An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Saint Andrew’s College
Booterstown Avenue, County Dublin
Roll number: 60650F
Date of inspection: 22 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in english
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Andrew’s College. 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 headmaster and the 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.
Students in first and third year have five lesson periods a week of English, which is good provision. Second-year class groups have four lesson periods of English each week, which is satisfactory provision. Provision is good in senior cycle as Transition Year (TY) class groups have four lesson periods each week and fifth-year and sixth-year class groups have five lesson periods each week. TY students may also opt for other modules including Film Making and Media Studies and first-year students may opt for a module on Media Studies. These modules complement English. There is an even distribution of lesson periods across the week for most year groups except fifth years who have English twice on one day and first years who have a double period of English on one day of the week. Observation of this double lesson revealed that it was successful because of careful advance planning. However, as a general rule, a more even distribution of English lessons across the week is desirable.
Students in the college are placed in mixed-ability class groups in first year and are then banded in second year based on their results in first-year examinations and on the recommendations of their teachers. There are eight class groups in second year divided into three bands for English. The majority of students in the school take English at higher level in their state examinations. Expectations are high and all students are deemed to follow the higher-level Junior Certificate English programme until after the ‘mock’ examinations in third year. At this stage one class group in the lower band is deemed to be ordinary level so movement of students between the two class groups in the lowest band takes place. Consideration should be given to continuing with mixed ability into second year and so delaying the placement of students into bands until the beginning of third year, given that all students are aiming for higher level at this stage. Students in the lowest band in second year may not be studying the same texts so that movement between classes after their ‘mocks’ poses a difficulty for these students. Teachers of class groups in this band or teachers of any class group where there is a possibility of movement should agree on common texts for their classes.
Students are placed in mixed-ability class groups for English in Transition Year which is good practice. Students are banded in fifth year according to their Junior Certificate English results and their performance in TY. Such a manner of student placement is appropriate at this stage in English. There is generally one class group of students studying ordinary level in fifth year with the remaining students aiming for higher level.
Management provides concurrency on the timetable from first year through to sixth year which is excellent provision. The concurrency is used for whole-year group activities, such as bringing students on visits to the theatre, and for movement of students. Students who wish to move class in senior cycle may do so following a written application to the headmaster and class teacher.
There are twelve teachers of English in the college; all of these have English to degree level. Good practice occurs in that students retain the same teacher from second year into third year and from fifth year into sixth year. In organising the timetable for English, management ensures that all teachers have the opportunity to teach different levels and programmes but with the headmaster being the final arbiter in terms of appropriate deployment. This is good practice.
Students with special educational needs (SEN) or who are in need of learning support are identified through information from the incoming first-year assessments, liaison with feeder primary schools, psychological reports and ongoing liaison with subject teachers. These students are withdrawn in small groups or individually for extra support from different classes, or from Irish if they have an exemption from the subject. Students may receive learning support up to sixth year if needed. There are also a number of students in the school whose first language is not English. The proficiency of these students in English varies considerably. All such students are given a written test and a brief interview to identify their language support needs. Students receive language support instead of Irish lessons and are withdrawn in ability groupings. There is support available for all students whose first language is not English, with those who are beginners receiving intensive tuition initially. The efforts made by the school to support students with SEN and language support needs are commended.
A very wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is provided. These activities extend students’ experiences of English beyond the classroom and make them confident participants in society. Many English teachers are involved in organising these activities and they are commended for their commitment in this regard. Such activities include: visits to the theatre to see productions of texts on the English course and other drama productions; the organisation of visiting theatre workshops in the school; in-house Literature Aloud recital competitions; entry into the annual Poetry Aloud national competition; entry into the well-known, one-act St Andrew’s drama festival organised by the school; performance in school musicals; contribution to the in-school journal ‘Grapevine’ and the creative writing journal ‘The Wine-Dark Sea’; involvement in debating; hosting an array of visiting writers and promoting creative writing.
Students in the school also participate in the Model European Parliament and the school has hosted the international event as well as hosting the all-Ireland forum. The school also participates in the Model United Nations and every Easter it hosts the second largest Model United Nations in Europe with over 1000 students taking part from around the world. Both of these provide students with a platform for debating and public speaking as well as allowing students opportunities to mix with students from other schools and nationalities. The opportunities that students have to write for the two college publications are commended as they provide a platform for students in the college to showcase their poetry, prose and artwork as well as their journalistic and editing skills. In addition, at the annual prize giving, students are awarded prizes for achievements in English.
English teachers, as well as being involved in organising many of these activities, participate in continuous professional development by attending courses run by the Teaching English Support Service, by attending lectures on aspects of the English course and by attending drama and creative writing workshops including a creative writing workshop organised through the Pushkin Trust (set up in Northern Ireland to promote peace and understanding through creative writing). Excellent practice occurs in that those who attend such in-service disseminate all relevant information to the rest of the English department.
There is very good whole school support for English. The majority of English teachers have their own base classrooms. These are well resourced with televisions and DVDs and computers. A very generous annual budget is allocated to the department which is used, among other things, to purchase resources and to fund trips to the theatre. As a result the department is very well resourced. There is no common resource area for the storage of English resources, due to lack of space in the school. This will be rectified when the new school is complete. In the interim, however, it is recommended that such a space be sourced and that the English department also plan for a shared electronic folder, on the school’s computer system, of resources. It was reported in one instance that there are plans to put the range of resources created by one teacher onto the college website for all students to access. This is to be encouraged. The website already displays a profile of all subject departments including English, and is highly commended.
School management is planning to install information and communication technology (ICT) facilities including data projectors into all classrooms. This too is to be encouraged as the potential for the use of ICT to enhance teaching and learning is significant. Already there is a computer available in all classrooms and a data projector in many rooms. ICT facilities are also available for teachers in the staff work room and library. Many teachers already encourage the use of ICT among students. For example, students often e-mail their work to their teachers and to each other for comment and use ICT for drafting and redrafting, which is excellent practice.
There is a well-stocked library in the school, open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, which is run by a full-time librarian. There was much evidence during the inspection that the library is a hub of activity and central to the life of the school. Students visit the library before and after school and during breaks. Many teachers also bring students to the library for research purposes. The librarian orders books and other resources suggested by English teachers and the college website displays the resources currently housed in the library and relevant to all subjects. New students and new teachers all receive orientation into the use of the library.
The co-ordinator of the English department is appointed by the headmaster. This role of subject co-ordinator is clearly defined and there was evidence that this role for English is very effectively administered. The English department meets at least twice each term and good practice takes place in that the agenda and minutes of department meetings are recorded and e-mailed to all members of the department. Minutes provide evidence of very good collaboration and planning among teachers of English. In addition to full department meetings, the team of teachers for each year group meets to consolidate plans for that particular year group.
The aims articulated for the teaching and learning of English are to be commended and include improving students’ communication skills and developing their understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of literature and theatre. The quality of planning among the English department is highly commended and is reflected in the documentation presented. The fact that the school offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) means that the English department is involved in constant self-evaluation.
The common English plan for each year group is written in terms of aims, objectives, methodologies and sample exercises. This is excellent practice. English teachers are free to decide on the texts that best suit the interest and level of their class group and it was reported that there is much discussion about teachers’ experiences of different texts. The learning outcomes that each year group should achieve are outlined in the common plan which means that students, though covering different texts, are learning the same skills. Very good practice was seen in that teachers taught a range of texts in each year of junior cycle to give students a broad education in English; for example, students study two novels as well as a number of short stories in first year; students study a core novel as well as a range of other genre in second year, and students study their Shakespearean drama in third year. Students also study poetry thematically and English teachers have compiled an anthology of poetry for junior cycle students. This praiseworthy anthology is compiled in terms of themes. It is suggested that all teachers consider the introduction of another drama text in second year. This is the practice among some English teachers already which is commended. There is excellent practice as students are expected to read for pleasure and present book reviews throughout their time in the college.
The Transition Year programme in English is commended for its aims, breadth and content. The English programme is organised on a modular basis so that students complete two fifteen-week modules in the areas of creative writing, novel, short stories, film, drama and poetry. English teachers work in pairs to organise their course. The methodologies and assignments outlined in the TY plans are also commended for their variety.
Teachers were, in the main, well prepared for lessons observed and a review of individual lesson plans is further evidence of the reflective nature of the English department.
The SEN and English department work closely together to exchange information and advice on helping the students with SEN. It was reported that team teaching is being planned in some instances for teaching students of lower ability in English. This is to be encouraged. There is a comprehensive SEN policy available and students also benefit from individual educational programmes. The language support policy is also highly commended.
As the ‘mock’ examinations were taking place during the week of the inspection and the Transition Year students were on work experience, it was only possible to inspect first, second and fifth-year class groups, including International Baccalaureate class groups. The quality of teaching and learning was generally very good in lessons observed.
There was a clear purpose to most lessons visited. In this regard, best practice was seen when the teacher shared with the students from the outset of the lesson the learning outcomes that would be achieved by the end of the lesson. In just one instance, the purpose of the lesson was not clear as there was no clear learning outcome. Links were often created between texts and between texts and contemporary life to put learning in context for students. In addition, in most lessons there was a clear link with previous learning.
Good use was made of a range of resources to vary learning experiences for students. Such resources included use of the overhead projector and data projector to display visual images reflecting a poem, and audio versions of poems. In addition, the board was used to good effect to record key points made by the students. Homework was always written on the board which is very good practice.
Many examples of active student participation in the classroom were observed. Very good practice was observed when students were put working in pairs, with each pair working on a different task or the same task for a specific period of time. This generated good discussion between pairs and ensured that all students had a voice in the classroom. In addition, students while working in pairs were given individual attention by their teacher. Another example of students being actively involved in their learning was observed when students in groups were challenged to write a drama about a situation of conflict and then to perform these dramas. After each group performed their drama, the rest of the class had to discuss the performance in a focused manner.
Very good higher-order questioning led students to a deeper understanding of their texts. In some classes, the teachers asked named questions to include all students. This is better practice than only asking those with their hands up. Best practice was seen when the teacher probed students to develop their responses to questions. In many instances these questions generated very good discussion. Effective pre-reading exercises provoked interest in new texts; for example, the display of a visual image relevant to a particular poem put the poem in context for the students.
Good practice was seen when the teacher, after introducing a new text, such as a poem, invited students to give their initial response first before analysing the poem in detail. There were a couple of occasions that the teachers moved too fast through the poem. On these occasions, the teachers were inclined to tell students the meaning of each stanza as opposed to looking for students’ contributions. In these cases, students should be encouraged to discuss possible meanings so that they take ownership of the poem, have a voice in their lesson and learn from each other as well as from the teacher.
In the IB class groups there were very good examples observed of how the teachers developed students’ vocabulary by introducing appropriate words to describe particular situations. A dictionary and thesaurus feature on all first-year booklists which is commended. Good work was seen for a portion of a junior cycle lesson where students had to find the origin of certain words, which generated interest among students. However, the practice of students playing a quiz game based on dictionary work, which was reported to occur on a fairly regular basis, should be reconsidered because of the limited educational value of this activity.
Many classrooms were stimulating learning environments as relevant posters, students’ project work and examples of their writing were on display. This is very good practice and should be extended to all classrooms. Key words pertaining to English should also be displayed.
Students presented as being highly motivated and focused. They were well behaved and well mannered and there were very good teacher-student and student-student relationships observed. Students were confident and participated with ease in their learning and in interaction with the inspector. It was reported in one instance that students have to make a presentation on a poet on their course to the rest of the class. This is excellent practice as it encourages oral participation and gives students confidence as speakers. The participation of students in the Literature Aloud competition also encourages confidence as evidenced from some of their performances during the inspection.
In most cases, a range of appropriate work relevant to the time of the year was covered by students. There was also evidence that, in most lessons, students received an appropriate amount of written work for homework and that this work was well corrected. In some cases in junior cycle, much of this work was in the form of summaries, functional writing and answers to questions. However, students also need a lot of practice in personal writing and essays and it is recommended that these students receive more regular practice in these areas. There was evidence in senior cycle that this was the case. There was also evidence from teachers’ plans of the use of the integration of language and literature. This is very good practice as exercises such as diary entries or letters from the point of view of characters are more interesting and purposeful, at times, than summaries. Very good practice was seen where students studied a piece of satirical writing and used it then as a model for their own writing. Examples of students’ own writing or authentic articles from contemporary magazines were also used to develop writing skills. There was an appropriate focus on developing students’ personal response in many lessons.
There was clear evidence of learning in all lessons. An analysis of state examination results is undertaken by management each year. State examinations results in English demonstrate a very high uptake of higher level and that students achieve very well in their chosen level.
All students sit house examinations at Christmas and non-examination students also sit house examinations in the summer. Students are also continuously assessed prior to the October mid-term break and at Easter. Reports are sent home after these assessments. In addition, a parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group and parents also attend the school for other briefing meetings as well as being able to request meetings with the relevant English teacher if necessary.
Frequent class-based tests are given to students and examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations. Records of students’ homework, attendance and tests are kept by teachers. Very good practice takes place in that common examination papers are set for in-house English examinations in all years except TY and these exams have a commonly agreed marking scheme. ‘Mock’ examinations are internally corrected and in the case of the IB classes the ‘mocks’ are also set internally.
TY students are assessed using a range of assessment techniques including submission of three major projects; two portfolio submissions, the assessment of which are by interview, a folder of achievement and house examinations. This is commended.
The school is commended for its implementation of formative assessment techniques and there was much evidence of these during the inspection. For example, teachers often corrected work using constructive comments only, and teachers also encouraged the use of peer assessment. One such example was observed where students were given a self-assessment checklist to evaluate the quality of their written assignment before handing it up to their teacher. Some teachers use the discrete criteria for assessment in correcting their fifth-year students’ work which is also good practice.
Students used folders for storage of English material in many classes. Many students’ folders showed that they were given many resources prepared by their teachers or downloaded from the internet, on aspects of their course. In other classes, students had hardback copies for storage of their best work. Best practice was seen when students’ copies and folders were divided into aspects of their course as opposed to all work being mixed together. The standard of copies and folders varied ranging from the very well maintained to the poorly maintained. It is recommended that students in the lowest bands in particular be encouraged to be better organised in terms of dividing their copies and folders into different aspects of the course. This expectation of high standards of maintenance of work should be encouraged from first year.
The English department has its own homework and assessment policy which is highly commended. Among other things, it focuses on the use of formative assessment and constructive criticism and the encouragement of all students to keep a personal response journal. The school also has a commendable homework policy which is comprehensive and focuses, among other things, on the rationale for homework and on guidelines for homework for each year group. The policy has a commendable focus on the importance of differentiation when setting homework to cater for all abilities.
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 headmaster at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008