to the theatre and cinema as appropriate. Such opportunities for students are commended.
The college has a library which is used mainly for supervision of class groups and which is in need of being updated. A recommendation that the library be updated with new books was made in the last English inspection report. Fortunately, a post-holder now has responsibility for the upgrading of the library and it is hoped that it will be restocked with a range of appropriate books and that it will be more accessible for teachers and students alike in order to encourage the reading habit. In the interim, it is suggested that book boxes be made available for each class or year group with appropriate reading material for students to borrow in each box. Some teachers have already introduced this good practice.
There is a computer room in the college but access for English teachers is restricted due to the heavy demand on the room which is also the music room. The college has recently purchased a data projector but there is no college laptop. Therefore, opportunities for teachers to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are severely limited which is to be regretted. English teachers have good access to audio-visual equipment. The college has now two DVD players as well as televisions, videos and a number of overhead projectors which are well used by English teachers. The purchase of a DVD player for use by English teachers was a recommendation in the last report and it is commended that this recommendation has been implemented.
There is a small common resource area for English in the college. Although classrooms are generally teacher based, there is little storage area for teachers in these classrooms. In addition, it was reported that photocopying paper is scarce. It is suggested that such resources be provided as necessary to enhance teaching and learning.
Subject planning has been formally introduced since September 2005 and each year the position of co-ordinator of English is rotated among English teachers. The role of all subject co-ordinators in the college is clearly defined, which is good practice. Subject teachers have had some formal meetings facilitated by management but the practice of holding regular department meetings has fallen into abeyance. English teachers have begun to record the outcomes of subject department meetings, a record of which is disseminated to the deputy principal. The setting of agendas and recording of minutes of these meetings is good practice as it provides a focus for discussion. English teachers report meeting informally on a regular basis and there was evidence of good collaboration between English teachers, for example English teachers make joint decisions on main textbooks. English teachers should also use their meetings as an opportunity to plan for the acquisition of teaching resources.
One of the recommendations made in the last English inspection report was for teachers to commence the development of a long term common plan for their subject. To date there has been little progress made on the implementation of this recommendation. For example teachers have compiled a list of the books that each teaches with their particular class group. However, as meetings do not occur on a systematic basis there has been little opportunity to progress this recommendation which still stands as follows: “To ensure that there is no overlap between the content of students’ courses across the years, and in the context of school development planning, it is recommended that over time, English teachers collaborate to develop a long-term plan for English in the college which outlines the sections of the syllabus at junior and senior cycle and the advised areas of study under each of these sections, including a list of suggested texts for each level and learning outcomes which the students should acquire in each year. In this way the plan will guide teachers’ day-to-day work in the classroom and it will promote continuity and steady progression in the students’ learning. Teachers will have a further opportunity to share good practice, and, in addition, there will be a clear outline available of what is covered in every year.”
This English plan should still allow English teachers the flexibility to choose materials that are suitable for their student cohort but should give guidelines on the number of texts including poems to be covered in each year. Many English teachers have developed their own commendable subject plans which could be used as the basis for developing the agreed long-term plan. Some of these plans included a homework policy for English and one example of good practice included a tick list of items covered for students to complete.
All first-year students study a novel which is good practice. In addition, where classes were shared between two teachers the teachers had agreed a clear division of tasks. Further good practice was seen as all aspects of the English course are taught each year. The recommendation in the previous English inspection report to consider the introduction of a second novel or play over the course of second and third year has not been implemented. The play now taught in some second-year classes would be an ideal second supplementary drama to teach in second or third year rather than a replacement of the Shakespearean drama. It is acknowledged that a Shakespearean extract will be taught as well but this Shakespearean extract might be better introduced onto the first-year course. There is also a need for teachers to check the novels and indeed poems that students have studied in primary schools or in first year so that there is no overlap or repetition of texts. For example, one novel taught in second year was studied by some students in primary school, and some second-year students also read the same novel in first year. The texts chosen for third, fifth and sixth-year students are appropriate.
The Transition Year (TY) English programme has been developed since the last inspection which is commended. This was a recommendation in the last report. Students encounter texts in an active and interesting way in TY. Students are also encouraged to develop their presentation skills in this year. It is recommended that more reading material be introduced into the TY English programme. Students could be given a recommended reading list containing non-examination texts and students should study a drama as well as a novel in class.
The learning-support co-ordinator keeps all teachers very well informed about students with particular needs by holding regular meetings with year heads, tutors and individual teachers. An example of good practice was shown in the attendance of the learning-support co-ordinator at the last English subject department meeting.
All teachers were well prepared for their lessons and a range of resources was used to enhance teaching and learning including the use of the overhead projector, film, handouts, and props, such as newspapers. The board was also used by teachers to record key points as appropriate. The objective of each lesson was shared with students from the outset which is good practice. Teachers always gave clear instructions and explanations.
A commendable feature of all lessons was good student involvement. Students actively participated in their lessons through discussion, group work and role play. For example, students were put working in groups to revise their novel with each group having to then make a presentation to the class on a different chapter. Another example of effective group work was observed when students were put into groups for a part of their lesson to work on specific tasks related to their novel. The groups then had to present these tasks in mime or dialogue form while the rest of the class had to guess which theme from the novel was being presented. This led to total class involvement and good discussion. Lively teaching encouraged students to be active participants in lessons and to discuss issues enthusiastically.
Tasks were well divided which introduced variety into the lessons. For example, a pre-reading exercise involved students having to answer a range of questions before reading their text and then answering further questions to consolidate what they had read. Good examples of differentiation included the use of differentiated exercises with higher and ordinary-level students and giving individual attention to particular students as appropriate. There were a few occasions where all students were not fully included in the lessons. Care should be taken to ensure that all students are clearly on task and are fully involved in their lessons.
Questioning was generally good. Skilful questioning generated excellent discussion as the teachers led students to think more clearly about what they were studying. This was particularly the case when open-ended questions, which led to the development of higher-order thinking skills, were asked. Best practice was seen when a mixture of specific and global questions were asked to ensure that the same students did not dominate the lessons and to ensure that all students were on task.
There was evidence of a print-rich environment in one classroom but in general there was an absence of stimulating material or samples of students’ work on display despite this being a recommendation in the previous inspection report.
Some teachers had prepared excellent notes for their students and many download useful resources from the internet. Students’ folders demonstrated that a range of notes on different aspects of the course were distributed. This work on the part of the teachers is highly commended but care should be taken to ensure that students are given opportunities to develop their own personal response to texts before being given notes on the texts in order to encourage self-directed learning. Notes are good for consolidation of learning that already has taken place.
The integration of language and literature is used by some teachers in junior cycle. For example students were asked to make posters to advertise a book they had read and to write a diary entry from the point of view of a character in a novel. The thematic approach to teaching English is used in first year so that a unit of work is planned around a certain theme, which is good practice. The integration of language and literature and the thematic approach to the teaching of English were recommendations made in the last report and work in this area should be consolidated.
There was a good relationship between teachers and students in all lessons. Students discussed their course confidently and were well-motivated. There was clear evidence of learning in all lessons.
It is college policy to encourage as many students as possible to take higher level and there was evidence that this policy is being successfully implemented in the English department. However, results at Leaving Certificate level suggest that there is potential for more students who currently sit English at ordinary level to successfully take the higher-level examination. While English teachers analyse their own results individually, it is suggested that they analyse their results collectively to examine patterns and trends.
The college has a homework policy. Students record their homework in the college journal although parents are not required to sign the journal on a weekly basis. As part of the development of the English plan, English teachers should formulate their own policy around the allocation of English homework to include use of the homework journal, frequency and appropriateness of homework, correction of homework and a policy on the use of copies and student folders. There was evidence of well-corrected work in most lessons observed, particularly in fifth and sixth-year, with students being given good written feedback on areas where they need to improve. This is a recommendation that has been implemented since the last report. The use of hardback folders for English at senior cycle is good practice. Teachers mark senior cycle students’ work using the discrete criteria which is appropriate. Students’ copies and folders were generally well maintained.
All students (with the exception of TY) sit examinations in February. Non-examination classes sit formal house examinations at this time and examination classes sit mock examinations. In the summer non-examination classes sit formal timetabled examinations. Parents receive reports on students’ progress three times a year; after house examinations and based on continuous assessment marks in November. Transition Year students do not sit examinations although parents receive reports three times a year.
Common examinations are not held for formal in-school English examinations despite a recommendation to this effect in the previous report. It is strongly recommended that common examinations be set for classes of similar abilities within each year group. These examinations should have a commonly agreed marking scheme.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
§ The opportunities provided for students to participate in co-curricular activities pertaining to English are commended.
§ There are plans to upgrade the library and restock it with new books. The library should also be made more accessible for students to borrow books.
§ Provision of English lessons at junior cycle is adequate while there is good provision of English lessons at senior cycle. However, a number of timetabling anomalies should be addressed including the fact that a first-year class will not receive English teaching for some weeks in May.
§ The role of all subject co-ordinators in the college is clearly defined. English teachers have begun to record the outcomes of subject department meetings and there was evidence of good collaboration between English teachers.
§ Teachers were well prepared for their lessons.
§ A commendable feature of all lessons was good student involvement.
§ Good examples of differentiation were observed in most lessons but care should be taken to ensure that all students are clearly on task and are fully involved in their lessons.
§ The integration of language and literature and the thematic approach to the teaching of English were used in some lessons and should continue to be used.
§ There was a good relationship between teachers and students and good evidence of learning in all lessons.
§ It is college policy to encourage as many students as possible to take higher level and there was evidence that this policy is being successfully implemented in the English department. Results at Leaving Certificate level suggest that there is potential for more students who currently sit English at ordinary level to successfully take the higher-level examination.
§ There was evidence of well-corrected work in most lessons observed. Students’ copies and folders were generally well maintained.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
§ It is recommended that English teachers aim to meet the ability needs of all students in their class groups and differentiate the course as necessary while still teaching appropriately challenging texts. Further inservice on mixed-ability teaching could be sought for teachers in the college.
§ The method of placing students in class groups for English in fifth and sixth year should be re-examined.
§ Management, in consultation with English teachers, should allocate class groups and levels so that all teachers who have English to degree level have the opportunity to teach all levels.
§ A budget for the purchase of relevant resources required for teaching and learning should be allocated for English.
§ English teachers should collaborate to develop a long-term plan for English in the college.
§ Teachers should ensure that there is no overlap between texts taught each year.
§ Students should be surrounded by a stimulating learning environment in their classrooms.
§ Care should be taken to ensure that students are given opportunities to develop their own personal response to texts.
§ Common examinations with commonly agreed marking schemes should be set for classes of similar abilities within each year.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal and deputy principal when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.