An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Holy Child Community School ,
Pearse Street, Sallynoggin, County Dublin
Roll number: 91330K
Date of inspection: 4 February 2008
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Child Community School, Sallynoggin. 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 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; a response was not received from the board.
Timetable provision for English is generally very good. Five English lessons per week are allocated to class groups in second, third, Transition Year (TY), fifth and sixth year. First-years are timetabled for four class periods of English per week, which is adequate provision. There are four English and Communication lessons provided for Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) year one students and three lessons a week for year two students. This is good provision. English lessons are, on the whole, evenly distributed across the week which is good practice. The only exception is in fifth year where class groups have two English periods on one day of the week. Concurrent timetabling of English occurs from first year through to sixth year which facilitates students in changing level and makes the organisation of year group activities possible. This concurrent timetabling of English is highly commended.
Students are streamed from the beginning of first year on the basis of their entrance assessment. Generally, there is a top class in each year group which contains students who will sit English at either higher-level or ordinary-level in state examinations and the next class or classes contain a mix of ordinary-level and foundation-level students. Students can move between levels according to personal choice, teacher observation or evidence from assessment. While this is good practice it is recommended that English teachers and management review the manner of placement of students into class groups in first year and that consideration be given to introducing mixed ability for English in first year. There is evidence that such placement leads to improved progress in literacy and numeracy and can give students more confidence as learners. In addition, the delay in placement of students into streamed classes might eventually increase the number of students sitting the Junior Certificate English examination at higher level. Most students in the school follow the Transition Year programme and students are streamed for English in TY also. It is recommended that the practice of streaming in TY be reconsidered also.
The English department consists of five teachers, four of whom are currently teaching English and all of whom are subject specialists. Teachers are assigned to teach the various levels and class groups on a rotational basis which is very good practice. It is department policy that, where possible, classes retain the same teacher from year to year. This is good practice. There was effective deployment of English teachers across all class groups and levels.
Extra teachers are deployed to create smaller classes, provide for one-to-one or small group withdrawal and to facilitate team teaching where necessary. This year, there are three small class groups in second year and there are two class groups in third year. The less able third-year group is team taught by two teachers and this was observed to work very well.
Very good provision is made for students in need of extra support. Students are supported, if necessary, through to sixth year. Learning support is provided by an experienced and specifically qualified team who are dedicated to meeting the individual needs of their students and who meet on a weekly basis. Paired reading is organised between TY and first-year students which is good practice. The draft special educational needs (SEN) policy reflects these strategies and short and long-term goals for the school in relation to SEN provision.
Students for whom English is an additional language receive assistance in the form of extra language tuition from a teacher who is fully qualified in this area. They are withdrawn from other subjects on a rotational basis which is commended since it reduces continuous disruption to one subject. Good practice takes place in that the Integrate Ireland Language and Training assessments are used, along with an initial student interview to gauge students’ proficiency in English. Students in need of language support are withdrawn in small groups of similar age and ability in English.
There is very good whole school support for English in the school. Teachers are encouraged to participate in professional development courses. There is a wide variety of teaching resources available to support the teaching and learning of English. The school’s commitment to the dramatic arts is evident in the customised space made available for this purpose. The school has a well-stocked library which is currently being reorganised and library cards are being distributed to all students. The school has also created links with Dun Laoghaire library. Students are encouraged to borrow books for their own personal enjoyment and the English department is trying to promote reading among all students in the school. World Book Day is celebrated. A reading period is timetabled for junior cycle class groups once a week. It is recommended that a policy be developed on the organisation of these reading periods so that they are of maximum benefit to students. In addition, it is suggested that age-appropriate reading lists be distributed to each year group.
Teachers have collated shared teaching resources and these are available on the staffroom computer. Many of these effective resources have been created by the teachers themselves, which is highly commended. A storage area has also been made available in the staffroom for other shared teacher resources such as books, videos and DVDs. Teachers have access to two computer rooms and to computers in the resource rooms. They also share access to a laptop and data projector. Some classrooms have their own television and computer. There are class sets of books available and teachers have access to packs of material that they can photocopy. The school operates a book rental scheme.
TY and LCA students, as well as students in the two special classes, study Drama. A qualified drama coach is employed for this purpose. The provision of Drama is highly commended as the positive effect Drama and public performance have on personal development cannot be over emphasised.
Students have the opportunity to take part in a wide variety of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The school has engaged guest storytellers, writers, drama groups, and creative writing workshops. In addition to these outsourced activities, students are encouraged to take part in public speaking and film and drama clubs within the school. Trips to the cinema and theatre, often to see dramatisations of texts on the English course, are also regularly organised. A school musical is produced on an annual basis. Students also have opportunities to contribute to the school year book. This high level of commitment to co-curricular and extra-curricular activity is commended as it raises the profile of English within the school, enhances the level of student engagement and increases student enjoyment of the subject.
The school has, in the past, considered applying for participation in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), but so far has decided against this. It is recommended that the school reconsider this decision as the school already engages in many of the recommended strategies for teaching JCSP such as paired reading, team teaching, key word notebooks, positive discipline and reading initiatives.
The school is inclusive and holistic in its approach to learning. The LCA programme is studied by adults and students alike. There is a conscious commitment to serving the local community in a very real way. Adults for whom English is an additional language or who experience literacy difficulties are catered for on the school campus. The school has a crèche for children of the adult students who use its facilities. The Dun Laoghaire Vocational Educational Committee (VEC) hosts an adult learning centre from the school. Students with a moderate general learning disability are also catered for in two special classes. All this activity adds richness to the educational experiences of all the students of the school.
Management allocates formal planning time for subject planning once per term and at other times on request. Informal meetings also regularly take place. Co-ordination of English forms part of an assistant principal post and there was evidence that English is well organised within the school. There is a development plan available for English and the English department intends to develop this long-term subject plan further. This is to be encouraged and it is recommended that in expanding this plan the English teachers agree on the key skills each year group should acquire and a list of suitable texts that could be possibly taught for each year group. Teachers should also document the many effective methodologies observed during the evaluation. All teachers maintain individual class plans; this is highly commended. These detailed plans included texts to be covered, methodologies to be employed and modes of assessment. In some cases of best practice, the skills that students should achieve in the form of ‘students will be able to’ statements were outlined. It is recommended that the overall department plan be expanded to include this type of detail.
A sharing of good practice was evident from observation of lessons. For example, in many of the classes visited the learning objectives for the lesson were explicitly shared with the students through writing them on the board. In addition, many class groups use a scrapbook format for all work on the studied play or novel in junior cycle. It was obvious from the uniformity of these approaches among the majority of teachers, that teachers had discussed appropriate methodologies and observed each other’s practice, through team teaching.
Within the confines of the book rental system, texts that are appropriate to student interest and ability are studied. Teachers take care to avoid overlap of material between year groups. It is commended that texts are changed as often as is feasible so that the same texts are not taught year after year. It is recommended that teachers explore the possibility of introducing a second play to all junior cycle students; the current situation is that ordinary-level students study one short drama text over the course of the three years. It is commended that all first-year students study a novel. In addition, some teachers teach at least one more novel over the course of second and third year. Students in the top stream study a Shakespearean text which is very good practice.
Students are exposed to a wide variety of experiences in TY. Guest visits are organised to engage TY students in theatre workshops; these include Team Theatre and The Abbey Outreach programme. A number of visits to the Irish Film Institute are also planned. This variety is commended as it makes the most of the opportunity that TY offers to add interest and vitality to English.
The texts chosen for study at Leaving Certificate level are generally appropriate although, in one case, it was not clear why students studied two single texts and two comparative texts as opposed to the required one single text and three comparatives. All students must study three comparative texts as this is a syllabus requirement.
The lessons observed in Holy Child Community School were purposeful and appropriate to the syllabuses. In all cases, it was evident that they were very well planned and all necessary resources were utilised. In one instance, the quality of handouts for students was poor which made full comprehension of the topic being taught difficult. In all lessons observed, the learning objectives were explicitly shared with the students. Best practice in this regard occurred when the teachers wrote the aims of the lesson or main topics to be covered on the blackboard and then checked at the end to see that these had been achieved. In these lessons in particular, there was very good structure. The blackboard was prepared in advance of most lessons. This is important as it helps to focus students as soon as they enter the classroom. It is commended that every effort was made to link new material with work previously done, thus reinforcing learning and helping to situate new ideas. It was evident that teachers endeavoured to relate lesson content to the students’ own personal experience. This is very good practice as it allows students to identify with the course material. The pacing of the lessons was appropriate in all cases and teachers’ explanations were clear.
The level of student participation in most classes visited varied, but best practice was observed where students had opportunities to participate through discussion. There was evidence that some teachers employ active methodologies in their lessons. For example, in a lesson on print media the teacher attached a newspaper to the blackboard and then selected students to stick labels on to the newspaper to identify key terminology that was being discussed. This formed part of a lively and stimulating lesson which was very effective and generated student engagement. Where active teaching was observed there was a balance of teacher and student talk and it was clear that students were used to participating in this way. Best practice was seen when work assigned for a part of the lesson was discussed with students first of all. The good practice of students working together to create their own notes on scenes or chapters of texts was reported. It was also reported that students sit a table quiz based on each act of their studied drama text. When teaching drama texts, it is suggested that the audio version of these texts be used in lessons to assist students understanding and engagement with the play.
There was a good break up of tasks in many lessons which kept the lessons interesting and students engaged. For example, in classes of lower ability the teacher recapped on the key points after reading a few pages of the text and then asked questions to ensure understanding. Students were diligent in recording key points made in the course of their lessons. There was a good example of brainstorming observed in one lesson. Teachers have made great efforts to create their own resources and worksheets for students and there was evidence that these resources enhanced students’ learning.
Teachers are careful to subtly differentiate learning experiences to suit the individual needs of their students and this excellent practice is commended. They also made good use of questioning throughout their lessons. This technique was successful because there was a balance between global and directed questions and teachers were careful to include all students. In addition, best practice was seen when teachers asked both higher-order and lower-order questions to challenge all students according to their abilities. In some cases very good discussion was evoked through the skilful questioning of the teacher.
In all classes visited, teachers were very affirming of student effort. This led to a respectful working atmosphere where all contributions were enthusiastically welcomed. The standard of student behaviour was very good in the majority of lessons. Since the number of students in some classes is very small it is suggested that the seating arrangement be altered to better facilitate pair work or group work and more discussion. In addition, a seating plan improves classroom management.
It was clear from the examination of student copybooks that written work is regularly assigned and corrected. Some teachers are taking this valuable opportunity to use comment-based marking to provide critical analysis and to recognise and affirm good work. Most teachers expect their students to draft and re-write pieces of work. Some of this work on specific texts is stored by students in scrapbooks. This excellent practice enables students to develop a well presented body of work that they take tremendous pride in. It also helps them develop skills for self correction and self-directed improvement. On a practical level, it provides them with a set of study notes that can be used at examination time. This is another praiseworthy example of teacher collaboration and sharing of good practice. LCA students had excellent folders for each aspect of their course. Good practice was also seen where language and literature tasks were integrated for assigned written work; for example, students had written letters from the point of view of a character in a studied text. It is recommended that the English teachers agree a policy on frequency of assignment of homework, including assigning homework in a range of genre, and a policy on the correction of this homework.
All teachers have made considerable efforts to enhance the physical learning environment by displaying student project work and posters on their classroom walls. This is commended as it helps create a good working atmosphere and provides visual stimulation. There is widespread employment of key words as a strategy to tackle literacy issues in mainstream classes. This is highly commended.
Students are formally assessed twice a year at Christmas and summer. Students in third, fifth and sixth year are also assessed in October, sometimes on the basis of continuous assessment, and third-year and sixth-year groups also sit ‘mock’ examinations. These examinations are corrected internally. Reports are sent home following these formal assessments and parent-teacher meetings are held once a year. Teachers set class tests and assignments to assess learning on an ongoing basis and there was evidence that teachers keep good profiles of students’ progress. If teachers agree that students should be placed in mixed-ability class groups in first year and TY, there will be a need for common formal examinations to be set to ensure consistency of standard.
Learning is routinely assessed through oral questioning in class and through correction of written work. Teachers have ongoing communication with parents through notes in student journals and phone calls home if the need arises. Homework is set regularly and corrected promptly. Teachers prepare students well for homework before they leave the class, thus increasing the likelihood of success. This is excellent practice. The school’s overall homework policy is highly commended for its specificity and its emphasis on all the partners’ responsibilities regarding homework.
To inform policy, teachers compare the state examinations results with the results of the ‘mock’ examinations. The principal also prepares an overall analysis of the state examination results and presents this to the board of management and the staff. The English department is commended for the high honours rate that students achieve in all levels. However, a strategy to increase the numbers taking higher level should be developed. The school also retests students’ reading ages at the end of each year and there was evidence of good improvement in this area. Academic prizes are awarded twice each year.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school provision and very good whole school support for English by management in the school.
· Very good provision is made for students in need of extra learning and language support and this support is provided by an experienced and qualified team.
· The Transition Year English programme exposes students to a wide variety of learning experiences.
· The school has a high level of commitment to co-curricular and extra-curricular activity.
· Teachers maintain excellent individual class plans.
· The sharing of good practice among teachers was evident.
· Teachers were very affirming and encouraging of students.
· The learning objective of all lessons was explicitly shared with students.
· A respectful working atmosphere exists in the school.
· Teachers routinely expect students to draft and re-write pieces of work.
· The homework policy of the school is very good.
· Teachers have made great effort to enhance their physical working environments.
· The school has an inclusive and holistic approach to learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Consideration should be given to teaching first-year students in a mixed-ability setting.
· The subject department plan should be further developed to include key skills for each year group to achieve and suggested course material, including a second drama at junior cycle.
· The school should consider reapplying for entry into the JCSP.
· English teachers should agree a policy on frequency of assignment of homework, including assigning homework in a range of genre, and a policy on the correction of this homework.
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.