An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Bishopstown Community School
Roll number: 91397T
Date of inspection: 2 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bishopstown Community School. 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 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 acting 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.
Bishopstown Community School is a co-educational school. Classes in first year have four English lessons per week. For some students with special educational needs, these are supplemented through additional literacy-support lessons during the week. It is recommended that the school should seek to expand the number of English lessons provided for this year group in future as an aid to skills acquisition at this early stage in their post-primary education. Classes in second year and in third year have five English lessons per week. This is good provision. Classes in Transition Year are provided with four English lessons per week and, again, this is good provision. Classes in fifth year and in sixth year have five English lessons per week and this is good provision. The Leaving Certificate Applied Year 1 class has three lessons in English and Communications per week and this is adequate.
There is rotation of levels and cycles between teachers wherever possible, within timetabling constraints. This rotation of responsibilities is positive, allowing for the maintenance of a wide skills base within the English department. Each class retains its English teacher for the duration of junior cycle and also between fifth year and sixth year. This too is worthwhile, allowing for the development of consistent pedagogical approaches with particular class groups.
All incoming first-year students participate in an assessment test in order to ascertain their levels of ability, achievement and needs. First-year classes are streamed according to students’ performances in this assessment test. Streaming is also used in second and third year, with teachers’ reports regarding students’ performances in first year further informing allocation to particular class groups. Classes in Transition Year (TY) are of mixed ability and this is appropriate, given the aims and aspirations of the TY programme. In senior cycle, a policy of streaming classes is, again, utilised. Students are allocated to class groups based on their results in the Junior Certificate examination and teachers’ assessment of their ability. Students also have their performance in the TY programme taken into account, where applicable. First-year students with difficulties in the area of literacy are identified using a combination of assessment tests. Beyond this, the guidance counsellor and the learning-support teachers visit the relevant primary schools in order to gain additional information regarding students who may have literacy difficulties. Psychological assessment reports are also used to assist in this process. Classes for literacy support are organised on the basis of small class groups, group withdrawal and individual withdrawal from mainstream classes. All English classes are timetabled concurrently. This is good practice, allowing for ease of movement for students between levels or classes, should the need arise.
There is a school library. Access to the library is currently somewhat restricted as it is used as a classroom due to space restrictions. While this is regrettable, the locating of a learning-support teacher and learning-support classes in the room is worthwhile and should be continued until another arrangement is practicable. The library is well stocked and organised. A print-rich environment is maintained, with posters and displays around the room. This is to be commended. A number of computers and broadband internet access are provided in the room for research and writing purposes on the part of students. The information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are also used in connection with ‘talking books’ which are maintained by the learning-support department. ‘Readalong’ books have been discussed by the learning-support department and it is suggested that the purchase of a number of these books would be most worthwhile as an aid to students in the area of reading comprehension. Links between the school and the recently opened Bishopstown Library in Wilton are being explored. An application has recently been made for additional funding for the school library. This action is to be praised and it is suggested that an area which might be worth investigating is the purchase of specific library furniture as a means of increasing the sense of a ‘library space’ which is different to other parts of the school. Part of the plan for the use of this funding includes the relocating of the library to a different area, in order to increase access for classes and individual students. This is most worthwhile. In the interim, it is suggested that the English department should seek to expand library services to English classes as much as possible. The use of book boxes in the case of one teacher is sound practice in this regard. This approach could profitably be adopted by all members of the department. As a means of consolidating and expanding good practice in this area, the English department should create a library policy. The English department is referred to the recent publication, Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project, which is available from the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Support Service, as a worthwhile resource in pursuing the further development of library services.
In the past a paired reading programme has been organised between TY students and younger students. While the programme proved difficult to organise in the past, it is suggested that the school might revisit paired reading at this juncture. While the participation of TY students in the programme as tutors is certainly worthwhile, a further possibility might be the involvement of parents. The potential of such a programme to enhance students’ literacy skills should not be discounted. Beyond this, paired reading might also be used as a means of enhancing the language skills of those students who are acquiring English as a Second Language (ESL). An additional benefit for ESL students would be the enhanced sense of inclusion in the school community which would be engendered.
There is good access to audio-visual facilities for English teachers. This is positive. There are three computer rooms in the school and all rooms are networked. Broadband is available. There is good access to ICT for English teachers and their classes. The use of ICT by English teachers, both for their own research and with students, was evident in a number of lessons. It is recommended that the use of ICT in English should continue to be expanded. The considerable expertise already available in the department should be harnessed for this purpose. The adoption of ICT as an element in students’ experience of English will not only increase motivation with regard to written work but will also enhance their appreciation of the drafting and redrafting process through, for example, the use of wordprocessing packages. Beyond this, the use of data projectors in conjunction with writing tasks as an aid to creative modelling on the part of teachers might be explored. Additional developments in this area might include the creation of a ‘favourites’ list of English resources on the school network for use by teachers or students and the occasional use of webquests with junior cycle classes.
The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. The English department maintains links with its subject association. English teachers have shown considerable commitment towards their own continuing professional development. This is expressed through their participation in a wide range of inservice training courses and, in a number of cases, postgraduate courses. All of this is commendable. Teachers report that material garnered from inservice training courses is brought back to the rest of the English department informally. This is most worthwhile and it is suggested that this practice should be formalised in the subject plan.
Teachers organise a range of co-curricular, cross-curricular and extracurricular activities. Among these are included a reading week, debating, and trips to the cinema and theatre. A notable recent event was the cross-curricular approach taken towards an anti-bullying and no-name-calling week. Teachers’ efforts in all of these areas are to be praised.
A subject chairperson has been appointed on a rotational basis. There are four formal departmental meetings per year, along with other, informal, meetings as required. This is commendable.
The English department has engaged with the subject planning process and a well-developed subject plan has been created. This plan is kept in a subject folder. The subject folder contains a number of common plans for different year groups, English departmental policies for senior and junior year groups, along with a selection of school policy documents and publications relevant to the teaching of English. Further material on the teaching of English is kept in a locker in an English teacher’s baseroom. The English department is to be highly commended for the diligent work which has gone into the creation and maintenance of the subject plan. Furthermore, the use of ICT in creating the document is to be praised since this will allow for ease of revision as and when necessary.
Given the very good work which has already gone into the development of the subject plan, the department is encouraged to continue with its development. An area which might profitably be explored in the future is the further expansion of the, already good, common plans to incorporate time-linked, syllabus-based and skills-based learning objectives for students. While the possibility of sharing common plans across an entire year group is certainly worth considering, the need to differentiate between plans for certain classes must also be recognised, depending on the level to which the students in each class are best suited. Other areas which might be investigated include: the analysis of state examination results versus national norms; the further extension of the department’s engagement with assessment for learning (AFL) and a separate section on methodologies used in the teaching of English, with brief explanations of each strategy. These areas should be approached on a graduated basis, over time. The further development of common plans may be a good place to start, beginning with first year this year, and so on.
Teachers vary texts in senior cycle. This is sound practice, allowing teachers to adjust the texts to be used according to class context and interests. Variation of texts has been more limited in junior cycle. The English department is encouraged to expand the range of texts used in junior cycle. Resources which may prove useful in this regard include www.childrensbooksireland.com and the English section of the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) at www.slss.ie.
There is a subject-specific programme for English as part of the TY programme. This is positive. In particular, the use of team-teaching and cooperative learning strategies in TY is to be praised as an example of the dynamic and reflective development of classroom practice. There is a policy document concerning the teaching of English and Communications as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. It is recommended that the English department should include the storage of key assignments by teachers, along with the recording of the completion of key assignments by students, as part of its LCA policy.
Students with needs in the area of English as a Second Language (ESL) are identified through teacher observation. The school has contacted Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) and materials from IILT have been garnered in the recent past to help with the organisation of the language-support programme in the school. These materials should prove useful in the future, particularly in the area of assessment through the English Language Proficiency Benchmarks. A useful further resource which might be accessed from IILT for each ESL student is the European Language Portfolio. Plans have been made for a member of the English department to attend an in-service training course organised by IILT. This is very worthwhile. A multi-cultural week was organised recently to aid the integration of international students. The development of a policy on language support for ESL students has also begun. The school is encouraged to continue to advance the development of this policy on a whole-school basis. The anticipated training from IILT should be of service in this regard, particularly if formal feedback from the course is provided to the whole staff. Beyond this, the recent IILT publication, A Resource Book for Language Support in Post-Primary Schools, should be of service. A further resource in this area is the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) publication, Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School, which is available on the NCCA website at www.ncca.ie.
There is a learning-support departmental plan and a special educational needs policy. The education-support team is encouraged to keep this policy under review. The education-support team meet once a week and have a regular slot in staff meetings to present material dealing with the area of special educational needs and literacy support. It is suggested that this very good practice should be formalised. Large banks of literacy-support materials are maintained by the learning-support department, including ICT-based resources. The provision of ICT in the baseroom of one learning-support teacher is very good while, as has been mentioned, ICT is also available in the library which is the baseroom of another member of the department. Good informal contacts are maintained between the English department and the learning-support department. A shelf of materials on the area of special educational needs and literacy support is maintained in the staff room for teachers of mainstream classes. All of this is commendable.
A booklet on techniques to be used in producing a whole-school approach to literacy has been produced. This is most praiseworthy and it is recommended that the school should pursue the development of a whole-school literacy policy. The creation and enactment of such a policy might be investigated initially through a ‘pilot project’ approach, involving a core committee which would then inform the work of a range of subject teachers. This initial investigation might then be expanded to include the whole staff. A member of the English department, a member of the learning-support department, a member of the senior management team and a number of representatives of other subject departments should form the initial core committee and their starting point might be a literature review on the subject of whole-school literacy programmes in a post-primary context. The JCSP Support Service publication, Between the Lines, may provide a good starting point for this research. The whole-school literacy committee should be maintained to oversee the implementation of the overall policy as it develops.
There was evidence of planning on the part of individual teachers in all cases. In a number of instances this was of an especially high standard. Objectives were clear in almost all cases and this was particularly aided by teachers’ clear statements of learning objectives at the beginning of lessons. Teachers were universally affirming to students.
A range of resources was used in English lessons. Some of these included the whiteboard, photocopies, the overhead projector, ICT, texts and question cards. The widespread use of writing frames and other scaffolded exercises to support students’ written tasks was also noteworthy. Teachers are to be praised for their use of a selection of resources in seeking to ensure the engagement of students in classroom studies. The English department is encouraged to continue to expand its practice in this area.
Reading by students featured in a number of lessons. This was positive and an awareness of the need to aid students in accessing the texts in question was evident. This occurred through a consistent consciousness of the need to explain vocabulary and through the pre-teaching of words by relating students’ own experiences to the material encountered. In one lesson, the use of text-marking and other directed activities related to texts might have served as an additional spur in students’ study of an ‘unseen’ poem from a past examination paper. A further enhancement in another, junior cycle, lesson, might have been the occasional use of dictionaries as an additional resource in students’ encounters with language.
Questioning was used effectively in lessons. The potential to expand the use of higher order questioning was suggested in one lesson. In another lesson the need to achieve a wider distribution of questions across the entire class group, alongside the use of more directed questioning, was noted.
The use of active methodologies was observed in almost all classes. The adoption of a team-teaching approach has already been highlighted as an example of excellent practice and involved high levels of preparation, constant shifts in methodology and differentiated teaching strategies. The development of students’ oracy and writing skills was also pursued in this lesson. In another lesson, the assigning of different roles to students worked well in increasing their interest in the topic at hand and the use of pair work was worthwhile. The use of shared reading was also observed in a junior cycle class. A competition between two ESL students worked well, with the teacher facilitating them in dealing with pronunciation exercises. In a small number of lessons, a move to pair work, or a more rapid shift towards this strategy, would have been beneficial with regard to the pacing of the lessons.
In some lessons, a strong feature of teachers’ practice was the focus on written work. The use of scaffolded exercises and writing frames was most positive, aiding students’ sense of affirmation and achievement in this aspect of their studies. In particular, the use of a writing frame to develop a Leaving Certificate answer through students’ own efforts worked very well, emphasising the importance of planning..
A good relationship was evident between teachers and students. Teachers’ care for students was clear. Classroom management was good in all instances. The planning evident in the provision of additional pens and rulers for students, where these were needed, spoke to a high level of care and a sound understanding of classroom management principles. In one case, classroom seating arrangements were particularly imaginative, facilitating a fluid and energetic approach to group work which worked well. In most cases, students were engaged by the work undertaken in class. This was especially the case in lessons where teachers shifted methodologies as a means of appealing to different students’ learning styles. Where students were assigned written work they set about it diligently.
A very good print-rich environment was evident in teachers’ base rooms. This included displays of students’ work in different genres, writing frames, keyword posters and motivational posters. All of this is very good practice. It is suggested that, in order to consolidate and expand the department’s strategies in this area, the continued development and widening of the print-rich environment should be set down as a key aspiration in the subject plan. In a number of cases, the prominent display of books and other texts in the classroom was most beneficial, adding to students’ sense of familiarity with, and curiosity about, the written word.
There is a homework policy. Appropriate quantities of written homework were assigned and corrected in almost all cases. Where there was less evidence of written work, what had been completed was of a very good quality and the opportunity for students to ‘publish’ work through wider use of genre displays or class compendia should be explored. The laminating of displayed student work to give it greater status would also be useful in this regard.
There was some evidence of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses. This is worthwhile, allowing the literature element of students’ study to act as a ‘springboard’ to the language elements of the course. The English department is encouraged to expand its use of this strategy and to incorporate it in the subject plan as a key methodology to be used in the teaching of the subject. A further extension of this approach would be the setting of ‘real world’ writing tasks for students, thus providing both context and motivation for them when engaging with literature and the subject in general. In a number of cases, students’ folders and copies were stored carefully for them by their teacher. This was a professional and diligent practice. The use of formative, comment-based assessment was evident across the department. English teachers are encouraged to continue to expand their use of this strategy, where practicable and within time constraints.
There are formal house examinations at Christmas for all year groups and in the summer for those classes not participating in the state examinations. Mock examinations are organised in the spring for third-year and sixth-year students. Individual teachers also hold informal class tests at their own discretion. Common examinations are set across classes in the same year group, where appropriate. This is good practice. Literacy-support students are reassessed during the year using a variety of assessment instruments, including the automatic storage of records of students’ performances on particular types of computer software.
Reports regarding students’ progress are sent to parents following the Christmas, summer and mock examinations. Results of other assessments are also communicated to parents using the student journal, if necessary. A further contact with parents is made through the display of various examples of students’ work at the TY open night each year. Parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for each year group. The maintenance of these contacts with parents is to be commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Teachers were universally affirming to students.
· The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. Teachers have taken opportunities for continuing professional development. This is commendable.
· There are four formal meetings of the English department per year, along with numerous informal meetings. This is positive.
· The English department has engaged with the subject planning process. A well-developed subject plan has been created and this is kept in a subject folder.
· There is a school library. This is well stocked and kept in a very orderly manner. This is to be commended. Access to the library for English classes is restricted as it is currently used as a classroom.
· The school has engaged with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT).
· A booklet on techniques to be used in promoting a whole-school approach to literacy has been produced. This is praiseworthy.
· There is good access to ICT facilities for English teachers. ICT use by teachers, both for their own research and with students, was in evidence in a number of classes.
· There was some evidence of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses in students’ homework. The English department is encouraged to expand its use of this strategy.
· A very good print-rich environment was evident in teachers’ baserooms. This is praiseworthy.
· The use of active methodologies was observed in almost all classes.
· There are good links between the English department and the learning-support department.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The number of English lessons for first-year classes should be increased.
· A whole-school literacy policy should be created. A whole-school literacy committee should be organised to oversee the development and implementation of the policy.
· The English department should incorporate the storage of key assignments by teachers, along with the recording of the completion of key assignments by students, as part of its LCA policy.
· The use of ICT in English should continue to be expanded.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the acting principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.