An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Gaeilge
Ardee Community School
Ardee, County Louth
Roll number: 91441T
Date of Inspection: 25 April 2008
Report on The Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardee Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Irish 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 subject teachers and to the principal. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Ardee Community School is providing second level education to the town of Ardee and its surroundings since 1973 and is the only second level school in the town. The school provides the following education programmes – Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Leaving Certificate (Established), Leaving Certificate Applied and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme for the almost six hundred students registered for the current 2007/08 school year. It is proposed to restore the Transition Year programme to the school's education programmes in two years time and Irish will be a core subject on that programme. The last time the Transition Year was available in the school was in the 1994/95 school year.
Changes have occurred in the last two years in the staff of the Irish department due to teachers retiring. At present there are five teachers who teach Irish and four of these were appointed in the last four years. Two of these were appointed at the beginning of the current 2007/08 school year. There is one other teacher with teaching experience in Irish since the school was established. As a result there is a good combination of experience and new ideas regarding the teaching of the subject in the Irish department. As well as that, all teachers are given an equal opportunity to teach all levels in the subject. This arrangement is to be recommended, particularly as there is a limited amount of higher level classes available.
School management has a written policy on Irish entitled Management Policy for Irish in Ardee Community School. This document gives a good indication of the provision made for the subject in the school. The policy also illustrates that school management is informed on matters concerning Irish in the school and is supportive of making changes in an effort to improve matters. This document defines the basis for the following: the allocation of classes to teachers, how classes are established in the different years, Irish and entrance exams in first year, time allocation of the subject in each year, timetabling of the subject, procedures for granting exemptions from the subject and the arrangements made for those students with exemptions, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities as they are and plans for development, textbooks for the subject, continuing professional development for the teachers and resources for the subject. This document is commended for its clarity and for the self-assessment associated with it.
In this document the focus is on achieving the challenging objective of increasing the number of students undertaking the higher level in the junior cycle, at first, through establishing an extra higher level class in second year from September 2008 onwards. It is hoped that these efforts will have a positive outcome and that a greater number of students will, consequently, continue on to higher level in the senior cycle. There is a realistic basis to these efforts and the need to encourage parents to support the school's efforts is recognised. The need to encourage parents and students so that a greater number of students are encouraged to attend Gaeltacht courses in the summer and to apply for scholarship schemes for Gaeltacht courses is also recognised. There was a difficulty with this scheme before in relation to convincing students to accept scholarships.
Students are placed in mixed-ability classes for Irish in first year. A higher level class is established in second year based on common tests taken at the end of first year. All the Irish classes run concurrently to assist this in second year and in every year from then onwards. Although this is a big commitment to the timetable for school management, with regards to staff allocation, these arrangements ensure that all students have access to the level in the subject that meets their abilities and their wishes. A review of these arrangements should be carried out to ensure that the school is getting the best out of them. Team teaching should be considered and attempted periodically, for example, in the case where there is a moderate enough number of students in two classes for this. It is understood that this practice is to be found in other departments in the school – English and Business for example. Also, additional co-operation could be fostered amongst the teachers by dividing the specialization of certain aspects of the courses amongst the teachers instead of one teacher being completely in charge of every teaching aspect of the course with his or her own class. These latter recommendations are made as a matter of consideration for the teachers rather than as a prescriptive model. If the teachers are of the opinion that such an approach should be attempted, it is recommended to do so on a trial basis and to review it regularly.
The time provision for Irish on the school timetable is deemed satisfactory. Five periods per week is the provision that is made for every year other than first year where there are four periods and in the Leaving Certificate Applied where there are three periods. It is recommended to review the daily allocation of Irish classes when compiling the timetable for the next school year. In the case of every year from second year to sixth year, where they all have five periods per week, in each instance there is one day where there is no Irish lesson on the timetable and as a result there are two lessons on another day. It is recommended to seek a remedy to this problem in the timetable in order to achieve a distribution of one class period daily.
All students in the JCSP classes undertake Irish in the Junior Certificate examination. These students also study Irish Cultural Studies in one of their five lessons per week in Irish in second year and in third year. It is proposed that the students in the Autism unit will study Irish Cultural Studies only. These arrangements are deemed reasonable. It is recommended to review the Irish Cultural Studies in the JCSP classes in the interests of considering how valuable the fifth period in the week would be if spent on Irish only – which all the classes in second and third year undertake.
There are just about twelve per cent of the total number of students enrolled who have exemptions from Irish. A small number of them are students who attained their primary education outside of the state (five per cent). The rest of them are students whose mother tongue is neither Irish nor English (forty two per cent) and students who have recognised learning needs (fifty three per cent). Every effort is made to provide other resources to those students who are entitled to them when Irish is on the timetable. The teachers say that the number of students exempt from Irish sitting in the classes is not a problem in general.
The teacher with the most experience in the teaching of the subject is acting as the head of the department in the last few years on a voluntary basis for the sake of ensuring continuity due to the significant personnel changes that occurred in the department. It is recommended that the other members of staff also accept this duty for a period for the sake of fostering co-operation and promoting new ideas. Teachers are allotted time to arrange subject meetings twice during the year and the Irish teachers often meet with one another during the year in their own time. A department plan for Irish was presented which illustrated that good planning has been undertaken in the subject. The plan is in accordance with the aims of the Irish syllabus. There are reference sources attached to the plan as a guide. The teachers have compiled their own plans which are in keeping with the department plan. A common working programme has been designed but the teachers have the freedom to adapt the subject to their own classes as long as the students can undertake common internal examinations. This is all satisfactory.
The above arrangements concern the ordinary level classes. There is only one higher level class in every year from second year onwards at present. This will change from September 2008 onwards and the same care should be taken to implement a common approach with the two higher level classes which will be in second year. It is worthwhile defining learning objectives for every class, based on the four language fields, and to include them in the plan for the subject. This will be of particular importance in the case of the new higher level class in second year as this is an initiative being introduced by the school, rather than an initiative that is being sought by the parents or students. It would be worthwhile to provide a clear direction in order to explain to the students and parents the challenges facing them regarding the subject at higher level. Such guidance would assist students at all levels to gain an understanding of the work facing them. It is not sufficient in this case to provide them only with examples of the examination papers. The European Language Portfolio provides guidance on defining learning objectives in Irish.
The management support the teachers' in-career development and the in-service courses which the teachers attended have been registered. A positive and open attitude prevails amongst the teachers in relation to developing teaching methods in co-operation with one another in order to implement improvements. In the current 2007/08 school year two teachers attended the Second Level Support Services' (SLSS) in-service course for Irish regarding the promotion of active learning in first year. The teachers highly recommended that course and gave an account of the proceedings of that course at a subject meeting. As another step in the teachers' in-career development it is recommended to implement those teaching methods with a first year class and to invite the other Irish teachers to those classes. Such a step would promote discussion regarding teaching methods in general in the subject and it is worthwhile reviewing those methods and having an item on that subject on agenda of the planning meeting at the beginning or end of the year. Every effort should be made to plan an innovative approach for the Transition Year Irish programme now that there is sufficient time to plan for this.
Although certain teachers make use of TG4 programmes with their classes periodically, there is no agreed practice and the use of information and communications technology (ICT) resources in teaching Irish in the school is absent other than a limited use with JCSP classes. It would be worthwhile agreeing a plan regarding the use of ICT in Irish classes. It is recommended to design an ICT programme for Irish and to submit an application to the principal on supplying ICT resources for Irish and to introduce them gradually.
More emphasis should be placed in the planning work in relation to practising spoken Irish with the students and amongst the students and also to plan co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that would help with this. An effort should be made, for example, to urge students to speak Irish at lunchtime once a week and to support them. In keeping with the document Management Policy for Irish in Ardee Community School it would be worthwhile recording the current position of the subject in the school, agreeing improvements that are attainable within a reasonable timeframe, between three and five years for example, trying them and reviewing them regularly. There is the capacity and energy to achieve this amongst the members of the Irish department. Progression will occur through co-operation with one another.
Six classes were observed during the inspection – four in the junior cycle and two in the senior cycle. The teachers prepared well for those lessons and in some cases handouts were prepared as extra help for the students. The standard of teaching was good on the whole and the teaching was done with fervour and energy. An effort was made to have a clear purpose with every lesson and to achieve that purpose by the end of the lesson. The teachers were central to all the lessons – not just in presenting the subject and in encouraging the students but with every aspect of the lesson. This meant that the teachers in general were carrying the greater part of the workload and there was not sufficient participation from the students in return for the teachers' efforts. The students' ability in spoken Irish was notably limited and the opportunities for the students to speak in the lessons were quite restricted to information questions which focussed on short answers. The students rarely took the opportunity to engage with the language so as to truly communicate or express an opinion.
The lessons were orderly, organised and structured and the teachers were positive and friendly. Rolls were called, homework was corrected, the purpose of the lesson was articulated, handouts were frequently used, the subject of the lesson was discussed, new vocabulary was written or clarified on the white board, and homework was given. For most of the time the teachers spoke Irish and class instructions were given in Irish. The students did not always understand those instructions. The students were commended for their efforts and there was a good learning atmosphere in the lessons. Discipline matters were very satisfactory.
Good use was made of active devices with the class in the junior cycle to retain the students' interest in the material. Although those efforts succeeded it is not clear if the students could make their own of the subject. This was often the case in the lessons. A story was compiled with the help of the teacher. The students demonstrated an understanding of that but it proved a great effort for them to say anything that had not been said to them beforehand. There was little that the students could say or write without guidance from the teacher who made every effort to assist the students in expressing themselves on the subject that was being discussed. In the case, for example, where vocabulary on the names of countries was being expanded, good efforts were being made to urge the students to talk when they were asked if any of them had been on holidays in this country or that country. They did not say much apart from confirming if they had or had not been in that country before.
In another instance, for example, in the junior cycle, shopping was the topic being covered. Most of the lesson related to learning new vocabulary – from different shops to clothes. Pictures were shown to encourage the naming of the type of shop where such was sold. This work was practised well. As a result of the work the students had a wider vocabulary list to describe the shops but these students still could not say much to one another or of their own initiative about the same shops.
A teacher's understanding and patience was notably evident with a class in the junior cycle where they were discussing English placenames which still showed the residual presence of Irish in them. Even when the answers were very far adrift of the correct answer, these students were encouraged and incited to make an extra effort. A lot of work was done with the handout which was prepared beforehand for the sake of keeping these students focussed on the purpose of the lesson and these efforts succeeded.
A clear task was given to another class in the junior cycle with regards to writing a letter of complaint to a newspaper on the subject of sport. Preparation on this subject was good, the outline of the letter was compiled with the teacher's guidance. Later on the students were asked what sort of a letter was to be written based on the instructions given to them beforehand – instructions which were very clear. The students were still very quiet, very short and very limited with their answers. There was no opportunity given to the students to talk amongst themselves. There was hardly any movement from the task which was laid out and as a result these students practised very little general conversation.
It was the same with the senior classes. The students depended a lot on input from the teachers and there was very little evidence of independent learning. A lot of effort was made to practise the lesson's subject thematically. A section of an aural comprehension was played, relating to the same subject on which they were trying to base a story – road accidents. The students’ understanding of the new vocabulary was ensured through providing an English translation. It is recommended that the teachers discuss the use of translation like this and its merits.
Appropriate work was being done with a Leaving Certificate class where an answer to a question on the prose literature course was being developed. One student in the class gave good answers but the other students avoided discussing the question. Because of this the teacher was doing a lot of the talking and the students were almost an audience and only making limited efforts in participating in the lesson. More pressure should be placed on the students to participate in such a lesson. The teacher praised and helped the students but they were still reluctant to partake in the lesson's activities.
Other than the aural comprehension piece which was played in one class no other item of live speech from the Irish broadcast media was used in any of the other lessons. It is very worthwhile that a segment of authentic text like this, spoken by someone other that the teacher, be used to present the Irish language to the student. For most of the time there was a lack of ordinary conversation in the lessons. It is recommended that the teachers work in co-operation with one another to locate good clips from TG4 programmes, to record them and to use them in the lesson for the sake of establishing conversation on ordinary events amongst the students.
On the whole the outcomes did not fairly represent the teachers’ great efforts. The students' understanding of the material being practised with them was limited – whether a letter was to be written or a story composed, or a vocabulary list to be extended. The students were being prepared well in that manner for the certificate examination papers' requirements. However, there was little evidence there that the students were capable of doing much themselves with the language and to express themselves with ease – even with the best endeavours of the Irish teachers. This would mean that the students would be able to answer examination papers but that they would only get limited satisfaction from the limited understanding that they have of the language.
The new students' ability in written Irish is assessed as part of the entrance exam for new students. The Irish results are not taken into consideration when dividing the first year classes. The results achieved in Irish are registered as a point of reference for the teachers on the ability of the students in the written language up until then. A comparison of the results achieved in the Junior Certificate examination is done later on. A copy of the Irish entrance question paper was made available which was deemed to be reasonable in relation to the learning objectives of the revised primary curriculum for Irish. Concern was expressed on the quality of the answers received this year for the first year group which will be starting in September 2008 and on the negative attitude portrayed by new first year students in general coming to Ardee Community School. It was understood that some students did not succeed in writing much at all in this year's entrance exam and a request has been received by the school from primary school teachers to remove Irish as part of the entrance exam because too much time is spent preparing for it. A copy of the Irish question paper in the entrance exam is distributed amongst the primary schools as guidance to the type of assessment involved.
It is recommended that the Irish teachers adhere to undertaking the proper assessment of the ability of the new first year students in Irish and to register those results as they are doing. That information is essential as guidance for planning work. It would be worthwhile to make an effort and conduct an assessment of the students' ability in spoken Irish as well – an aim that is in accordance with the aims of the revised primary school curriculum. It would be worthwhile also to take into consideration that there will be a lot of changes implemented in the proportion of marks in the certificate examinations for spoken Irish from 2010 onwards and good relations with the primary school teachers should be fostered in order to undertake this challenge in partnership with one another.
As an incentive for students in making adequate efforts with copybook work it would be worthwhile considering setting aside an agreed percentage of marks in the internal examinations for the quality of work in the copybooks. Helpful and approving notes from teachers were observed in some copybooks and it is understood that the staff are focussing on developing methods in the assessment for learning. This is a positive step.
It is recommended that the teachers consider the optional oral test in the Junior Certificate examination which will comprise forty per cent of the marks from 2010 onwards. It is recommended to consider spoken Irish in the internal examinations from now on in the interests of focussing on the new emphasis placed on spoken Irish.
The teachers keep an account of the results achieved by the students in the various examinations of their own classes and an analysis is done on the results achieved in the certificate examinations. Those statistics illustrate the challenge faced in increasing the number of students who undertake the higher level and the teachers are to be commended for undertaking that challenge together.
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 Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2008