An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Ramsgrange Community School
Ramsgrange, Co. Wexford
Roll number: 91431Q
Date of inspection: 18 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ramsgrange 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 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.
Provision for English in terms of the number of class periods for each class group in the school is good. First-year students receive four English lessons a week and one lesson in Drama and Communication. All other year groups, with the exception of Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) groups, receive five English lessons a week. LCA and PLC students receive four periods of English and Communication each week which is good provision. The current practice of some class groups having English twice on the one day and Transition Year students having English three times on one day needs review in future years to ensure that, where possible, all class groups have daily contact with English. The school operates a ten-class period day from Monday to Thursday and a seven-class period day on Friday. Classes are thirty-five minutes in length but in reality are often shorter by the time students move from one classroom to another. In addition, seven class periods every morning is a heavy workload for students and teachers. This provision should also be reviewed.
Students are placed in mixed-ability classes in first year. They are then streamed in second year into one top class for English, Irish and Mathematics with the remaining students banded into two class groups for English. The top class contains students who will take higher-level English in the Junior Certificate examination and, although students are not precluded from doing higher level in English in the other class groups, the practice is that these students take ordinary or foundation level. The school should, as a whole, examine strategies to increase the number of students sitting higher-level English and to try to raise the expectations of its cohort. Therefore, it is recommended that English teachers consider continuing with mixed-ability class groups at least until the end of second year, so that decisions about choosing levels are delayed.
There is a small class group of Transition Year students in the school. This is a mixed-ability class, although it was reported that generally the better students tend to opt for Transition Year. This year, the top fifth-year students are banded into two class groups in fifth year. Decisions about levels will be taken after Christmas. It is heartening to see that there are more aspiring higher-level students in fifth year this year. The good practice of the two teachers who teach these groups collaborating to agree on what aspects of the course to teach in order to facilitate student movement is commended. It is recommended that a common examination be set for these students in fifth year so that any movement will be done in a transparent manner. There is one ordinary-level class group in fifth year but management plans to split this group in two very soon which is good practice. Sixth-year students are set into one top higher-level group, one middle group and one group working at a slower pace. These latter two groups will all do ordinary level. Concurrency is facilitated on the timetable for fifth and sixth-year students. There is one group of LCA English and Communication students in both year one and year two.
A predominance of boys in the lower-ability class groupings was noted during the inspection. It is recommended that the school develop strategies to discontinue this trend. It was reported that teachers will encourage students to do higher level if they can aspire to it. It is therefore suggested that management should adopt a policy of all students consulting with them before being allowed to change level.
As well as aiming to provide a fourth teacher for fifth-year English this year, a second teacher works, in a team teaching situation, with other class groups. Likewise, a small resource class is formed in second year for English, Irish and Mathematics. This is good practice. Students with special educational or learning-support needs are well catered for in the school.
It was reported that English classes retain the same teachers from year to year. While the principal allocates teachers to year groups the English teachers themselves agree to rotate the teaching of higher and ordinary level between them. All suitably qualified English teachers should avail of the opportunity to teach higher level on a rotational basis. In addition, all English teachers should have the opportunity to teach LCA and TY so that these classes do not become the remit of one teacher. Therefore, all teachers, who have not already done so, should seek recognition for their qualifications so that all can teach English to the highest level.
Teachers are commended for organising a range of co-curricular activities, pertaining to English, for their students. These include organising theatre and cinema outings, arranging for visiting writers to hold workshops with their students, participating in public speaking and debating competitions and Readathon activities. TY students also participate in Drama workshops.
The school has a library which is open to students at lunchtime twice a week. The library is quite well stocked and regularly updated. English teachers are commended for bringing their students to the library on a regular basis to encourage the reading habit. It is recommended that book lists be made available to each year group in the school to further encourage this habit. “Book Choice for Post-Primary Schools” could be consulted in compiling this book list.
There is a budget available for English. Teachers discuss new resource suggestions at subject department meetings. Resources purchased include class sets of books and stocks of films. The English budget has not been fully spent and it is suggested that each year the budget be used fully to enhance the stock of resources available. Although money has been spent on class sets of books it is suggested that this is not always a good idea as teachers then may feel obliged to use these. Good practice was observed in that the English teachers have a common area in the library for pooling resources. Although there are televisions, videos and DVD players available in the school, it is suggested that management examine the feasibility of providing some dedicated television and DVD players to the English department, as film is an integral part of the English course.
Formal subject planning is now in its third year in Ramsgrange Community School. Subject department meetings are held twice per term, generally lasting about one hour. An agenda for these meetings is provided by management and minutes of these meetings are recorded. One English teacher acts a co-ordinator for the subject this year. It was reported that English teachers can accept or decline the position. It is recommended that the role of co-ordinator be clearly defined and rotated annually among all English teachers. Minutes of English meetings reflect good discussion on issues such as class groupings, choice of texts and access to resources. It is also recommended that minutes of subject meeting be given to management after each meeting so that management becomes aware of any issues that arise.
English teachers have developed a subject plan for English in accordance with the School Developing Planning Initiative (SDPI) template for subject planning. It would be more efficient to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to prepare the plan and make simple adjustments from year to year when reviewing the plan rather than filling in a new template each year. The plan should be a basis for discussion and sharing of ideas rather than an end in itself. It was clear that syllabus documentation was consulted when developing this plan but certain elements need to be expanded. For example, under the heading ‘Subject Aims’ a list of learning outcomes which students should achieve is recorded in the plan. It is suggested that these learning outcomes should be differentiated for each year group so that an incremental building up of skills will be affected. In addition, the range of ‘Effective Teaching Methodologies’ outlined in the plan could be further discussed and expanded and used by all teachers in class.
Each year group in the school has a core textbook. Some teachers also supplement textbook use with additional resources, often downloaded from the internet, in their lessons which is good practice and avoids over-reliance on the textbook. Teachers have the flexibility to vary choice of texts from class to class to suit the particular student cohort. Texts are chosen based on teacher preference and students’ abilities and interests. Good practice is seen in that all first-year students study a novel and are also brought to the library from time to time for reading classes. Another novel is taught in second year in preparation for state examinations. In most instances, the choice of novel is appropriate but care should be taken in some cases to ensure that the novel is suitably challenging for students. It is commendable that higher-level groups study a Shakespearean drama in third year. Ordinary-level classes study a drama text and a film version of that text. Care should be taken that students do not become confused between the two as there may be considerable differences in the storyline. The choice of novel for study in Transition Year should also be suitably challenging and not a novel that may have been taught previously in junior cycle. Likewise, it is recommended that LCA English and Communication students study a suitable novel, possibly from the list of Leaving Certificate texts available. Some teachers teach texts of local interest which is good practice.
There is a strong emphasis on developing oral communication skills in the Transition Year English course. Film is also closely studied. The plans for TY students to study scenes from Shakespeare and to do an in-depth study of an Irish playwright are also commended as it is important that students maintain their links with English literature as well as developing their oral skills. It is recommended that the Transition Year English plan be documented as is a requirement of the Department of Education and Science and written according to the guidelines on writing a Transition Year plan.
There is good liaison between English teachers and the special educational needs department. Students with learning support and special educational needs are identified early and are well supported through team teaching, creation of small classes and small group withdrawal. Other literacy support initiatives include a reading programme, for four weeks in October, and paired reading.
In most classes the teachers shared the purpose of the lesson with the students, which is good practice. Pace of lessons was generally appropriate although, in some cases, the lesson could have proceeded at a faster pace and more subject matter could have been covered. As classes are quite short, any delays in the commencement of the lesson means that important teaching and learning time is lost.
Classes were most successful when a variety of methodologies was used and when students were fully and actively involved in their lesson. This was often achieved through good discussion, pair and group work, active listening, and questioning and answering sessions. There were some good examples observed of pair and group work being effectively used for part of the lesson to ensure good class participation and good differentiation. For example, in one lesson students were divided into groups, with each group drawing up a profile of a character in the play being studied. This group work was well managed in that the task was short and focused and in that one student was nominated to report back for the group. This type of activity is enjoyable for students and they are truly involved in their learning. Another example of effective pair work involved students examining newspapers. Again, this was effective as students had a clear task and their work was, therefore, focused. The teachers, in both cases described, facilitated learning by moving around and helping students where necessary with their tasks. Pair and group work are also successful strategies which could be used if students are reluctant to become involved in their lesson. There was evidence that some junior cycle classes are involved in writing poetry, creating word games and other such activities which make learning enjoyable.
When a portion of a novel was read in class, the teachers ensured that students became active listeners by regularly asking questions and by drawing students’ attention to important points. Students were often involved in their lessons by being asked questions on the topic in hand. However, teachers sometimes focused on asking questions only of students with their hands up as opposed to covering all students in the lesson. It is recommended that teachers ask questions of individual students as well as of the class as a whole so that all abilities are cared for and so that some students do not dominate the lessons. In addition, the majority of questions asked in lessons observed were lower order. These questions were generally recall type questions where students had to simply recall events as opposed to being asked to analyse them. Therefore, it is recommended that students be asked a range of questions, from lower to higher order, in order to challenge all students. There were some good examples of teachers using questioning to lead students to a better understanding of their text. It was reported that the Second Level Support Service is soon to give an inservice to the school staff on differentiation. This should help all teachers in catering for all ability levels in their class group.
There was good evidence of teachers teaching a range of poetry based on certain themes in junior cycle and of teachers using interventions with their students. For example, students were set the task of writing a letter to a character in a novel from the point of view of another character. This is a good strategy as it teaches point of view and integrates the teaching of language with the teaching of literature. It is recommended that the teaching of grammatical points or writing skills be also integrated with the teaching of literature. For example, simple sentence construction would be better taught from exemplars of students’ own work or from examples in short stories than from exercises out of a textbook.
There was good use made of the board in all lessons. It was used to record key points made during the lesson and to record homework for the students to take down. However, there were occasions when students were passive while the teacher wrote key themes on the board. It would have been better if the students were invited to suggest these themes or if the students were told to record them in their copies.
English teachers are fortunate in that they all have their own base classrooms. In many of these rooms teachers had decorated the walls with samples of students’ work, posters and project work. For example, in one classroom there were posters on display which were created by students and which outlined the attributes of main characters in the novel being studied. Likewise, key word or key quotation posters could be displayed so that students are constantly reminded of such words.
While there was evidence of improving examination results and an increased uptake of higher level English in Junior Certificate in 2006 there is still a need for English teachers to develop strategies to improve the uptake of higher level and to raise standards. Some very good results at ordinary level also suggest that students might have been better placed to sit higher-level English in state examinations. Such strategies include reviewing manner of placement of students, reviewing choice of texts and reviewing teaching strategies in order to ensure that students are taking more responsibility for their own learning and are being suitably challenged. Students who sit LCA English and Communication achieve appropriately.
Formal examinations take place for all year groups, bar third and sixth year, twice a year. Third-year and sixth-year students sit formal examinations at Christmas and have mock examinations in February. These examinations are mainly corrected internally. Students also receive regular class- based tests. There was good use made of the journal for recording homework. Teachers kept good profiles of students’ work and there was one very good example of students having to record on a poster in the classroom each time they submitted work. Teachers generally set their own examinations for their own particular class group. It is recommended that teachers commence setting common end-of-term papers for classes of similar levels to ensure standardisation.
The school has a homework policy and a policy for assessments and examinations. In addition, English plans suggest that the English department is considering a separate assessment policy for English. This is to be commended and would be in keeping with the school homework policy which stipulates that teachers should be able to advise parents on the amount of homework required and the nature of assessment and correction.
Appropriate amounts of homework were set in all lessons. However, although students’ work is corrected there is a need for more formative assessment or annotated commentary on students’ work as opposed to teachers ticking and dating the work or writing a comment such as good or very good. Such feedback will allow students to see areas where they need to improve. It is also recommended that students be introduced to the discrete criteria of assessment from an early stage in fifth year. TY students have written many speeches in their copies but there was no evidence of this work being corrected. It is recommended that such work be corrected on a regular basis so that their written communication skills are developed as well as their oral skills.
Some English class groups use folders which are divided for various aspects of their course. Other class groups use manuscript copies for presentation of written work. English copies and folders were generally well maintained and there was evidence that there is a good emphasis on developing personal response and that students had covered a wide variety and appropriate amount of work.
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.