An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Moyne Community School
Moyne, County Longford
Roll number: 91436D
Date of inspection: 13 and 14 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Moyne 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 principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school 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.
Moyne Communtiy School provides English in the Junior Certificate programme (JC), Transition Year programme (TY), Leaving Certificate programme (LC), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). Students in the LC and LCVP follow the same English syllabus.
Whole-school support is good in many areas. Four lessons per week are allocated to English in the junior cycle. The development of skills across all areas of the syllabus is best achieved through greater exposure to English. This is very important in the junior cycle since it is here that the foundations are laid for senior cycle English. It is therefore recommended that five lessons per week be provided in each year of the junior cycle. Five lessons are provided in the Transition Year and this represents very good provision. Five lessons are allocated in the LC programme and this is adequate to meet syllabus requirements. In the LCA three lessons are provided: syllabus guidelines recommend four. It is recommended that an additional lesson be allocated in the LCA English and Communications programme. The distribution of LCA lessons should also be reviewed.
Students are streamed into higher-level and ordinary-level classes from first year. Information gathering at pre-entry stage is well organised. However, first year is very early to assign students to levels. It is therefore recommended that first-year students be taught in a mixed-ability setting. In Moyne Community School, students are encouraged to achieve their full potential. Since classes are at present streamed from such a very early stage, it is imperative that robust monitoring systems are in place to ensure that individual students are not underachieving as they go through the school. Concurrency within bands allows for some movement from one level to another. Uptake of higher-level English is good. This needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis especially in the junior cycle in line with changing circumstances in individual year groups. Examination results are generally good.
The English teaching team has a broad range of experience and is gender balanced. Continuous professional development (CPD) is encouraged and some team members have availed of in-service. It is laudable that the English folder contains a list of the courses attended. The department as a whole should identify further training needs and details of how best to access CPD training could be included in the folder. The school is currently in the course of applying for corporate membership of the Midwest English Teachers' Association.
The learning-support team is well organised and well qualified. It has access to a good range of facilities and resources. Students with additional needs are supported through a designated special class that is limited to ten students. Access is determined through assessment tests at pre-entry stage, reports from the feeder primary schools and psychological tests. Additional supports for those that need them include team teaching and withdrawal for extra lessons for those with exemptions from Irish. Paired reading with TY students also takes place and this is commended. The school has a minority of students requiring additional language support. A team has been put in place, team members have qualifications in teaching English as a foreign language and there is liaison with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT). Both the learning-support team and the language-support team are interested in promoting a multi-cultural environment: to this end, consideration should be given to cross-curricular projects such as an Arts Week that would involve the whole school. There is good liaison between members of the learning-support and language-support teams and the teachers of English.
Teachers have access to a good range of audio-visual resources. A number of video and DVD recordings are available and there is an inventory of these in the department folder. A wider range of audio resources should be developed and this could be a focus for future spending. There is provision for the updating of resources and no reasonable requests are refused. Management is very supportive in this regard. ICT facilities are good and there are no difficulties regarding access. There are three computer rooms in the school. In addition there are two mobile units, one of which has a data projector. While ICT is integrated into teaching and learning in the LCA and TY programmes, in general its use could be extended. It is recommended that ICT be fully integrated into the teaching and learning of English.
The school has a library and a staff member has responsibility for this facility. It is open at lunch time and students can borrow books. Reading is promoted by the English department. All students are encouraged to visit the school library. In addition, a targeted approach is being implemented in first year. A book club is operated: students buy and in turn swap books with other students. They must then make an oral presentation to the class group based on one of their book choices. This is highly commended since both oral communication skills and reading skills are developed simultaneously. As an area for development and as a means of ensuring the use of ICT in the learning of English, students could learn to use presentation software in order to support their oral presentation. It is commendable that there are plans to extend the first-year reading initiative to each year group. Students participate in MS Readathon and this also promotes reading.
Students are encouraged to participate in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. They attend theatre and cinema outings. They are involved in debating and public speaking. Visiting speakers have also been invited to the school.
The department has a collaborative ethos and a departmental planning structure is in place. The role of co-ordinator rotates. On average three formal meetings are held per year. A number of informal meetings also take place and these are deemed to be very productive.
The department has put together a very useful folder containing the plan for English and other resources. The plan follows the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template. It represents a good start. However there is scope for development. In this regard, reference should be made to Looking at English, the composite report published by the Department of Education and Science and issued to all schools. This resource should assist the department in its further planning endeavour. The long-term schemes of work for each class group need to be fully documented. There should be a specific focus on skills development appropriate to each year group and level and taking cognisance of all the relevant syllabuses. Assessment policy should be documented and this should be informed by the overriding objective of making students better learners.
The Transition Year English plan is stimulating and in line with the principles of the programme as a whole. A three-part modular structure is adopted. The areas of study for this year are the work of Patrick Kavanagh in the first phase, the production of a TY magazine in the second and drama in the third. There is a focus on active learning through workshops, and on self-directed learning through research. It is advisable to guard against choosing material that students will study for the Leaving Certificate in the TY programme as this runs the risk of boring students by the time they come to sit the examination. Learning approaches are different, however, and this is commended.
There is consultation and collaboration with regard to choice of texts. Junior cycle classes have an anthology. One novel is chosen for special study over second and third year. The first four streams have the same texts to facilitate movement. Shakespeare is studied in higher-level classes only but may be accessed through extracts in the ordinary-level classes. Designated special classes read two novels. Selection of texts is left to individual teachers in the senior cycle. The teaching team should regularly review choice of texts to avoid the risk of staleness.
Lessons showed evidence of satisfactory planning in most cases and was very good in some. In the course of individual lesson planning there could, in general, be a greater emphasis on learning outcomes and these should be directly linked to homework assignments. Lesson planning should allow for the preparation of a variety of resources to support learning and differentiation should be built into all lesson plans. This is as important for the exceptionally able as it is for those who find learning challenging. Although a limited range of resources was used, these had been prepared in advance so that class time was efficiently used. Some handouts were designed to be student friendly and this is commended.
Communication, drama and poetry were the subject matter of lessons during the course of the evaluation. The objective was explicitly communicated in some classes; in others, it was implicit or was a generalised announcement of the intention to continue with material that had commenced in earlier lessons. Intended learning outcomes should be shared with students, and these should be written on the board. Students should clearly understand what they are expected to know by the end of the lesson. Pace was appropriate in most lessons and the transitions from one stage to another were well managed. In a minority of cases, either pace was too fast or content did not sustain interest throughout the lesson. In such cases, lesson planning should be reviewed. A focus on learning outcomes that are evaluated at the end of the lesson should be of assistance and should inform future lesson planning. One lesson taught by a team of two teachers was managed well and enabled students to receive individual attention.
Resources used were mostly text based. No use was made of visual or audio resources in lessons observed. These could have been very useful both to establish context, to engage interest and to clarify and explain. A range of resources should be used to cater for a variety of learning styles. Good practice was noted where a prop was used to assist understanding and to stimulate interest. The board was used appropriately to record key themes and homework assignments. Good practice was also noted where the board was used to record students’ answers and suggestions. In some lessons it was under utilised. Differentiation was apparent in one instance where additional handouts with more challenging material were distributed to early finishers involved in a writing task. This is highly commended.
A good range of teaching methodologies was used in some lessons. Students were prepared for the topic through a short general discussion designed to engage interest and relate to their own experience. The involvement of students in learning through participative activity was observed and this practice is highly commended. Students engaged in role play in some lessons. In a drama lesson, they gathered evidence from the text concerning the props they would need in order to stage the scene. Then they proceeded to act out the scene. This is very good practice. In a minority of lessons, activity was teacher-led and a limited range of strategies was used. In such instances, a more innovative and student-centred approach to methodologies should be adopted.
Questioning technique was good for the most part. Questions were either addressed to the class as a whole in order to invite voluntary responses or were targeted at individual students to check that they understood content or to ensure that they were on task. In general, a good balance was maintained. It is important to regularly target individuals, particularly those who tend to become passive but remain unobtrusive in the classroom. Questioning strategy was used for a variety of purposes, for example, to assess understanding of content or of new words. Questioning to develop higher-order skills, for example analysis and evaluation was used in lessons but less frequently than those testing lower-order skills such as recall. Very good practice was observed where students were asked to assess what they had seen or read and their assessment was based on known criteria. As a follow up, they were invited to offer alternative solutions. In some classes, students were asked to make selections and to evaluate their choices. Again this is commended. The development of higher-order thinking skills should be a specific purpose of questioning in all lessons. There should be a clear focus on the development of oral communication skills. Care should also be taken to ensure that students of all abilities and both genders are challenged by higher-order questions.
A good level of interest and engagement was noted in lessons that were student centred. The extension of students’ vocabulary is commendable and was an explicit intention in some lessons. All new words should be written on the board to reinforce learning. Good practice was noted in a case where an extension homework task required students to use new words in sentences. In a lesson observed, students were given a spelling test in key words that they would be required to understand and use in the critical analysis of their text and this is commended. Texts were read in class and in some cases students interacted with the teacher or other students in the course of the reading. Where texts are being read in a lesson, it is advisable to flag in advance the specific elements (or aspects) students are intended to observe or note so that they have a clear focus for their reading. Students should, where relevant, be instructed to take notes or to highlight text before the reading commences.
Copybooks examined indicated that, in many cases, much work had been done. A good range of writing exercises was noted in some cases. In one set of samples, there was evidence of creative and personal writing and of the teaching of writing skills. This good practice should be extended widely. Writing in a variety of genres should be encouraged in all class groups. In addition, the recording of personal responses to all texts should be a focus for written work. This could be in the form of a response diary. The integration of language and literature (for example, a diary entry from a character in a play) was set as a writing assignment in a lesson visited. This is commended and further opportunities of this kind should be generated.
It may be useful to negotiate specific learning targets with students who have disengaged from learning. These targets should be formally documented and the student should report back when a specific agreed target has been met. This strategy gives the student control of his or her learning and encourages personal responsibility. The maintenance of folders is a key organisational skill and this should be explicitly taught to classes.
In most classes visited there was a very good atmosphere conducive to learning. An attractive book corner was created in one classroom; many featured displays of students’ work and learning aids designed to extend vocabulary for specific tasks. Such good practice should be extended to all classrooms. Management of students was good in the classrooms visited.
The current plan for English does not document assessment procedures. A good range of assessment mechanisms is used in the TY programme and this could be a model for the English department as a whole. The importance of assessment for learning should be stressed. In copybooks examined, written work is regularly assigned in all cases and conscientiously corrected in most. A greater range of written work should be evident in all copybooks. The practice of dating homework correction observed in some copybooks is commended as it helps to provide an accurate record of progress. Assessment and attendance records are kept.
Classroom assessments take place regularly and there are formal exams at Christmas and summer; “mock” examinations are held for third and fifth years. A number of reporting mechanisms exist for communicating with parents.
The school has a homework policy and the importance of the school journal is emphasised. In view of this, students should be routinely instructed to enter homework assignments into their journal and the journal should be kept on their desks at all times.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.